On Saturday, January 25, Oprah Winfrey reminded me who TF she was. Not that the global media mogul needed a reintroduction, but in case she did, Oprah played no games on the fourth stop of her Oprah's 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus multi-city tour in Atlanta.
I came, I saw, I laughed, I cried, and most importantly, I focused. This was all in the presence of a woman who was intent on helping an audience of 12,000 people elevate to their highest selves with true clarity. Presented by WW (Weight Watchers Reimagined), the full-day wellness event began with complimentary hair touch-ups courtesy of Love Beauty and Planet, express hand massages thanks to Vaseline, and a quick refresh in the form of deodorant wipes by Degree.
The hand massage was a great way for me to start the day
Promptly at 9 a.m., we were treated to a pre-show dance party, a walk through Oprah's own wellness journey, a guided meditation session with Jesse Israel's The Big Quiet, and a workbook exercise where we honed in on our intention of the year. (I walked away confident in the fact that my word for 2020 and beyond is "intention.") "Wherever you are in your life, today is about kicking it up a notch," Oprah said. "Turning up the volume on your life."
Later on that day, we were joined by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson who spoke candidly about losing his father, raising daughters, learning empathy, and the importance of having an anchor.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Oprah
The end result was a day filled with "new year, new me" energy and gems that helped ensure the seeds we planted that day would indeed grow and blossom into a fruitful harvest.
I left the event so inspired that I wanted to share the most important takeaways with the xoNecole readers.
Let's soak up this energy of renewal together and get clear on our 2020 vision. Keep reading for more!
Oprah is a self-made billionaire whose reach extends past any border. Her ability to connect with people is unrivaled, so much so, she's built a global media brand off of that gift. The fruits of her labor are evident in the wealth she's acquired, the vast opportunities she's created, the fabulous homes she's built, and the brilliant relationships she's cultivated----the list really could go on. To learn that the nine zeros behind her net worth had little to do with how she defined success was a surprise, to say the least. She explained:
"I have the most magnificent life of anyone I know. Don't be hating because whatever you think it is, it's 10 times better than that---to the 10th power! Because what you see in the world cannot explain the peace. What you see in the world, all the material things, all the red carpets and the acquisitions, cannot describe the contentment and the joy. So, that's what I think is a successful, full life. It's being able to live with the peace and the joy [and] few regrets."
2.Begin Each Day With Gratitude
Along with the focus of wellness, stillness and being mindful about cherishing the present as a gift was a focal point of the day. Oprah believes in the digital age, the key to returning to self is reclaiming your time. According to her, you need two things: A spiritual life and boundaries.
"One thing that's difficult for all of us to manage, I know, is this 24-hour access to phones. The phone rings, you got a text, and you think you have to answer immediately, so you need to set some boundaries for when and when you're not going to be responding. I know this for sure, there is no life without a spiritual life. You don't have one. You're just walking through life. You're the walking dead.
"And so, I try to give my time to God. I wake up, the first thing I say is 'Thank you,' I spend a moment in gratitude. Then, I spend a moment in stillness before I pick up the phone. The moment you pick up the phone, now you are controlled by whatever's on that phone. Your day is ordered by what everyone else wanted you to do instead of you ordering the day for yourself."
"Get yourself still. Get still because that's how you get full. You don't get full out here because the noise of the world will drown out the voice of God every time…"
3.Name It & Claim It
There's power in your ability to speak things over your life. Whether positive or negative, you are whatever you think of yourself, whatever you feel about yourself, and whatever you speak about yourself. So, why not wield that power the way it's meant to be? When you speak the things you want in life, you claim it. Oprah says you are more than deserving.
"I don't think there's a better gift that you can give yourself than to leave here with clarity because in all things, you have to name it to claim it---in all things. You don't have what you really want because you haven't clarified what you want."
4.All Things In Balance
Balance is a beautiful thing and can mean different things for different people. One of the reasons our site has a recurring series called "Finding Balance" is because we wanted to gain insight from other women about what balance looked like for them. During the event, Oprah gave us a window into her world when she revealed that, for her, balance reflects her definition of "wellness":
"Here's my definition of what 'wellness' means to me: It's all things in balance. For me, balance does not mean that all things are equal. It doesn't mean that things are going to go well all the time. It means that you welcome the constant shifting flow that is your life. That's what it means to be human. So, I've learned that you can have what you want, you just can't have it all at once---and all in balance, just like a wave in the ocean of life. And there is a flow to your life that is not mine, that could not be mine…
"There's a pattern and there's a rhythm and there's a flow for you that is yours alone. And the reason why so many people don't get what they say they want is because you're messing in other people's flow."
