Words by Erika Ramirez. Photography by Aja Hitomi.
Something shifts when you’re close to turning 30. You’re on the cusp of not simply a new age, but of what feels like a new phase in your life. You stop asking for permission and forgiveness from yourself as much as from others, and you start putting yourself first. For some, it’s quitting a 9-5 to pursue one’s passion, or it’s not waiting, but walking away. For others, it’s caring if you see yourself, instead of if someone else does.
Here’s where you’ll find Yunalis Mat Zara’ai, also known as Yuna. As she approaches 30, officially on November 14, the singer-songwriter and self-taught guitarist veers her love towards herself. “I spent my 20s trying to impress people, and wanting people to like me. I realized I wasn’t doing it right,” she admits. “I have to appreciate myself and take care of myself, because I’m the only one who’s able to do so fully.”
It’s a sentiment threaded through her third U.S. full-length effort, Chapters, where she explores the loves she’s lived through, and what she’s learned along the way, and something she’s open to discuss during our discussion for ILY’s June/July cover story. One of the biggest lessons she’s learned is when detaching yourself from the story you created with a lover—not simply the lover—only then will you be open to accept what the universe has planned for you. For more keys to mentally jot down, read below.
ERIKA RAMIREZ: Where or from whom did you learn about love?
YUNA: My parents, of course. I see how they love each other unconditionally, and even when they get into arguments, they work it out. My dad always protects my mom, in any situation. I admire the fact that they have been happily married for 32 years.
How does how you love affect how you create?
I care about what or who I love, a lot. I get very protective, and I’m very thoughtful. When I create I’m the same way. I care a lot about what I put in to my work and what I put out. I always want it to be something great. I get very protective of my work. It’s who I am.
Describe what you go through when you have a crush. Do you tell someone or do you keep it to yourself?
I’m really shy when it comes to having a crush on someone. I don’t tell anyone about it. I keep it to myself. I do get excited about it though, like, I’m maybe going to see this guy today! I make sure of my feelings before I go ahead and tell someone. I’m a pretty direct person so I definitely let someone know if I like them, but later on, like after a couple of months or years. I [wait] because you never know, you might just change the organic growth of a relationship. I don’t really like to spoil friendships that way. Sometimes it’s just a crush, it’s just a feeling that you have at the moment. Sometimes a crush is a phase you have to go through.
I need to take time and learn about a person, and learn about the person that I am, before investing in a relationship.
How do you know when it’s more than crush and you’re ready to tell someone?
If I’m ready to take the next step, and if I’m really, really ready for something, then I tell this person [that] maybe there’s something more here than just a friendship. For me, it’s kind of tough when it comes to relationships. I don’t really date around. First of all, I don’t go around and date because I don’t have the time. Second of all, I don’t like to get myself into something that’s going to disappear later. I put my heart and soul into a relationship. I have to be sure.
You take it seriously.
Yeah, I take it seriously. I don’t just have a crush and then next week I’ll have a crush on someone else.
In your single “Crush,” there’s a part where you sing, “I hope it’s not too much.” How is that feeling for you, of it being too much?
When you tell someone that you like them, you’d like to take things slow and see where it’s going without jumping into whatever. I’ve learned that I need to take time and learn about a person, and learn about the person that I am, before investing in a relationship. I haven’t gone through that in a while though. It’s really hard to impress me now. It takes a while for me to fall head over heels. I’m much older now. I’m wiser.
A relationship shouldn’t feel like a cage. If you wake up feeling heavy or restricted, you have to ask yourself if the relationship is worth sacrificing your freedom and happiness.
What’s something you learned from your most recent relationship?
You can’t change someone, and you can’t let someone change you. A relationship shouldn’t feel like a cage. If you wake up feeling heavy or restricted, you have to ask yourself if the relationship is worth sacrificing your freedom and happiness.
Have you encountered an unrequited crush?
Yeah, of course…Tom Hiddleston. I’m kidding. [Laughs] Yeah, Shia LaBeouf. [Laughs]
I’ve gone through that, but mostly when I was in high school. Those were the times when you feel something for the very first time or when you feel the excitement of falling in love, heartbreaks…I like to transport myself back to that phase in my life, when I was exploring different kinds of feelings [of] love.
How do you get over unrequited love? How do you get over the lows in love?
There’s no way to completely get over something. For me, what’s difficult is to get over the experience you had together, all the moments you shared with a person. Sometimes when I’m not over something, it’s that I’m not over the story, especially when the story was so beautiful. You wrote this story with someone, and then–all of a sudden–you’re not able to continue it. And, it ends in a certain way–a tragic way. You then can’t get over the story.
I was in a really long relationship with someone and then it ended, and I always felt like I wasn’t able to get over this person. I thought, I’ve grown. I’ve grown to become a different person. Why do I still feel this way? I’m totally different from this person. I have my own life now, so why am I not over this person? I realized it’s not the person I’m not over, it’s our story. It’s hard to let the story go. But, you need to realize that more experiences are coming your way. More good things are coming your way. It’s all meant to be. I was raised to accept things the way they are. You can’t force things. You just have to move on.
I never thought of separating the person from the story. Sometimes we feel stuck…It may not be the person that we’re not over, but the story we’re still hanging on to.
Sometimes you think about how much you’ve gone through with a person, and that you tried everything. You ask yourself, how come it didn’t work out? Maybe you’re not meant to be with this person, but what attaches you to this person is what you went through. You shared memories with family and mutual friends. You went to places together, spent time together. You created memories. Some of these things are still in your life. Some of these things are things you still love, so you’re not completely over it yet.
Nowadays, I’m trying to learn how to be a better person and be more accepting to what the universe is trying to show me. Whatever the universe is handing me, I have to be there to accept it.
Love is loving who you are. Love is accepting your flaws, and then you’ll find someone who will love you for you–the best version of you.
What is love to you?
I’m almost 30. I’m turning 30 at the end of the year. In my book right now, love is loving who you are. I’ve stopped overexerting my love. Does that make any sense? Don’t overexert yourself, your love, your energy for those who won’t reciprocate the love. I stopped, and I’m happier. I found that my true love is myself. In Chapters, I talked about all these different chapters in my life: “Unrequited Love,” “Best Love,” “Too Close” (which is about new love), “Crush,” and “All I Do” (which is about trying to move on desperately and not being able to). The underlying message is to love yourself first and foremost. I have to appreciate myself and take care of myself, because I’m the only one who’s able to do so fully. Love is accepting your flaws, and then you’ll find someone who will love you for you–the best version of you. Someone will come and appreciate you–all of you.
It sounds like you’re keeping some love for yourself.
Yes! I spent my 20s trying to impress people, and wanting people to like me. I realized I wasn’t doing it right.
What about love would you tell your younger self?
It’s okay to let go of something you love, especially when they don’t belong to you in the first place. You got to carry on and look forward in life.
Im happy to read those.i love u kak yuna xoxo 😆😆💕💕
This blessed me Yuna! Thank you for sharing your light!