Model. Actor. Musician. Author. Those are just a few words to describe the multi-hyphenate heartthrob that is Don Benjamin.
Hailing from humble beginnings on the South Side, the Chicago native found himself bouncing between Minnesota, Mississippi, and even Florida before settling in Los Angeles in 2005. It was there that he thrust himself into the world of modeling, fashion, and music, securing campaigns with various notable brands such as Bloomingdale's, True Religion, Tillys, Guess, and also appeared as a finalist on America's Next Top Model. But don't let the handsome face and pretty eyes fool you, there's much more to Don than meets the eye. And if you needed further proof of that, look no further than his new book, My Truth. In his debut work, Benjamin opens up about the tests, trials, and testimonies of his life experiences––everything from growing up without his father in his life, growing into manhood, love and loss and so much more.
xoNecole recently got the chance to chat with Don about all things personal evolution, self-love, and dealing with heartbreak. Here's what he had to say:
Courtesy of Don Benjamin
xoNecole: You’ve got your hands in a lot of things with acting, music, modeling, and now your new book. Which of those do you find the most rewarding?
Don Benjamin: I try to make them all coincide as much as possible. As long as I'm being creative, you know expressing different sides of my creativity. Sometimes I'll get really into my music and I'm in a zone where I want to write a ton of music. And sometimes I'm locked in and all about acting and growing. Now I'm all about writing. After spilling my soul, I'm really loving writing books. I've already started writing my second book. But I feel like it all goes together even though they're all different, they still kind of feel like one.
In your book, you talk about the difficulties you faced growing up without your father and the void that that relationship created. Why do you think it’s so important for young men to have that healthy male presence and dynamic?
That's important because, without it, I think it's something that kind of messes us up to where we kinda start questioning ourselves, like 'Was it something I did? Was I not good enough for him to be around?' And it breaks down our self-esteem. For me, I just bottled it in. My mother was always asking if I wanted to talk to a professional about it but I would always bottle it in, not really realizing how unhealthy it is and how it leads to bigger issues. But I think it's important to put yourself around men that are of a positive influence. Because when you grow up in that situation, you're kind of hungry for the influence of a man that's going to help guide you since you didn't get that from your father.
A lot of times, it leads you to other broken situations where you find yourself with other men who didn't have their father around. And you're following the footsteps of the people you see in the media and it just leads to an unhealthy pattern. That's what I found in myself. I kinda had to snap out of it, I had to take some losses in my life and learn some pretty harsh lessons and THEN go searching for that. Like, 'Yo, I need some men in my life that can actually be a positive influence.' So I want to try to help the younger generation understand that at a sooner time, rather than waking up in their thirties and forties and realizing it and doing a lot more damage.
I often feel like most people at some point in their life go through a Blinding Light experience. Meaning a moment where life knocks you off your current course in order to redirect you onto the right one. Have you had one and if so what was it?
Yeah, I think I had an initial one when my father passed away in 2017 and it made me start looking at life a lot differently.
"I went into a real depression, I stopped focusing on work. I think my entire life I was looking for his approval subconsciously, I was always like, 'I wanna get super-rich and famous so I can take care of my Dad and give him the life.' I finally started to come out of it and then last year I was engaged to be married, but towards the end of the year, I made some stupid choices that led to us breaking up. And that was my ultimate Blinding Light to where I needed to step back and look at the things I was doing. And why I was carrying on these continued patterns that my father had been doing to me and make a change in my life."
It really woke me up and it's crazy how it happened the year we were forced to stay inside and stay to ourselves––and not do anything but focus on ourselves. So I had it at the top of this year and I feel like I'm finally aligned and seeing things clearly. It's a blessing.
I’m sorry to hear that. But how did you deal with that heartbreak?
When we first broke up, I didn't really know how to get through it in the moment. I went to God and just laid it all on God. I had a good support system around me, thankfully. I was like, 'Lord give me the strength to understand this and get through this and use this to grow and become a better version of myself.' And that's what really helped me. A lot of reading, praying, and meditation.
That prayer and meditation will do it, won’t it?
Man, I'm telling you. It was everything.
What’s something you vow to do differently or do more of in your next relationship now?
