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.
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Me? I will be the first person to say, at least once a day, that I don’t live by the motto “follow your heart.” For one thing, Scripture advises that we do the exact opposite (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Secondly, I’ve shared before that one definition of heart is “the center of our emotions.” Anyone who thinks that it’s wise to always and/or automatically follow their feelings? Lawd, they are in for a pretty shaky life ride. Why? Because feelings change, so if you’re relying on them to show you the way…bless your (pardon the pun) heart.
That’s not to say that our emotions don’t play a very valid role in, well, almost everything; it’s just that they need to be balanced out with truth, facts, logic, common sense, timing, and some level of mental and emotional stability. When this happens, you’re in the “sweet spot” of being able to take your feelings more seriously and literally — because you’re able to see them more like the thermometer in your home (something that monitors your environment) rather than your house’s entire foundation (something to solely base everything on).
And boy, does keeping all of this in mind come in mighty handy when you’re in a relationship that looks like it’s headed towards somebody’s altar, backyard, or courthouse, and yet — something just doesn’t “feel” quite right. Yes, you love him. You know that he loves you too. Still, there are some not-so-ecstatic, yes, feelings that you have about actually marrying him that you’re not exactly able to shake.
If this is you, I’m going to share eight different scenarios with you where the sweet spot that I just talked about comes into play — and if it does, the last thing that you need to do is say “yes” to an engagement. Instead, pump the brakes a bit until you can get to the root of why, again, something doesn’t feel…quite…right.
1. FEELING LIKE You’re Convincing YourselfGiphy
Several years ago, I wrote an article, in part, about the last boyfriend that I will ever have in this lifetime (check out “Why I'll Never Call Someone A 'Boyfriend' Again”). As I oftentimes say, “I’m too old for a ‘boy’ anything,” plus, it really is time out for acting married before I actually am (that’s why many people don’t respect marriage once they actually are a husband or a wife; they’ve been doing pseudo “test runs” for years now). Then there’s the fact that I basically wasted six years of my life because I literally convinced myself to be with him. He didn’t deserve that. I didn’t either. Unfortunately, many people roll in their relationships this exact same way.
Why? Well, I’ll speak for my own situation. For the most part, he was a really good person. Still, I wasn’t attracted to him, he had a mountain of issues to work through, and I didn’t really feel anything profound for him beyond friendship (we were very close friends first). Plus, there were members of his family who were controlling and messy. Yet because he was smart, funny, and so interested in me, I convinced myself that I should give it a shot. *le sigh*
Personally, I’m not a fan of writer Maureen Dowd, although there is something she once said that fits this particular point exquisitely: “The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.” Right now, I’m working with a married couple who are basically on life support, and it’s because, when the wife was dating her now-husband, she was so into how much he was into her that she — yep, you guessed it — convinced herself that her love for him would grow. And although she deeply cares for him, over a decade later, she can’t stop wondering what she’s missing out on anymore, and she’s basically ready to leave. *le sigh again*
Convincing yourself to do something is basically talking yourself into it. And when it comes to something as serious as marriage, you shouldn’t have to push yourself into it. Sure, you need to do some bona fide contemplating, yet if you’re out here on some, “I mean, I could grow to love him more” or “Maybe I’m being ‘extra’ about the issues that concern me” — you shouldn’t ignore those thoughts. See a reputable marriage counselor or life coach to talk it through. Marriage is gonna already test you enough with someone you’re all in with — let alone someone you had to damn near persuade yourself to say “I do” to.
2. FEELING LIKE “Orange Flags” Are Oftentimes Red OnesGiphy
Kind of on the heels of what I was just talking about, there is someone I know who said that a regret that they had when it came to marrying their second husband is, while they didn’t seem to see any immediate red flags (although I’ll be honest, once I heard the entire story, I saw TONS of ‘em, including the fact that they left their first husband and married the second man within the same year), something that felt more unsettling than comforting was when they claimed to have told their fiancé the week of the wedding that they were unsure and he said, “I have enough love for the both of us.”
