Maybe it's because Disney made sure that Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Princess Jasmine from Aladdin and Tiana from The Princess and the Frog all had love interests. Maybe it's because far too many so-called singles ministries in churches seem to be more about how to get a man (or how to complain in a "godly way" about not having one) than how to buy a house or start a business. Maybe it's the daily programming of being in a relationship, period that has so many of us struggling with being single.
I mean, even our tax forms indicate that unless we are married, we are single but even if we've only been on three dates with someone, we're quick to not want to refer to ourselves as a single woman. It's like "single" is some sort of back-handed compliment on a good day, a dirty cuss word on a bad one. What's up with that?
As someone who will be 45 in June and is currently (and peacefully) single, personally, I think a lot of us struggle with singleness because, overall, it hasn't been presented to us as the immense gift and blessing that it really and truly is.
I mean, just think about it—all of us come into the world as single human beings, so even God himself finds merit in it. Yet religion, pop culture, even our own loved ones tend to act like the single status is nothing more than a placeholder until we get ourselves together and actually start living our lives…with someone.
Me? These days, whenever someone asks me why I'm still single, my answer is simple—"When a man can love me the way I know I can love a man, I'm good." I mean that too. I got to this place by asking the following questions and then getting real with myself about what my answers were vs. what they needed to be.
Struggling With Being Single? Read This.
Question #1: Do You Think Life Begins AFTER Being with Someone?
I can't tell you how many times I've spoken to a single woman about all of things she wants to do—after she gets married. "I want to go to Italy. Maybe I'll do it for my honeymoon," or "I've always wanted a diamond pendant. Maybe my future husband will get it for me one day."
A lot of wives have given me a front seat into their marriage. And you know what they all can agree on? A lot of the things that they thought would be easier or even better after marriage, aren't. Merging lives requires a sacrifice of time and money. It also means you are in a constant state of compromise. Suppose your husband hates to fly or getting a new house is more important to him than a piece of jewelry?
Ask any healthy married individual and they will tell you that a person should come into your life to complement it, not to fill some void. And in order to be a good fit, you have to already have some things going on so that they complement you well. Is your life so full that it's like an action movie trailer for how much BIGGER a man's life would be if he became a part of it? If not, why not?
Question #2: Have You Been Told That You Idealize Marriage Too Much?
There's a married couple that I know who've pretty much been miserable ever since the day they said, "I do." As a single person, the husband was a mega casanova and the wife was controlling as all get out. He was a dreamer and she was an established entrepreneur. They didn't have the same views on gender roles or children. But somehow, they—especially she—thought that marriage was going to make everything better. However, the reality is marriage only magnifies whatever issues you already had (individually and in your relationship) already. To think that marriage is gonna make imperfect things perfect is an idealistic—which is typically code for unrealistic—point of view.
That's why, whenever a single person tells me that they want to get married because they want someone to love them, it makes me cringe the same way as when a teenager tells me they want to have a baby. First, it's too much pressure to expect an imperfect person or a baby to fill voids in your life. Second, relationships and kids will take a lot out of you; that's why you need to give out of surplus not lack.
If you want to get married because The Cosby Show and rom-coms are the bar for how you see marriage, praise the Lord right now for keeping you single. The reality check of what real marriage looks like would probably take you out. (It causes folks to file for divorce on a daily basis.)
Question #3: What Would Being in a Relationship Improve in Your World?
Some of my friends laugh at me because sometimes I'll say, "Pray for me. I really want a penis right now." Some of them will think they are correcting me and say, "You mean a husband?" but no—sometimes I mean just a penis.
I'm at a place in my life where I'd prefer to be married before having sex again, yes. BUT I'll be honest and say that I'm also at a place in my life where having a best friend in the form of a sex partner is the main reason why marriage appeals to me. Meaning, I really like my life the way that it is. I don't attend weddings wondering when it will be my turn. I'm not freaking out about being 40 with no kids; my godchildren provide plenty of responsibility. I ADORE the male friends in my life; they give me a lot of the male companionship that I need.
