The Way We Love: Richie & Ben
A relationship bound by creativity, loyalty, & The Office.
Welcome to the Way We Love, a series where we investigate modern love in all its embodiments, whether that be of a romantic relationship, best friends, or family. This Valentine’s Day, we are speaking with four sets of people who experience love in different ways, in different parts of their lives, to better understand why all forms are so vital.
Our next couple is Richie Shazam and Ben Draghi, who are in a romantic relationship. Richie is an artist, photographer, and model. Ben is a musician and video artist. They live together in Brooklyn, New York.
How they met:
Ben Draghi: “Richie likes to tell this one. He’s the hopeless romantic one, and I’m a Virgo, so I’m down-to-earth.”
Richie Shazam: “We met in the summer of 2018. I had just gotten back to New York, and Ben had just graduated from Wesleyan. You know, we were just frolicking in the summer. We were both at this after-hours party at Spectrum, which is no longer. A friend of mine from Berlin, he was DJing and had invited me to come hang out and hear his set. Ben and I were both on the dance floor. I remember seeing him dancing. I had never been the one to go up to someone and be like, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ sort of start a conversation. It’s always been the other way around, but he had this really intense magnetism and charge. I felt a sort of whimsy. I was like, ‘Woah, he’s so beautiful,’ and he was just exuding this really nice energy. So I went up to him and just started to talk. I took him hostage. You know when you’re meeting someone and you have the nervous butterflies inside? I was talking a lot, being really chatty. He was looking at me with kind but definitely very alien eyes. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m totally embarrassing myself.’ Before I knew it, a lot of time had passed. I remember being nervous to give him my phone number, so I gave him my Instagram. I just remember giving him a hug and a kiss. I had never really felt that way about someone where I really wanted him to be responsive to me.”
BD: “I think I had finished school maybe like, two weeks prior or something, so I had really just gotten back to the city. I’m from Paris originally, and then I moved upstate as a teenager and I went to school in Connecticut. So this was my first time coming back to the city. Everything was brand-new. I had never been in a relationship before, not that I was even thinking about that when we met. It was a lot of firsts—an exciting time. We just kind of hit it off. We actually had a pretty slow progression. I think we really took our time, and that’s something, in retrospect, I’m really grateful for. I was not sure what I wanted, and I’m not sure Richie necessarily knew either, but having that slow pace where you really take your time to get to know someone before you jump into things too seriously was definitely something I think was really important for us.”
When they knew it was love:
BD: “We both kind of knew around the same time. It was a matter of maybe six months after we started hanging out. Things were definitely still not that serious, but I went back to France around the holidays to see my family. Richie was on this long trip in Europe, as well. We weren’t actually communicating all that much, but I think we both missed each other. When we came back, Richie was like, ‘Look, I’ve been thinking about you. I need to know.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to keep you in my life.’ That’s when we both knew it was more serious, that we were taking a further step of commitment towards each other without defining it too much. It was like, ‘OK, we care about each other. Let’s see what’s up and just bring down some of the walls a little bit.’ They really build up, especially when you live in New York.”
RS: “To add to that little anecdote, I’ve never really been an avid TV or movie watcher. That was never my thing at all. I was like, ‘Honey, my life is a movie. I can barely keep up in my IRL day-to-day.’ But a big thing that Ben and I would do is we would watch TV. It really set this very comforting tone because my life had a lot of really intense turns. I had a lot of career things happening. He really put me at ease, and that’s what I’d been missing.”
BD: “My favorite show, the show I fall asleep to, is The Office. I know that show in and out, like every single episode. Richie had never seen it. I had a hard time believing that. It’s kind of like when someone says they’ve never seen Friends. It’s like, ‘Not even in a hotel?’ You know what I mean? I was like, ‘This is not going to fly because I’m very referential and dropping little jokes from The Office left and right. It’s funnier if you know what I’m talking about. We’ve got to fix this.’ So we started watching it together. Obviously, Richie got into it because it’s like, the best show ever. When Richie came back from Europe, she brought me a Dundie, which, if you’ve watched The Office, it’s like this award they give out. She got me a Dundie for ‘Hottest in the Office.’ That’s when I knew that Richie knew.”
RS: “Our intimacy really grew. It grew into such a beautiful thing. Television and movies, that’s one of our favorite activities. I definitely think, especially in the past year, with the pandemic—SVU, The Sopranos, The Office, we watch Bob’s Burgers, we do movie night with some of our close friends who come over. That and a really nice dinner. Ben is the cook, so he is always whipping something up in the kitchen. We built this space of comfort with work and collaboration still being really, really important. That’s what keeps the whole thing going is us constantly building things together.”
BD: “Pushing each other out of our comfort zones.”