5.Find Your Flow
As a water sign, I must admit I'm quite moved by the presence of water. I find comfort, peace, and sanctuary, and I get a connection to myself when I'm near water. What I love most about water is its properties---its vitality, its ability to sustain, its strength, its fluidity, and its flow. Water acts as a reminder of the importance of flow, of going with the current, of the cycles of life. You can lean into those things, accept them as a part of life, and learn to ride the wave as a result.
"Find your flow. Move with the flow that is your life and stop struggling against the current of life. For me, the center of that flow is being well in all things and having all things in balance. The center is presence."
"What I've learned is stress is just wanting the moment to be something that it can't be. That's the truth. And that's the truth whether you're in a bad marriage or whether you're in bad traffic. The number one thing you can do whenever you are confronted by something that is stressful is to accept the moment… In all things stress is wanting the moment to be something that is not. And if you can accept this moment right here… everything is OK. You are well…"
6.Own Your Full Self
One of my favorite words is "shameless." I love it because it acts as a slight nudge to be who you are and do so unapologetically. As a woman, I sometimes find it hard to be my fullest self, and I'm sure there are people out there who can relate to that effort of swallowing and diminishing just to be more palatable or less seen. It's an element rooted in fear and one I'm continuously trying to unlearn. And according to Oprah, it's a feeling she had to kick to the curb in order to move past the potential and become fully realized:
"We're all meant to shine. That's what creation is for. We all have our gifts. Here's what I realized: What I had been afraid of were the voices outside myself... And so what I realized, I'm afraid to be full. I'm afraid to be full. I'm afraid to be powerful beyond measure because I'm afraid you might not like me if you see how full I can get. So, here's what I can tell you at 66: I'm all full up. I'm so full, my cup runneth over."
7.We All Want The Same Thing
Oftentimes, we see our differences before we even touch the surface of understanding our similarities. If ever. Through her work with The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah expressed that she's been able to encounter people from all walks of life, from Barack Obama to Beyonce, and scientists to politicians. From those experiences, she gathered one essential truth:
"The theme that is running through all of our lives, the common denominator in our human experience, is not just validation. Everybody wants to be heard and know that they matter. But everybody also wants the truest, highest, purest vision of yourself as a human being. That's what you want. You want to live it out, you want to live it until you cosmically burst. You want to live the truest, highest vision of yourself. That's what you've come to fulfill and that's the real word for you and me and everyone for 2020 and beyond."
Oprah's 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus will resume on February 8 in Brooklyn, NY with marquee guest Michelle Obama. Tour dates will continue through March 7. Click here for more info on the tour.
Featured image via Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Oprah
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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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12 Couples Reveal Why They're Happy With A Long-Term Commitment Instead Of Marriage
Listen, if you’ve been rocking with me on this platform on a semi-consistent basis, you know that if there’s one thing that I’m a fan of, it’s marriage. BIG TIME. I’m so in support of it that, as a marriage life coach, my niche is actually reconciling divorces (I Corinthians 7:10-11). At the same time, because I also write for a living, I’d be ridiculous if I was out here acting like the divorce rate is still holding steady and that marriage is on a steady incline; some studies say that there’s been as much as a 60 percent drop over the past several decades.
Yeah, marriage isn’t for everyone. And with articles coming out like Gallup’s “Is Marriage Becoming Irrelevant?” and even a piece that I published on here a couple of years back entitled “Single-Minded: So, What If You Like Dating But DON’T Desire Marriage?” I thought that I would step out and speak with some couples who are totally committed to one another yet have no desire to call each other “husband and wife” just to hear their side of things. Because the reality is, very few things in life are a monolith.
Anyway, 12 couples agreed to share their voices, and I must say that, regardless of the side of the fence that you may be on, they do bring up some points that are worth listening to — and, when it comes to how they choose to love their partner, they share some feelings that are irrefutable too.
*Whenever I do interview pieces, I always prefer to go with middle names; that way, people can speak super freely. This article is no exception.*
1. Riley (28) and George (35). Been Living Together for Three Years.
Riley: "My parents sucked at marriage. They're still together to this day, and they're just as toxic as I remember them. A lot of folks think I'm not married because of their example, but if that were the case, I wouldn't be living with someone, either.
"I grew up in the church, and the idea of keeping your vows to God and your spouse, I respect. I just don't want to feel like I should stay married out of obligation to those vows, so living with someone takes the pressure off. It works for me, so why change it?"
