How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
Take one look at Skylar Marshai's Instagram feed and you'll see all of her loves meeting in the most exquisite symphony of visual pleasure. Chances are, you're captivated by her aesthetic, her knack for storytelling, and her luxurious travel excursions around the world. What you'll also notice is the man behind the lens, her beau Temi.
As a creative duo and an embodiment of Black love, Skylar and Temi have effortlessly racked up miles as they've made their way across the globe, creating memories in Hawaii, Morocco, Barbados, Italy, and Mexico to name a few. For the couple, travel has acted like a love language and a cornerstone of their relationship. In just a year, Skylar and Temi have managed to give so much of the world to each other, undoubtedly an ode to the one-of-a-kind love they've found. But don't get it twisted, Skylar worked hard for her love story.
Courtesy of Skylar Marshai
Just two years ago, Skylar was featured in a conversation with content creator Bobo Matjila. In the video interview, the two chatted about Skylar's impressive trajectory from fashion student to entrepreneur as the designer behind the lingerie brand As You Are Intimates. After broaching the subject of her love life, the then 21-year-old shared, "It would be nice to see what this Skylar looks like in a relationship because I know I shed off the immaturities of my 18-year-old self. There's still certain things about me that I know I need to tweak but I can't do that unless I'm in a relationship, going back and forth, sharing parts of myself and being faced with them."
Little did she know, she'd soon meet the love of her life, a love her time alone had prepared for. When Temi met Skylar, it was through DMs and at the time, there were several states separating them. What bridged the distance was their instant virtual connection. While Skylar was unsure if a relationship was what she wanted, Temi was steadfast in his pursuit, knowing that there was something special about her. What would solidify their union and quiet any doubt was their official first date a month later. The rest of which is history and they've got the passport stamps to prove it.
In this installment of xoNecole's How We Met, the social media strategist and the technical account manager walk us through their beginning, their courtship, and their boundless commitment to one another.
How They Met
Temi: I was out at dinner with some of my fraternity brothers catching up and talking about what we wanted in our futures. I was scrolling through Instagram and Skylar popped up in a linen two piece fit and a high pony. I automatically felt an energy just looking at her photos. I knew I had to dive into her DMs and at least talk to her so that's what I did.
Skylar: Every time I get this question, I hear, "It goes down in the DMs it goes...down," playing in the back of my head, which is, essentially, where it all started. Temi slid in my DMs September 2018 and who woulda thought? But I fell. I just didn't know it yet. He slid, I fell, here we are.
Temi: My first impression of her didn't really come with any words. They were all feelings that I was still trying to figure out. Here I was seriously trying to pursue a woman I'd never met before, who lived over 800 miles away. I didn't know much about her at the time either. I only knew that her friends had all gone to California to celebrate one of their birthdays and I thought that was pretty dope that they'd go above and beyond for one another like that. I could tell from the few [Instagram] stories that were on her page that she had the type of aura where it seemed as if the sun rose when she woke up and set when she decided the day was done. A contagious energy that warmed those around her.
Skylar: I said, "Who is this fine Black man in my requests?!" (Laughs) I hardly got DMs from guys, so it was refreshing and exciting. I did the casual IG profile stalk, you know the one where you scroll all the way back and see what's going on. It was a light impression, though, as there's only so much you can get through Instagram and I also peeped he wasn't in NYC so I didn't think too much into it. My previous relationship had been long-distance and I wasn't rushing to be in another. I just knew I wanted to flirt back and so I did.
"I could tell from the few stories that were on her page that she had the type of aura where it seemed as if the sun rose when she woke up and set when she decided the day was done. A contagious energy that warmed those around her."
Temi: I was instantly attracted to Skylar and everything that came with her. It was weird because I felt like I found love for the first time with her. You know that high school first love that'll have you laying on the couch upside down, feet towards the ceiling talking about your favorite music genres at 5:30 am love. Everything just flowed so naturally, there was no forcing it and as time went on I think that only made me fall even deeper.
Skylar: I was attracted to him instantly, hence me allowing the DM slide to take place to begin with. (Laughs) But I will say that it took some time for me to get out of my own way and allow him in. I wasn't looking for a relationship, nor was I ready for one, but you don't plan these things. They kind of seek you out and you've gotta love yourself enough to let them.
