Layers of Love

 I saw love’s face on a perfect December afternoon in a small garden in front of a white gazebo on the west side of Miami. I wept openly at the site of her. She was beyond beautiful and everything I thought she would be; compassionate, caring, graceful and unconditional. I had seen her before, but never like this: so powerful, raw and awe-inspiring. The experience changed me forever.

I’m not sure why, as I had seen love many times before in my life. Especially in my relationships (marriage, motherhood, parents and friends,) but watching my good friends, Jessie and Jesse (the universe wasn’t messing around when it came to pairing these two) get married under a perfect blue sky, with the people they loved most surrounding them, was undeniably one of the most moving experiences of my life. I had never afforded myself such an opportunity.

The first time I got married, I eloped with a man almost twice my age. We ran away to Corpus Christi, Texas and found a small, quaint chapel by the sea to exchange vows. My mother begged me not to do it and honestly, it’s probably why I went through with it. I rebelled against her because I didn’t want to end up like her, but my decision itself was a complete incarnation of her life. She, too, had married early and found out too late she had made a mistake. Nonetheless…

I wore a pretty short, white summer dress with a high collar and a lace back. I paired it with a string of fake pearls and delicate, white strappy sandals. My brother, who found out about my not-so-secret elopement, showed up at the last minute to walk me down the aisle. My parents were right behind him; making me unspeakably mad. I hated everyone for crashing my party of independence, but looking back at it now, I realize it’s because they loved me.

My family, minus a few siblings, drove non-stop through the night (arriving just in the nick of time) to be there for my monumental, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, matrimonial decision. Despite trying to talk me out of it, my dad, mother and brother stood proudly by my side and watched as I wistfully went from single girl to married woman. Okay, “woman” is a bit of an exaggeration. I was so young and so oblivious to the commitment I was making, it must have been heartbreaking for my parents.

In fact, my mother wept through the entire ceremony. Unfortunately, her tears would become my own, when my marriage ended in shambles a short time later. The seriousness of it all, the magnitude of marrying someone I didn’t truly know and ended up not loving, was a lot for my young spirit to go through. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I knew that very day walking down the isle in that little chapel by the sea that I was making a massive mistake. I just didn’t have the strength or maturity to walk away from it.

What’s more, I had lost out on the journey of experiencing a real wedding. I would never know what it was like to be a young, never-before married, blushing bride, wearing a beautiful dress, with my family and friends surrounding me. Instead of beating my mother in some adolescent game of wills, I only cheated myself.

The second time I walked down the aisle, I eloped, (yet again,) this time in Las Vegas. I was older, more mature and finally getting married for all the right reasons. With my parents and a few friends in tow, I opted out of the pomp and circumstance of a big wedding, deciding (with my then-fiancé) to have a small private ceremony.

In a beige, off-the-rack, Sue Wong mermaid dress, real pearls and pretty shoes by Pura Lopez, I walked down the aisle with my dad and met the man of my dreams at the altar of a tiny little chapel inside the Bellagio Hotel. The room was extravagant  with flowers everywhere, dramatic drapery and large, over-the-top crystal vases. It screamed “Liberace goes to church,” but I still loved it.

My vows came first and I choked on the words. I was completely and utterly verklempt. Not only that, I was beyond nervous. Despite wishing and wanting to marry the man in front of me (more than anything I had ever wanted in my entire life,) I wasn’t a hundred percent sure he felt the same way about me. For the record, that’s NOT a good feeling to have on your wedding day.

If I’m being brutally honest, I wasn’t even sure he would show up the day of the ceremony. When he did (really late, because his dad joked: “we had a few drinks and stopped at the casino strip club,”) I was relieved, but at the same time I questioned if I was doing the right thing. Despite being miles and years away from Corpus Christi, Texas and that little chapel by the sea, there I was, all over again.

If I had listened to the deepest corners of my heart, maybe I would have seen what was coming. In the meantime, though, as my fiancé hesitated and stumbled on his vows, I simply looked the other way. That moment would become a reflection of our relationship. I’m not going to say there weren’t happy times and that we didn’t love one other and that we didn’t try: we did, but we also went up against the unfathomable.

We heartbreakingly lost a baby, I devastatingly lost my health to a rare virus that sparked a neurological disorder (it’s documented thoroughly in my “Flower Power” blog as a result, my husband and I lost one another and then I lost myself. My divorce left me in shambles. I didn’t think I would fully recover from any of the aforementioned events, but…

I DID and I fought like hell to make it happen. If I was destined to be unlucky in love, I damn well wasn’t going to be unlucky in life, too. I sent out a prayer to the universe to allow me to heal and be happy. Actually I sent out a lot of them, but I’m not sure that fixed anything. Ultimately, I was the person that fixed things. I put my health first, changed my behavior and chose happiness. It took years.

When things got a little more stable in my life, I wrote a list of all the things I wanted in a man. I put EVERYTHING I could possibly hope, dream and wish for on that piece of paper. I didn’t hold back either. Then, I folded it up, tucked it into my diary and put it away in my night dresser.  

Years later, ironically, that very man (the one that I dreamed up in that well-thought out list,) accompanied me to Jessie and Jesse’s wedding, where I saw love’s beautiful face pass between my two good friends. Maybe the reason she seemed so different to me, so powerful, raw and awe-inspiring was because I was so different myself. The years of life and all of its hard-won lessons taught me self-respect and gifted me “Layers of Love.”

As Jessie and Jesse shared their vows, I was struck by the sheer humanity of them. They promised not only to work on their union, but on themselves. After all, if you can’t love yourself, how can you possibly love someone else? In honor of that message, I wanted my Valentine’s day blog to be about self-love. It’s the most important lesson I learned through the good and bad times of my life.