Listen, a man doesn’t have enough love to compensate for the lack of love you may have for him, and you don’t have enough love to compensate for the lack of love that he might have for you, either. Although, on the surface, that might sound like a beautiful sentiment to put into a blank greeting card, it’s actually dysfunctional as all get out. In fact, it’s part of the reason why I definitely rock with the saying, “You will never be good enough for a man who isn’t ready.” (Someone really needed to hear that right now.) No one can be responsible for how someone else feels; that is an inside job. So yeah, hearing something that sounds beautiful, yet you know, deep down, you don’t feel the same way? Although that might not be a red flag, it is definitely a yellow one…quite possibly even an orange one.
Another example: no one in your world is thrilled about either him or the two of you being together. Y’all, I have a friend right now who is going through this. While word is spreading that she and her husband are separated and heading towards divorce, she keeps hearing responses like, “I never really liked him anyway” and/or “We only tolerated him out of respect for you.” She wasn’t tricked. Some “Girl, you might want to slow down” conversations were had with her before their wedding. She says that she moved forward with the nuptials, in spite of, because she didn’t think the potential issues were serious enough to turn into huge problems. Boy, was she wrong. BIG TIME.
No relationship is perfect; that’s because no two people are without flaws. At the same time, marriage is too much of a life investment to see yellow or orange flags and not at least do some real pondering about why they exist. Yeah, red flags are blatant; don’t ignore them. Orange and yellow flags are “iffy;” don’t ignore them either.
3. FEELING LIKE Family Issues Are Quite ValidGiphy
Definitely, one of the most ridiculous things that someone can think before going into a marriage is, “I’m not marrying your family. I’m marrying you.” Whew, chile. First of all, that depends on the kind of boundaries that your partner has with their relatives, and, unfortunately, many individuals have extremely poor ones. Secondly, some people are way into their families, which means they may not mind folks calling all of the time, popping up unannounced, or them knowing all of y’all’s personal business. Oh, and don’t get me started on the people who have totally dysfunctional relationships with their family members.
Case in point. I know a wife right now who is about to file for divorce, and a big part of the reason is her mother-in-law. Words cannot express how unhealthy her husband’s attachment to his mother is — let’s just say that the one who is actually his “queen” ain’t his wife. Even though his mother is still fairly young (certainly old enough to work), she has never held down a job their entire marriage (of over 12 years), he has bought her a large house and luxury car, and he doesn’t give his mom consequences for when she says slick ish about his wife. Here's the thing, though — his wife wasn’t blindsided by any of this. His mom was living with him while she dated him, and he was constantly justifying the complete and utter dysfunction during that time.
Another example is a wife I know whose husband’s family was not a fan of hers, really from day one. Although her marriage has gone the distance, she spends a lot of time emotionally drained because they are constantly coming up with manipulative tactics to get her to do what they want or gaslighting ways to pressure their son into seeing things their way, even if it’s over his wife’s better judgment. Yeah, don’t even get me started on how you really need to look into your potential spouse’s childhood stuff before marrying them because if they have some wounded or codependent areas that require personal therapy — it’s probably best that they go through some before you decide to marry them too.
Family boundaries within a marriage deserve their own article. I’ll just say that the Good Book was wise and brilliant to advise that husbands and wives should leave the family they were born into and cleave to their spouse (Genesis 2:24-25) if they want to keep the DNA drama down to a minimum in their marital union. That said, if who you’re with is already struggling with this concept…don’t ignore that quiet voice that tells you that you are about to take on more than you might be able to handle if you don’t clearly address those issues beforehand. Many people have divorced due to family drama alone. Trust me.
4. FEELING LIKE You Shouldn't Wait to Work Complex Stuff Out Later OnGiphy
Some stuff, you’re not gonna (fully) find out to figure out until after marriage; that’s just how life is. Oh, but you are doing yourself a super disservice of monumental proportions if you are aware of the fact that there are some complexities that you and your partner have going on while thinking that you should wait until after the honeymoon to figure out what to do about them. Real soon, I’ll be writing an article about how love is grand yet, it’s not enough, on its own, to go the distance.
