There is no way for me to hide the absolute joy unspeakable that I have about the fact that fall is just a few days away (September 22)! While there are a billion-and-one things that I adore about this time of the year, one of my favorites is preparing warm dishes, on purpose, to contrast the cooler weather that's headed our way.
At this point, it's kinda becoming a tradition for me to share some of the food trends that are big during each year. So why break with tradition, right? If you enjoy cooking (or you're so-so about it but you want to cook more this fall), here are 10 popular things that totally hit the spot when it comes to autumn-focused foods and drinks (by the way, all of the hyperlinks on foods are connected to recipes. Enjoy!).
1. All Things Apple
It's kinda crazy that we see apples all year-round considering they are in season from late July thru early November yet we'll have to get into the kind of preservatives that are oftentimes put in foods so that we can eat them 12 months out of the year at another time. For now, what I'll say is since the fall is harvest season and apples are being picked in abundance during this time of the year, this is when you should enjoy making as many apple-inspired meals as possible. Apple pie. Apple crisp. Apple butter. Applesauce. Apple waffles. You name it.
2. All Things Pumpkin
You already know. The signature fruit for fall is definitely the pumpkin. Makes sense too since it's in season from mid-September through November. While the first dish that probably comes to your mind is pumpkin pie, don't sleep on other ones like pumpkin bread, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pancakes and even pumpkin milkshakes!
If you've ever wondered what the differences are between a cup of espresso vs. a cup of coffee, the short long of it is they both are brewed differently which results in espresso being a thicker and more concentrated form of whatever coffee bean you're consuming. It's also like taking "a shot" of the bean because while coffee servings are oftentimes eight ounces, espresso is usually just one.
That said, as far as heaping hot brews go, this year, it's espresso that's getting a lot of attention. If you're curious about what some of the current best beans are, Roasty Coffee did an article on the topic. You can check it out here.
Again, since fall is harvest season, I shouldn't be shocked in the least, just how much I've been reading about pickled veggies. Basically, when you choose to pickle a food, you are allowing it to ferment in a brine or vinegar solution (think cucumbers turning into pickles). The health benefits of pickling are pretty cool because it can help you to better digest your food, curb sugar spikes, increase your antibiotic intake, treat muscle cramps and balance your electrolytes. Plus, pickling is so much better for you than canned goods. If you'd like to attempt to do some pickling this fall, it's a lot easier to do than you might think. Click here to watch a video that will walk you through it.
5. Hot Chicken “Junk Food”
I live in Nashville, so of course, I smiled when I saw that hot chicken was a big fall food trend right now (I mean, Nashville Hot Chicken, right?). Hot chicken burgers. Buffalo chicken pizza. Hot chicken wings. Hot chicken chili. Homemade buffalo chicken sauce. If hot chicken is totally your thing, then this is totally your season to dig all the way in!
6. Sweet Potatoes
I like sweet potatoes a lot. One, because they taste great and two, because they're considered to be a perfect food (that basically means that they have a ton of nutrients in them). This is another food that goes really well with being a fall food trend because it's harvested between September and early October. Sweet potato fries. Mashed sweet potatoes. Sweet potato cornbread. Sweet potato guacamole. And definitely sweet potato pie. You can't go wrong with putting some of these in your grocery cart. That's for sure.
Whether you realize it or not, whether it was intentional or not, I'm pretty sure that you've had a mocktail before. It's simply a cocktail that doesn't have any alcohol in it and this is another thing that is big this fall season. I mentioned in the intro that I would hyperlink recipes to all of the specific kinds of foods that I mention. Well, for this, I decided to share mocktails that have a fall theme to them. Caramel Apple Pie Mocktail. Sparkling Citrus Pomegranate Mocktail. Non-Alcoholic Sangria. Maple Pear Sparkler. Mocktail Kahlua Coffee Frappuccino. These are just some of the ones that particularly caught my eye.
8. Vegetarian Soups
Ah. Vegetarian soups. This makes me think about the interesting relationship that I have with tomato soup. For one thing, I absolutely have to crave it. Secondly, I don't really like it unless I can have a homemade grilled cheese sandwich along with it. And boy, if that doesn't say "welcome to fall", I'm not sure what does.
