As early as elementary school, I remember taking the twenty-minute ride to Philly's Temple Hospital with my father every evening to pick up my mom from work where she'd be waiting for us on the bench by the back entrance every single time eager to leave the work day behind.
I lost count of how many times I witnessed them make complete U-turns in the cereal aisle when spotting patients they recognized from their hospital jobs, which sent a message about their values when it came to the workplace loud and clear:
Keep your personal and professional life separate.
In fact, build a brick wall complete with floodlights and layered security between the two.
It wasn't because they were ashamed or had anything to hide. As I grew older, it became clear that it was protective measure that ensured the less people have access to your personal life, the less they are able to use against you. Now, as I head to work each day, I've noticed I've adopted a similar attitude where I want work to be more about handling business and less about making BFF's. In my cubicle you'll find more post-it notes than pictures of my daughter. Most days, the mantra I chant through the work day is, "I'm here to make money, not friends."
Because the truth is, when you've built a bitter relationship with the 9-5 struggle, you hit a point when you're over the obligatory small talk at the Keurig.
The limited amount of energy that becomes your life when you're a working mom leads you to prioritize who is worth investing your time, effort, and energy into and, most days, it's not Suzanne from HR.
A recent article published in Harvard Business Review revealed that I'm not alone when it comes to being protective over my personal life as it pertains to the hustle and bustle of the work day. "Why Black Employees Hesitate To Open Up About Themselves" takes a look at an African-American employee at an international bank who, despite exceeding expectations with his work performance, was passed over for promotions repeatedly before he finally got the nerve to discuss the issue with his supervisor. The supervisor's response? "You are really good at your job, but the problem is that the partners feel they don't really know you."
Afterwards, the employee set out with a goal of engaging in more social activities like staff lunches and fantasy sports competitions, all in the hopes of relationship-building, which he says eventually led to growth in his professional career.
Now, before you can finish saying, "Ain't that about some bulls**t," anyone who has worked in the corporate world is familiar with the office politics of socializing and schmoozing your way to a promotion and/or pay raise. But how do you find the balance between being personable without being fake or phony? How do you maintain friendly and respectful relationships at work while still allowing some distance so that work doesn't feel so closely connected to your personal happiness and self-worth?
It's something I found myself forced to explore when a lay-off I experienced left me unemployed and questioning my whole identity. I enjoyed the work I did at the time and, for the most part, the people I got to do it with, but after the lay-off, I was left asking myself questions like, "Was my manager jealous of my side-hustle as a writer? Maybe I shouldn't have divulged that info to someone I soon learned had secret celebrity blogging dreams of their own."
When I learned that supervisors had pretty much laid off their entire staff at the small non-profit to maintain their six-figure salaries, I felt violated. What good was that conversation about my baby's favorite foods if at that end of the day you didn't give a damn about how I'd pay for it? Everyone won't have my same experience, but the situation taught me that work should only be but so intertwined with your personal life. In the event you're stripped of your position, you still want to be able to have a healthy sense of self and feel like the connection you had with people you once engaged with every day for eight hours wasn't all in vain.
The article goes on to state that finding the balance between the personal and professional can especially be a struggle for African-Americans. Many of us were raised in a culture that encourages keeping private business behind closed doors, and in the work space, when many of us are already navigating microaggressions and racial boundaries, shooting the s**t can be more difficult than necessary. For example, my sister and I can talk about Chris Rock's latest stand-up special and find the same jokes funny, but Kathy from Accounting might be offended and the next thing you know, I'll be sitting in front of Suzanne from HR wondering if this will affect my paycheck.
The piece explains that with disclosure comes risk, and it's not just African-Americans who have reservations:
"Opening yourself to others requires risk taking and trust, but without it employees are less likely to build the deeper relationships that lead both to success and to more happiness at work. Our research focuses on African-Americans, but this dynamic applies to the acclimation and professional trajectories of all those who find themselves in the minority at work, including working mothers, older employees at youth-oriented start-ups, and people whose conservative political views make them feel like outliers in organizations dominated by liberals or progressives."