For me, what I've really been working on is being a lot more selfless in a relationship. I never really had a solid foundation of a relationship to look at for inspiration. I always just kind of created my own thoughts of what I thought a good relationship should be like. And I was going based on a lot of men from broken homes as well. I did a lot of reading of different mentors who've been in strong relationships after making some mistakes and how they changed things up and maneuvered differently. And how you do things differently in a relationship, and just being all about your woman. Making her feel confident and letting her have the right type of trust in you––and just letting the woman feel confident and full in a relationship. Letting her have that queen feeling. That's what I'm really trying to work on carrying into my next relationship. I don't have to let my pride win or my ego win and I make sure my focus is all my woman and cutting out certain distractions and temptations. Because the world we live in right now is so full of temptations with social media and TV. So being more aware of those temptations so that it doesn't interfere in my relationship [is how I'd move differently].
Speaking of distractions and temptations, when it comes to things like infidelity or unfaithfulness in relationships––what’s one thing men and women should understand?
I think for men a lot of times, it stems from past issues with parents or influence. Not getting the proper influence from people around us. And our need for certain attention, it goes deeper than just the situation per se.
"My advice for women is that it doesn't have nothing to do with you. You could be the best woman in the world, but if a man is broken inside, he has to dig deep and fix those issues. Because the infidelity is usually something deeper that he's searching for and he doesn't realize that it could stem from his childhood."
The couple has to really come together and talk about it and maybe go to relationship counseling early to prevent anything from taking place.
Do you think a person can truly be ready for love if they don’t first love themselves?
You definitely have to love yourself first, how can you love somebody else if you're not happy with yourself? I feel like there are gonna be a lot of issues. I've been learning that more and more. But it's weird because you hear stories about high school sweethearts and the ones who got married young and lasted long, and they grew together and learned lessons together and bonded together even stronger. Nowadays, especially if you're a little bit older, I feel like you wanna have as much love for yourself as possible. You have to know what you need in life before you go searching for that in someone else. Because then you're gonna put all the weight on them and it's gonna lead to a lot of stress.
That last part is definitely key, I love that you brought that up.
It's real though.
For sure. Let’s talk relationship green flags, what would make you feel the most safe and secure?
I think a woman having confidence and something going for herself, to where she's not sitting at home all day wondering what you're doing. If she's confident and independent, that's definitely a green flag. Family, religion. If she doesn't have a strong religious foundation or good guidance in her life, I feel like it's gonna be really hard to make that connection. So religion is key.
Courtesy of Don Benjamin
How can a woman get AND keep your attention?
Right now, I'm so focused on my personal growth, it's whatever God places in my sight. I'm not really specific. It has to benefit me and help build me, there has to be that spiritual energy and connection. Being in LA, you see so many attractive people, you could meet one just walking to Starbucks. So it's not really so much about the image, it's about the connection. If you have a connection with somebody on a deeper level, that's how I feel like you can maintain that longevity.
Do you know your love languages?
I think mine are physical touch, I like to be held and I like cuddling. I love quality time, I need that. I like to just cuddle and watch a movie.
Before you go, I want to know what’s something you know now about yourself or about love that you didn’t know before?
The main thing I've learned is that you really have to be selfless. It's not about you, of course, the self-love dynamic too, but you have to be confident in you—and really be more aware of your partner's feelings. And keeping them happy and safe.
"It's a lot of work, [but] I've learned that you have to be ready to put that work in going into a relationship in order to make it last. Everything isn't gonna always be peaches and cream, there's gonna be disagreements; there's gonna be family issues. It has to go way deeper than just 'oh I'm attracted to you.'"
Once the puppy love stage wears off and ya'll get past the honeymoon phase––then it becomes another form of work. You literally have somebody's heart and feelings and well-being in your possession, you have to be careful with it.
You have to be careful with it. And lastly, what's next for you Don?
I was supposed to be filming a movie this year. I was playing the lead in a movie I co-created and produced, but I feel like we're still up in the air as far as whether or not we're going to be able to finish shooting it before the year is up. So hopefully we can do that. I'm also working on another book that comes along with a masterclass. A lot of people have been asking me how to break into the modeling industry, so I wanted to create something for them to go along with that.
Featured image courtesy of Don Benjamin.