If there is a book that I will forever recommend to folks when it comes to relationships (professional or personal, platonic or romantic), it'sSafe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't. When you grow up around people who aren't very safe — mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, relationally, spiritually…chile, you name it — and if you're trying to break the generational curse of all of that mess, you come to find the word "safe" to be one of your favorite ones and biggest aspirations.
I adore everything about safe. Safe means "secure from liability to harm, injury, danger, or risk". Some synonyms for safe include healthy, sound, whole, careful, discreet, considerate, vigilant, forethoughtful (I really like that one), genuine and trustworthy. I must admit that, for years, due to a lot of what happened in my childhood and adolescence and then the PTSD that followed, when it comes to some of the words that I just shared, I wasn't the safest person either — safe to myself or for others. These days, though? Baby, I am hypervigilant about being a safe space and not allowing anyone into my personal sphere who isn't one as well.
Thing is, so many of us are around toxic people (check out "Why You Should Be Unapologetic About Setting Boundaries With Toxic Family Members", "10 Signs You've Got A Close (TOXIC) Friend" and "Estranged From A Family Member? Let That Guilt Go.") so much that we don't even pause to think about 1) what it means to engage safe people and, more importantly, what it means to actually be a safe individual. Let's especially unpack that second part today, shall we? If a goal in your own life is to have people define you when you die as, not being perfect (that is unrealistic as all get out) but safe, here are six clear signs that you are indeed, just that.
1. Words Like “Manipulative”, “Controlling” and/or “Triggering” Aren’t Used to Describe You
Lawd. Some people are so manipulative that they don't even recognize it. Why? Because they manipulate themselves more than they do anyone else. What are some of the signs of a manipulative person? They gaslight. They have "selective memory" (don't remember what they do wrong but remember everything you don't do right) in order to achieve their goals and stratagems. They like to use guilt to get you to do things you don't want to do. They look for loopholes when it comes to your boundaries and limits. They play the victim as a way to deflect from responsibility. They apply pressure to get things to go their way. They flatter a lot, only in order to butter you up (even the Bible rolls its eyes on flattery; look it up sometime). They try everything in their power to make you feel insecure or second-guess yourself. They hold grudges and/or give the silent treatment. And why do they do this? In order to gain some sense of control over you.
And what do controlling people look and live like? They aggressively violate your boundaries. They constantly criticize (even if it's backhanded compliments). They are moody as all get out (because they like for people to walk on eggshells around them). They keep tabs on everything (what you did and didn't do). They are intimidating (on purpose). They are hypercritical. They are constantly stirring up drama (online, off or both). They take control of all conversations so that you feel as if you don't have a voice. They're nosey and don't honor privacy (and feel justified in being that way). They're territorial. And these kinds of people are oftentimes triggering…by design…because they want to be.
So, here's the thing about triggers. Folks' triggers are not other people's fault. In fact, I'll be the first to say that once you recognize that you have a trigger, it is your responsibility to get to the root of what that trigger is so that you can process, heal and deactivate it as much as possible (check out "How To Handle Folks Who 'Trigger' You"). However, an unsafe person will either make it their mission to find your triggers, stomp on them as much as possible and then say you're overreacting when you respond to what they are doing or they will keep testing your "trigger areas" to see if they still work.
In short, manipulative, controlling and triggering people do not provide a space for peace or even a way for you to relax. And when it comes to being a safe person, folks should see you as a place to be able to do both.
2. People’s Secrets Are Well Kept
Let me give you a heads up that if you've got to say, what I'm about to say, before telling someone something, you shouldn't tell them at all — "Promise me you won't say anything." What in the world? While I will say that some of us are way more open than others (me, for instance) and so sometimes getting clarity on how on-the-low what you've been told may need to be, what I am speaking of is something that anyone with a lick of common sense knows should be kept to themselves. A safe person will never need to heads up on keeping the information close.