It's not always necessarily about being anti-social either.
I have made friends at work in the past that I've talked to both on and off the clock. I've enjoyed happy hours, holiday parties, and even playdates with colleagues who I developed friendships organically with. But admittedly, it's been difficult for me to navigate the idea of small talk leading to career success. I've always felt like my work should speak for itself and I should be afforded opportunities that were a good match for my talent and work style than just because me and a manager both love Black Ink Chicago. But the authors of the piece say that half-priced margaritas with your manager may just be a necessary rung on the career ladder, and research shows that it's not that people of color aren't turning up with their colleagues, it's that they don't always feel comfortable being themselves while doing so:
"The problem is not that minorities fail to show up for such outings."
"However, in our surveys, minorities are more likely than others to report attending out of a sense of obligation or a fear of negative career consequences if they don't appear."
The studies also confirm that differences aside, attitude is everything and the fact of the matter is if you're only showing up to happy hour out of obligation and not due to organically formed connections, it shows:
"Regardless of race, people who would prefer to skip such events typically come away feeling no more connected to colleagues than when they walked in the door."
Also, when it comes to connecting to colleagues it can be a struggle to find safe things to talk about that doesn't make working next to a person eight hours a day uncomfortable.
Many employees fear that sharing personal details about their lives invites a situation where that info can be used against them.
I've sat in meetings where managers have discussed laying off the co-worker whose husband makes a decent salary before the single mother whose one missed paycheck away from a shut-off notice. Regardless of your performance and how much personal info should or shouldn't affect career opportunities, I think it's always best to proceed with caution when it comes to being an open book at work.
When it comes to balancing your personal and professional life, the advice I can relate to the most in the piece is you have to be comfortable with yourself. Regardless of how disenchanted I have ever been in a position, I've always found that the people I am drawn to the most are those who are authentic. For every colleague who's ever responded with, "Who?" when I've mentioned my love for all things Iyanla Vanzant, there has been another screaming from the printer, "You have to do the work, beloved!"
When you stay true to what drives you in your career and who you are the connections and opportunities will come, and more importantly, they will come from the people and places that are right for you. In the article, a black woman who goes by "Karen" recalls several white colleagues asking her what she did for her birthday one year and how hesitant she was to share about attending a Kirk Franklin concert because they probably didn't even know who the gospel artist was. The moment was significant to her because she realized any position worth having is one where your unique skill set, background, and outlook are welcomed and not discouraged:
"If I am not comfortable with who I am, the music I like, the places I like to go, how can I expect my coworker to value me for who I am? What is so wrong with being excited about Kirk Franklin?"
When it comes to navigating the nuances of your career growth, it helps to create boundaries and rules that keep you safe, motivated, and work for your individual path as a professional. You also have to understand that with growth comes risk and challenging yourself out of your comfort zone once in a while. Work shouldn't be a place where you're uncomfortable being yourself, and adapting to new people and outlooks can be intimidating, but scary doesn't always mean wrong.
It's as simple as being able to bring your distinct identity to your position, without making a mess where you make your money.
With that said, I'm not accepting your friend request unless we've actually had a conversation that wasn't about weather, the Academy Awards, or my awesome "ethnic" hairstyle. You don't get a happy hour invite until I've heard you independently state that you can't stand those squeaky ass shoes our manager wears. And lastly, you can't judge me for listening to Young Jeezy and selling coke in my head until the very last second before I start my shift.
Featured image by Shutterstock
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Writer, sexual health superhero, and #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoy curator regularly featured on @Madamenoire. Toya can usually be found in between her earbuds, listening to trap music and refreshing her browser for concert tickets. Tweet her @thetruetsharee.
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7 Sex-Related Problems That Ruin Sex (And Possibly Your Relationship)
Not too long ago, while in an interview, someone asked me to define one of the main purposes of sex in a long-term relationship: “Probably the most intimate form of communication that we have is sex because it’s an act that connects one’s physical, mental and emotional state to another human being simultaneously — and communication doesn’t get much more profound than that.”
