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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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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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.
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Here's Why Very Few Relationships Can Actually Be 'Platonic'
Recently, while in an interview, someone asked me if I think that men and women can be just friends. I didn’t even hesitate to answer; my response was immediate, “Absolutely.” What I followed that up with is what intrigued them — “Life has taught me that not a lot of male/female dynamics are ‘platonic’, though.” When they asked me to expound, the interview ended up taking a whole ‘nother turn.
As a writer who really pays attention to word meanings, something that can be a bit frustrating about our culture is the fact that based on whatever is popular at the time, folks will just up and change the original definitions of words to suit a particular agenda or whim — and the word “platonic” 1000 percent fits into this category. And perhaps that’s why we seem to continue to go in circles about whether or not people of the opposite sex can (and should) be friends and what that even can (and should) look like.
Let’s talk about it for a bit. Because as a word-literal type of individual, while again, I absolutely believe that men and women can be friends, at the same time, I think it’s about as rare as a red diamond to truly find yourself in a friendship that is…platonic.
It’s Time (More) Folks Knew What ‘Platonic’ LITERALLY MeansGiphy
So, let’s do first things first — let’s define what it literally means for something to be platonic. If you go to your favorite search engine and put something along the lines of “What does platonic mean?”, the first thing that you’re (probably) going to see is a ton of dictionary definitions that say something along the lines of “of, relating to, or being a relationship marked by the absence of romance or sex” (Merriam-Webster), “designating or of a relationship, or love, between a man and a woman that is purely spiritual or intellectual and without sexual activity” (Your Dictionary) and, my personal favorite, “purely spiritual; free from sensual desire, especially in a relationship between two persons of different sexes” (Dictionary). Yeah, bookmark that last one; I’ll be circling back.
Keeping this in mind (and please do), where does the word “platonic” actually come from? From what I’ve researched, the philosopher Plato once penned something entitled “Symposium.” In it, he addressed the topic of two people sharing the kind of love that is free of any type of sensual desire; one that is based on divine love alone. An author from the 1800s broke it down this way: “Platonic love meant ideal sympathy; it now means the love of a sentimental young gentleman for a woman he cannot or will not marry.” A write-up on Merriam-Webster’s site stated that, “The term platonic was initially used to mock non-sexual relationships, as it was considered ridiculous to separate love and sex, but eventually this connotation faded away leaving us with today's notion of close friendships.” Yeah, we used to live in a culture where love and sex were not separated. Hmph, that’s another article for another time, though (check out “We Should Really Rethink The Term 'Casual Sex'”).
Anyway, as with many things (especially in our culture), the word “platonic” is kind of used in “broad strokes” these days (bromances, female friendships, etc.). However, because there continues to be this forever discussion — and oftentimes debate — about whether or not men and women can be “just friends,” I’m going to tackle this topic strictly from that angle — from the place where platonic actually originated.
Yes, Men and Women Can Be Just Friends. But…Giphy
At this stage in my life, I’m pretty sure that I have more male friends than female ones. There are layers of reasons why, yet I think a huge one is because I like the balance that masculinity brings to my femininity (especially as I'm learning to embrace different aspects of my femininity, intentionally, even more). And while every single one of my male friends is respectful and is a super safe space in my world on every single level that I can imagine (and have been for years now), there are probably only a couple who I would say 100 percent qualify as being…trulyplatonic.
Why would I say that? Well, I’ll illustrate this point with something that one of my male friends once said to me. He’s super cute. He can sing his ass off (and definitely has one of my favorite speaking voices). People see us out together often and some have told us that they assume that we’ve had something going on at some point. Anyway, after hearing someone share their theory about us, I told it to him.
Me: “I told him, ‘He’s my brother. We would never mess around.'”
My Friend: “Correction, you are like a sister. You are not my sister, though. Under the right conditions, you could still get it.”
When I shared that exchange with another male friend of mine, he basically cosigned on the sentiment: “Shellie, I have never approached you like that because I really respect you. I want to be good for you for the rest of our lives.” (That reminds me: check out, “Question: Is The Man In Your Life Good 'TO' You? Good 'FOR' You? Or...Both?” when you get a chance.)
Then I went to one more guy homie and ran both statements by him: “Girl, yeah. If I didn’t want to keep you in my life long-term, I would’ve tried to holla a long time ago!” And he and I have been friends for almost 20 years at this point. When did he get around to telling me this? Eh, maybe two years ago. LOL.
So, my takeaway from all of these “for real?!” exchanges is, even though men and women can be just friends, there is a certain level of intention, self-control, and ability to see into the future (on some level) that must go into account — because, just because something more-than-friends-like may not have gone down, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a “dormant seed” lying around somewhere…whether it’s one-sided or on both sides of the friendship dynamic.
As you can see, I just provided you with three instances where the male friends in my life, we’ve had nothing sexual or even physically intimate beyond a hug when we greet each other in nature — although things aren’t exactly platonic if there is some sort of attraction or sexual/romantic curiosity that simply never got explored. Because again, according to Plato, a platonic relationship is free from all of that kind of…tension — or possibilities. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
And now you probably get why I entitled this article in the way that I did…right? I mean, just think about it — out of your male friendships, where is there NO sensual desire or dormant romantic interest…on your side and/or on his? If you’re not sure about “his”…have you ever asked him? Or them? Because again, once I really let the definition of platonic sink in, I think maybe two guys in my life totally fit the bill.
