BJ & Mike
QUARANTINE LOVE STORIES
Words by Nina Unlay | Photography by Bj and Mike
When they start to tell a story, it’s almost hard to tell BJ Pascual and Mike Lavarez apart. Over our Zoom call, it’s made even more ambiguous by the fact that they laugh at all the same things, so you can’t tell where one’s voice begins and the other ends. For full disclosure, much of the laughter had to be edited out of this interview or you, our reader, would be facing 2,000 words worth of a happy couple’s inside joke.
In fact, BJ and Mike don’t just finish each other’s sentences, they finish each other’s memories, filling in the missing details like a skillful dance, until they’ve painted you the full picture: them in Japan in 2017 trying to fill a day with stops, them at home in bed taking longer to choose the film than watch the film, or—their favorite story—them out on their first date four years ago in the most unlikely of places. And when a fashion photographer partners with an art director, the memories often come with visuals.
When we ask which one is usually holding the camera, BJ is quick to confirm that it isn’t him “I literally only use my camera for work!” although he did launch his new YouTube vlog just last year, a passion project that took the space of magazines and canceled shoots for both of them. He never even liked the idea of YouTube vlogging, BJ says, until he actually started. Among his sea of new content, which aims to help and encourage aspiring creatives, there are also videos of the two just as they describe in their stories.
Thanks to his new creative outlet, BJ says he’s done some of his favorite personal work, despite all the plans and shoots that had to be postponed in the year 2020: “The YouTube channel allows me to have an outlet where I can do what I want and produce shoots just for the sake of producing them and making photos that will hopefully be remembered.”
For this particular set of photos, we put three rolls of film and a point-and-shoot camera in BJ and Mike’s hands and asked them to photograph each other at home, so that we could see them just as they want us to.
It’s really nice to meet you. I’ve been watching your videos online so I feel like I already know so much about you guys.
BJ: Our Mukbang!
Yes, I love it! There’s so much about your love story already out on the internet—so I’d like to know what you guys have been up to in 2020. It was a hard year on a lot of couples. In terms of relationship dynamics, how did that go for you? Were there any big changes?
BJ: Honestly, wala masyado…Even before the pandemic, we’ve always been very, very busy. To the point that we really had to schedule our meetings, sometimes Mike would call my manager to arrange our dates! So it’s still the same ‘cause we don't really get to see each other a lot but we talk more now, uhm, online. *laughter*
Mike: Video chat!
BJ: Yeah, I live alone and Mike lives with his mom and sister…
So, it's been a lot of online Zoom calls and chats?
Mike: Yeah. Long distance. LDR!
BJ: We always joke around that we have a long-distance relationship—
Mike: Quezon City and Makati.
So, in a lot of ways you were already prepared for not having all the face-to-face time and communicating online.
BJ: We’re so used to it. I don't know, maybe ‘cause we're older? We don't really need to see each other everyday. *laughter* And we really don't talk to each other everyday, di ba, Mike? Actually, we talk more now.
Mike: Mas kamustahan. And I guess it's also because we have more time. *laughter*
Like I said earlier, there are a lot of parts of your love story, like how you met, that are already online. What parts are your favorites to tell?
Mike: Me? Probably…my first impressions of BJ. I used to think that he was kinda high maintenance. Ganyan. Until one night *laughter* that we decided to hang out after a gig. We got him to guest DJ at the party that I was hosting. And then, ayon, nagulat kami lahat that he stayed, like, up until 5 AM!
BJ: That was really for you.
Mike: And then after that we had we had breakfast at ano!—
BJ: Goto Monster.
Mike: Goto Monster! Yeah. Medyo nagulat ako that he's not at all high maintenance, you know, I thought he was going to take me to some sosyal breakfast place. But we had Goto, as in yung Goto Monster na parang nasa gutter pa siya. *laughter* It was a fun night.
What about you, BJ?
BJ: My favorite story to tell, tama ba? Probably the first night we hung out. Yun talaga. I never
get tired of telling that story. Also, because we have visuals. It was well-documented. *laughter*
Mike: I'm a Virgo, so I like to organize stuff. BJ's stuff. BJ's stuff when we're away. When we're on a vacation. Ayan. Ako taga-ayos. Oo.
BJ: I'm messy, as you can see behind me, and Mike is super organized. I think that we work because we are super similar in a lot of ways but also quite different in a lot of ways that I don't know...
Mike: Cute! [giggles] Cute ‘yon.
Are there any other moments in your relationship that you like reliving?
Mike: Actually, I mentioned this to BJ the last time we saw each other! When we were out on a date and then we went to an afterparty place yung… Last Resort? [We have a picture there] and I was hugging him. I think that was the first [photo] or that was his first IG story of us together. I think. Yun yung launching ng likod ko.
BJ: *laughter* The launching?
Mike: Ang launching ng likod ko. But that was the time...yeah, we weren't together, officially.
Earlier I asked which parts of your story you like telling over and over... Are there any parts that you haven’t told, which are a bit new? What chapter do you think you guys are entering now?
Mike: Ano ba, BJ?