Case in point. I've got a friend who is damn near hilarious when it comes to how well she can keep a secret or just intel, in general. It's to the point where, if I just spoke with her mom or her daughter and I call her and ask her where they are headed for the day because I need something from them, she will usually say something along the lines of, "Call them back and ask." To me, it's not that big of a deal (lawd) while, to her, her motto is, "What folks want you to know, they will tell you." Because she's such a vault in this way, I can also rest easy that whatever I tell her, it will stay with her. Matter of fact, I don't think I've ever told her anything while feeling the need to put some sort of "keep it hush" tag on it. And we've been pretty tight for about 20 years now (in part, because of that).
Anyway, when it comes to the topic of keeping things a secret, oftentimes we associate that with being sneaky or something. Yet it's important to remember that honoring someone's secrets is really just about keeping information confidential. Another definition that I really like when it comes to the word "secret" is "kept from the knowledge of any but the initiated or privileged". That's dope because it's a reminder that, when someone shares with you private and personal information, that is not a "right" but a privilege. You should feel privileged when people tell you things that they don't want other people to know.
While we're here, another indicator of a safe person, on the secret tip, is even if a relationship shifts, the secrets still remain safe. This goes for divorced couples. This goes for broken friendships. This goes for ended work dynamics. Safe people don't "switch up" just because a connection does. If you agreed that something remains solely between you and another person, it honestly needs to remain that way. Period. If you want to be considered a safe person, anyway.
3. You Are Consistent in Your Character
People of strong character are generally people who are safe to be around. And just what does it mean to have good character? Are you accountable? Are you reliable? Do you keep your word, no matter what? Are you honest? Are you loyal? Do you operate from a place of unwavering integrity? Do you have a sense of compassion? Are you respectful? Do you see humility as something that is a desirable trait? Are you consistent with your words and actions (lawd!)? Do you know how to be patient? Can you forgive? Do you love well? I know, a tall order, right?
While being a person of great character isn't easy, the point with this one is it's something that you actually strive to do. Hmph. You'd be amazed how many people don't do things like hold themselves accountable (instead, they want to blame everyone and everything else for their choices and outcomes); forgive (as if they are without flaw and don't need it); humble themselves (and admit when they're wrong); do what they say they are going to do; tell the truth (no matter what), or respect people's boundaries.
Character, as it relates to safety, simply means that you're someone who others know come from a solid and honorable place. Yes, you may mess up and disappoint from time to time yet it's not a constant thing and when you apologize and own your mess, they know that you will do your best to not repeat the same mistake — or bad choice — twice (and definitely not redundantly). For all of these reasons, it's hard to separate words like "character" and "safe".
4. You Allow Others to Be Themselves
This one is a good one. Before I get deep into this, let me put up the disclaimer that someone allowing you to "be yourself" doesn't mean that they sit around and let you be reckless AF. A part of what comes with being in relationships with other people is trusting them to hold you accountable which includes telling you things that you may not want to hear. Indeed, some folks are so busy "not judging" that their loved ones are destroying the quality of their lives — and that is unfortunate.
No, what I mean by this is, the quote that I oftentimes use — "If two people were exactly alike, one of them would be unnecessary." An auto racer by the name of Larry Dixon once said that. An unsafe person is so insecure that they think their job is to make other people look, think and act like them, so that they can feel better about themselves. On the other hand, a safe person doesn't need "groupie clones" because 1) they are uber confident in their own individuality and 2) they like seeing others as unique and as avenues to learn and experience new and different things.
I can't tell you how many times that I've sat in a session with a married couple and rolled my eyes (sometimes inwardly, sometimes outwardly), all because it was abundantly clear that one partner was unsafe as all get out because they spent more time trying to change their partner to be more like them than celebrate the rareness and originality that their spouse brought to the table.
When people can be their authentic self around you, that is a beautiful thing. It also is such an indication of being a safe person. How safe are you?
5. You Don’t Weaponize Your Love
A motto that I made up years ago that I try my hardest to live by is "love is a gift, not a bribe". What that means is, while if two people agree to be in a relationship, what should automatically come with that is some form of reciprocity, you still don't use love as a way to get what you want from other people. Gifts are given voluntarily without strings. Bribes always have some sort of an agenda.