Indeed, there are certain things that either you and your partner need to be on the same page about — or that you both are fully willing to compromise on and accept that it’s gonna be…what it’s going to be.
Things like what?
- Family dynamics (especially if there is some serious dysfunction going on)
- Whether or not you BOTH want children and how you want to raise them, if so
- Household chores
- Conflict resolution
- Purpose-related and professional aspirations
- Relational expectations
- Boundaries with family and friends
- Gender roles
- Sexual wants and needs
- Social media practices
- Views on finances
- Thoughts on prenups and postnups
- Marital deal-breakers
- Feelings about separation and divorce
And really, these 15 things are merely the tip of the iceberg! The main thing to keep in mind here is if you think that figuring out how to do life with someone as smoothly as possible, in a variety of different areas, can be put on the back burner because love will keep it all together — I’ve got at least 20 clients who will scream at you to go on a rom-com fast so that you can learn how to better live in reality.
Love can make you want to work through complexities with another person. Love does not absolve the issues, though. They MUST be addressed — as candidly and thoroughly as possible.
5. FEELING LIKE Sexual Incompatibility Is a Very Real IssueGiphy
One day, soon, I’m going to also pen a piece about the whole “you need to test the car before you drive it” mindset when it comes to having sex before marriage. A part of the reason why I roll my eyes whenever I hear that is because I have been working with couples for well over 17 years at this point and — call it a random coincidence if you want to, but — by far, the couples who’ve had the most issues are the ones who had sex before saying “I do” NOT the ones who waited.
I personally think a big part of that is because, when you remove the haze — and deflection and sometimes deception, especially if it’s good — of sex, you can look at things from a more practical and realistic perspective. In other words, you’re not committing to someone based on how they make you feel; instead, it’s about who they truly are at their core. Also, going without sex can help you to improve your communication skills because, instead of relying on make-up sex to seemingly fix things, you can get to the root of matters, for real, for real. (Speaking of communication, the reason why I penned articles for the site like “7 Questions You Should Ask A Man Before Giving Him Some” is because, quite frankly, there is a lot of stuff that you can — and should — discuss with someone, even about sex, BEFORE actually having it.)
With all of that out of the way, if you have talked certain things over and what they expect is very different from what you do (for instance, I know a couple who had sex about 3-4 times a week while dating, and the husband thought that even that was a compromise yet, after marriage, the wife barely wanted to even a couple of times a month…girl, what?) or you’re already sexually involved and there seems to be some sort of “disconnect” (whether it’s physically, emotionally or otherwise) that you just can’t seem to put your finger on or you’re out here faking orgasms, fantasizing about other people or feeling like something is missing — PLEASE DO NOT WRITE THESE FEELINGS OFF.
Contrary to how a lot of our culture presents it, marriage is actually designed to last for a really long time…and it can feel especially grueling, if not flat-out torturous, to be with someone whom you are basically sexually incompatible with.
By the way, whoever tries to tell you otherwise? Absolutely DO NOT listen to them. If a part of your marital plans includes monogamy and long-term sexual fidelity, sexual compatibility is essential. Full stop.
6. FEELING LIKE Financial Concerns Are Potentially ProblematicGiphy
I have a few friends who also work with couples, and something that we all agree is pretty baffling is when an engaged couple is in premarital counseling (more on that in just a sec) and one or both of them get triggered when the topic of presenting their credit score and financial history comes up. Umm, did you think that your partner wasn’t going to find out eventually anyway — or is that your end game: to spring it onto them after you jump the broom?
A lot of people don’t want to talk about the fact that a person’s financial habits and lifestyle typically reveal a lot about them: do they keep their word by paying their bills on time; are they mature enough to wait to make certain purchases instead of being an impulsive shopper; is getting and/or staying out of debt a priority to them; what is their credit because, if it’s bad, do they get that it will directly affect you on some level?
You know, I know someone who’s now ex-wife’s father said to him at their wedding, “Good luck. She’s a handful.” Her father was right. She was reckless with money. She ran up debt by getting credit cards that her husband knew nothing about. She spent thousands of dollars on basically inconsequential things. SMDH. With financial issues remaining in the top five of reasons why divorces transpire, you are absolutely doing yourself a grave disservice by not getting to know your partner intimately on a financial level. You can do this by asking questions like:
- What were you taught about money as a kid?
