When it comes to a year like this one (has it been a year, a decade or a century? It's hard to tell at this point), you've gotta do your best to look for the silver linings. For me, one of them has been learning how to implement even better boundaries while also learning how to be extremely proactive about staying as stress-free as possible. What's a trip about that second point is, when you really decide to get still and "tune in" to your mind, body and spirit, it can be a plum trip what is revealed.
Take our vaginas, for example. In the midst of all that's happening in your life right now, have you ever wondered how "she's" doing. How she's really doing? If, in the midst of everything, if she might be feeling a little stress, strain and/or anxiety too? If the thought hasn't really crossed your mind, but now that I asked, you're like, "How would I know if my vagina is stressed, sis?", I'm so glad that you asked. Take a moment, breathe in deeply (exhale deeply too) and check out some very telling indicators that your vagina might actually be stressed out AF right about now.
Are You Getting More Yeast Infections?
I don't know about y'all, but I honestly can't think of too many things that are worse than a yeast infection. The incessant itching alone is enough to literally make you feel like you're losing your damn mind! So, where exactly do they come from? Our vaginas naturally produce a certain amount of bacteria and yeast. But when either of those are thrown out of balance, the yeast (also known as candida) can grow out of control and—bam! An infection is oftentimes the result. As far as what triggers the overgrowth—medications (including birth control), pregnancy, hormonal levels being thrown out of wack, diabetes, sex (if your natural bacteria doesn't initially "gel" with your partner's) and a compromised immune system. Three things that can weaken your immunity are sickness, too much sugar and yes, stress. So, if a yeast infection has popped up as of late and you can't attribute it to any of the other causes that I shared, it very well could be a clear sign that you need to get your stress under control.
Stress remedy: One of the main ways to prevent a yeast infection that is triggered by stress is to up your probiotic intake and lower the amount of sugar that you consume. The probiotics (make sure that the brand you get has lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus rhamnosus and lactobacillus reuteri in it; they're all good for vaginal health) are great because they will help to keep "good bacteria" in your gut and vagina. Less sugar is good because sugar is an enemy of your immunity; the less you consume, the healthier your body—including your vagina—will ultimately be.
Are Your Periods All Over the Place?
Something that I'm thankful for is the fact that my period is pretty regular. But something that I've noticed is if I've had a particularly stress-filled month, sometimes my cycle is thrown off by a few days. Although everything from birth control and pregnancy to thyroid issues, fibroids, hormonal shifts, excessive exercise and endometriosis can all cause your period to be semi-unpredictable, if you can typically set your watch (or app) by yours but the past couple of months, that hasn't exactly been the case, think back to how anxious, worried or stressed you've been. Believe it or not, when we're stressed out, that can affect the part of our brain that alerts our body to where our period should actually start. So, if yours seems to be shorter or longer than usual, don't underestimate that stress could most definitely be the cause.
Stress remedy: The main thing to keep in mind if your period is fluctuating due to stress is you need to get your cortisol levels down. You can do this by meditating, participating in yoga, drinking ginger tea (especially a week prior to when you expect your cycle to start) and taking a multi-vitamin. As far as vitamins go, make sure yours has a good dose of Vitamin D in it because studies show that a Vitamin D deficiency actually plays a role in irregular cycles.
Are Period Cramps Suddenly Totally Off of the Charts?
When it's time for our period to start, a chemical known as prostaglandins sends a signal to our uterus, letting it know that it's time to contract so that the lining of our uterus can shed (by the way, did you know that slightly upping your dose of ibuprofen, the moment your period starts, can actually delay it by a day or two? You can read more about that here). Pretty much all of us have some level of discomfort during this process (especially on day one); but if you basically are in so much pain that you're out for the count for the first 48 hours or so, you may have what is known as dysmenorrhea, which is just another word for a painful cycle. But what if you only feel this way, during your period, every once in a while? This is another thing that you may be able to attribute directly to stress.
Some research that I did revealed that women who are more stressed during the first half of their cycle tend to have harder time dealing with abdominal discomfort once their period actually came on. While medical professionals are still trying to get down to the root of why this is the case, a big theory is the stress hormone cortisol is elevated during stressful moments and that can alter our ovarian hormones to the point where we feel worse instead of better, once our cycle actually starts.