Quinoa Vegetarian Soup with Kale. Vegetarian Tortilla Soup. The Absolute Best Lentil Soup. Chipotle Butternut Squash Chili. Classic Minestrone Soup. Lawd, is there anything better than curling up on your couch when it's cold outside and sipping on a cup of hot homemade soup? I doubt it. I seriously do.
9. Comfort Foods
Comfort foods are just that — foods that bring us comfort, joy and relaxation. The challenge with consuming them all of the time is many of them are high in sugar and/or carbs. Still, being that comfort foods are another huge fall food trend, try to not totally deprive yourself of things like macaroni and cheese, chicken and waffles, deep dish pizza, lasagna (meat here and veggie here) and whatever it is that your favorite auntie likes to make around the holiday season. The way I see it, comfort foods shouldn't be avoided, just consumed in moderation. Enjoy, sis.
Raise your hand if you're shocked that tea is a big fall food trend. If anything, I'm thinking that we're all giving a collective "duh". Still, since herbal tea helps to hydrate, boost immunity, improve digestion, prevent chronic diseases and even stimulate brain function, definitely take out a few moments to check out my shout-out to teas via "10 Hot Drinks To Keep You Warm This Fall & Winter" and "10 'Uncommon' Teas You Should Add To Your Stash (& Why)". So, set aside a weekend to finish that book you've been trying to get around to all year-long and don't forget to have a warm cup of tea while you do it. It's one of the best ways to ring in the fall season. No doubt about it.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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12 Couples Reveal Why They're Happy With A Long-Term Commitment Instead Of Marriage
Listen, if you’ve been rocking with me on this platform on a semi-consistent basis, you know that if there’s one thing that I’m a fan of, it’s marriage. BIG TIME. I’m so in support of it that, as a marriage life coach, my niche is actually reconciling divorces (I Corinthians 7:10-11). At the same time, because I also write for a living, I’d be ridiculous if I was out here acting like the divorce rate is still holding steady and that marriage is on a steady incline; some studies say that there’s been as much as a 60 percent drop over the past several decades.
Yeah, marriage isn’t for everyone. And with articles coming out like Gallup’s “Is Marriage Becoming Irrelevant?” and even a piece that I published on here a couple of years back entitled “Single-Minded: So, What If You Like Dating But DON’T Desire Marriage?” I thought that I would step out and speak with some couples who are totally committed to one another yet have no desire to call each other “husband and wife” just to hear their side of things. Because the reality is, very few things in life are a monolith.
Anyway, 12 couples agreed to share their voices, and I must say that, regardless of the side of the fence that you may be on, they do bring up some points that are worth listening to — and, when it comes to how they choose to love their partner, they share some feelings that are irrefutable too.
*Whenever I do interview pieces, I always prefer to go with middle names; that way, people can speak super freely. This article is no exception.*
1. Riley (28) and George (35). Been Living Together for Three Years.
Riley: "My parents sucked at marriage. They're still together to this day, and they're just as toxic as I remember them. A lot of folks think I'm not married because of their example, but if that were the case, I wouldn't be living with someone, either.
"I grew up in the church, and the idea of keeping your vows to God and your spouse, I respect. I just don't want to feel like I should stay married out of obligation to those vows, so living with someone takes the pressure off. It works for me, so why change it?"
George: "I would get married if she wanted to. I always thought that women would like the security of things being 'on paper.' But since she's fine and things are running smoothly, I'm cool with this too."
2. Elanie (30) and Malcolm (32). Been Together for Eight Years.
Elanie: "I love who I'm with. I was engaged before him, and it just…marriage feels like it's going to totally switch up the expectations, for some reason. I think I feel that way because I've watched countless friends have great relationships until about a year after their honeymoon. Then there's less sex, more stress, and all kinds of new demands and expectations. We don't want marriage to kill a great relationship. Might seem weird to say, but it is what it is…"
Malcolm: "Anyone who knows how to Google knows that marriage never favors men. We get left the most and still have to pay alimony. It's just not a financially wise decision to me. Luckily, I found someone who gets where I'm coming from. She knows I've got her back, but the web of paperwork and then losing a ton of paper? I'll pass."