Remember how I mentioned some of the PTSD that I had to heal from (and I still have to stay on top of, if I'm gonna keep it one hundred), some of the other fallout that happened to me as the result of toxic people in my growing up experience is I saw that being loved meant that I had to meet certain expectations or even tolerate patterns of abuse. And so, I used to love people in the same way. If someone feels like you are going to constantly keep tabs on them, how can they ever be at ease in your presence? Also, if you're going to keep moving the goalpost on your expectations and needs or you are going to put forth the kind of energy that makes them feel as if they will never measure up in your eyes, there is not a damn thing that is even remotely safe about that.
Something that really fascinates me about love is people attempt to weaponize it all of the time which means they don't really grasp its purpose at all. Loving someone is the most selfless and agenda-less thing that you can do. This means that if you are anything different from what I just said, you're doing love wrong — you're using it to do more harm than good and it doesn't get much more unsafe than that.
6. You Are Not a Hypocrite
One more. If you're the kind of person who expects people to do and be what you can't even do and be — you are not only unsafe, you're hypocritical as all get out (a lot of church folks immediately come to mind). There is nothing worse than someone who punishes people for not respecting their time when they are always showing up late. Or not forgiving someone for hurting their feelings when they are constantly offending others and expecting them to get over it. Or demanding respect when they are disrespectful AF. Or putting requirements on others when they can't even meet basic needs from those same people. Or wanting folks to constantly be available to them when they can't make those individuals a priority in their life. Y'all know I could go on and on.
The point here is a safe person knows that they are being semi-ridiculous if they're requiring others to be what they aren't even striving to be themselves. Unsafe people? They couldn't care less. That's because they are selfish and draining. They aren't trying to make others feel secure in their relationship with them; they are just trying to see what they can get out of the dynamic, for as long as they can.
Honestly, I am so impassioned about this topic that I could go on and on yet I'm hoping that this is a good starting point of reference. Y'all, the world is crazy enough out here (and getting crazier by the way) without the people who call us "family", "friend" or "loved one" not being able to see us as safe. If some of this provoked an "ouch", there's no time like the present to make some changes. Have safe and be safe. Make that your mantra. Your world will be so much — pardon the pun — safer if you do.
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Different puzzle pieces are creating bigger pictures these days. 2024 will mark a milestone on a few different levels, including the release of my third book next June (yay!).
I am also a Professional Certified Coach. My main mission for attaining that particular goal is to use my formal credentials to help people navigate through the sometimes tumultuous waters, both on and offline, when it comes to information about marriage, sex and relationships that is oftentimes misinformation (because "coach" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, oftentimes quite poorly).
I am also still super devoted to helping to bring life into this world as a doula, marriage life coaching will always be my first love (next to writing, of course), a platform that advocates for good Black men is currently in the works and my keystrokes continue to be devoted to HEALTHY over HAPPY in the areas of holistic intimacy, spiritual evolution, purpose manifestation and self-love...because maturity teaches that it's impossible to be happy all of the time when it comes to reaching goals yet healthy is a choice that can be made on a daily basis (amen?).
If you have any PERSONAL QUESTIONS (please do not contact me with any story pitches; that is an *editorial* need), feel free to reach out at email@example.com. A sistah will certainly do what she can. ;)
How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
I’m willing to bet that this is not the first time you’ve seen this couple. Dalen Spratt is a television producer, owner of a tailored men's suit line, and creator of Ghost Brothers: Haunted Houseguests, which is currently streaming on Destination America. Stacey Spratt is also a serial entrepreneur, focusing mostly on events and the nonprofit world, and she is the owner of two award-winning craft beer bars called Harlem Hops. But their accolades are not what united them.
The couple met years ago at their alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, when they were still working to create the life they have now, and if you had told them then that they’d eventually tie the knot, the pair probably would’ve laughed in your face.
Today, they’re new parents, flourishing in their careers, and each others’ “teammates.” When desiring love, Dalen recommends not looking to other couples for advice. And Stacey advises staying true to what you want. “Don’t put age or limitations on love and children. If God could do it for me, why can’t he do it for you?”
Here's How We Met.
How did you meet?
