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Childhood-Related Questions That Can Reveal A LOT About 'Him'

"Adulthood is surviving childhood." — Unknown

Love & Relationships

Not too long ago, a friend of mine and I were talking about a video we both saw that featured a baby being gently tossed into a swimming pool (they ended up floating immediately). Basically, it was the child's first swimming lesson and while my friend thought that the tactic was extreme, as a doula, I had a very different perspective. "Babies develop in water," I said. "That is their first home."


My point? There really is no way around the fact that our childhoods set a lot of the foundational work for how we see the world and how we function as adults. That's why I think it's so important that once you and a guy have gotten about three to four dates under your belts that both you and he should be open to discussing "less shallow end" topics — including each other's childhood. Because whether he had a fabulous one, a traumatizing one or something in between (which typically is the case for most), it can help you to see how and why he operates in the way that he does, if there are red flags that shouldn't be ignored and if there may be issues that should be addressed (perhaps via therapy, etc.) before getting in too deep.

1.What Was Your Relationship Like with Your Mom?

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OK. Here's a great reason why it's pretty dangerous to always speak in generalizations. There's a guy that I know who treats women, pretty much like crap. He's a gaslighter. He has severe commitment issues. He very rarely takes any kind of responsibility for his actions. And he takes far more than he gives. He's so bad, in fact, that he's got a reputation for all of these things in the city where he lives. Thing is, because I am a marriage life coach and a journalist, it's pretty much an occupational hazard for me to not want to dig around and get to the root of someone as much as possible.

And when it comes to him in particular, I'm aware of the fact that he has a very surface-level relationship with his dad and that he claims to adore his mother. Thing is, though, how are you so in love with your mom when you are destructive AF when it comes to other women? That, my dear, does not compute. That's why I'm not totally sold on if you want to know how a man will treat you, pay attention to how he treats his mama.

Honestly, because I know some of the backstory on his upbringing with his mom, I think he romanticizes his mom being healthier than she actually is. If you add to that him being too afraid to confront her about where she also dropped the ball, it seems like he takes his hurt, frustration and disappointment out on women, in general. It may look like he reveres his mom yet meanwhile, any other woman gets treated like total crap — because he won't confront who he's really upset with/disappointed by.

So yeah, rather than just assuming that a man will be good to you just because he's good to his mom, ask him to describe his experiences with her while growing up. It could reveal some pretty insightful things as it relates to how he processes women, even today.

2.What Was Your Relationship Like with Your Dad?

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I am so sick of the narrative that most of us didn't grow up with active fathers; even those of us who were raised in single-parent households (read and/or share "The truth about Black fatherhood" and "They're Dragging Out the 'Absent Black Fathers' Myth Again. Can We Give it a Rest? | Opinion" when you get a chance). So, while it might seem like where I'm going with this is you should assume that the man you are seeing either didn't have a father or had a poor experience with his dad, it's not. While it is indeed quite insightful if this happens to be the case (because I totally agree that the best way for a boy to learn how to be a man is from a man and preferably his dad; a lot of women are out here raising the kind of men they loathe. We'll discuss that at another time), I actually believe that if you really want to know how a man will treat a woman, look into what his father's model taught him. Was his father loving? Was his father respectful? Was his father someone who was a provider and a protector?

A good friend of mine is an awesome father in the sense of being proactively involved and consistent. One area where I encourage him to be better, though, is when it comes to how he interacts with his kids' mom. I won't lie, she is a trip (and not in a good way). Still, when he says slick stuff that he thinks his kids won't catch, I think they do and all that does is model to his daughter that it's cool to love a man who is sarcastic and flippant towards you and to his son that being with a woman with a lot of drama is normal. Parents set the tone. And if fathers want to lead like they say, they've got to keep this in mind when it comes to what they say and do. In all areas. Hearing about the guy you're seeing's views and experiences with his own father can reveal a lot about how he defines manhood — and fatherhood.

3.What Number Are You in the Sibling Line-Up?

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While some researchers don't believe that there is a lot of merit to the order of siblinghood, hell, I do. So do a lot of us who grew up with brothers and sisters. Plus, there's some significant data to back all of this up. For instance, there are books and articles that say only children tend to be more introverted, a bit self-absorbed and strong leaders.

Firstborn children oftentimes suppress a lot of emotion, are good at solving problems, can be controlling and quite dependable. Middle kids lean towards being people pleasers, extroverts and will often "do the absolute most" in order to get attention. The youngest children are oftentimes spoiled, can be manipulative and yet are quite often the life of the party too.

While this isn't something that should be taken as gospel (I liken birth order traits to astrological signs — there are a lot of similarities yet not everything is 100 percent), it can be insightful to hear where the guy you're seeing lines up. I'm a firstborn daughter which, lawd, is an article all on its own. Anyway, asking this question can also help you to see what his relationship is like with his siblings — which can lead to ah-ha moments when it comes to how he processes friendships, in general (since a lot of people first learned about friendship via their brothers and sisters).

