Not too long ago, I was having a conversation with someone who is still hung up on her ex. The deets are these—they were together for a couple of years, they broke up because she wanted something more long-term while he didn't, and they've been broken up for about six months now.
Me? I'm the kind of person who is a total advocate for taking as much time as a person needs to heal. At the same time, I don't get how anyone can do that if they don't "clean break" their relationship with someone; even if it's only for a season. Unfortunately, the woman I'm referring to isn't doing that. Not even close. While she's out here thinking that she can't move on from her ex because there is some sort of cosmic connection between the two of them, I'm on the sidelines totally believing that it has more to do with some of the things I'm about to share with you.
When you dated someone that you were really into, just like you didn't fall for them overnight, it takes more than a week to get over them too. But, if you are really struggling to let one of your exes go, something tells me it may have to do with one of the six reasons on this list, sis. Does it?
He Broke Up with You (Not the Other Way Around)
One particular ex that I have, I wish we had never gotten into a relationship. Not because he isn't a good guy; last I checked, he totally is. It's just that, he has a rule that once he breaks up with someone, the last thing that he wants to be with them is friends. And since he and I were homies first, not having him in my life can be hard, at times. Anyway, when I ran into him once and shared that with him, he rolled his eyes in the most masculine way possible and said, "Shellie, you already know that I don't stay connected to exes…especially you because you are the one who broke up with me."
On the onset, what he said might seem egotistical. And yes, there might be some of that thrown into the mix. But I can sympathize with a lot of where he is coming from. When you're in a relationship with someone, you care about them deeply and ending it isn't on your radar, when they decide to call things off—where exactly are your feelings supposed to go? Even if you are truly hurt by what they did, that doesn't mean that you don't care about them anymore.
So yeah, out of all of the reasons why you may not be able to get over your ex, them breaking up with you could be the most impacting. For this one, clean-breaking, time, healing, and accepting the reality of what happened is the prescription that I would recommend. You deserve someone who wants you. It's hard to get to him if you're still all mentally and emotionally caught up in your ex.
You Didn’t Get the Closure That You Needed
I've got a theory that a lot of men don't want to give women closure because they have, what I call, "keep her on the shelf" syndrome. What I mean by that is so long as they don't formally or officially end things, in their mind, it gives them the opportunity to come back—or at least reach out for time to time or (if you're not careful) get some a few times a year. As a result, when we don't require that closure transpires, that can get us caught up in their tawdry little web. We'll be out here not letting ourselves fully move on because we think there is still a chance to make something happen with "him".
Not only does this kind of drama keep you stuck, it's also pretty cruel on his part. Sure, he might still have feelings for you and sure, he might not be sure what the future holds but he's not guaranteeing you anything either. Plus, I wouldn't be surprised in the least that he's got five other girls caught up in the very same web he's been spinning for you (SMDH).
If there's one thing that I know about a man, it's that what he wants, he will make it clear that he desires it; he will also do everything within his power to obtain it and maintain it.
If your ex is only making the effort to call to see if he's still got an emotional hold on you or if he can come over and "hit", engage the conversation. Invite him over. Then get the closure that you need while making sure you close your home's door and your heart's door afterwards. A man who is emotionally ambiguous is a man who doesn't need to waste one minute of your time. Don't let him.
The Relationship Is Now a Situationship
Please tell me that you said "duh" when you read this particular point. Oh my goodness, words cannot convey enough how real oxytocin is! If you're out here downgrading what you've got going on from a relationship to a situationship, what that sounds like to me is, he's getting all of the perks and privileges of being with you without the responsibilities. When a man gets that comfortable, of course he's not going to totally end things. Why should he? There's a huge chance that you're being his girlfriend without him being your boyfriend in return.
Just recently, while getting my nails done, I was talking to a woman who told me that she was no longer with her ex. You know what else she said? They still have sex and she's even had—count 'em—two children by him since they "ended" things. But because they aren't "officially" together, he sees other women.
