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How Marriage Is Teaching Me A New Form Of Self-Care

I don't know how to be taken care of. It hurts to write this, but I need to let it sink in.

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At the end of August 2020, I quit my job and took a leap of faith to pursue my creative passions of writing and connecting Christian women. This wasn't an easy decision for me because 1) I have worked since the age of 15. With the exception of my freshman year of college, I don't know what it's like to not have a steady income. And 2) I worked for a very prestigious government agency and had accomplished a lot during my time there. I wasn't walking away from a small thing; this was security, especially in a time where many experienced unstable employment.


However, my husband had just graduated from dental school and got a job in Dallas, TX. I truly believed God had shown me that this was the perfect time to transition. And although I knew the unknown wouldn't be easy (new city, new experience of defining work for myself), I could've never imagined just how difficult this change would be.

I've read a lot of inspirational blog posts about leaving your 9-to-5 and pursuing your passions, entrepreneurship, and #blackgirlbosses. They usually tell us to push fear aside, chase after our dreams, and be OK with failing because the process is worth it in the end. But in all my reading, I've never seen anyone talk about the other struggle that comes with entrepreneurship, specifically that of an independent black woman.

You see, when I left my job, I didn't have a set plan. I had just launched a blog with an idea to parlay that into a larger business, but the logistics weren't there. So, I used the first few months of unemployment to seek God and gain clarity and direction for my vision. Then, I began to work toward it: writing blog posts, promoting content on social media accounts, adding in YouTube videos, and creating a monthly newsletter. And all the while, my income remained at zero. Sure, I had a few final checks roll in from my previous job, but after they were deposited, it was nada.

For the first time in a very long time, I didn't have an income.

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And I quickly realized that this was challenging for my independent self.

But, I know you're thinking, you mentioned that your husband graduated from dental school, right? Yes, my husband is a dentist, which is another reason why the timing of the transition worked out. He was now going to have an income to support us both, so I truly had the opportunity to not work traditionally or be concerned about making money so that I could focus on starting my business.

You would assume that provision would put me at ease, but I have to be honest: it did the opposite. I know there are many women who would love for a man to fully provide for them, and although I understood that it was a blessing, I wouldn't quite say my feelings toward it were joyous.

I continued battling with these feelings one evening as my husband and I talked. I was discouraged by the different expenses that came along with starting my own business and even more so by the fact that I needed to keep spending without contributing financially to our household. Now, this type of conversation wasn't new for us. I'd cry about my no-income insecurities and my husband would remind me that although he's working, it's our money; I am working toward something greater that will benefit us in the future, and I contribute in so many ways beyond the finances. And even though, mentally, I knew all these things were true, emotionally my heart couldn't accept them.

"Maybe I'll get a real job," tears filled my eyes as I spoke. "That way I can bring money in and not feel like a leech." My husband looked at me lovingly and asked, "Babe, why can't you just let me take care of you?"

It was at that moment that I realized a profound but sad truth: I didn't know how.

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I don't know how to be taken care of. It hurts to write this, but I need to let it sink in.

I'm newly married and now in a position to be taken care of, but I don't know how to allow my husband to do that.

And I realized it's because throughout my life, I have rarely had that luxury. When I was younger, I used to love singing along with Ne-Yo to "She Got Her Own". It wasn't until I got older that I realized she had no other choice.

How many black women are independent because they've had to be? Because as a child, you saw your single mother struggling to raise you and your siblings, so you made it a point to take the pressure off her, at least when it came to providing for you? In my hometown, we could start working at age 15 and a half, and six months after my 15th birthday, I had my first job at Kroger. Of course, I didn't make much, but I was able to use my little paychecks to buy my school clothes and take a small burden off my mother.

In college, I saw those around me receive financial help from their parents, yet I was solely responsible for all my expenses. I applied for every scholarship available to help pay my tuition, bought a used car with my refund check, and worked multiple internships to pay my rent and cover books, food, and gas. I had no other choice.

And not only have I continued providing for myself, but I am also the one who usually financially supports my family. So, it makes sense that being a "receiver" is foreign to me when I've been used to my "giver" role—marriage included. When my husband and I first got married in 2018, he was in dental school while I worked. Although he contributed financially from his tutoring gigs or DoorDash runs (bless his heart), I was the real breadwinner for the first two years of our marriage.

Although my husband constantly reminds me that I supported us then so that now he can, it's still so easy for me to feel uncomfortable in this position.

There is a sense of comfort that comes with knowing you're fully taken care of and you don't need to hustle and grind to make ends meet. Many black women have given themselves that comfort because they didn't have other dependable options.

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I have prided myself on being an independent black woman. I'm proud that I was able to take care of myself and still can if need be. But, I am coming to realize that if left unchecked, this self-sufficiency can hinder me from experiencing a different type of freedom.

There is so much power in having a choice, and for so long, my only choice was to depend on myself. But this season is teaching me that I can provide for myself in a new and much-needed way: by allowing someone else to support me.

Working so much to provide for my financial needs caused me to neglect many personal aspirations. But now I am able to support a different part of myself because I'm choosing to receive.

Accepting support is a form of self-care, something even the most Destiny's Child-esque independent women need. And it's more than OK to embrace this option when you're blessed to have that choice—sometimes it's the best way to truly look out for you.

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Mental health awareness is at an all-time high with many of us seeking self-improvement and healing with the support of therapists. Tucked away in cozy offices, or in the comfort of our own homes, millions of women receive the tools needed to navigate our emotions, relate to those around us, or simply exist in a judgment-free space.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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