Monica. Solange. Niecy Nash. Kenya Moore. Wendy Williams. For better or for worse (no pun intended), if there's one thing that all of these women have in common, it's the fact that they've recently experienced a separation or divorce from their spouse. And you know what? I don't have to know any of these women personally to know that this means it's been one hell of a year for them. The reason why I say that is because, no matter what causes two people who once committed their lives to one another to eventually call it quits, there is pain…there is grieving…there is adjusting in pretty much every facet of life. "Breaking up is hard to do" isn't just a line in a song (shout out to the Beverly Hills 90210 version) or a random cliché, when a marriage comes to an end, no greater words have ever been spoken.
Because this is so true, I actually believe that, if there is ever a time when true friends (and foes) reveal themselves, it's when someone is ending their marriage. Based on the conversations that I've had with women who've gone through this kind of relational transition, there are things that we, as their friends, can do right and things that we can get oh so very wrong. The statistics surrounding the divorce rate in this country is all of the evidence that you need to know that at some point or another, a friend of yours is going to end her marriage. When that happens, she's going to need your support in some very specific—and sometimes even mentally challenging—ways.
If you want to know what the proper friendship etiquette is for a time like this, here is a good place to start.
DO Make Yourself Both Physically and Emotionally Available
I've got a friend who recently took on a new job. As she was explaining just how much it was going to switch up her schedule and make it more difficult to connect during our usual chatting hours, I said to her, "We're in a good place and have been for a while. You don't need to 'babysit' our friendship." The more you settle into any kind of relationship, the more you realize this to be true. I am fine giving her as much space as she needs because, back when I experienced a devastating heartbreak, she left her phone on at all times and was prepared to meet me whenever, wherever, because she knew that I was broken, I was vulnerable and I was going through immense feelings of rejection. The last thing that I needed was to reach out to someone who said, "I got you", only to realize that they didn't.
When someone is going through a separation or divorce, they are fragile, whether they tell you they are or not. This means that they need support, in the form of availability. It might be for a midnight phone call or a matinee where the movie watches them more than they are able to watch it back. The shock and pain tend to come in waves, so you can't really have "regular friendship business hours". It really is best to prepare yourself to be on-call, both physically and emotionally, for…a while.
DON’T Pry for Information or Offer Unsolicited Advice
The amount of thoughts that are constantly running through the mind of a newly separated individual is countless. And, for a season, endless. Even when they believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is absolutely the best decision for them, they've still got to figure out what their new normal is going to look like. In the midst of making peace with their decision and planning for somewhat of an uncertain future, unfortunately a lot of people are not going to be very thoughtful. Plenty will want to know the details of what led to the break-up. Others will offer up advice that your friend never asked for. Some of what she'll hear will be rude, condescending and totally insensitive, even if the person meant well. This means that she's going to need places she can go to that won't be "extra voices" in her head that, I promise you, she doesn't need.
As her friend, it's normal to have questions and even an opinion. But do your best to hold up on those for a while. What she wants to share, listen to. What she doesn't, try and put yourself in her shoes. How mentally overwhelmed would you feel if you were in her shoes right about now?
DO Prepare for Her to Be a Bit of an Emotional Roller Coaster
I've got a male friend who is currently going through a divorce. In our two-decade-plus friendship, we've only had one disagreement. But boy, did I almost get triggered in a conversation we had a few weeks ago. In the midst of us talking, he started yelling and saying things that were pretty toxic. After about 30 minutes of tolerating his rant, I tried to talk him down; he only became more inflammatory. I was so used to him being calm, almost to the point of being nonchalant, including when it came to the end of his marriage, that how he was acting caught me way off guard.
Since then, he has good days and bad days. Shoot, sometimes he has good minutes and bad minutes. He's a bit of an emotional roller coaster, to tell you the truth. But what I have learned is to let him ride it all out; to not get on the ride with him (because what good would it do for us both to be out here unstable and unsettled?), but to be there for him as he gets off—to not expect him to be "normal" for a while. Life, as he's known it for years now, is totally changing. He needs a minute to figure it all out. Until he does, there will be extreme peaks and valleys. Separation and divorce tend to affect people in that way. By accepting that, our own interaction has been a lot smoother.
DON’T Initially Take Things Too Personally
Although no one should tolerate abuse, when your friend is going through a separation or a divorce, try and cut them a bit of slack. They are upset and humans tend to say some interesting things during emotional upheavals. She might be sarcastic, cynical or snarky. There might be moments when she implies that something was your fault or that you didn't do something "right" during her marriage. Some days when you call, she might be short and passive aggressive. Other days, she might be so rude that you wonder why you are friends with her at all.