That’s part of the reason why the term “casual sex” irks me to the billionth degree (check out “We Should Really Rethink The Term 'Casual Sex'”); it’s because, even if you think that sex with someone is next-to-nothing, there is so much going on within you (oxytocin highs, if you’re unprotected, fluid bonding, chemical reactions in your brain, etc.) that doesn’t know if someone is “the one” (in your mind) or not. So, in many ways, it acts like they are (check out this YouTube video from a Catholic woman who studies some unexpected ways that sex affects us physically here; sex goes deep, y’all!).
Yeah, sex is so much more than a notion, and that’s why I’m a firm believer that it is such a barometer for long-term relationships overall — because, as I’ve shared before, I once read that, “Good sex in a relationship is 10 percent of the relationship while bad sex in a relationship is 90 percent of the relationship because sex tends to set the tone for what’s happening in the rest of the house.”
And that’s why I think that there are certain sex-related issues that can not only damage your sex life with your partner but could also end up ruining your relationship if you’re not careful (very careful). Let’s get into seven of them now.
1. Being Unaware of Your “Body Clock”Giphy
I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who’ve come to me in some serious trouble, in part due to their flailing (or partly nonexistent) sex life. When I ask them if they went to premarital counseling (if you’re engaged, please do; you have a 33 percent greater chance of avoiding divorce when counseling transpires), many say “no” and the ones who say “yes” usually say that it was no more than 3-5 sessions and the topic of sex barely came up (le sigh). Meanwhile, with my premarital meetings, I try and stick with intimacy for three months if I can because there is a lot to unpack, from what you learned as a child, to your first time (or if you are a virgin), to your needs and fantasies, to how you see it from a spiritual perspective — like I said, there is a lot to unpack there.
Take the mere practicality of sex, for example — and more specifically, your body clock. Do you prefer to have sex at night or in the daytime? A lot of couples struggle with intimacy because one prefers the former while the other likes the latter. Do you keep track of when you’re ovulating? It’s pure science why you are probably hornier during that time of the month (because your body is signaling that it’s time to conceive) vs. the fact that you might not be the most interested in sex when you’re PMS’ing. Are you premenopausal? Hormones shift a lot during that time, and here’s the thing — while menopause only lasts a year, the premenopausal stage (which typically starts between 45-55) can last between 7-14 years. Even paying attention to when you have more energy (some do in the day…morning sex, anyone? While others do early in the evening) can play a role.
So yeah, getting to know your body clock (and discussing your partner’s clock with them) can play a role in how much — or how little — sex you have…and that can add life or drain it from the relationship overall.
2. Comparing Your Present with Your PastGiphy
There is a wife of almost 20 years I know who, when I asked her if she thought that her husband was good in bed, she paused for a second, shrugged her shoulders, and simply said, “I was a virgin when I got married, so I have nothing to compare him to. I mean, he’s good to me.” On the flip side, there’s a now divorced couple who I also know (who almost made it to 20 years) who had multiple partners before each other while also having a deep interest in porn who once said to me, “Sometimes, there’s as much as 15 people in our bed because of all of the people from our past and the porn that we’ve seen that’s running through our heads.” Yeah, y’all can act like body counts don’t matter, but there is so much evidence out here that says otherwise — that couple just gave one that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should.
You know, one of my favorite throwback shows is King of Queens (Kevin James, Leah Remini). A few weeks ago, I watched a rerun where Doug and Carrie were talking about the images that come up in their minds, sometimes during sex. Neither was too happy about it, and I can totally see why. I mean, if sex was just about “getting off” (and it’s not), then whatever. However, AGAIN, it’s also about connecting with your partner on a mental and emotional level, and that’s hard to do if you’re there with them in the body while you’re fantasizing about a celebrity, a porn actor (porn is usually acting, don’t let it fool you) or an ex (check out “You Love Him. You Prefer Sex With Your Ex. What Should You Do?”).
And what if that is what’s going on? I once spoke with a sex therapist about this very thing. What she said is people should be less concerned about celebs (if it’s on occasion) and more concerned about that ex because rarely is sex with an ex…just about the sex.
