noun: The creation of an online diary; a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page; a website containing a writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites. First recorded in 1995-2000; shortening of weblog.
Some of the best ideas are formulated over a glass of wine, and so it was for this week’s portraits, Alex Nelson and Mike Rubino. The two fashionable gents are partners in real life and online, where they are the creators of a popular lifestyle blog aptly named “Alex & Mike.”
PGN: How do you like to start your mornings?
MR: As soon as I wake up, I drink a glass of water, then coffee — I can’t start without coffee — and then avocado toast. I do that every single day. I need an hour to get up and gather my thoughts before I get started. Alex on the other hand likes to sleep until the very last second …
AN: It depends. If we’re working for the blog and on our own schedule, I’ll do the same as Mike, but if I have to go to my real-estate office, I sleep until the last second and then rush out the door, taking breakfast with me. I’m definitely a night owl: I love staying up late and dread mornings.
PGN: Mike, I hear you’re a Jersey boy.
MR: Yes, from Sewell, N.J. It’s about 20 minutes from Cherry Hill. I grew up and lived my whole life there until college. I went to Lock Haven University near Penn State’s main campus. I majored as a pre-physician assistant. My whole career goal back then was to graduate and become a family or geriatric physician’s assistant. My senior year, I had a little breakdown and decided that I didn’t want to pursue that anymore. I transferred to Drexel for nursing and got an RNBSN there in 11 months and now I’m a nurse at St. Mary’s!
PGN: How did you two meet?
MR: I met Alex at Lock Haven my sophomore year. We were friends at first because we were both still kinda in the closet back then. [Laughing] It took a year and a half of being “best friends” before we realized that we were into each other! We got together in our senior year and have been together ever since.
PGN: Was there a reason you weren’t out yet?
MR: I’ve always known from a young age, but I never acted on it because of how I was raised, hearing my dad make comments in the past, the things you saw in the media and the way gay people were portrayed. But in college, I was exposed to other gay people and started having my own experiences with guys, while I was still passing as straight. I dated a girl in high school whom I thought I was going to marry, but the minute we broke up I began to understand that I really was gay and that I wanted to explore those feelings.
PGN: Was the family very religious?
MR: My dad grew up in South Philly and he has that tough-guy mindset. I don’t want to generalize, but a lot of those old guys just aren’t familiar or comfortable with the gay lifestyle. So I’d hear little jokes or comments and it had an effect on me.
AN: It’s funny looking back from then to now and how much they’ve grown. I’m so close to his dad and the rest of the family; in fact, we were just in California together.
PGN: What was it like when you first told them?
MR: It was right when I graduated college. I was going to work that summer as a camp counselor so I was going to be away for two months. I figured that would give them time to process it. Alex’s parents had already known for a year and …
AN: Pause! You should know that Mike had already asked his parents if I could move in!
MR: Yeah, Alex was moving to Philly from Penn State to work in real estate and he needed someplace to stay so I asked my parents if he could stay with us.
AN: And I was like, I cannot move into their house until they know.
MR: While I was trying to put it off as long as I could. But I told my mom when we were out on a run and she had the best reaction. She started crying and said, “I’m so happy for you. I’ve actually known for a while now and your father and I have talked about it, though he still thinks you like girls.” So I decided to march right into the living room and shout, “Dad, I’m gay!” so there was no question, but it took me several days and I didn’t have the nerve. I asked my mother if she would tell him, but she insisted that I do it. When I finally told him, he said OK but that he didn’t really understand it because he’d never been around gay people. He’s in construction and there aren’t too many openly gay people in that field. But then I went away to camp for two months and when I came back, he was fine and they’ve been great ever since. They love Alex and support us and the whole community.
PGN: So when did Alex move in and did you have to sleep in separate rooms?
AN: I moved in right at the end of those two months.
MR: My parents had already agreed to let him stay when they knew him as my best friend from college. They knew Alex and his parents, which helped.
AN: Thank God he told them, I would have had so much anxiety if he hadn’t, plus I didn’t want to be disrespectful and have them later feel like we were deceiving them. And yes, they were very strict about living quarters: I slept in a different room. We stayed there about seven months before we got our first apartment. It was actually a good thing because I think it made us even closer, to each other and the family.
PGN: So from nursing and real estate, how did you get into the lifestyle business?
AN: It was two years ago and we were both in kind of a rut as far as our careers went. We felt we didn’t have any creative outlets, and we were on the couch one night with pizza and a nice rosé and came up with the idea of doing a YouTube channel. We’ve always really been into fashion and skincare and friends were always asking for advice on what to wear and what to buy. And we always had information or an opinion to share. We already watched a lot of other sites and thought, We could do that! We’ll put a camera up and talk about our outfits and DIY’s… until we realized to do it right, we needed lights and editing equipment, etc. So we decided a blog would be a better route. We didn’t know anything about it, but felt we could figure it out.
MR: I love taking photos and he loves writing, so why not combine strengths?
AN: We were so all over the place at first, we covered any and everything we could think of. We figured, OK, we’ll post it and if we’re lucky, our moms and dads will read it. And that’s how it started, wanting to find something stimulating that we could do together.
PGN: So what were the first blogs about?
MR: We did one on the benefits of coconut oil.
AN: They were awful!
MR: Yeah, we literally had a jar of coconut oil sitting in a pan on the stove.
AN: They’re still on the site; you can see them if you want.
MR: We did one about the structure of a briefcase and why they were a great fashion piece. We had no direction back then!