- What are your spending habits like?
- Do you have a financial plan for your future?
- How much is currently in your savings account?
- What is your tax situation like (lawd!)?
- How do you prioritize your bills?
- How much debt do you currently have?
- How do you feel about prenups?
- Do you think we should have joint accounts?
- Have you considered retirement yet?
If this seems like “a lot” or invasive, that’s already a problem because this doesn’t even really scratch the service of the type of inquiries that you should make. For instance, I know a wife who has two jobs right now because her husband, although he made pretty good money when they first got married, he is more interested in pursuing dreams than covering the bills. She didn’t know that about him before marriage, and so now…here she is — financially frustrated, which ultimately takes its toll on the relationship at one point or another. Consider yourself warned.
7. FEELING LIKE Premarital Counseling Should Be Highly PrioritizedGiphy
One of the best ways to describe the benefits of any type of therapy is to say that, while clients tend to see things from the “inside out,” therapists/counselors/life coaches choose to look at matters from the “outside in.” In fact, they are trained to do so. This can be highly beneficial when it comes to participating in premarital counseling because you need someone who is not emotionally invested in the way that you and your partner are to raise some questions, issues, or concerns that you may not have thought about or considered otherwise.
Hey, just because I am a marriage life coach, you don’t have to take my word for it. Various studies reveal that not only can premarital counseling help to decrease a couple’s chances of divorce by as much as 50 percent (others say that the percentile is more like 30, which is still pretty good odds), other research cites that marriages are 80 percent better off when premarital counseling transpired.
I’ll say this: There’s a guy I know who is what I call a “nice guy narcissist.” I’ve known him for years, and to say that he has A LOT of issues is a major understatement. When I mentioned to him that he should definitely get into premarital counseling right after he announced that he was engaged, he first said that it was on his to-do list. Then he said that he and his fiancée had spoken with a few people, yet no one was a good fit. Then he said that they resorted to reading books instead.
Uh-huh. Red flags all over the place because if you can come up with thousands of dollars for an engagement ring and wedding, you can come up with 1-2 percent of that total cost (literally) to invest in some premarital counseling. My discernment says that he didn’t want a counselor to pick up on some stuff that could either delay the nuptials or make his soon-to-be bride want to call off the wedding altogether — and that’s pretty much my point: it is so much better to end an engagement than to end a marriage.
On the flip side, if you want to move forward with your partner, you will feel so much better if you get some objective insights and tips to make your relationship last than if you try and wing something as multi-layered as marriage all by yourself.
8. FEELING LIKE You Should Wait a Little Bit LongerGiphy
At one point or another, most of us have heard the saying, “When in doubt, don’t” — and you know what? There is a lot of truth in that, especially when it comes to making relationship-related decisions. One of the reasons why I say that is, it’s almost countless at this point, the amount of people who told me that the week (sometimes even the night) before their wedding, they wanted to call things off yet they didn’t because they already spent a lot of money, they didn’t want to disappoint other people, or they told themselves that it was “cold feet.”
I’ve already taken up a lot of your time, and this could honestly be its own article. I’ll just try and simplify this point by saying: If you feel like you need to rush into anything, that’s typically rooted in pressure or fear — and it’s honestly never a good idea to make any serious decision in those types of headspaces.
To be ready to do something means that you are “completely prepared or in fit condition for immediate action or use” and “duly equipped, completed, adjusted, or arranged, as for an occasion or purpose.” If you don’t think that you are, he is, and/or the relationship is ready for marriage, you are actually loving yourself and your partner by slowing things down rather than speeding things up. So, if you feel like you should wait to get married, you absolutely should.
This was a lot. MARRIAGE IS A LOT. Yet I hope that this either gives you the confidence that you need to move forward or the support that you need to speak up. Because again, if something doesn’t feel quite right, there’s usually a solid reason (or set of reasons) why. Love you and him enough to not ignore what it may be. You both deserve, at least, that much, sis. Straight up.
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