Stress remedy: While ibuprofen can definitely help to calm the period cramping and discomfort, if you know that your pain is brought on by stress more than anything else, consider taking a more holistic approach. Drinking more water will relieve bloating which decreases period cramps. Eating anti-inflammatory foods like berries, salmon, broccoli, grapes, tomatoes, dark chocolate and green tea can make the cramps less intense. Sipping on chamomile tea will inhibit the production of prostaglandins. Adding Vitamin B1 to your diet regimen will help to lessen the pain. And, getting more magnesium into your system—either via a supplement or by eating foods like cashews, almonds, spinach, whole grains and bananas—will help to relax your nerves and promote better quality sleep.
Is There a Ton (or Hardly Any) Discharge Happening?
Vaginal discharge is totally normal. That's why douching is an absolute no-no because, when you do that, you alter the pH level in your vagina and doing that can trigger an infection. And just how much discharge is considered to be normal? Eh. Normal is kind of relative in this case, but many health professionals say that a little under a teaspoon a day is the average amount. So long as your discharge is either clear, white or off-white and it's not irritating you (like itching or burning) in any way, you should be all good. But if you do happen to notice that either you're producing a ton of discharge or even hardly any, it could mean that you've got some type of infection or that you're stressed out. If your discharge is accompanied by extreme fatigue, a fever, abdominal pain, increased urination or unexplainable weight loss, make an appointment to see your doctor ASAP. If not, chalk it up to stress—at least for now.
Stress remedy: Again, if your discharge is normal but you've just got a higher amount, if you make sure to relax and get more rest, the amount should shift after a few days. Besides, extra (healthy) discharge is typically nothing to be concerned about. Just make sure that you're wearing cotton panties (be sure to check out "These Common Habits Are Actually BAD For Your Vagina" too), so that the extra moisture doesn't eventually turn into a yeast infection up the road.
Did You Just Get an STD?
I believe that I shared before that one time, I got chlamydia, mono and strep—all at the same time. The really tripped out part is I didn't go to the doctor for the STD; I went for the strep, but when the tests came back, they told me that I had chlamydia, that it has probably been lying dormant in my system for at least a year (hence, no symptoms), and the other illnesses are probably what triggered it. Moral to this icky lil' tale?
One, GET TESTED. Don't assume that since you don't feel anything, that you don't have anything. Secondly, don't assume that participating in "stress sex" will automatically make life better. What I mean by that is, if you're stressed out and you go looking for someone to relieve your stress with, your anxiety levels could actually compromise your immune system and that could have you out here far more vulnerable to catching a sexually transmitted infection (or disease).
Stress remedy: An STD is nothing to be ashamed of (over half of all Americans will get one at some point in their lifetime); however, it is something to be proactive about avoiding. If you're not in a long-term exclusive relationship (even if you are, you should still get tested every six months or so), to keep yourself from getting one (and to protect your partner), make sure to wear a condom. If you already do have one, make sure to complete whatever round of antibiotics that your doctor prescribed. Also, consider adding some garlic, goldenseal and olive leaf extract to your health regimen. All are naturally powerful and potent ways to detox your system while giving your immunity an extra boost.
Is Your Vagina or Lower Back Inexplicably Tender?
Did you know that, when you're stressed, it affects your breathing patterns? This, in turn, affects the amount of oxygen that your body receives which can actually put unnecessary strain on your mid-to-lower back? Plus, stress can make your vaginal walls extra dry which can result in your vagina feeling pretty tender.
Stress remedy: As far as your back goes, doing some stretches, both in the morning and before turning in at night can help to relieve some of the tension that you might be experiencing. When it comes to vaginal dryness, an awesome all-natural lubricant is virgin olive oil. That's because it's got all kinds of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and a good amount of Vitamin E that will moisturize, soothe and even help to heal your vaginal and vulvar dryness. That said, make sure that you only use it as a personal lubricant and not for sex (with a condom) purposes. Oils tend to break down latex which means they can compromise your protection from STDs and pregnancy if you use them along with a rubber (if you wanna learn more about the best lubricants for sex, check out "If You've Always Wanted A 'Lubricant Cheat Sheet,' Here Ya Go").
