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Losing My Best Friend Taught Me Authenticity

What About Your Friends?

I've never been a stranger to cutting people off. It was how I protected myself from the ills of this world — from people who wanted nothing but to suck me dry. I had never experienced being cut off myself, though, so you can only imagine how painful it was when my best friend decided to do some cutting.


We had been friends for over 15 years. We experienced life through middle school, high school, college, and graduate school. I was there for her teen pregnancy and rode shotgun when she wanted to key her ex-boyfriend's car. My mother was dang near her mother, and her grandparents mine. We were incredibly close, so I understood why she was upset when I opted not to attend her out-of-town birthday trip. I just didn't expect our 15-year friendship to be dismissed because of it.

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She had been going back and forth for a while about what she wanted to do. Her birthday was in March, which meant on the East Coast, it was still too cold to go on a boat ride in Maryland like she wanted to do. I was with her plans at first – after all, it was her birthday – but as we got closer, and plans kept changing, I became unsettled.

Do I really want to pay this money to go with you on a boat in the middle of March? Nope. Not really.

I didn't say that, obviously, but I'm sure she felt it by the way I was offering better suggestions. After tons of back and forth and indecisiveness – mainly prompted by my desire to encourage her to plan something different – I backed out. I ensured her that I would do my own thing for her when she returned. I had already begun planning!

My. Own. Thing.

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It wasn't my birthday, though. And as helpful as I thought I was being, it wasn't until a year later that I realized how insensitive I truly was.

For a long time, I deflected – thinking that the loss of our friendship was solely about her attitude toward me missing her birthday. But it was about more than that. Throughout our entire friendship – particularly after I had gone off to college – I'd been wanting her to be better, to push harder, to do more. I wanted her to create a life for herself that was unlike anything she ever imagined. I wanted her to soar with me.

I was trying to make her live up to a standard that I set for her, not one she set for herself.

For years, she conformed. She suppressed some of the most authentic parts of herself to accommodate my desire to make her more like me. She would do her best to meet me where I was growing, even if it made her uncomfortable. Our friendship was built on longevity, reciprocity, genuine support, and love, but the support I offered seemed to be more focused on pushing her into being a woman she didn't even want to become.

When and how did I become the standard for womanhood?

I wish she would have slapped me and asked me that back then. My good intentions missed the mark completely because I was focused on making my best friend meet a standard that I wanted her to meet.

So often we say we want our friends and family to become better, when what we really mean is that we want them to become like us. We want them to be ambitious like us. We want them to be poised like us. We want them to make decisions like us. And while this may all be with love, in doing so, we force our friends into a mold that they may not even want to be part of.

The true essence of friendship is being able to love people right where they are.

It took me a long time to learn that my role as a friend isn't to change people, it's to bring light, and love, and joy to their lives. It's to support and care for them. Much of that means doing so as the person they are, letting them be who they want to be, letting them make their own decisions, forge their own paths, and become their own person. Because true friendship isn't about conforming or forcing a like-mind, it's about embracing the mind (and person) that's already there before you. And if you don't like that person, then you don't have to be friends.

I hadn't realized any of this until after our friendship was over.

It's been about 4 years now, and I see her having fun and doing her thing with her new friends (social media tells all). I used to get mad—thinking about how they have her portraying herself online like a "wild child", like she's not raising a young impressionable daughter. Then my thinking changed, because I noticed that she is finally doing something I rarely allowed her to do publicly: be herself. She is letting her hair down and becoming who she always wanted to be; I love that for her.

Because as much as I wanted us to grow together, it is most important that she grew into her freest, most authentic self. And I am happy that her new friends are allowing her to do just that.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissons@xonecole.com.

Featured image by Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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