When we're hurting, it's normal to look for answers. Sometimes that means that we're angry or we put blame on people who don't deserve it. It's not right. It's just the way that it is. It's kind of like the difference between touching someone's arm when it has a wound on it vs. when it doesn't; the reactions are going to be completely different. It's going to be challenging for your friendship with your friend to survive if you are thin-skinned right now.
If you have a non-toxic relationship with her—and sometimes, situations like this will reveal whether or not you do—while she may be lashing out a bit now, things will settle in time. Don't be her punching bag, but do be her sounding board. And whatever she says—and to an extent, whatever she does—try and not take it too personal. She's in a storm. Eventually the storm will pass.
DO Be Responsible When It Comes to Your Help and Support
It's not uncommon for recently separated or divorced people to not always make the wisest decisions during the first year or so if their break-up. They might rebound with an ex. They might spend money like it's going out of style. They may engage in casual sex hook-ups, just to make sure that they've still "got it". They might quit a job or move away with no real pain in place. While stuff like this is going on, although some people think that being a true friend is all about supporting their friend in doing whatever it is that they want to do, I don't agree with that at all. While a true friend loves and does not abandon their friend in times of transition (and sometimes even purely reckless behavior), it's not a good idea to co-sign on them doing what is proving to be unhealthy or destructive.
Something that your newly separated or divorced friend is going to need is to be surrounded around those who are balanced, responsible and can be a true sense of reason for them. When you see them doing things that are dangerous or even counterproductive, bring those to their attention. Not in a forceful or nagging kind of way, but out of love. If they are determined to ignore your warnings, try and help where you can. If they are parents, offer to watch the kids on some weekends so that the little ones aren't in the crossfire. Maybe set aside a couple of bucks to help out with a bill. Be the kind of friend that you would want her to be to you if you were going through the same thing. When a friend is going through a separation or divorce, empathy—not apathy—is key.
DON’T Pressure Her to Make Any (More) Major Decisions
Ask any separated or divorced person to go back in their minds to the first six months of their break-up and, one of the things that they'll tell you is the last thing that they need is anymore pressure. Pressure to figure out what's next. Pressure to figure out what they are going to do about their kids (if they have any). Pressure to handle all of the whisperings and gossiping that is going on. Pressure to do anything, really. Pressure triggers stress and stress oftentimes only leads to more problems. If anything, be intentional about being a source of peace and calm. Be the one who invites her to binge-watch Netflix or take a weekend road trip. Remind her that there is no rush to change her life any more than her initial decision already has. The benefit in this is, the more settled she is, the more capable she will be to do what needs to be done…in time.
DO Prepare for a New Normal. Even When It Comes to You.
When someone goes through a separation (especially if it ultimately ends in divorce), it doesn't only change their lives; it causes everyone and everything around them to shift too. For instance, if you were close to your friend's spouse, you now have to figure out what will make everyone comfortable. If your friend has a child, it's important to decide how to be a kind of support system for them too. Plus, if your friend's marriage was one that you actually looked up to, you need your own time to grieve the loss of what once was.
Again, separation and divorce are never easy—on anybody. Some days will be easier than others, including when it comes to your relationship with your friend. Through the highs and lows, try and keep in mind that, no matter how uncomfortable the season may be, in time, it will change. Also keep in the forefront of your mind that, no matter how hard things are for your friend right now, with your prayers, help and even space (as she needs it) things will get better. Things may not get "back to normal", but there will be a new normal. Although she might now see it right now, with your support, a new normal can be just as good. Maybe not immediately but eventually. Hang in there. She needs you more than you know.
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
How To Support Your Loved One Through A Dark Time
6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Ending Your Marriage
5 Things You Can Do Today To Be A Better Friend
Feature image by Shutterstock
- Helping Someone Dealing With Separation and Divorce | HuffPost Life ›
- How to Support Your Best Friend Through Divorce ›
- 10 Ways To Help Someone Going Through A Divorce | HuffPost Life ›
- Dealing With Divorce (for Teens) - KidsHealth ›
- Supporting a Friend Through Divorce: 5 Things to Keep in Mind ›
- Helping Your Child Through a Divorce (for Parents) - KidsHealth ›
- Children and Divorce - HelpGuide.org ›
- How to Support Your Friend Through Their Divorce ›
- 13 Ways To Be A Good Friend To Someone Getting Divorced ›
- 18 Ways to Help a Friend Going Through a Divorce ›
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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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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