Are You Absolutely NOT in the Mood?
I don't know about you, but one of my favorite things about my vagina is I'm able to have sex with it. Still, when you're stressed out, another sign can be that nothing about you (including your va-jay-jay) is in the mood. That's because stress has the ability to drain our energy, inhibit our testosterone and estrogen levels, intensify our anxiety levels and totally tank our libido. So, if sex is something that your typically down for, but lately, it's the absolute last thing that you want to do—ask yourself if anything is stressing you out. If so, that very well could be why you and your vagina are not having as much fun as y'all usually do.
Stress remedy: If you're not having sex—and your vagina is mad at you for it—due to stress, sex journaling can help you to narrow down what is triggering your worry and anxiety so that you can find a solution to what troubles you. You know what else can help you out? HAVING SEX. Whenever you engage in the act, it actually triggers endorphins and hormones like dopamine and oxytocin so that you feel happier and more relaxed. So, if sex isn't on your to-do list right now, add it. It could be just what your vagina ordered for her stress levels. Literally.
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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 (email@example.com) 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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Text This Before You Ghost Them, Sis.
We’ve all been there at least once (or a few times) along our dating journey. Maybe you’ve had a date or two with a potential suitor, but the spark just wasn’t there. Perhaps you convinced yourself that just “one more” date would help you overlook a non-negotiable ick. At this point in the dating cycle, you’ve probably reached the point where you must decide to either communicate “why” things won’t be moving forward or simply ghost them.
What Is Ghosting?
“Ghosting” refers to the act of suddenly and unexpectedly cutting off all communication with someone you've been dating or talking to without any explanation or further contact. It typically occurs in the early stages of dating but can also happen after a few dates or even in more established relationships.
The act of ghosting has become quite a common practice in our modern dating culture and can manifest in a number of different ways. From days of ignored text messages and phone calls out of the blue to not showing up for pre-arranged plans and sometimes disappearing from someone's life without any notice or explanation.
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The Problem With Ghosting
Being ghosted may seem like a harmless act of “self-choosing,” but the person on the receiving end of your decision can be left feeling confused, rejected, and even abandoned, wondering what happened and where they went wrong.
And we get it, what explanation do you owe someone for leaving after a few cocktails and a $100 date? While that may seem like the perfect opportunity to cut and run, taking an alternative approach to fizzle out a fling is a great time to practice clear and effective communication that can pay off in the long run.
While there is a time and a place for ghosting (and even blocking) if your boundaries have been crossed or safety has been threatened, if we’re looking to live out our best healed, secure-girl summer, there are ways to date freely without leaving others with damage of their own to recover from.
Being honest and upfront about your feelings while being respectful of the other person's time is the best way to leave a situationship or fling with both parties emotionally unscathed. So if you’re looking for ways to break things off with care and consideration, we’ve provided five text scripts to send instead of ghosting somebody’s son:
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5 Texts To Send Instead of Ghosting Them
1. If you want to take the honest but gentle approach:
"Hey [Name], I've really enjoyed getting to know you, but I've been doing some thinking, and I don't see this going any further. I wanted to be upfront and honest with you rather than leaving you wondering. I wish you all the best."
2. If you want to express gratitude before saying goodbye:
"Hi [Name], I wanted to reach out and say thank you for the time we spent together. You're an amazing person, but I think we're better off as friends. I hope you understand and that we can still maintain a positive connection."
3. If you want to leave a note of appreciation:
"Hi [Name], I wanted to let you know that I've had a great time with you, but I don't think we're compatible for a romantic relationship. I appreciate the moments we shared, and I hope we can both find what we're looking for."
4. If a face-to-face convo is needed:
"Hey [Name], I've been doing some thinking, and I believe it's important for us to have an open conversation about where we stand. Can we find some time to talk about our relationship and how we both feel? I think it's important to address things honestly."
5. If you want to keep things cute and concise:
"Hey [Name], I've realized that we're not on the same page, and it's best if we part ways. Take care."
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