All in all, having a husband would be a blessing and should God bring me to one (Genesis 2:22), I'm sure it will serve a great purpose. For now, though, as far as improving the quality of my life goes? Aside from some earth-shattering orgasms (le sigh), he'd have some pretty big shoes to fill. Life, as a single woman, is pretty golden right about now. Just as the single life should be.
Question #4: Have You Thought About All of the Benefits That Come with Being Single?
Something else that I notice with a lot of the couples I work with is they didn't really want to get married; they wanted to have sex and not be alone. Marriage is A LOT more than that, though.
Sometimes, when I'm listening to the complaints that they have, what I really hear is, "I wish I was still single"—He doesn't keep the house as clean as I would like; She's always expecting me to want to go to her work events; He is too stingy with money; She's always mad that I don't turn in at the same time she does. What a lot of this boils down to is one person sees life one way while their partner sees it another. Oftentimes, there are no right or wrongs, just different. But if you don't want to find some common ground and compromise, you can always stay single.
Every time a wife calls me about having to wake up early to help her husband do something around the house or wishing they could do something that isn't currently in the budget, I hear her out, get off of the phone and do a little jig. Right now, my money is mine—ALL MINE. My time is mine—ALL MINE.
Marriage has its perks. It also has its sacrifices. Ones that don't have to be made while I'm a single woman.
Question #5: Where’s Your Single Living Bucket List?
Speaking of compromise, I share something my mother often says because it's a very profound pearl of wisdom—"Do everything you can't compromise before you get married." No matter how much you desire long-term companionship, there are going to be things that are so much easier to do while you are a single woman.(I'm not the only one who feels that way either. Check out what one of my married friends had to say to us single women about the benefits of our relational status here.)
So, instead of thinking about (or obsessing over) all of the things that you don't have because you're not married (yet), reflect instead on all of the things you can accomplish because you're single. Wanna start a business? The sacrifice of your time alone makes it easier to do while you're single. Want to take a trip around the world? There is no one you need to run that by first (or try and convince to get on board) while you're single. Wanna take a road trip with your best guy friend? There's no time like the present (plus, it's far more appropriate to do right now too!).
When you start thinking about all of the things being single frees you up to do, the list of possibilities become so long that it honestly has you too busy to pine over when you'll get hemmed up—I'm sorry, I mean get married (LOL).
Question #6: Do You Feel Like You NEED a Mate?
This right here is an article all on its own and maybe one day I'll expound on it. For now, I'll just say that the quality of my life got so much better when I got to a point and place where I WANTED a man to love me, not NEEDED him to. It wasn't a man or relationship that brought me to this conclusion, it was actually the practice of minimalism.
When you start to adapt the mindset of a minimalist, you start to learn that wants and needs are very different. A want is something I wish for or desire, which is fine, but a need? A need is something that my life requires. I need water. I need money to pay my bills. I want another car. I want to get paid more for some of the work that I do. See the difference? What I want would make life more comfortable but I'm not gonna die (or even struggle really) without it.
If you read all of that and is still looking at your screen like, "OK…but I will die without a husband," this is one more reason why it's a good thing that you are still single. Thinking that you can't live without someone is giving them (or that kind of relationship) far too much power. It's setting them up to be an idol and no human being should hold that kind of place and position in your life.
You NEED to feel loved? You've got God, your family, and friends, and you to do that.
A woman who finds peace in that is a woman who is in a healthy single state of mind.
Ironically, it's also that kind of woman who is far more equipped for marriage too. You will not die without a man. But you can't start really living your life until you realize and accept that. Love yourself and your status too much to hate being single. Then watch how much bigger and better your world becomes because of it. I'm living proof. Singleness filled with all kinds of underrated dopeness. It really is.
Love yourself and your status too much to hate being single. Then watch how much bigger and better your world becomes because of it. I'm living proof. Singleness filled with all kinds of underrated dopeness. It really is.
Featured image by Getty Images.
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- Read This When You Start To Hate Being Single | Thought Catalog ›
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- I Hate Being Single - YouTube ›
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- If You Don't Like Being Single, You Need To Read This | HuffPost ›
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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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.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image courtesy of Shakyna Bolden