BJ: What's new? Wala naman, uhm, I don't know.
Mike: We were supposed to have plans pero natigil ang lahat dahil sa pandemic kasi—
BJ: I think we were talking about this recently ‘cause, uhm, he's been living with his mom and sister nga, di ba. So I was asking him when he'd be ready to move in together. But that's still up in the air. I'm having my house [renovated] kasi and I'm [constructing] just a small building with a studio. So yeah, maybe ayun—
Mike: Oo. Maybe in the future, in the near future.
BJ: [This house] would have been done if it weren't for the pandemic, it would have been done.
Mike: Yan. Exactly.
BJ: Uhm, but I was really hoping na when it’s done, we can move in together. But that's still... there. Maybe next year. *laughter* 2022.
I don't know if you guys are noticing the same thing but I kinda felt like towards the end of 2020, ang daming couples na bigla nalang may announcements like an engagement or moving in or—
Mike: Parang nabuntis.
Or nabuntis! There have been a lot of big changes or steps forward. I don't know if it’s because they spent this year together and there's some feeling of wanting to take the relationship forward—but are you guys feeling any kind of, di naman pressure, but that force from the year?
BJ: Ako, I'm pressuring Mike. *laughter* Sinasabihan—
Mike: I'm actually looking forward to it, of course, like…nung pinag-usapan yang house niya, I even told him that I'm really happy for him and I'm excited. Sabi ko nga sa kanya, there's probably going to be some sort of transition phase, but definitely we can spend more time together if magawa na yung house niya.
BJ: I think a lot of couples also now have more time, I guess, to really reflect. I think in the early, early part of the lockdown, it was more of self-reflection...
BJ: …And as time went on, it became about, of course, relationships. You and your family, you and your partner. So, I think kaya rin maraming na-engage [and the like]. Big steps forward. It's because we have more time to really think about what's important in life. Before, especially for me and Mike, but also for a lot of people in this industry, it was like with every job, we felt it could be our last. So, we just took every opportunity.
A lot of people think about freelancers you have your own time…and it’s kind of true, but we also kind of end up doing everything and having no time for ourselves. So, I think the pandemic really just slowed down work...and accelerated *laughter* relationships.
You guys are obviously very career-driven. In your relationship, what type of support did you both look for in each other? You know, when work stopped and when work picked up again, how were you guys there for each other?
Mike: Actually, we used to talk about work a lot. ‘How was your day,’ yung mga ganyan. Now, I think it’s more like kamustahan. I remember one time na nag-usap kami ni BJ, it was late at night, mid-last year, nung nagkakapandemic na talaga. We had this kind of deep conversation about how things are. Ano na kaya yung mga mangyayari, you know, stuff like that. Mas...ano lang…mas meaningful conversations lang.
BJ: I think, more emotional conversations is what you mean.
Mike: Yeah, probably. Oo.
BJ: We are not very emotional people, I would say. Like, we don't rely on our emotions, or we don't express it. We're not good at expressing our emotions, I would say. Sobrang chill lang kami, and uhm, I think now, we are more open to talking about things that delve deeper into our emotions. ‘Cause I hate talking about emotions. Everyone knows that. *laughter*
I think that's kind of what this pandemic kind of taught us. To be more open, emotionally. *laughter* Mike said nga that before the pandemic, I would always rant to
him about work stuff whenever we see each other, cause our lives are mostly about work. So we end up talking a lot about work.
Mike: But when we get to talk about serious things or problems, it’s very…ano ba. Ano ba tayo? Hindi nga siya emotional eh. What would you call that? Very—
Mike: Oo, parang ganyan. Logical. And very straight to the point.
BJ: Which is very…what I need.
It sounds like you guys speak the same love language. You know, it’s not so much the touchy-feely kind…
Mike: But medyo dumaan din naman kami sa ganun. *laughter* Like yung mga gifts, you know, stuff like that.
BJ: Mike still likes giving gifts, until now. I have a whole table here of stuff from Mike, full of random things.
Mike: That...ano...that candy thing. Ano yun? *laughter*
BJ: The tiny gumball machine. Super random stuff. Wala akong alam sa love languages eh, but I think, I really think we are very similar in our EQ. Kaya kami magkasundo.
What do you mean by similar in your EQ?
Mike: It’s like we're kind of brothers na… you know what I mean…na parang… Hmm. *laughter* Paano ko sasabihin?
BJ: I always say like, before, all my relationships were like super hard and so much effort was needed. It was a whole production to make it work. But with Mike, everything was just so easy. And it just flowed and hindi ko ma-explain, but pareho kami ng...
Mike: We're different but the same. *laughter*
Moving on from 2020, now 2021, what doors have opened for you guys? And what is it that you're both looking forward to, moving past all this?
BJ: I think, relationship-wise, like we said earlier the pandemic really opened the communication lines between us. Yun talaga. I think that’s the biggest thing because it’s just happened in the past two months, no? That we talk about more life things now.
Mike: Yeah, exactly.
BJ: Yeah, before I would always be afraid to ask questions about moving in and stuff. Uhm, and then what we’re looking forward to...
Mike: Moving in!