And that’s why this point made the list. If you’re physically with your partner and mentally or emotionally with your ex at the same time, please don’t ignore that. There are definitely some unresolved issues there that you need to work through, whether it’s with a therapist, counselor, or coach, a trusted friend (who won’t add fuel to the literal fire), or even with your ex — although you might want to run that by your partner first because…I’m pretty sure you’d want him to do that with/for you. RIGHT?
3. Not Being Clear About Your Sexual NeedsGiphy
Question — if someone were to walk up to you right now and ask you what your top seven sexual needs are, along with what your top five sexual dealbreakers are, would you be able to answer? It really is kind of wild how many people get upset with their partner for not being able to sexually satisfy them when even they can’t articulate what they need/require in order for that to happen. Yeah, it’s another article for another time about how many people UNREALISTICALLY (and yes, I am yelling it) think that someone loving them well means that they should be able to read their mind. Nope.
It truly can’t be said enough that sex — especially good sex — is about communication. Hmph. It makes me think about a clip that I saw from Tonight’s Conversation podcast (can’t find it at the moment; sorry) where a woman asked how she should tell her partner that he hasn’t been pleasing her, I believe she said for years. My first thought was if he doesn’t know that, she must be faking orgasms (more on that in a bit) which is not only lying — well, it is —, but it’s also pretty counterproductive because while he thinks that he’s “getting the job done,” she’s not fulfilled and resentment is setting in.
Please don’t let rom-coms (fiction) and social media (which is oftentimes fictitious) have you out here thinking that a good lover is someone you automatically gel with who knows exactly what to do; sometimes that is the case, and oftentimes it isn’t.
So, if the sex-related issue that you’re having in your relationship is that your sexual needs aren’t being met, first do you (and your partner) a favor by doing some sex journaling (check out “The Art Of Sex Journaling (And Why You Should Do It)”) so that you can tangibly see what those needs are and then plan time within the next week or so to pour a couple of glasses of wine, put on some 90s R&B and discuss with your partner what you need. Because actually, what a good lover is, is someone who listens and retains. This brings me to the next point.
4. Minimizing Your Partner’s Sexual NeedsGiphy
A husband once told that when he and his wife were in premarital counseling, something that he mentioned was a bona fide need was fellatio. According to him, his wife told both him and their counselor that she loved giving head. Fast forward to eight years of being in their union, and guess how many times that act went down? A measly four. FOUR TIMES (check out “Sooo...What If You HATE Oral?”).
It’s another message for another time, the amount of people who will “false advertise” during the dating stage in order to get to their goal of marriage. It’s also another message for another time how much that is a form of manipulation that tends to backfire in ways that the manipulator is oftentimes not prepared for.
For now, what I will say, is never think that just because something may not be a need for you that it isn’t a legitimate one for someone else. I mean, how would you feel if that’s how someone treated you? Yeah…exactly.
Yet that is just what happens in a lot of relationships, including when it comes to their bedroom. They will think that their needs should be met, hands down, yet when their partner comes with what’s important to them, all of a sudden, there is dismissiveness, nonchalance, and/or excuses — and how could that not rear its ugly head on so many levels?
Your partner’s sexual needs are essential, even if they are not your own. Never assume that you automatically know everything about them. Also, never assume that what worked two years ago is what will “scratch the itch” now. Hmph. Come to think of it, while you’re sipping on that wine and clearly articulating to him what turns you on, use that as an opportunity to ask him to return the favor. Listen with humility, receptiveness, and intent — the best kind of relationships process their partner’s needs with this kind of vibe…across the board.
5. Taking the “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” ApproachGiphy
Lazy lovers. When you hear that phrase, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If it’s someone who is just lying there during sex, that would certainly qualify; however, I’m actually speaking of a different kind of laziness here. Believe it or not, some synonyms for lazy include words like apathetic, inattentive, tired, passive (cough, cough), procrastinating, neglectful, and slacking. So yeah, if you and/or your partner can use any of these words to define what sex is consistently like between the two of you — red flag, red flag…RED FREAKIN’ FLAG.