Dalen: We met in 2005 when she was advising the Greek sororities and fraternities in college. She was old as hell in college, and I was a young buck (laughs). Everybody had a crush on her, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, in 2007, we were in the same grad school class, but she still wasn’t trying to see me then either. I had to catch her five years ago; I was very patient.
Stacey: Yeah, everybody in our grad school class called him Young, Fresh to Death because he was always dressed in B-school (what CAU affectionately refers to as business major classes), and we’d just wear sweatpants (laughs).
So, I know Dalen was always attracted to you. But what about you? Did your attraction to him develop over time?
Stacey: So 2006-2008 – all the years went by. I don’t think we were really thinking about each other at all back then. Years later, I had an event in Dallas, and I booked him to be a speaker. Then, a few years ago, Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: "If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you." But I still thought he was too young at the time, and he started pulling receipts. Taraji P. Henson was dating someone young at the time, Gabrielle Union–
Dalen: First of all, I didn’t do that. You did that.
Stacey: Okay, I did. I thought he was a cutie pie, but that age thing was on my mind!
"Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: 'If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you.'"
Talk to me about the first date. How did he change your mind?
Stacey: Our first date was at Tin Lizzy's in Atlanta. During that time, he was living in Dallas, so it was long-distance. But he came into town, and we just had a good time. We talked a lot, which we still do. It wasn’t anything fantastic.
Dalen: Don’t downplay our first date.
Then, walk me through your courtship. How did you get to the next level? What was that conversation like?
Stacey: I think he knew at age 43 or 44 I wasn’t playing around. But also, I think it just naturally progressed.
Dalen: Yeah, it just happened naturally. And I’m going to be honest, I don’t think initially either one of us thought it would be as serious as it was. She thought I was too young and I wasn’t ready for marriage, kids, and all that. I think we both thought we were just hanging out. But after spending so much time together, a lot of stuff started happening. Like, she had to have surgery early on. It wasn’t just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That’s why we still don’t have an anniversary date because we never really asked.
"It wasn't just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That's why we still don't have an anniversary date because we never really asked."
What made you want to commit to each other?
Dalen: The moment I knew Stacey was for me was from a phone call. I don’t really like talking on the phone, and I can be really blunt sometimes. But we were talking, and I said, ‘I don’t really feel like talking anymore.’ And she was just like, okay, and hung up. I wasn’t trying to be rude, and she understood that. It sounds bad, but that’s how I knew she just got me. I felt like she could get my random awkward moments, and she does to this day.
Stacey: For me, I liked him as a person. Even when times get rough and tough, I could still like him as a human. He is my best friend. We have time. We laugh until we cry, and it’s just always like that. Even when we get pissed at each other, something happens, and we fix it. Also, how he treats his mother. That’s a momma’s boy, but I’m a daddy’s girl – so I get it. I know how I want to be treated, and I see how he is with her and that’s beautiful.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned about yourself through loving your partner in this relationship?
Dalen: I grew up an only child and she grew up with siblings. So, when you have someone who is used to doing things by themselves, there is definitely a learning curve when you get into a serious relationship. It’s funny now, but it was definitely a process.
Stacey: I agree – definitely the only child thing. There’s times I look at him like, did you ever live with anyone else? That comes from being momma's baby, too. I have to say, my “mother-in-love” spoiled him. But also with Axel (their daughter), that brings another level of patience.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images
What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome together?
Dalen: We’ve gone through a lot within the years we’ve been together. We suffered two miscarriages – I’d say that’s the biggest.
Stacey: Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me. I was wondering if I can’t carry [a child] what that looks like for us. We had very real conversations pretty early in our relationship.
"Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me."
What do you fight the most about?
Dalen: Nagging. Stacey nags; she’s a complainer. She’s that momma that will look in a room and just hunt for something to complain about. Like, I’m worried for Axel when she's in high school.
Stacey: It’s because I like things to be in place. He leaves stuff all over the place. I can tell where he’s been in the house because something is left around. So he says I’m nagging – but it’s like, just get your stuff.
What are your love languages?
Dalen: Stacey is gifts all day.
Dalen: We’ve talked about this. xoNecole is about to cause problems in our home (laughs).