Temi: Our first date was also our first time meeting each other. We had been talking for about a month and a half at this point, so I flew up to New York to spend some time with her. Around this time we understood that just because you can gel with someone virtually doesn't mean that things will be the same in person, so we were fully prepared to just stay friends if the vibes weren't the same in person. Our first date was really one calm weekend. We spent our first weekend together walking around the SoHo District of New York. I remember we stopped to eat at Digg In and just sat on some stairs outside of a building and talked about anything and everything until day turned to dusk. The date was natural. It was different. I was used to going out for nice dinners or excursions for first dates, but this was a nice outing with a good friend, and I think that's what I valued most about it. Everything we did felt like I was just hanging out with someone I'd known my entire life.
Skylar: Our first date was actually when we met! I got the side eyes from my girls (who were otherwise quite supportive), and I was hella nervous but I felt more secure in that Temi and I had such a great bond already. I'm also not one to encourage lavish dates to start, there's too much pressure and he had come to visit me so I kind of planned the weekend out. We spent our first real date in SoHo, aimlessly wandering the streets doing the whole 20 questions thing. I think we'd talked so much about ourselves prior to the date that it ended up being more about how we felt in the presence of one another. I always ask myself when dating, "How does this person make me feel? How do I feel when I'm with this person?" If it's healthy, positive, natural, it's something I pursue. And in this case, it absolutely was.
Making It Official
Temi: The courtship was interesting. With me still living in DC at the time we would mostly text all day and fall asleep with each other on FaceTime at night. We'd alternate going back and forth between taking buses/flights to see each other. Around this time, I'd sold all of my DJ equipment and was beginning to express my creative side in photography. I'd purchased my first camera and came home one day to a package at my door. She'd bought me a really good off-camera light and I really appreciated it. Not that she'd gotten me a gift but that we weren't even official, and she was investing in my creative advancement. When it came to finally making things official, she was the one who actually asked me out.
Skylar: He courted me, to START. But I'd like to think I was the catalyst in allowing things to really progress, primarily because of how stubborn I was to let him push things along. Once we moved out of my DMs and broke the ice with our first FaceTime conversation, we were basically inseparable–or as inseparable as two people in a long-distance flirtationship could be. Eventually he came to visit me and we had to have a very mature conversation about what would happen if we met and it didn't hit the same in person. But it did, and we decided there was no rush. He had decided long before I did that he wanted to be with me, that I was his. The thing is, because he was so confident in it, he didn't pressure me to be ready. He waited until I was ready and we went from there.
"We decided there was no rush. He had decided long before I did that he wanted to be with me, that I was his. The thing is, because he was so confident in it, he didn't pressure me to be ready. He waited until I was ready and we went from there."
Temi: I knew I wanted to commit to a relationship with Skylar when I realized that we weren't in one sometime in mid-November. Everything between us was so natural and fluid that it felt like we were already together and had been for quite some time. During our first date in New York, she had told me that she wasn't ready for anything super serious and I wasn't going to try to pressure her into something she wasn't ready for so we just enjoyed each other whenever we could. She had traveled down to DC to be my date for a company holiday party and before we left, she asked me if I wanted to be her boyfriend, real girlboss (laughs). The rest is history.
Skylar: I honestly think he committed to me very early in our relationship. He made it very clear he had no intention of being with anyone else and that when I was ready we could make it exclusive. I, on the other hand, decided to commit once I realized that I had subconsciously cut ties to my dating life, when I realized I was already moving as if he was mine and I was his. I was saying one thing and doing another. I swore I was going to take it slow, not rush, continue to date until I felt confident in us. I think that stemmed from rushing in too quickly in past relationships, not knowing who it really was that I was falling for. I've found this slow, creeping love to be much more satisfying. And even still, I was already his long before I made that decision.
"I've found this slow, creeping love to be much more satisfying. And even still, I was already his long before I made that decision."
The “L” Word
Temi: I knew it was love when days where we would talk less felt a bit more dull or less sunny if that makes sense. She brought a new type of light into my life that quite frankly I couldn't get enough of. At some point while we were dating we started to have conversations about pain, baggage, and regrets. It's one thing to love all the good that a person might have, it's another to love them through all of their faults and blemishes. I remember how I felt after we'd have these conversations—the same. I still wanted to hold her, kiss her, and protect her from the world. That's when I knew it was love.
Skylar: Temi actually told me he loved me first, and I was SHOOK. The second he told me, he immediately followed up by saying that he wasn't saying it to hear it back. He was saying it so I knew he did. By that point, he had learned me well enough to know that I couldn't be rushed into anything. I respected him for being so gentle with such a stubborn individual. Days later, I took a bus to spend some time with him in DC and as we were leaving our hotel room and walking down the hall, I remember looking at him and just loving him. I was overwhelmed by my adoration for his kindness, his empathy to my feelings, his intelligence, and tons of other qualities about him. I swear it was God, I've only had that feeling twice before. I stopped him right there in the hallway and said, "Hey, I love you," and he said, "I know that girl!"
