"I was in absolute awe,
I literally froze"
Meet Sheigh and Junior. We connected with them in the middle of the week over a late night video call.
Both grew up in the UK but have different heritages. Junior is Congolese and Sheigh is a blend of Irish Traveller, English, Scottish - along with being South Asian / Arab descent.
They share a passion for making the world a better place. Sheigh is training to be a human rights lawyer and Junior fundraises all year round for his community in Congo.
Here's their full story:
Worth the wait
One of the very clear things from speaking with these two is how much Junior adores Sheigh.
Their shared Instagram account is his platform to celebrate her proudly to world. And during our interview he was her hype man multiple times.
J: "She doesn't actually realise how talented, how smart, how beautiful she is... Sometimes she needs hyping to understand what her worth and value is."
They both met while working at the same charity called the National Citizen Service, where they enabled young people to do social action projects within the community. Sheigh was still in University and Junior was allocated to do home visits for her as part of her onboarding. During a staff meeting, Sheigh went over to thank him - and that was their very first interaction.
Junior shares another side to the story that adds a twist:
J:"I was thinking our bosses might have wanted us to meet.
During a team training, she turns to me and says 'Do you know who is really pretty? Sheigh. I think you'd really like her when you meet her'.
Literally a few days later I was given her file to go and do her home visits"
And he admits he was mesmerised when he first saw her.
J: "When I saw her face to face, I kind of just paused. You know when you look at somebody but you pause... I was in absolute awe, I literally froze.
I remember stuttering really bad responding to her.
I was just thinking 'woah this person is beautiful.'"
From there they started working together, which included a few weeks of camping. Junior was in charge of the team and made his interest clear to Sheigh.
S: "I knew he fancied me, because he gave me the best room."
J: "I did make her life easier."
Sheigh still needed some convincing though. It took her 2 years to eventually say yes to a date with Junior. So they were taking it slow and got to know each other as friends for a while before dating officially in 2019. They note that COVID definitely accelerated their level of commitment and investment in the relationship.
J: "It was sink or swim - so I'm just glad that we learned to swim."
Some of their favourite memories are really special to hear about.
During one of their early 'mate dates', Sheigh took Junior up to their favourite spot on top of a hill where they could see the entire Middlesbourough lit up at night. They sat and spoke for hours.
J: "I could see she really wanted to kiss me - but she didn't want to because she was worried not to kiss on the first date!"
Nowadays they document their days out and about London together on social media. They laugh as they recall the day where they went out for a bike ride and got caught in the rain.
While they both grew up in the UK, their cultural heritage defines much of their outlook on life including their strongly embedded family values.
J: "That's one of the things that did attract me to her - she's very family orientated.
My culture is really based around family and she understands my needs to go handle things back home."
However Sheigh does note that being a dual heritage child, with religion being a big part of those cultures, can make it more complicated. But it can also bring a sense of balance to the relationship.
S: "[to Junior] It's strange because you have your culture and I have my cultures...
We are similar but that's because my two cultures are more diluted... If I was strongly Muslim or if I was very Catholic, it may not work. But because I balanced them out, I think it's just become a good balance of everything."
With multicultural relationships, partners often adopt and participate in elements of the other's culture - like specific dances, wearing the traditional clothes, or other rituals.
Sheigh and Junior raised that without the right respect behind it, sometimes this can tip from cultural appreciation into appropriation. But what's more important than participation, is presence.
J: "For me it's just about being present. If you can be present and be respectful, you've done your bit. I'm not forcing you to do anything."
There are still important moments for compromise. Especially when you encounter those deeply rooted cultural traditions with no logical explanation. And all you want is for your partner to acknowledge and understand it out of respect. As an outsider to that culture, this can be challenging and that's where the cultural understanding piece becomes more important than ever.
For example, a longstanding wedding tradition within some Asian and African cultures is to provide a dowry for the bride.
In Congo, among other countries, this is still the expectation. But Sheigh noted the English side of her family would be against the idea of having to 'pay' for a woman and it would be counter to westernised women's rights and equality views. Interestingly, they came to a conclusion that they could compromise on if it was presents, instead of money.
When asked if they faced any judgement from others on their relationship, Sheigh was quick to confirm it - specifically on Junior's side.
S: "People just assume I'm white, and then he gets called a 'coconut' because he's dating someone white.
a. I'm not white, and b. why should that matter?"
The term 'coconut' is similarly used to other terms like 'oreo' 'bounty'. This is also seen in another Real Couple story with Ronesha and Jeremy and many people within the Black community get labelled by their peers to imply how they are 'selling out' by dating outside their race.
J: "For some reason, a lot of people in my race believe I should be with a black girl.
And I had a lot of comments saying 'I see you've gone white now' and my response would be 'Yeah she's not even white. What are you even talking about?'"
(We cover this problematic perception of selling out your race in our Resource Hub.)
Battling stereotypes is always taxing, but it can be even more uncomfortable when it comes from closer to home. Junior recalls an awkward conversation with a relative where he mentioned Sheigh was training to be a solicitor:
J: "First thing he said was 'just make sure that when she comes home, she leaves the solicitor at the door, and remember she's a woman.' I had to check him...
So it's not only the stereotype of race but also the misogynistic attitudes... I had to tell him 'yo the world has evolved, don't even come at me about this.'"
His experience highlights the many uncomfortable conversations that multicultural couples often have to face with family or peers that continue to live in their patriarchal notion of the world.
Today, Junior and Sheigh continue to help those in need.
For Christmas last year, they raised funds to provide care packages for the homeless. See more from them on their Instagram account @lifeofjeigh.
📺 Currently watching: White Collar
✈️ Next travel plan: Italy
🍦 Favourite ice cream flavour: Junior's is chocolate, Sheigh's is vanilla