PGN: What would people find on Alex & Mike now?
AN: We call ourselves Lifestyle bloggers because we don’t just limit ourselves to fashion. Our four main topics are fashion, food, skincare and home decor.
MR: And we try to promote a lifestyle that everyone can relate to. We aim to feature things that are attainable for the average person.
AN: We don’t want people thinking, Oh gosh, I could never afford this or be able to do that.
MR: And we promote things as a couple.
AN: Yeah, we had it relatively easy coming out — most of our struggles were in our own minds but even so, it was still hard. So we want to be open and show what life looks like for a young, gay couple in the city today.
PGN: I didn’t ask where you’re from, Alex.
AN: I’m from central PA. I had a hard time coming out because of internal struggles and I was very depressed for a while about it. My uncle, my dad’s brother, was gay and he was always around, so I knew my parents would be accepting. Yet still, there was a little voice that told me maybe they wouldn’t, maybe they would hate me. I was wrong: From the minute I came out, they’ve been totally incredible and accepting.
PGN: Any siblings?
AN: Yes, a younger brother and sister. My sister was actually upset that I told my parents first instead of coming to her because we’re very close. It’s so weird, you get these horrible thoughts [in your head] of what might happen, as if you’ll say something and the people around you are going to completely change in an instant from the loving people they’ve been your whole life to someone new who rejects you.
PGN: Back to blogging, what are some of the trends for 2018?
MR: Fashion-wise, a big trend is to have looser-fitting clothing than in the past years. We’re coming a little out of the skinny-jeans era into something with wider legs and baggier sweaters for the winter. Camel-colored topcoats are big too.
PGN: No more Russel Brand stick-pole jeans?
AN: We still have them! There’s just more of a variety of what to wear this winter.
MR: Slip-on loafers are in, the mules where your heel is exposed. Gucci started the trend and now everyone’s got them. We certainly won’t be paying $800 for Gucci, but Steve Madden has awesome ones for a fraction of the price.
AN: Not a fashion trend, but I love the fact that men are realizing the benefits of good skincare too. It’s not something that is just for women. We do mask Mondays on the blog and do chats with people. A lot of guys are really engaged in learning about new products and asking questions. People in general are caring more about their health and home and feeling good about yourself and your space.
PGN: It seems that because of guys like Ryan Seacrest, more straight men are comfortable with it.
MR: Oh yeah, he’s a great example. He has an amazing suit line at Macy’s and he shows that if you’re comfortable in your sexuality, that you should be able to wear a nice suit and take care of yourself without worrying what people think. Having nice shoes and styling your hair doesn’t make you less of a man.
PGN: OK, I need you to put an end to something that drives me crazy. Why do men wear single-breasted suits with two buttons and then leave the bottom button undone? Arrrgh!
AN: [Laughing] I don’t know how that got started! I guess it’s because having both buttons done can be tight and constricting, but I don’t know the real reason.
MR: If it makes you feel better, we don’t do that.
PGN: That’s mine, what’s your pet peeve?
AN: When people wear things that don’t fit them. You’ll see a good-looking guy and he’s wearing an ill-fitting suit or pants that sag. I want to say, Go measure yourself and figure out your pant size!
PGN: Or presidents who wear red ties down to their knees?
AN: Ugh! People don’t know the proper length of a tie. That’s what Google is for, people!
AN: Not that we’re old, but the older we get, instead of wanting to go out, we enjoy having dinner and a movie with friends at our place. We entertain all the time.
MR: We also work out and we LOVE home-decor shopping. It’s almost an addiction. Home Goods and Target multiple times a week. It’s an obsession.
PGN: What’s in your house right now?
AN: All Christmas, everywhere you look.
MR: I love decorating for Christmas, I start Nov. 4.
AN: We have a whole “Blogmas” series that we post too.
PGN: Who’s someone you’d want to do a makeover on?
MR: Most of the people that come to mind are people whose style I admire, so there would be no need.
AN: The person who needs it the most is our orange president but I wouldn’t want to do anything to help him. Is there such a thing as a make-under? Make him look worse.
PGN: I think that’s impossible! A movie character that is most like you?
AN: Oh, that’s hard. I’m a very type-A personality, who would that be?
PGN: The Meryl Streep character in “The Devil Wears Prada”?
AN: [Laughing] Oh no! I’m that detail-oriented, but is there a nice version of her? Mike could be a character from any Christmas movie. He’s very sweet and laid-back but still spontaneous and adventurous. He’s Cindy Lou Who!
PGN: From “The Grinch”? Awww, I love that! Fah who for-aze! Dah who dor-aze! Welcome Christmas! Christmas Day!
PGN: Best and worst Christmas presents?
AN: The best was from Alex. He’s great at gifts, I’m awful at it!
MR: It was our first year of dating and I made him an elaborate scrapbook with all the things we’d done together that year.
AN: We still have it. The worst was my gift to him one year. I’m so bad, if you mention something stupid in passing, instead of thinking of something better, I’ll just buy that. He’d said something about Adidas cologne and so when I saw it while walking through Walmart, I bought it. It was one of those boxes with cologne, deodorant and an aftershave.
MR: In the meantime, I bought him a pea coat, a nice wallet and something else really cool.
AN: [Laughing] Well, at that time we were supposed to be just straight friends! I didn’t know! I thought a box of cologne and a gift card was fine. It’s funny, when I came out to my mother, she said she thought it suspect that I got an awful lot of nice presents from someone who was just supposed to be a friend.
PGN: It’s the little things that give us away!