Aliya: A (Photo)Essay

An ode to my wife. And an answer to a complicated question.

Shane Paul Neil
Published in
6 min readJul 25


My first picture of Aliya before I ever touched an actual camera.

“Why do you love Aliya?” My therapist is great for asking the most complex questions five minutes before our session ends. I think it’s his way of tricking me into thinking I had a mind-blowing session.

Just kidding, Jamel.

Why do you love someone? It is a complicated question whose answers can change hour by hour. Because they are kind? Because they make me feel safe? Because the sex is incredible? Because they bought doughnuts? Love is one of those things you don’t even realize happened until you stop and look around for a second and have that “Holy shit, how did I get here” moment.

“Why do I love Aliya?” I repeated the question as a means to stall while I contemplated the enormity of the question while simultaneously being perplexed by the fact that I didn’t have an answer at the ready.

I met Aliya at a low point in my life. Actually, I met her one step above the low point in my life. By the time I met Aliya, I had negotiated a divorce, managed near-crippling depression, and recovered from homelessness. I was living in a basement, working at a call center as a recruiter. I was making just enough money to fool myself into thinking I was worth dating. Which, for most guys is anything above a dollar an hour.

We connected on a dating app I won’t mention because they aren’t cutting me a check. All I will say is no; it wasn’t that one. When we matched, I led with, “This is why you don’t want to date me.” I thought I had a compelling argument. Her response was simple and startling, “Oh, I can beat that”.

Before we knew it, we were a couple. It happened so quickly that when I got a message from her asking what we were doing, “I’m not here to be a friend. I’m looking for a relationship”. I realized that we shot straight past the affirmation of what we had already become. All I could say was, “Oh yeah, we’re…