George: "I would get married if she wanted to. I always thought that women would like the security of things being 'on paper.' But since she's fine and things are running smoothly, I'm cool with this too."
2. Elanie (30) and Malcolm (32). Been Together for Eight Years.
Elanie: "I love who I'm with. I was engaged before him, and it just…marriage feels like it's going to totally switch up the expectations, for some reason. I think I feel that way because I've watched countless friends have great relationships until about a year after their honeymoon. Then there's less sex, more stress, and all kinds of new demands and expectations. We don't want marriage to kill a great relationship. Might seem weird to say, but it is what it is…"
Malcolm: "Anyone who knows how to Google knows that marriage never favors men. We get left the most and still have to pay alimony. It's just not a financially wise decision to me. Luckily, I found someone who gets where I'm coming from. She knows I've got her back, but the web of paperwork and then losing a ton of paper? I'll pass."
Shellie here: He's right. Reportedly around 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women.
3. Michelle (43) and Jaxson (40). Been Living Together for One Year.
Michelle: "If you've ever gone through a divorce before, you will totally get why I have no desire to get married again. It's not that marriage isn't beautiful when two people are right for each other; it's that 'right' is more difficult to find than people think, and unraveling your life from someone else is one of the hardest things you will do. I love love. I just don't like [that] there's this assumption that the only way to fully love someone is if you say, 'I do.' I love [Jaxson] more than I ever loved my ex. I think a part of it is because the stress is gone. It feels freer this way."
Jaxson: "My friends are all married, and they hate it. They say there's less sex, more stress, and most of them regret ever deciding to do it. That doesn't make me want to run out and buy a ring. Living together was a big decision, too, but [Michelle] hasn't switched up or expected anything more than when we were just dating. We like living kind of like we're married without all of the heavy expectations that come with it. It works for us better than marriage works for my boys, so…yeah."
4. Lydia (29) and Ezra (27). Been Living Together for Three Years.
Lydia: "I don't remember being a little girl who wanted to get married. I've never gone to a wedding and wanted to catch the bouquet. Wedding dress shopping was not a dream of mine. I dunno.
"I kind of hate that people think that all women want to be a bride or that we're incapable of romantic love unless we've got a ring on our finger. I love my man. I'm not going anywhere — unless he proposes. It's just not the way I see living my life."
Ezra: "Once I decided that I didn't want kids, I didn't see the point in getting married. Talk to a lot of men, especially Black men, and they will admit that choosing a wife is about looking for a good mom to raise children with. We want that structure for our children. That is off of the table for me, so marriage is too. I'm glad I found [Lydia] because all that matters is finding someone who is on the same page as you are."
5. Aimee (31) and Preston (26). Been Together for Two Years.
Aimee: “I don’t want a man to love me out of obligation — marriage comes with obligation. Some of my girls will say, ‘Aren’t you afraid that he could just leave one day and you get nothing?’ and it doesn’t cross my mind until they start saying that sh-t. [Preston] and I were friends before we decided to date. Living together was a natural next move. But it stops there for us. I trust him because of who he is, not because of some document he signed. We’re good.”
Preston: “I think more men should do what we’re doing! At least try it before marriage because you want to make sure you know as much as possible before jumping the broom or whatever folks are doing these days. Marriage isn’t something I wouldn’t do. I just don’t see why it’s necessary. We live together. We’re monogamous. There’s no drama. I don’t want to jinx it.”
6. Wanda (36) and Richard (42). Been Living Together for Seven Years.
Wanda: "Know what's crazy? I've been with [Richard] longer than either of my marriages lasted. I was really young the first time, and my last marriage was more about being afraid of being alone. This relationship gives me space and freedom to heal and get to know myself better. Marriage always felt like I was constantly having to prove myself. Just being with [Richard], choosing him every day, with no red tape — I wouldn't change it for the world."
Richard: "I've never been married before, so I'm not opposed to it. [Wanda] has been divorced twice, so I'm giving her the space to decide what's best for her. Living together isn't a problem; for most men, it wouldn't be. So long as she knows I'm not going anywhere, I'm good. If, at some point, a ring is what she'll need, I'm prepared."
7. Patrycia (29) and Krew (29). Been Living Together for Five Years.
Patrycia: "We're both super ambitious people, and I was raised that when you get married, your spouse comes before all else. I don't disagree with that in theory. I'm just trying to decide if that is what I want to sign up for. In the meantime, he and I are each other's biggest supporters, but because 'marriage' isn't looming over our heads, we don't feel guilty about putting our careers first. It's worked for us really well to be cheerleaders instead of spouses."