What’s more, you don’t have to wait for the perfect person (man or woman) to come along to make healthy decisions for yourself, to love yourself, to treat yourself with kindness, respect and fortitude. Celebrating life and self-love can mean so many different things to so many different people.

That’s why I reached out to Robin Levinson of Levinson Jewelers. The legacy of her store and the nature of seeing so many people share all kinds of love throughout the years, makes her a love expert, of sorts. Plus, she wholeheartedly agreed that Valentine’s Day had many “Layers of Love” tied into it.

We met up on Las Olas Boulevard and shot our blog pictures inside the charming “Wild Sea Oyster Bar & Grille,” a place that also puts a lot of love into their fresh, unique food. Once there, Robin shared that she had translated my blog message of layers into stacked and stunning jewelry. Here’s why:
Shireen Sandoval: Nothing says self-love more than gifting yourself a beautiful piece of jewelry. What do you recommend for the Shireen’s Favorite Things fashionista to celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Robin Levinson: The absolute must-have this year are stacked bracelets. Especially the stretchy ones with no clasp. They easily go over your hand onto your wrist and there are endless stacking possibilities; all diamonds to sapphires, white and black ceramic. The stacked look can easily go from day to night, casual to dressy. It’s also a look you’ll get a lot of use out of.

SS: What’s the best way to style stacked bracelets?
RL: I like two or three at a time. I would put a diamond bracelet in between
a black and white ceramic one. Very different. Or throw in some color
and put a blue sapphire in between two diamonds bracelets.  The
possibilities are endless but I think with this look, three is probably
the right number.

SS: What’s the most spectacular stacked bracelet set you have now?
RL: I love a big link diamond cuff bracelet stacked with a thinner stretch
bracelet in diamonds or yellow or blue sapphires. The stretch bracelets
are a great and easy way to add new life to a classic gold cuff or large
gold link bracelet. Pair it with a diamond stretch bracelet and all of
a sudden, it’s right on trend!

SS: What’s your main advice to fashionistas when buying a piece of
RL: Listen to your instinct. If you feel good in it, it will show. Also, when you come across a piece you love, you should get it. You can shop and shop and never find that one perfect piece again.

SS: What sets Levinson Jewelers apart?
RL: The customer service and selection. I have clients who travel around
the world and come back to tell us how they have not seen pieces like we
have anywhere. It’s a great compliment.

SS: What do you do for yourself that’s self-love?
RL: I love riding my bike, especially after trekking up a steep mountain in Aspen and then flying down. It’s an awesome feeling. I also love the challenge of doing 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Totally mindful.

SS: When you styled the blog, what type of feel and look did you want the stacked bracelets to have?
RL: Fun, and fabulous, with a sophisticated twist. I’m all about wearing
jewelry and not putting it away for occasional use. With my shoot selections I wanted to show how you can pair pieces, sometimes unexpected ones, and create looks that can work with jeans or a cocktail dress.

SS: I loved working in Fort Lauderdale on “Layers of Love.” What do you LOVE about your city and the famed Las Olas Boulevard?
RL: Las Olas is a unique and charming street. There’s constant buzz with new restaurants and art galleries. It has changed a lot over the last few years and continues to get better and better. It’s a great destination to stroll, shop local and enjoy our beautiful South Florida weather. It’s also great for hopping in the New River to kayak or go down to the beach for a walk.

SS: Not to put you on the spot, but you’ve been married for a long time. What’s the secret to a happy, stable marriage?
RL: To be open to compromise and accepting your spouse’s view even when
you don’t agree. Also to WANT to work through ebbs and flows together because they come with life.

SS: What does Valentine’s Day mean to you?
RL: A day to pay attention to being kind and appreciative of the people I care about in my life.

SS: This is a holiday about LOVE. What do you love most in life?
RL: So many things. My family and friends are at the top. I love my journey and appreciate all of it.

Jessie and Jesse are currently living happily ever after. Now about that list; the one I folded up and tucked into my diary (about the perfect man) so long ago. One day when I was feeling particularly sad, I took the list out,  put it in my pocket and walked to the beach. I unfolded it and read it out loud at the end of the Bal Harbour ocean jetty.

I’d like to think those words, thoughts and wishes drifted away on a wing and prayer to find their rightful owner, but instead, I believe I manifested them on my own because of my new found self-love and respect. Now, I truly feel as if anything is possible.

I’ve experienced all kinds of love in my life: selfish, self-centered, lustful, romantic, sisterly, motherly, unconditional, selfless, healing, platonic and pure. They’ve stacked themselves up (much like those beautiful bracelets pictured in the blog) and given me one of the rarest, most valuable jewels of life: wisdom – to choose, accept and give myself the right kind of love… and that’s why Valentine’s Day and “Layers of Love” will always be one of my favorite things.

Layered bracelets by Levinson Jewelers
Twitter: @LevinsonJeweler
IG: @levinsonjewelers
FB: Levinson Jewelers

Shot on location at
620 East Las Olas Boulevard
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301
Reservations: 954-467-2555
Twitter: @WildSeaLasOlas  
FB: Wild Sea Oyster Bar & Grille

Wardrobe by Magenta Couture
Twitter: @MagentaCouture
IG: @magentacouture
FB: Magenta Couture

Twitter @ShireenSandoval
IG @ShireenSandoval

photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Twitter @todp_photo
IG @Tod_p

Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
Twitter @Odettehernandz

Editor: Matthew Auerbach