6 Questions To Ask If You Want To Get To The "Next Level" With Him
Levels. When you really stop and think about it, pretty much everything—everything that is of real and lasting significance, anyway—has levels to it. We have levels of promotion on our jobs. When we set out to reach certain goals, our achievements typically come in levels. I wrote an entire article on how friendships have levels (check out "Always Remember That Friendships Have 'Levels' To Them"). And, most definitely, when it comes to going from meeting someone to becoming exclusive and perhaps getting married someday, there are levels that must be reached there too.
That's what this article is all about in a nutshell. If you've recently met (or gotten involved with) someone, you dig him and things seem to be going so well that you want to see if there's a real future in it, I've got some questions that you can ask; ones that will bring clarity on whether or not "he" wants to get to another level—or series of levels—with you.
So, are you ready to read what can get you the answers that you seek? Let's hit it.
1. “How would a relationship benefit you at this stage of your life?”
Wanna know how a lot of us find ourselves in full-on relationships with commitment-phobes? It's pretty simple, actually. If we meet a guy who checks all of our boxes, we have a really great time with and the chemistry is totally off the charts, we can oftentimes assume that this special combo is the foundation for something long-term. But here's the thing—if he's not looking for anything serious, he can feel the same way and still never intended on building a future with you.
As a marriage life coach, I can't express enough, just how much assumptions can damage, if not flat-out ruin, a relationship. So, if you've been seeing a guy for a hot minute and you can tell that you are on the road towards getting pretty attached, it's a good idea to ask him something along the lines of, "So, a relationship. Is that something that would fit well into your world right now?" If it is, he will absolutely have no problem expressing that. If he looks at you like you're out of your mind, well, that's an answer too. Bottom line, people who are open to a relationship are not afraid of the word or a discussion about the word. So, if it's been three dates or more at this point, don't feel like you are being pushy or "needy" by broaching this topic. To a mature man, you're not. Not at all.
2. “Do you feel comfortable enough to share your vulnerabilities with me?”
I've shared in articles for married folks that I'm not big on using the word "vulnerable" in that kind of relationship; I prefer the word "dependent" instead. The reason why is because, if someone has stood before God, their mama and their partner's mama to profess that they will hold them down like no one else can (or should) for the rest of their life, they shouldn't feel like they are being vulnerable (capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon; open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.; open to assault) with that individual. Nah, being dependent (relying on someone or something else for aid, support, etc.) is much safer. Healthier too.
If there's one thing that a lot of men—especially Black men—tell me is, they have a really difficult time feeling like it's OK to be dependent in their romantic relationships because their partner is very much into morally attacking and criticizing them. Or worse, their partner will say, "You can tell me anything" and then when they let their guard down and do it, they get denounced for it.
I don't care how beautiful a woman is or how good her "stuff" may be, if her man can't feel completely comfortable being his full and total self with her, she's in a surface-layered relationship; one that oftentimes has an expiration date. So yeah, if you want to get to the next level with someone, asking them if they feel like they can talk to you about, pretty much anything, is a very valid question. Make sure you listen very closely for the answer that they give you. It will reveal a lot.
3. “What are three things you wish you could do over from your past relationships?”
It's pretty much human nature that, if you ask a person why their last relationship ended, that they will go on and on about all of the things that their ex did wrong. That's why I give major points to those who are humble and self-aware enough to own their own ish because, 8.5 times out of 10, everyone plays a significant role into why a break-up transpired. Besides, when you're dating someone new and they are willing to take responsibility for their actions (or lack thereof), you can get some real insight into, not just their areas of weakness and how self-perceptive they are, but what you could possibly be in for should you choose to continue seeing them too.
While it might initially seem awkward to ask someone to share all of their relational faux pas, so long as you are willing to do the same, it honestly shouldn't be that big of a deal. Just make sure to not try and "lead their narrative". What I mean by that is, if he says something along the lines of, "She had a hard time trusting me", it's not a good idea for you to immediately follow that up with, "Oh, so you cheated" like you are accusing rather than inquiring. Being a poor listener is another reason why so many relationships end up going off the rails. Let him tell his own story. Then decide if his missteps are ones that you can handle or not. This question is not about you serving as the judge and jury of his past. All you need to determine is, if once you discover what happened in former relationships, can you hang if similar things just happen to manifest in your relationship with him down the road.
4. “What do I bring to the table that no one else in your world can—or has?”
Something that time and experience have taught me is, I can't stand flippancy. When it comes to this particular topic, a flippant man is someone who would give forth the kind of energy that conveys, "You're really cool and all, but I wouldn't exactly say that you're exceptional." You know what I mean—men who take on the "there's a ton of fish in the sea" attitude. The reality is there are tons of attractive, smart and funny people in the world. Live long enough and you'll get that a great sex partner ain't that hard to find either. So, what keeps two people together for the long haul? It's when they both find something (or a series of things) that stand out in their partner to the point where they really can't imagine being without them. It's kind of like that bun and special sauce on the Popeye's chicken sandwich; while you can find a chicken sandwich a lot of places, those two things are unique in their own way.
That's why this question makes the list. If you can sense that a guy is really feelin' you, ask him why. Not in a I-need-a-ton-of-compliments-and-reassurance-all-of-the-time kind of way, but more coming in the direction of, "So, what do you think I can bring to your life?" or "So, what makes our connection different?" What he says will reveal a lot—a lot about how he sees you and what he desires for the relationship, moving forward.
5. “Do you think that we are capable of meeting each other’s needs?”
Another reason why many relationships don't go the distance? They are way too focused on getting what they want rather than what they need from their partner. Not that wants are a bad thing (not at all), but they should be seen as the icing, NOT the cake. The literal definition of a need is "a requirement" and "something deemed necessary". When something is necessary, it's essential. When something is essential, it's "incapable of being disregarded". While you might want a tall man (girl, I totally get it), you may need someone who is proactively attentive. This is why it is so important to know what your needs are, even before you start dating someone. If you're not sure, you could meet a man who's fine, charming and sexy AF and then "edit" what your needs are, just because you want him so bad that you will overlook legitimate needs just to keep him around.
Once you do know what you need and it seems like a new guy could possibly provide you with those things, make sure by opening up the door to discuss what both of your needs are. Make sure you express something similar to what I just said about needs—that they are pretty much relational deal-breakers if you don't get them. Allow him to share the same. I can't express enough that both of you need to be really frank and candid about if you can meet each other's needs or not. If you can, this is sho 'nuf a sign that you very well are headed towards hitting a new level in your relationship.
6. “What does ‘next level’ mean to you?”
You know the old saying—"There are levels to this." Indeed. Since poor communication—including making assumptions and only hearing what one wants to hear—runs rampant in so many relationships, it can also help to 1) understand that relationships rarely leap from one stage to another (baby steps are the usual norm), and 2) the "next level" to you might not necessarily be the same way he envisions the next level to be. For instance, while you might think that casually dating's next level should be becoming exclusive, he might say that the next level is introducing you to some of his peeps or seeing you more than a few times a month.
When it comes to moving forward with a man, if you want to spare yourself a perpetual feeling of "WTF?!" six months from now, when you're having a next level convo, just so that you can be clear about where things are, make sure he expresses what the next level would look like to him. This isn't a right or wrong debate; it's simply something to make sure that you both are, not just in the same book but hopefully in the same chapter and even on the same page. Because, after all, a healthy relationship consists of two people who are willing to walk together. That can only happen if they are going the same direction and at the same pace. Make sure that the two of you are before believing that you're heading towards another level with him, aight? Bet.
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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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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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