Shellie here: He's right. Reportedly around 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women.
3. Michelle (43) and Jaxson (40). Been Living Together for One Year.
Michelle: "If you've ever gone through a divorce before, you will totally get why I have no desire to get married again. It's not that marriage isn't beautiful when two people are right for each other; it's that 'right' is more difficult to find than people think, and unraveling your life from someone else is one of the hardest things you will do. I love love. I just don't like [that] there's this assumption that the only way to fully love someone is if you say, 'I do.' I love [Jaxson] more than I ever loved my ex. I think a part of it is because the stress is gone. It feels freer this way."
Jaxson: "My friends are all married, and they hate it. They say there's less sex, more stress, and most of them regret ever deciding to do it. That doesn't make me want to run out and buy a ring. Living together was a big decision, too, but [Michelle] hasn't switched up or expected anything more than when we were just dating. We like living kind of like we're married without all of the heavy expectations that come with it. It works for us better than marriage works for my boys, so…yeah."
4. Lydia (29) and Ezra (27). Been Living Together for Three Years.
Lydia: "I don't remember being a little girl who wanted to get married. I've never gone to a wedding and wanted to catch the bouquet. Wedding dress shopping was not a dream of mine. I dunno.
"I kind of hate that people think that all women want to be a bride or that we're incapable of romantic love unless we've got a ring on our finger. I love my man. I'm not going anywhere — unless he proposes. It's just not the way I see living my life."
Ezra: "Once I decided that I didn't want kids, I didn't see the point in getting married. Talk to a lot of men, especially Black men, and they will admit that choosing a wife is about looking for a good mom to raise children with. We want that structure for our children. That is off of the table for me, so marriage is too. I'm glad I found [Lydia] because all that matters is finding someone who is on the same page as you are."
5. Aimee (31) and Preston (26). Been Together for Two Years.
Aimee: “I don’t want a man to love me out of obligation — marriage comes with obligation. Some of my girls will say, ‘Aren’t you afraid that he could just leave one day and you get nothing?’ and it doesn’t cross my mind until they start saying that sh-t. [Preston] and I were friends before we decided to date. Living together was a natural next move. But it stops there for us. I trust him because of who he is, not because of some document he signed. We’re good.”
Preston: “I think more men should do what we’re doing! At least try it before marriage because you want to make sure you know as much as possible before jumping the broom or whatever folks are doing these days. Marriage isn’t something I wouldn’t do. I just don’t see why it’s necessary. We live together. We’re monogamous. There’s no drama. I don’t want to jinx it.”
6. Wanda (36) and Richard (42). Been Living Together for Seven Years.
Wanda: "Know what's crazy? I've been with [Richard] longer than either of my marriages lasted. I was really young the first time, and my last marriage was more about being afraid of being alone. This relationship gives me space and freedom to heal and get to know myself better. Marriage always felt like I was constantly having to prove myself. Just being with [Richard], choosing him every day, with no red tape — I wouldn't change it for the world."
Richard: "I've never been married before, so I'm not opposed to it. [Wanda] has been divorced twice, so I'm giving her the space to decide what's best for her. Living together isn't a problem; for most men, it wouldn't be. So long as she knows I'm not going anywhere, I'm good. If, at some point, a ring is what she'll need, I'm prepared."
7. Patrycia (29) and Krew (29). Been Living Together for Five Years.
Patrycia: "We're both super ambitious people, and I was raised that when you get married, your spouse comes before all else. I don't disagree with that in theory. I'm just trying to decide if that is what I want to sign up for. In the meantime, he and I are each other's biggest supporters, but because 'marriage' isn't looming over our heads, we don't feel guilty about putting our careers first. It's worked for us really well to be cheerleaders instead of spouses."
Krew: "Not one time has Patrycia ever called me upset because I'm working late. Not one time have I been mad when she had to stay a few days later on a business trip. We're like a weird version of business partners who love each other. I don't think we're together to make a family. We're together to drive us both into the highest realms of success."