Speaking of being passive, another potentially serious sex-related problem is taking on the attitude that if something ain’t broke, you shouldn’t fix it. What I mean by that is, just because you know that getting on top and riding for exactly six-and-a-half minutes is what will get your partner off, that doesn’t mean that it should be your automatic go-to all of the damn time.
Why? Because. While a part of the fun of having sex is “reaching the peak,” another component that should never be underestimated is discovering new territory: trying new positions, creating a sex bucket list, taking (more) sexcations, playing sex-themed board games (put that phrase in Amazon or on Etsy’s site and go ham!)…you know, doing what will inspire creativity and deter either of you from becoming bored.
That said, a husband of 17 years once told me, “A man can be satisfied with the same woman. We just don’t want the same kind of sex with her.” Words to live by. Yes, indeed.
6. Using Sex as a Deflection or Coping MechanismGiphy
A few years ago, I wrote an article for the platform entitled, “Make-Up Sex Might Be Doing Your Relationship More Harm Than Good” — and with good cause. Words cannot express how many divorced (or soon-to-be divorced) women have told me that a part of what kept them in their marriage, for as long as they stayed in it, was the fact that the sex with their husband was beyond amazing…even though so much other stuff completely and totally sucked. Hey, good sex isn’t a bad thing (c’mon now); however, if it’s the only real thing that’s keeping you with someone, it can turn out to be a toxic deflector.
The reason why I say that is the purpose of sex isn’t to make love; it’s to celebrate it. And if all you’re doing with your partner is f — king and fighting or avoiding issues by stripping down or thinking that sex will “make it all better,” all the while not really knowing what the problem/issue is or what needs to be done to get down to the root of it, that is using sex as a pacifier and again, that’s not what sex is designed to be. Sex doesn’t deserve the pressure of being the end-all to “fixing” ish.
So, if what’s transpiring in your relationship lately is very little talking and a whole lot of sexing, and then once the sex is over, something still feels “off,” that’s a good indication that you’re misusing sex on some level. Get out of the bed, put on a robe, and do some talking (preferably in a room other than the bedroom; leave that space for sex and sleep only as much as possible). Because remember — as much as the wives that I mentioned said that their husbands once had them climbing the walls, those men are still ex-husbands now. Bottom line, sex is good, yet when it comes to keeping a relationship together, it will never be enough. Again, it was never designed to be.
7. Faking ItGiphy
I will never be a fan of faking orgasms. Maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini (we may be a lot of things, but “fake” isn’t really our style). Maybe it’s because I’m a very word-literal individual, and I know that fake means things like “prepare or make (something specious, deceptive, or fraudulent)” and “to conceal the defects of or make appear more attractive, interesting, valuable, etc., usually in order to deceive.” Or perhaps it’s because I don’t get how acting like you’re sexually fulfilled when you actually aren’t is doing anyone any good. Whatever it is, whenever a client (or someone in general because men fakealmost as much as women do) tells me that it’s something they do, I immediately find myself on a mission to shut that mess down (check out “Why You Should Stop Faking Orgasms ASAP”). ALL THE WAY DOWN.
The main reason is that, regardless of if the motive is to hurry things along, not hurt your partner’s feelings, or it’s something more cryptic than that (cough, cough, some form of manipulation tactic), there’s no way around the fact that fakeness is tied to deception and deception is a word that should never be connected to a healthy sexual dynamic.
Besides, one could argue that faking is a form of deflection as well because…wouldn’t it be better to just get it all out in the open WHY you are doing it than to keep pretending when life is too short and great sex is too good to not get the absolute most out of it, as much as possible?
Besides, again, chances are that if you’re faking that you’re sexually pleased, you’re probably faking something else in your relationship (or situation), and how could that possibly be good, right, or beneficial?
Yeah, when it comes to being satisfied across the board, please don’t fake it. State your case in the way that you’d like to hear something said to you, and let the chips fall where they may. If you’ve got a good man, he’s gonna — no pun — rise to the occasion. If his ego can’t handle it, well…that’s something that you should find out sooner than later — when it comes to the bedroom and outside of it? Right? #shoyouright
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