Stacey: Obviously I love you. *thinks again* It’s words of affirmation.
Dalen: That’s it.
What’s your favorite thing about each other?
Dalen: I’ve always respected her business-mindedness. That may sound superficial, but it’s not because I’ve never been with someone who thinks like me. It’s one of my most treasured things about her. I remember one day, I was just running through ideas with her, and each time Stacey had a suggestion on how I could make it better. It’s just very comforting. She takes whatever I’m doing and elevates it – including me.
Stacey: I love Dalen’s hustle and creativity. He’s been on multiple shows, and he continues to create, produce, and reinvent himself and the product he’s putting out. I love that we can create together and bounce things off each other. Even though we may be in different arenas, there’s nothing he can’t offer me great advice about. I love that drive.
Finally, how did you know it was love?
Dalen: Well – she said it – first. (laughs)
Stacey: And he looked at me and smiled! He didn’t say it back. We were on a trip, out of the country.
Dalen: We were arguing when she said it, and she just threw it out.
Stacey: But we continue to do that. We’ve spent holidays and everything outside of the country.
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The conversation about sex and intimacy often neglects the experiences of individuals with disabilities. Society's misguided notion that individuals with disabilities are devoid of desires for love, intimacy, and sexual fulfillment is not only preposterous but also damaging, but one disability activist is here to challenge that narrative.
"Society's perception of disability has greatly influenced my own understanding and expression of my sexuality," said author and disabled influencer Tylia L. Flores. "The stigma associated with my disability made it difficult for me to express myself freely, leading to self-esteem issues during my teenage years."
Born with Spastic Cerebral Palsy, Flores refuses to let her condition define her love life or limit her aspirations. As a passionate advocate for her community, she's on a mission to shatter misconceptions and pave the way for a more inclusive understanding of sexuality within the disabled community.
Misconceptions About Sexuality for the Disabled Community
Ableist misconceptions cast shadows over romantic pursuits for disabled individuals. These misunderstandings can lead to assumptions and judgments that hinder their ability to explore and experience love fully.
For instance, Flores revealed that most believe her caregiver, her mother, or another abled-bodied individual has total influence over her decisions with a partner. Contrary to popular belief, Flores wants the world to know she has complete control over her emotions and decisions regarding her dating and sex life.
"By educating others about sexuality and disability, I challenge these stereotypes and break down barriers. By being open about my experiences and advocating for inclusivity, I hope to inspire others to see beyond misconceptions and embrace diverse experiences within the disabled community," Flores stated.
Another misconception is disabled characters in movies, shows, or books cannot be the main character of affection or have sex. Media representations often portray disabled characters as either asexual or objects of pity, reinforcing harmful stereotypes and perpetuating that disabled individuals are not sexual beings.
"The only way we could create a more inclusive world for Black women with disabilities is to have more Black women come out and voice their truths in the mainstream media and literature, and that's my whole goal as an author," said Flores. "I want to see more disabled characters have sex on TV screens and express themselves sexually like abled-bodied characters."
Ignoring The Suggestion of ‘Limited Romance’ in Partners
The stigma surrounding disability and sexuality finds its roots in deeply ingrained societal biases and stereotypes. Throughout history, people with disabilities were systematically marginalized and desexualized, relegated to the fringes of society. This pervasive attitude stems from a misguided belief that disability diminishes one's humanity, erasing desires and needs deemed as "normal" for able-bodied individuals.
"As a Black woman with cerebral palsy, I have faced challenges in navigating intimate relationships. One challenge has been the lingering belief among many that individuals with disabilities should be limited in their romantic choices by only dating or being intimate with other disabled people," Flores explained. "This suggestion is based on assumptions that individuals with physical disabilities are not capable of having fulfilling relationships."
She overcame this by putting herself out there and actively sharing her life and experiences with others. The author also noted that she doesn't have a "type" limited to African Americans or disabled. She prioritized finding love based on shared values, compatibility, and sexual desires. Additionally, she recommended showing yourself without fear of judgment or prejudice when it comes to dating or having a sexual relationship. The right person will value and respect you, disability and all.
Feature image by Renata Angerami/ Getty Images