8. Stacey (39) and Stephan (35). Been Together for 10 Years.
Stacey: "I guess I'm a real-life 'runaway bride.' I've been engaged twice, and about six months before the first wedding and three months before the second, I called it off. Both were great guys; that had nothing to do with it. I just think that I was programmed to think that I had to get married if I loved someone — and I don't feel that way anymore. I like my space. I don't want to share bills. At the same time, I love my man and desire no one else. All of those things can be valid, and women like me should feel okay about it."
Stephan: "I think if I were to get married, I would end up ruining it because all I'd be thinking about is what was expected of me as a husband, which could prevent me from being a great partner, if that makes any sense. Some people are so focused on word titles that they forget what it means to just love someone and have them love you back. Having the space to love [Stacey] is what's kept me in this relationship for this long. It's the best one I've ever had. She may not be my wife, but she's definitely my everything."
9. Nyla (26) and Luther (27). Been Together for Six Years.
Nyla: "What's so great about being a wife? I'm serious. I don't mean that I don't respect a woman's choice to be one. I just mean that I don't get how that's a pinnacle for so many people. If I do end up getting married, it'll be after I check off the billions of things that are before it on my list. That's why he and I work so well together — we met in college, we both have huge dreams, and we push each other to reach them. Marriage isn't one of those dreams right now. Don't see why that's a problem."
Luther: "I was raised by my father, and what he instilled in me is how to be a self-sufficient man who doesn't settle. I don't want to be a husband or have kids any time soon. If it comes to that, I know exactly the kind of woman I want and the kind of man I need to be. [Nyla] and I agree that because we both don't want a family, we don't have to worry about if we're right for each other when it comes to having one. We're right for each other as encouragers to get this money and be successful, and that is our focus. She's my best friend, and I love her. That beats the 'wife' word for me at this stage in my life."
10. Desi (41) and August (39). Been Living Together for Five Years.
Desi: "I hate the assumption people have that folks who live together are 'less committed' than people who are married. We live together. We share bills, a bed, and a life. The expense of a wedding is dumb. So is having a piece of paper that makes other people feel better about what we have going on. I've never been married, and maybe one day, I'll find it appealing. But with the divorce rate as high as it is? Hell, I think he and I are actually helping to contribute to the fact that you can be totally in love and not end up a statistic. If you're never married, you can't get divorced…right?"
August: "I was married before. It wasn't bad. This is way better, though. I got married because I was given an ultimatum; I got married to not lose my ex, not really because I really wanted to do it. With [Desi], she doesn't pressure me to do anything I'm not ready to do — that helps me to trust her more in my own time. What she doesn't know is if she wanted to get married tomorrow, we could do it because I am not stressed into choosing her. I wish more people got how big that is."
11. Erika (44) and Brice (47). Been Together for 15 Years.
Erika: "Marriage, in some ways, is the natural progression of things; I get that. I just think that it's progression for people who have the goal of getting married someday — and I don't. Believe it or not, I respect traditional marriage and gender roles in them, and that's a huge part of the reason why I'm not interested. My grandparents are happily married and traditional. My parents are too. It's a beautiful thing. I've always been a rebel, though. Why get married and make someone miserable because I'm pushing back all of the time? I'd rather just date exclusively and have my own space and peace of mind."
Brice: "I have everything I need without getting married. I think that says it all."
12. Eryn (45) and Alex (50). Been Living Together for 12 Years.
Eryn: "Have you ever asked people why they want to get married? If they're not giving you a blank stare like 'That's what you're supposed to do' or cramming the Bible down your throat, they are talking about all of the things that they expect someone else to do for them. Me? I don't want to get married because I don't have a good enough reason to do it. What I do have is a good enough reason to love a man, stay with him and be okay with that without needing his last name, a diamond ring, or something to prove that we love each other. I come home every night feeling like what keeps us together is integrity. We don't need vows because our word to each other is good enough. We are the walking example of 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' We should get a welcome mat that says it."
Alex: "[Eryn] is a better woman to me than my wife ever was. She's more thoughtful. She's more supportive. And she's more generous. I used to think that you couldn't be loved the way she loves me unless a woman was married to you. [Eryn] has totally blown that theory out of water!
"Get married. Don't get married. Basically, look for someone who loves you completely and wants to live the kind of life that you do. I found that without being married, and it's made me a fan of living life…just this way."
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