4.What’s Your Favorite Childhood Memory? Your Worst?

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Oh, how I wish that parents took the weight of children's childhoods more seriously. The reason why I say that is because I don't care how the person is, unless they've experienced a level of trauma that has caused them to totally "blackout" when it comes to their childhood (and that is indeed possible), all of us have recollections that have remained with us to this day — things that have shaped and molded us. Things that have caused us to make a lot of the decisions that we do now…whether we realize it or not.

For instance, I've got a male friend who loves women's butts. No newsflash, right? Yeah, peep this, though— he grew up in a household that had a lot of house parties at night. Nothing crazy or illegal. Just a bunch of Black folks having fun. However, they would sometimes be so loud that he would wake up and peek to see what was going on. People were bumpin' 'n grindin' all over the place and he said that all he remembered was a lot of loud music and butt rubbing. And now — look at where he stands.

There are lots of people who work in the mental health field who wholeheartedly believe that children's best and worst memories can definitely set the tone for a lot of choices that they make, moving forward. For instance, I know a woman who hates kissing her husband on the mouth because she had a bad memory of an older cousin forcing her to do it when she was a kid. I know someone else who can sing her face off yet refuses to do it as an adult because she once got booed at a child at a talent show.

The reason why discussing memories can be so beneficial is because, a lot of times, folks don't even think about connecting the dots between instances that have transpired and how they function in real time. Bringing this topic up can be revelatory for you, therapeutic for him.

5.What Do You Remember About Your First Friendship? Your First Crush?

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I have shared before that my first friendship was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. She was pure evil and I'm not the only person who felt that way. Matter of fact, she was so toxic and manipulative that it wasn't until I was well into my 30s that I really wondered, "What the hell was going on in her house?" due to a lot of the choices that she made and how she treated a lot of people. Anyway, because she was my first introduction to "friendship", I spent many years thinking that if a girl was even a little bit nicer than her, it was a blessing. I ended up being taken advantage of for many years by "versions of her" because of it. As far as my first crush went, he used to tell me that I was ugly. We didn't get that resolved until, hell, probably 10-12 years ago. The "residue" that he left behind is, whenever a man would affirm me, I would oftentimes not require much else because I was so grateful to be told that I was pretty, smart, funny or whatever.

On the first crush — which for some would be a first love — tip, I know a guy who thinks that every woman "cheats" because his first girlfriend did; with his cousin. That was 20-plus years ago and he's still hesitant to put his heart totally into a relationship. As far as his longest-running friendship, they are the ultimate frick and frack. Those jokers never hold each other accountable. And it shows.

Outside of our immediate family, our friendships and our romantic relationships tend to influence us the most, whether it's for the better or for the worst. Listening to him break down his first friendship and first crush could be quite enlightening. No doubt about it.

6.If You Could Change Anything About Your Childhood, What Would It Be?

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This is also a really great question because whatever comes out of his mouth can 1) let you know what still remains somewhat heavy on his heart and 2) what he prioritizes when it comes to his healing and quite possibly how he'll be as a father someday. Take one of my friends who hates how much his mom worked and how bad of a co-parent his father was (until much later in his life). He often says that what he wished had happened the most is that his mom came home earlier (because being home alone a lot caused him to get sexually involved earlier than he should have and not really feel as close to his mother as he would like) and that both of his parents had taken more initiative into him bonding with his father. Because of both of these things, my friend is one of the most actively involved parents that I know.

Another guy that I know says that he wishes his parents hadn't waited so long to have him. His father is literally 50-plus years older than he is and he says that has kept them from being as close as he desires. As a result, he is pretty focused on having children at an earlier age.

We've all got stuff that we wish could've been different about your childhood. Listening to a man share what he wishes was different can help you to see how introspective he is and how he is able to connect the dots when it comes to some of his plans for the future.

7.If You Would Do Three Things Differently with Your Own Kids, What Would They Be?

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Recently, while talking to another man in my life who happens to be engaged, he told me that he feels like a part of the reason why he's such an overachiever (and he really is) is because his father wasn't very ambitious — to this day, he still isn't. "When I have kids, I hope I can teach them balance," he said. "You know, learn how to be responsible and also how to have a lot of fun. Not be lazy, but still have a childhood."

Listen, although you can learn a lot about a man when it comes to all of these questions, hearing what he says when you inquire about what he would do differently once he becomes a dad himself can be revelatory as all get out. It can also offer up some perspective about whether or not the two of you have the potential to be on the same page when it comes to childrearing.

I know this was a loaded piece yet after all of the years of me working with couples, I promise you that the lead quote rings true — a lot of us are who and how we are as the direct result of things that happened to us when we were children. Knowing about someone's childhood is definitely a way to go up a notch in intimacy while also being a way to gain clarity on if you both share similar views and values. Because although our childhood is not all of who we are, it is a foundational part. And if you want to build, you should know what someone's foundation consists of. Right?

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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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