For actress Shalita Grant (Search Party) and MMA champion Jessica "Jag" Aguilar, it's been a pandemic romance. The two met through a mutual friend when Grant was open to dating again after a divorce. As soon as they started texting -- Grant in Los Angeles, and Aguilar in Florida -- there were sparks, and soon, they were talking on the phone.
For their first phone call, Grant, ready for anything, decided to put on some makeup in case her new paramour wanted to see her face.
"I put on some mascara because I was like, 'What if this turns into a FaceTime? We've been chatting for a month, so it could?" Grant says. "And in the conversation, she had made me laugh so hard I started crying and had wiped my face."
That's when Aguilar accidentally FaceTimed her. "I was laying on my bed and we were talking on the phone and the phone just fell and FaceTime appeared," Aguilar says. She was greeted by a makeup-smeared Grant. "I had mascara all over my face and I was like, Really?!" she recalls.
The makeup faux pas didn't deter Aguilar, and a month later she was on her first visit to California. The relationship came at a perfect time. The world was in flux with a global pandemic and political upheaval, and both of their careers were reaching milestones. "When we met, everything was so uncertain with the rest of the world," Aguilar says. "But I think that the universe gave us a reset and put each other in our lives for a reason."
Aguilar has been a mixed martial arts fighter since 2006, and she has amassed 20 wins in her pro career. When she left the World Series of Fighting, she was the reigning Women's Strawweight Champion. She knows what it's like to be on top.
Grant began her career on the stage, scoring a Tony nomination for her original role of Cassandra in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Then she moved to television, starring in NCIS: New Orleans. But it was this last year that she began to garner critical praise for her acting on HBO Max's dark comedy Search Party. There she plays a 4-foot-11 lawyer with vocal fry who manages to be the most hilarious character on a show filled with hilarious characters, and also a formidable attorney. It's an award-worthy performance for which she's earning Emmy buzz.
"It's really soul-nurturing to be at a pinnacle in your career and have the world be so lovely and so grateful for your work and your home life match your outside," Grant says about the timing of the relationship and the show.
"It's nice to be around my partner and know that she's another badass woman in her field," Aguilar adds. "She's at the peak of her career and this is her time. And I've been world champion. I've gone to win gold medals for the U.S. teams, so I know what it's like to be there."
She smiles over Zoom -- "Lesbians, we have happy endings too, right?"
They hope that others see their relationship as two successful women of color -- Grant is Black and Aguilar is Mexican-American -- and feel inspired. "You can be interdependent and do what you love and support each other, and your relationship isn't bogged down with these rules and expectations that have nothing to do with the individuals in the relationship," Grant says. "It should be about you and not about what is expected of you."
"It's powerful," Aguilar agrees. "I think we have so much to share. I just want to inspire the next generation to be themselves, to love, and not be afraid of anything -- just to go after greatness."
They're both striving for new heights. Aguilar has signed on with a new fighting league, the XFC, and will be announcing her next fight soon, and Grant will be appearing on the next season of Netflix's hit show You.
Grant says that her partner is much more tender than a lot of people would expect from an MMA world champion. She says she's great at doing her hair and staying up until 4 in the morning giving her a pedicure, which Grant says will be featured in the upcoming season of You.
"Now, but this pedicure, no spoilers, but it's a part of a really heightened moment in the season," Grant says.
"It's going to be iconic," Aguilar adds.
For her part, Aguilar says that Grant supports her too, even with training. "We wrestle a little bit," she laughs. "Don't be fooled by that smile!"