The Sweetest Thing
Temi: My favorite thing about Skylar is that she doesn't finish all of her food. Literally (laughs). When we go out to eat, I know that I'll have a nice little second portion of food waiting for me when I'm done eating every time. My five love pillars are God, Family, Skylar, Food, and Food so there you go. The fact that she leaves me a little something on the side, a little Razzle Dazzle if you will, really melts my heart.
Skylar: Easily his selflessness when it comes to me. I've found myself moving over so often in my past relationships with no return being made on my account, where in this one room is made for me. From day one, he's created space in our relationship for me in the same way that I do him. He grants me grace, forgiveness, where others have not. And he does it so easily! Honestly, he doesn't think twice about hearing me out, talking things through, admitting his wrongs. When your partner moves in such a way, it makes it hard to not want to do the same for them. It's funny because I'm being deep here and he'll probably say his favorite thing about me is that I don't finish my food or that I'm always cold (he's always warm) When I say we balance each other I mean it).
"I've found myself moving over so often in my past relationships with no return being made on my account, where in this one room is made for me. From day one, he's created space in our relationship for me in the same way that I do him. He grants me grace, forgiveness, where others have not."
Temi: It probably sounds cliche but 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast…." really is a staple for what we've learned through loving each other. We've decided to pour our all into one another and put our blinders on in our love life the same way we do our professional life. We've learned not to compare but uplift. Not to brag, but to teach, not to hold grudges or blow up on one another but instead take a step back and process our feelings before coming back to communicate. Through our love, we've learned how to love life itself and the people we hold dear.
Skylar: I think love allows room for understanding. We've put so much work into communication and grace. One time when Temi and I were arguing, I mentioned how something he did was of such an inconvenience to me. He asked me, "But if it doesn't hurt you, and if it helps me, why can't I be your exception?" And damn, I felt that. I was complaining about something so small in the grand scheme of our love, something that was only an inconvenience to me because it was against my preference, not my morals or values. He's helped me love him better and thus love better. If I'm going to make exceptions for anyone (healthy exceptions), it'll be for those I love.
"He's helped me love him better and thus love better. If I'm going to make exceptions for anyone (healthy exceptions), it'll be for those I love."
Temi: I had to learn how to understand her as a feminist. Personally I'm the type of person that doesn't care what someone studies, practices, or believes as long as it does not harm another person. With Skylar I had to unlearn that way of thinking because it put an energy of complacency in the air. Instead of sitting on the sidelines cheering, I needed to actively use my privilege to support my girlfriend in her goals, dreams, and visions: of promoting a world where women have control over their own bodies, are caretakers on their own, make the same wages as their male counterparts (as they should have been), etc etc.
Skylar:Whew! I've had some work done on ME. My entire idea of a healthy relationship was so skewed that a lot of this process has been about my unlearning of toxic traits that we're sometimes unaware of in relationships because they seem so subtle. For instance, rather than being problem-focused, I'm now solution-based within Temi and I's relationship, as we've encouraged each other to get to the root of a thing rather than solely call it out (although that's step one). I've learned to define Temi by who he is rather than by what he does. This helps me easily brush off small mishaps or misunderstandings. He is not the sum of his mistakes. I've also had to really get it together as Temi is a man of action where I am one of big pictures and planning ahead, and while it's beautiful, it can easily be lost. I've learned to respect the present.
"To be Black, in a relationship, and traveling the world is a blessing. To share that travel and love with the world is an honor. One of my biggest boxes to tick is being able to love my partner in different spaces, travel has only further affirmed our love and the flexibility that exists in it."
Temi: It feels absolutely amazing to see the world with Skylar. Each time we travel, I feel like we learn something new about one another that we hadn't known before. Travel allows us to grow closer in unique ways. My favorite place so far has been Tulum, Mexico. It was our first 'real' trip with each other. We had gone to Puerto Rico prior just as a tester because it's one thing to travel with someone you love. It's another thing to travel with someone you love and actually enjoy the trip. Everyone differs so we just wanted to make sure that we didn't differ too much.
Once we figured that we loved being out of the States with one another, we decided to start off with Tulum because it was a place that Skylar had always wanted to visit. It's my favorite trip because it really kicked off the life that we live now. Appreciating each other in different spaces, with the love growing rather than burning out. It warms your heart in a way that can only be described as love.
