Life is a funny thing. As I came to the close of my first premarital session with a male friend of mine and his fiancée, my thoughts went back to the first day that I met her. Her side-eyes. Her flippant attitude. Her overall dismissive energy. I mean, to an extent I get it. It's no secret that her man is fine. Anyway, I guess it was an indirect shout-out to my genes that, once she found out my age (her man will be 30 this year; I'll be 46. She assumed I was younger than that), she toned down a bit. But, it still took about six months before she made real eye contact and even longer before I stopped getting "the church hug" (you know, that to-the-side stuff that pastors and deacons do) and her embrace was more heartfelt and genuine.
Now? Now she trusts me enough to, not only remain friends with her man, but provide counsel for their future union. That's how I know that it is indeed possible for a man, who is in a relationship, to be able to keep his female friends around; at least, the truly platonic ones (check out "The Word 'Platonic' Is Sacred. Literally."). At the same time, that doesn't mean it doesn't require some finessing and big-time maturity on everyone's part in order to make it work.
But what if you've tried to be nice—I mean, genuinely nice, not nice-nasty or, as Michel'le used to put it, "Nicety"—and it still doesn't seem to break the ice with ole' girl? Is that a precursor to you throwing your entire relationship with your male friend away? Nah. I wouldn't do that just yet. First, take a moment to process the following questions. If you do that—and perhaps run a few of them by your friend as well—you might discover that there is a way for all three of you to co-exist in harmony. At least, to some extent.
How Long Have They Been Together?
At this point and stage in my life, I try and avoid as much drama as possible. That said, while it might sound a little "well damn", one way I do that is I don't do a ton of emotional investing in my friends' relationships unless they think that it's going to become serious. And since a fair share of my male friends are casual daters, there's no point in trying to get close to women who may or may not be around in the next couple of months.
If you're already at the point of meeting a male friend's "new interest", then it's too late to apply this rule (and boundary). But what I will say is if they've only been seeing each other for three months or less and she's giving you the cold shoulder, I wouldn't put too much time or energy into it.
Chances are, it's not so much about you as the fact that she knows that you and the man she is seeing have something that they don't yet—the foundation of time and intimacy. She's probably more uncomfortable and insecure more than anything else.
On the other hand, if it's been a hot minute and she's not a fan, it's important to figure out what you want. Do you want to be besties with her? Do you simply want to be treated with respect? Do you want to kind of "agree to disagree" but her not push your male friend to the point of having to choose between you and her? Whatever it is that you desire, what I will say is this—don't let the tension linger. If it remains and he does decide to marry her, it could come to the point where he will have to make a choice. And if he's going to be a responsible husband, I bet you can guess who will get "cut". Not because he doesn't love you but because his wife takes top rank. As she should. (If you put yourself in her shoes, I think you would totally agree.)
What Do You Think the Issues Are?
Some women are just petty. They don't even know why they don't like someone; they simply choose not to and there's nothing that you can do about people like that other than pray for them. But if she's not feelin' you because you and her guy have a past; the first (or second or third) interaction was hella awkward; he's told her some things that you've said about her or their relationship; she knows that he once had feelings for you and/or she feels like the two of you are too close for her comfort—well, to a certain extent, that is understandable.
The only way to know for sure is to ask her. What? You thought I was gonna say ask him? He may or may not know. Besides, even if he does, I wouldn't be shocked in the least if, the way he relays it ends up making matters worse instead of better. So yeah, the only way to get to the root of the issue is to go to the horse's mouth, so to speak. Not to "confront" her (that will put her on the defensive) but to address her feelings as well as yours. Just make sure that you do it in a productive way. This brings us to the next point.
Have You and Her Spent Any Time Together?
It's amazing, the kind of potential issues that can be put to rest when two people spend time alone. I can personally attest to this because, pretty much every time that I've spent time with a male friend's significant other, without him present, she's been more relaxed, we've gotten to know each other better, and it's been all good.
Pretty much all of us are designed to respond to energy; therefore, I totally get it if your friend's girlfriend's bad vibes cause you to put up a bit of a wall. But a sign of being a self-assured woman is when you don't let someone else's issues determine if you have the same ones.
What I mean by that is, you are making boss moves if, your male friend's lady is cuttin' up and you're still like, "Hey, let's meet for lunch or drinks after work. I'd like to get to know you better." Giving both of you time to feel each other out will bring some sort of clarity so that either you can 1) get along, moving forward; 2) figure out how both of you can peacefully co-exist in his life (even if you don't really want to be in each other's) or 3) come to the conclusion that a discussion does need to be had with him. Perhaps with all three of you.
How Does He Feel About It?
How your male friend feels is definitely valid. The reason why I say that is because, if he values having both of you in his life, he's not gonna leave you out here trying to figure out a solution alone. Matter of fact, most of the mature men that I know tend to find it to be a red flag when their girl can't get along with his friends because it can indicate some not-so-subtle signs of jealousy, control or some other toxic emotion or agenda.
Now, I will say that he may not be as sensitive to what's happening as you are. In other words, he might be like, "So long as the two of you are cordial and I don't have to hear either one of you insult the other, I'm fine." But if the vibes that she's sending you are making you feel some type of way to the point where it is putting stress on your relationship with your male friend, you are well within your rights to bring that to his attention. The venting about ole' girl? Save that for a friend who has absolutely no ties to your lil' "threesome". But the bottom line of you wanting to feel more at peace about the situation? Like I said, a mature man who wants to keep you in his life is going to find the best possible way to handle that.
Is the Issue “Dislike” or DISRESPECT?