Krew: "Not one time has Patrycia ever called me upset because I'm working late. Not one time have I been mad when she had to stay a few days later on a business trip. We're like a weird version of business partners who love each other. I don't think we're together to make a family. We're together to drive us both into the highest realms of success."
8. Stacey (39) and Stephan (35). Been Together for 10 Years.
Stacey: "I guess I'm a real-life 'runaway bride.' I've been engaged twice, and about six months before the first wedding and three months before the second, I called it off. Both were great guys; that had nothing to do with it. I just think that I was programmed to think that I had to get married if I loved someone — and I don't feel that way anymore. I like my space. I don't want to share bills. At the same time, I love my man and desire no one else. All of those things can be valid, and women like me should feel okay about it."
Stephan: "I think if I were to get married, I would end up ruining it because all I'd be thinking about is what was expected of me as a husband, which could prevent me from being a great partner, if that makes any sense. Some people are so focused on word titles that they forget what it means to just love someone and have them love you back. Having the space to love [Stacey] is what's kept me in this relationship for this long. It's the best one I've ever had. She may not be my wife, but she's definitely my everything."
9. Nyla (26) and Luther (27). Been Together for Six Years.
Nyla: "What's so great about being a wife? I'm serious. I don't mean that I don't respect a woman's choice to be one. I just mean that I don't get how that's a pinnacle for so many people. If I do end up getting married, it'll be after I check off the billions of things that are before it on my list. That's why he and I work so well together — we met in college, we both have huge dreams, and we push each other to reach them. Marriage isn't one of those dreams right now. Don't see why that's a problem."
Luther: "I was raised by my father, and what he instilled in me is how to be a self-sufficient man who doesn't settle. I don't want to be a husband or have kids any time soon. If it comes to that, I know exactly the kind of woman I want and the kind of man I need to be. [Nyla] and I agree that because we both don't want a family, we don't have to worry about if we're right for each other when it comes to having one. We're right for each other as encouragers to get this money and be successful, and that is our focus. She's my best friend, and I love her. That beats the 'wife' word for me at this stage in my life."
10. Desi (41) and August (39). Been Living Together for Five Years.
Desi: "I hate the assumption people have that folks who live together are 'less committed' than people who are married. We live together. We share bills, a bed, and a life. The expense of a wedding is dumb. So is having a piece of paper that makes other people feel better about what we have going on. I've never been married, and maybe one day, I'll find it appealing. But with the divorce rate as high as it is? Hell, I think he and I are actually helping to contribute to the fact that you can be totally in love and not end up a statistic. If you're never married, you can't get divorced…right?"
August: "I was married before. It wasn't bad. This is way better, though. I got married because I was given an ultimatum; I got married to not lose my ex, not really because I really wanted to do it. With [Desi], she doesn't pressure me to do anything I'm not ready to do — that helps me to trust her more in my own time. What she doesn't know is if she wanted to get married tomorrow, we could do it because I am not stressed into choosing her. I wish more people got how big that is."
11. Erika (44) and Brice (47). Been Together for 15 Years.
Erika: "Marriage, in some ways, is the natural progression of things; I get that. I just think that it's progression for people who have the goal of getting married someday — and I don't. Believe it or not, I respect traditional marriage and gender roles in them, and that's a huge part of the reason why I'm not interested. My grandparents are happily married and traditional. My parents are too. It's a beautiful thing. I've always been a rebel, though. Why get married and make someone miserable because I'm pushing back all of the time? I'd rather just date exclusively and have my own space and peace of mind."
Brice: "I have everything I need without getting married. I think that says it all."
12. Eryn (45) and Alex (50). Been Living Together for 12 Years.
Eryn: "Have you ever asked people why they want to get married? If they're not giving you a blank stare like 'That's what you're supposed to do' or cramming the Bible down your throat, they are talking about all of the things that they expect someone else to do for them. Me? I don't want to get married because I don't have a good enough reason to do it. What I do have is a good enough reason to love a man, stay with him and be okay with that without needing his last name, a diamond ring, or something to prove that we love each other. I come home every night feeling like what keeps us together is integrity. We don't need vows because our word to each other is good enough. We are the walking example of 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' We should get a welcome mat that says it."
Alex: "[Eryn] is a better woman to me than my wife ever was. She's more thoughtful. She's more supportive. And she's more generous. I used to think that you couldn't be loved the way she loves me unless a woman was married to you. [Eryn] has totally blown that theory out of water!
"Get married. Don't get married. Basically, look for someone who loves you completely and wants to live the kind of life that you do. I found that without being married, and it's made me a fan of living life…just this way."
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