Why wouldn't he? They aren't in a relationship; they are in a situationship. And when there aren't clear standards put into place between two people, that makes things confusing. It also makes it close to impossible to get over them too.
You Haven’t Set Boundaries with the People You Both Share
In hindsight, one of the absolute hardest things about breaking things off with the exes in my life was realigning boundaries with their family members. Shoot, to this day, one of my exes nieces and nephews still come to me for insight and advice and we've been broken up for well over a decade now. My ex has a relative, in particular, who continues to hope that we'll end up back together someday. Yeah, that's not gonna happen, but when the break-up was fresh, hearing that person talk about what could've been, on loop, it was a little difficult—and I was the one who actually ended it.
I'm not saying that it's automatic that if a relationship comes to an end, the relationships that were birthed out of that connection need to automatically follow suit. But what I am saying is, if you're still talking to his mama every week, shopping with this sister all of the time, or going over there for holidays, that is bound to do a number on your psyche. Same goes for both of you having friends who like to provide updates on what the two of you are doing, even though the two of you are apart.
So yeah, a new normal, complete with a new set of boundaries of each other's peeps, are also needed. Otherwise, it could take you for-e-ver to totally get over your ex.
You’re Not Being Intentional About Grieving and Moving On
Anyone who doesn't feel that a relationship is like a death is someone who hasn't been in love before. I've been through a lot, but when I look back, very few things even come close to heartache. Sometimes, it's so devastating that we want to do any and everything but walk through the grieving process. But believe me, if you don't, you are going to feel confusion, pain, resentment or all of the above for much longer than you ever should.
A few months ago, I wrote "Why You Need To Grieve Your Past Relationship". If you're not still over your ex and you actually want to be (I'm about to get more into that in just a sec), please check it out.
Sometimes, no matter what our ex is or isn't doing since the break-up, we're not able to get past him because we're not making it a point to walk through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) so that we can really, truly and fully heal.
You Don’t Want to Get Over Him
I recently read a quote that said, "How often have you wounded yourself by getting angry, fearful, jealous or vengeful?" In the context of this article, I'll add another quote about the power of the mind—"I found that when you start thinking and saying what you really want, your mind automatically shifts and pulls in that direction." What both of these points point to is the fact that if you can't get over your ex, it's probably because you don't want to. You're literally not choosing to.
Just think about it. If the break-up was bad and/or he has made it abundantly clear that he doesn't want to be with you anymore, to keep pining for him…is that not a form of self-harm? And since thinking and saying what we want is what ends up tugging at our spirits, isn't that continually choosing to hurt yourself?
I'm not saying that there aren't instances when exes break up and get back together. In fiction, there's Queen Sugar's Darla and Ralph Angel. In the real world, there are examples like R&B artist Miguel and his wife Nazanin Mandi and Common and his girlfriend Angel Rye. Still, I'm thinking that if you're reading this, there is something within that is telling you that it's time to focus on some other things; that holding a torch for your ex has been burning you, not benefiting you.
Besides, if he wants you back, he'll make that abundant clear in his own way and time (check out "If He REALLY Wants You Back, He'll Do This."). In the meantime, why not use the time apart to heal, to better yourself and to evolve as an individual. That way, if getting back together is truly meant to be, hopefully, because you are both in a healthier space, breaking up again will hardly be necessary (reading this article again will be too).
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
Have You Brought Ex Baggage Into Your New Relationship?
Why Running Into Your Ex Can Be The Best Thing Ever
#AskDV: How Do I Get Over An Ex?
I Broke Up With My Boyfriend After Four Years And A Year Later He Became The Love Of My Life
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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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xoNecole's New Visual Hair Story "The Root Of It" Is Here
For Black women, hair isn't just hair. It's our mouthpiece and our magic.
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Watch episode one of "The Root Of It" now, and stay tuned for episodes two and three!