I was once really close to a guy whose wife turned out to be pretty cray-cray. I'd like to say I was shocked, but when he told me that he was going to propose and I asked him what her flaws were, he said, "I mean, she's got a jealous streak but…" Fast forward to pretty much the first couple of months of them being husband and wife, and—surprise, surprise—she was driving him crazy with her jealousy and control issues. Who did he call about it, often? Me. Matter of fact, for a while there, our friendship turned into more of a coach/client kind of thing. That is, until one day, she hacked into his email account, saw some of my friend and I's correspondence and decided to confront me directly, even though we had never formally met and without her husband's knowledge. She did that, even though the emails were really all about trying to help him figure out how to make his marriage work.
My friend? He gets credit for addressing us both (in an email; he lived out of state) and actually correcting her in some areas where she came at me. But once I knew that his wife was an online hacker, I pretty much knew that he and I's relationships was a wrap. When you love someone, sometimes you've got to let them go. And me? I fully get that once a friend gets married, their spouse is their top priority. Besides, for several years following that, I only heard about more drama that she was bringing into his life; so much that there really wasn't much time or space for he and I to remain friends. Besides 2.0—what she did was about more than disliking me. We all don't have to like each other in this world. How she came at me was straight up disrespectful, she seemed like she had no plans on stopping and, to tolerate a lot of that was only going to piss me off and put strain on my friend and I's friendship…possibly to the point of us falling out too. (He and I don't really talk anymore but things faded out pretty peacefully.)
That's why, it is also important to ponder if you and your guy friend's girlfriend (or even wife) don't like each other (in the sense of you simply have no desire to be homies) or if she is disrespecting you or even you are disrespecting her. If the latter is the case, there is probably an expiration date on your friendship. You should probably brace yourself for that.
What Boundaries Are Your Friend Prepared to Put into Place?
If your male friend's significant other is mature in her own right, I'm thinking that she will be on the tip of, "Your homegirl ain't really my cup of tea but I trust you. So, as long as you both are on the up and up with your friendship and she treats me with courtesy and respect whenever we do run into each other, I'm fine." Basically, what I just displayed is a boundary and honestly, if you were going to try and keep your friendship going while he has a lady in his life, boundaries were going to be needed anyway; even if she absolutely adored you (because then you would have to be careful to not overshare or violate the sacredness of your relationship with your male friend).
Boundaries are limits and when our friends of the opposite sex are in relationship, those are needed, just so everyone can be at peace. Again, if your male friend's girlfriend ain't thrilled about you, she doesn't really have to be. Just so long as you respect what they've got goin' on and she does the same for your friendship, everyone can co-exist. Everyone doesn't have to be friends. Everyone just needs to honor the connections. Grown folks know this. Hopefully your male friend wouldn't settle for anything less than a grown ass woman. Real talk.
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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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Big Sean Reminds Fans To Take Care Of Themselves Amid Mental Health Awareness Month
Rapper Sean "Big Sean" Anderson is inspiring his fans to prioritize self-care through a timely reminder conveyed in a tweet.
This message comes when the 35-year-old's passion for mental health is at an all-time high. Over the years, Anderson has openly discussed his mental health struggles in various interviews, and his music, especially in his last album, "Detroit 2," released in 2020.
Anderson's drive to inform those about the importance of one's well-being ran so deep that the "Wolves" lyricist, alongside his mother, Myra Anderson, would create a nonprofit organization called the Sean Anderson Foundation to provide "academic and wellness resources" for the youth. To date, the father of one continues to demonstrate his commitment to raising awareness about mental health by intentionally sharing his recent tweet during Mental Health Awareness Month
\u201cTo everybody stressed the fuck out or overwhelmed cause y\u2019all busy\u2026 just remember, It\u2019s much more stressful when things ARENT happening versus stress bc they are. Ok, back to work\u2026 but take care of you too \ud83e\udd32\ud83c\udffe\u2728\u201d— Sean Don (@Sean Don) 1684455884
Big Sean On Why It's Important To Take Care of Oneself
In the May tweet, Anderson offered advice to many individuals that may feel "stressed" or "overwhelmed" due to their busy schedules.
The "Body Language" emcee told his millions of followers that although their work-life balance may be a bit hectic, it is essential to take care of themselves during those moments and to think about the stress they would have endured without those work responsibilities. Anderson wrote,
"To everybody stressed the f--k out or overwhelmed cause y'all busy… just remember, It's much more stressful when things AREN'T happening versus stress bc they are. Ok, back to work… but take care of you too."
Big Sean On His Past Mental Health Struggles
This isn't the first time Anderson has spoken about caring for oneself.
During a past interview with People magazine, the "I Know" rapper revealed when he realized that he had to step back to recuperate. In a 2020 discussion, Anderson disclosed that his mental health started declining because he failed to take a break and was constantly creating scenarios about certain situations, ultimately leading to his anxiety and depression.
"You just have to pace yourself and take a break before you need a break. It gets very real, especially with a person like me. I live inside my head so much," he said. "I go over scenarios and I go over two or three things at the same time, and that creates an overwhelming feeling and a lot of anxiety, which leads to depression, which leads to all these things."
Anderson would add that after finding the tools, including therapy, to combat his depression and anxiety, he's learned "how to pace" himself during his low moments "as opposed to before" when he didn't have the proper guidance.
"I had to learn how to pace myself. Not to say I still don't go through those things, I definitely do. It's just, now I know how to deal with them. I know how to get through them easier and I know what it is [I'm dealing with]," he stated. "As opposed to before, when I was confused on why I was feeling like that, because nobody ever talked to me about it."
Anderson wrapped up his remarks by encouraging others to prioritize themselves and their mental health because when he finally did it, he started "feeling better" and "looking better."
"I'm putting myself as a priority and that really, really speaks volumes. When you do that, you start looking better, and you start feeling better, and being better in everything you do. So, it's important," he said.
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