RS: “Yeah, a lot of listening, discussing. Things get hot in the kitchen, so we take a little break. It’s become so organic.”
BD: “Obviously, this pandemic is difficult, but I think in general, with relationships, anyone will tell you it takes a lot of work and it’s not always easy because you have to confront a lot of different sides of yourself and you have to learn about this person. You’re accountable for more than just you. There are moments that are more difficult than others, but I feel like personally, I’m a creature of comfort. There are some times where I’m like, ‘Oh my god, is this worth it?’ But it’s always like, ‘Yeah, it is,’ because I wouldn’t sacrifice growth and love and discovery for the habitual and the comfort. I think it’s important to push yourself. It’s just part of the journey.”
Can you put the way it feels to love and to be loved into words?
BD: “Definitely good.”
RS: “I think to know that I have the love of Ben is something that, at this point, is keeping me going. Ben’s been by my side through all of the most incredible moments and some of the worst moments. Talking about the loss of close friends, talking about health crises, talking about career ups and downs—he’s always there. It’s a lot of balance, a lot of equilibrium, a lot of ‘I got you, we’re going to get through this together.’ Some days it’s hard. We’re seeing the world turning upside down, but we’ve grown exponentially in this time. I’m also an extremely loyal individual and the same goes for Ben. Our loyalty is unparalleled. It’s unbound. Whatever context I’m in, I’m always thinking about him. He’s my first thought, my last thought. ‘What the hell is going on with Ben?’ I’m so not a homebody. Ben works in his studio, he’s making his music, editing videos. I’m out in the world doing my thing, but to just know that when I come home I have that safe space where Ben is my sounding board. It’s a really, really powerful feeling. It’s not something that I’ve ever experienced before. I couldn’t imagine life without Ben.”
BD: “Richie was saying this a little bit before, but I feel like something that really kept us together is the fact that we’re both creators. We’re always working on something. Richie works harder than anyone I know. Richie literally has 10–15 projects going on at the same time. I admire that because I also have strong Virgo energy. I’m totally lost if I don’t have something I’m working on. Being a creator is also really vulnerable because you have to make things that are really intimate. You pour yourself into these things that get released or don’t get released or have a second of attention before it’s on to the next. It’s a difficult process, and for me, I think having Richie by my side has been the best thing. Richie is always encouraging me and pushing me to put myself out there and helping me navigate things in a world that’s still somewhat foreign. I’m learning every day.”
RS: “My life is built upon creativity. Creativity is my survival, my sustenance. It’s what keeps me going. The way in which people see queerness, the way people see transgender, nonconforming bodies and our output—I’m very much in this realm of stripping away us being seen as these activists and just being seen as a creative because I’m so over it. Having Ben by my side, who sees all of the things I represent, who sees the power of my brain and my body and my mind, has been so great. The same goes for him. I constantly want both of us to look outside of the box and to push the envelope, take risks.”
Moments of clarity:
RS: “I have type 1 diabetes, and I just got a monitor for it. Ben is connected to my Dexcom so he can see my readings all day and all night. I was sleeping at my friend’s house who was visiting from L.A., having a sister slumber party. At like, two in the morning, my monitor was making these insane noises. My phone was going crazy. Ben called my girlfriend and was like, ‘Richie needs to wake up. She needs to take one of her shots.’ My girlfriend looked at me and she was like, ‘Wow, Ben really is the one.’ It was like, ‘Damn, he’s such a thoroughly loyal being.’ Granted, there were alarms going off, so it was waking him out of his sleep, but it was in this small moment that I realized I’m really, really fortunate.”
BD: “I feel like I just have them pretty often. Something I’ll say is I’m really grateful to be in this relationship, especially at this time. Something that I’ve been grappling with is the ever-evolving nature of relationships, not just romantic ones, but in your life. I’m someone who really values friendships. I had never really been in a relationship before this. For me, it was all about my friends and my network. That’s what fed me and kept me going. Obviously, this pandemic really heightened a lot of that, in ways that are positive but also in ways that are tricky and make you feel more isolated. You find yourself being like, ‘Who do I talk to?’ It’s been a year since I’ve seen this person because we’re in different cities or doing our things. There’s just not the accessibility and the contact. For me, knowing that I have Richie, who is just there for me, has really helped me get through a time of more heightened solitude. I feel especially grateful for Richie as my partner.”
Photo assistant: Emerald Layne; Stylist assistant: Rashonna Duett; Richie wears Valentino dress, Reike Nen shoes, Sara Robertson earrings, Dior bracelet, Young Frankk bracelet, Full Louis Vuitton look, Louis Vuitton shoes, and Dior earrings; Ben wears Christopher John Rogers two-piece, Gucci loafers, Another Feather necklace, The Break Vintage turtleneck, Dior pants, and Maryam Nassir Zadeh sandals.
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