Skylar: To be Black, in a relationship, and traveling the world is a blessing. To share that travel and love with the world is an honor. One of my biggest boxes to tick is being able to love my partner in different spaces, travel has only further affirmed our love and the flexibility that exists in it.
My favorite place to travel so far has been Marrakech. It was one of our last-minute trips and also one of the most beautiful we've been on. It was my first time stepping onto African soil, and we felt so seen. Many of the places we've traveled have gotten us all kinds of stares, as we're usually the only Black people around. Morocco was rich with culture and warmth, we kept talking about how easily everything fell into place. It was surreal to experience and capture, and even more special to do it with him. I always think, "Wow, there's no one else in the world I'd rather be here with."
For more of Skylar and Temi, follow them on Instagram here and here.
Featured image via Skylar Marshai/Instagram
Originally published on February 26, 2019
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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Introducing Chief Mom Officer: Where Working Moms Come First
xoNecole's Chief Mom Officer explores the 18-month post-pregnancy journey through the lens of our very own Chief Mom Officer, Shakyna Bolden. The series will serve as an inspirational and resourceful guide to help get through the early days of new motherhood as working moms knowing they are not alone in the hardships.
“I want to build my work around my life, and not my life around my work.”
I typed these words in my iPhone Notes as I fed my newborn daughter one morning during the first few weeks of having her earthside. I didn’t have much time for page-filled journal entries as my days were filled with nonstop feedings, soothing, and recovery…but I knew I needed to give those words space and life.
Prior to my maternity leave, I, like most working moms, was burning fumes juggling work and life. Since 2019, I’ve been running revenue operations here at this really cool company you may have heard of called xoNecole (hehe). I’ve been behind the scenes building our brand partnerships and negotiating deals with companies such as Ulta Beauty, Toyota, Target, Spotify, SheaMoisture, etc.
Courtesy of Shakyna Bolden
I’ve co-produced our signature events like ElevateHER and Pajamas & Lipstick while conceptualizing, selling, building, and distributing our original video and podcast content and podcast. The list goes on and on. I’ve helped build this small but brilliant company into what it is today, all while running my own small family. And that is not an easy feat.
In all truth, trying to be the best mom and partner I can be while also leading in my job has felt at times like a whirlwind where the rest of my life is passing me by. I don’t quite know where or when it happened, but I swear somebody pushed the fast-forward button in life, and I’m losing my edges trying to keep up.
My mind and body get so preoccupied with the management of life that my soul sits on the sidelines, waiting to take the reins and intentionally live it.
So many facets of my life, from my health and well-being to my hobbies and passions, have been placed on the back burner while tending to my young family and growing in my career has taken center stage. And for the longest time, I’ve wanted to flip the switch, but the pace of life just hasn’t let me restack my priorities.
That is, until now.
Courtesy of Shakyna Bolden
When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter last year, I couldn’t imagine adding more to my already full plate. Simultaneously, I was also relieved to know that my upcoming maternity leave would force me to press pause and catch my breath. Her birth in January 2023 was a much-needed reset, to say the least.
My maternity leave was the first time since 2019 that I had a second for dreams that were buried in the back of my heart to bubble up to the surface of my reality. I got a taste of what it was like to solely focus on my well-being and my home life. And I liked it a lot. My healing. My recovery. Sitting and really taking quiet time with God to search the unattended areas in the garden of my life.
I was cooking homemade meals on the regular and actually sitting down with my family at the table to eat. As grueling as those first newborn weeks can be, I was enjoying the long-awaited shift in my priorities; and I wanted that shift to stick. I didn’t want it to fade away after my maternity leave.
I want to build my work around my life and not my life around my work.
As a leader of an organization that speaks to millions of women every day about their well-being (and also in leading a team of majority women), I feel it’s my responsibility to carry this shift forward boldly. This is why I’m launching a new column here at xoNecole: Chief Mom Officer!
As I return to work full-time this month from my maternity leave, I want to regularly share my experience of trying to harmonize work and life. As an audience, you all share your raw, unfiltered journeys with us. For years, they’ve undoubtedly inspired me. I want to show up and do the same because I know this shift in my life will be quite the journey.
So for all my Chief Mom Officers—those of us who are constantly merging the imperfect and chaotic worlds of leadership in the office and wearing our crowns at home—I invite you to come on this journey with me and celebrate the ebbs and flows in how we show up for each.
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Featured image courtesy of Shakyna Bolden