This brings me to my next point.
Are You Platonic? Or Are You Friend-Zoning?Giphy
Now that you know that probably 70 percent of the people you know (both online and off) have been using the true meaning of platonic all the way wrong, let’s go about deeper: when it comes to your friendships with men, are they genuinely platonic or…is it more like you’re friend-zoning them?
A few years ago, I penned an article on the topic entitled, “Before You 'Friend Zone' Someone, Read This.” If you’re skimming this on your lunch break, I’ll summarize friend-zoning as knowing that a guy has so-much-more-than-platonic feelings for you yet because you basically want to keep the benefits of the friendship or even his emotions around, you will string him along on some level.
Personally, I can’t stand friend-zoning. I think it’s selfish, with some sprinkles of manipulation and wasting someone’s time. Don’t agree? How would you feel if a guy was friend-zoning you? (Yeah…exactly.)
This all needs to go on record because, knowing that a guy wants to “take it there” with you (whether sexually or romantically), you not full-on addressing it and/or giving him just enough hope to take you out, listen to all of your stories about other men and give you the attention that you need knowing that he doesn’t have a shot in hell — that is NOT a platonic friendship and honestly, you’re not being a good friend at all. Friends protect each other’s hearts, not abuse them.
A platonic friendship means that you both have no interest in each other and, as Plato put it, while you may have a strong and solid bond, it’s spiritual love that connects you. And what exactly does that mean? Spiritual love also deserves its own article yet the gist would be that you recognize there is a purpose in your friendship yet it’s about wanting what’s best for one another and even helping each other to get there.
For instance, a platonic friend of yours may know that you desire to be married one day, so he has no problem setting you up with a good guy in his life. And if things go well, he would have no problem standing up as your own best man (without feeling like he’s dying inside) because he never saw you beyond anything but a friend. A guy in the friend zone doesn’t move like this; he likes you too much to help you move on with someone else. See the difference?
Why Relationships Should Start Off As NON-PLATONIC FriendshipsGiphy
Before I end this with some tips on how to properly care for the few platonic friendships you may actually have, since the use of the word may require a bit of mental reprogramming, I do think we should also address that if you’ve got a good guy in your life, who right now is a friend and either you’ve never thought of him in that way or the topic has never come up — he’s someone that you may not want to brush off.
What I mean by that is, it’s one thing for there to be absolutely no interest in someone vs. never considering it before — and the reason why you might want to give it some thought is because, ask any healthy married couple who’s been together for more than five years and I’ll bet you my next rent check that they will say that the best relationships are birthed out of friendship (check out “Are You Sure You're Actually FRIENDS With Your Spouse?”).
Yeah, just because you’ve filed someone in the “I see him as a good guy” category, that doesn’t automatically mean that y’all’s friendship is platonic. For instance, I have a male friend who is fine and I adore on many levels yet the reason why it would never work on my end is because there are certain relational standards that I have that he does not meet. However, don’t get it twisted — I’ve considered him because, on so many levels, we “fit.” So, the mere fact that I ever seriously thought about him on that level means that we are “good friends” yet it’s not exactly platonic.
I’m not free of potential sensual desire…I just choose not to act on it. Yet because I get the value of having friendship as the foundation for my own future marriage (should life play out that way), I am wise enough to know that I would’ve been a fool to not at least…ponder him and the possibilities.
So yeah, if there is a male friend in your life that the thought of dating or having sex with him doesn’t make you want to throw up in your mouth, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s not a classic platonic dynamic — and you might want to consider if it could/should go to the next level — if not immediately, eventually. Because there’s a pretty good chance that if you are thinking that way, he probably is as well.
Protect Your Genuine Platonic Friendship(s) At All CostsGiphy
Let me end this with how one of my platonic friendships rolls. We both think that the other is attractive yet neither of us is attracted. We both give each other opposite-sex insights. We both have said that the mere thought of dating each other makes our noses turn up like there’s an odor in the air. And even when I try to imagine us together, my mind goes blank. I love, love, LOVE this man — oh, but it is absolutely nothing more than platonic — and he feels the same way. It’s as close to familial love without being blood relationships. It’s a rare dynamic and that is what makes it so special. There is definitely a spiritual type of love there; no more, no less.
If you’ve got someone in your life who you feel the same way about (again, it’s got to be mutual; he must feel that way too), you’ve got a gem of a situation going on because there is nothing like having the kind of friendship where you and a guy can hang out, exchange perspectives and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, knowing that’s all it is and will ever be. Things will never get weird. No one’s feelings are gonna get hurt (from the whole friend-zoning thing). You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can just be.
And that’s why I’m all for platonic friendships. And listen, if you’re blessed enough to have even one in your lifetime, be fiercely protective of it. Don’t take it for granted. Nurture it in a way that your male friend needs (because it probably won’t be the exact same as your female friendships). Y’all, platonic friendships are so bomb because, if it’s honored and protected correctly, it’s the one male friend that you can probably keep for life because even your romantic partner will not find it to be a (true) threat — hell, they honestly could probably end up becoming (some level of) friends with your platonic homie as well.
I hope that I broke this all down enough to where, when you decide to use a word to describe your opposite-sex friendships, perhaps you will pause and ask yourself, “Wait, is this a platonic friend or a good or close friend?” Because the clearer you are on the differences, the easier it will be to know how to maintain your friendship — and feel about your friend. Feel me? Cool.
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