Take a moment to think about who you consider your friends to be. I'm not talking about who you're connected to on social media or the folks that you're cool with and speak to every once in a while. I'm referring to the individuals who you tell your deepest secrets to, the ones who will not only loan but will give you fifty bucks when times are tight. The people who will sit up on the phone with you through a break-up, have encouraged you every time you've taken a calculated risk and affirms you every chance they get. Who are those folks?
It has taken me years—decades, really—to figure out who my true friends are. Do you know what the bump-and-bruises of discovery have taught me? A good friend is one of God's greatest gifts and a bad "friend"? They are about the most destructive and disappointing thing that can ever happen to a human being.
Related: My Female Friendships Were The Most Heartbreaking & Loving Relationships Of My Twenties
Know what else I learned? A lot of us could be spared the drama of faux friends if we set standards of expectation before we give someone the privilege of the title. And while the list I'm about to share isn't a concrete definitive one, let's just say that since I made sure these things checked off in my own world, my friendship circle has been a lot healthier and the drama has been sooooo much less. FINALLY.
When a lot of us think about the word "loyal", we tend to think about someone who will have our back no matter what. That's a part of it but what a person who's loyal to the core will also do is be faithful and committed to you, no matter what. No matter what they hear about you. No matter how inconvenient it might be at times. Through good times and bad, what they said they'd be to you and do for you, nothing can make them waiver because they aren't loyal based on emotion; they are loyal based on their character.
Loyalty is invaluable and extremely rare. If you even have two loyal people in your life, consider yourself mighty blessed.
I say it often because I believe it to be true. A lot of people don't want friends. No, what they desire are fans. I say that because the moment many people are called to the carpet on their issues, drama or character flaws, suddenly they want to "cancel" whoever said it. But a truly honest person is gonna be both sincere and frank. They won't do it just to have something to say. They'll do it because they love you, they see you and they want to see you win. If that's calling you out on your ish sometimes, so be it.
Grandma used to say, "If they'll gossip to you, they'll gossip about you." If you live long enough, you'll learn that there is certainly some truth to that. But what life has taught me to pay more attention to is "If they let other people talk about you, whether in or out of your presence, they don't have your back the way you think they do." There is someone I know who is cool on so many levels, but I still don't fully trust him because I've personally witnessed people say shady stuff about his "boys" and him play the neutral card.
Friends who are protective are friends who will defend you, both in and out of your presence. They let people know that when it comes to you, they will not tolerate any shady talk, slick implications or attacks on your being. If you've got some protective friends, treat 'em to dinner soon. They deserve it.
A while back, I penned an article for the site about how to know if one or more of your friends are actually envious of you. While that might seem like a bit of an oxymoron, being that I grew up in the entertainment industry (and later went on to write in the same industry for a while), you'd be amazed how many people who claim to be friends are nothing more than competitors.
"Healthy competition" is cool every once in a while. But you know what's so much better? People who are thrilled for your achievements. People who applaud your reached plans and goals. People who don't act threatened by your glow up. People who sincerely mean it when they say, "Call me if you need anything," or "I got you." People who will hold you up, both in good times and in bad. People who are a great place to go to and will provide a soft place to land. And yes, you should unequivocally expect this from your friendships.
Compassion is one of the words where you really have to put your money—and by "money" what I really mean is character—where your mouth is. What I mean by that is it really doesn't matter how compassionate you say or think that you are, unless you are literally looking at people who are having a hard time and then doing what you can to make life easier for them, you're probably not as compassionate as you think.
When it comes to the friendships that I have now, it's close to impossible for us to keep tabs on who did what or when (or most) because we're wired to help each other out—period. If you don't have people who are mentally and emotionally set to be on the "I got you" tip (as you are willing to be the same way towards then), get you some new friends. Stat.
It's hard to connect, let alone grow, with anyone who has poor communication skills. The sad thing is, a lot of people think they are great communicators when they are anything but. Good communicators listen (this includes listening without interrupting). Good communicators ask questions so that they are able to get clarity. Good communicators take body language cues and operate from a place of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Good communicators prefer dialogues over monologues (some of y'all will catch that later). Good communicators are present and in the moment with whomever they're interacting with.
Which of your friends communicate like this? More importantly, can you honestly say that you communicate this way with them?
I have a pretty strong personality. So do most of my friends, both male and female. I'll admit that if there's anything on this list that I had to practice growing in, it's respect. Respect that it's OK to have different views on things. Respect that I may not always get or like what they say or do but that doesn't mean we can't still be click-tight. Respect that they need to be celebrated for their individuality just like I do.
When someone respects you, they esteem you.
They also appreciate you, take your thoughts and feelings into consideration and treat you with the utmost dignity; they make you feel valuable to them. Everyone won't agree with me, but the reason why I choose to put respect on this list rather than love is because, to me, respect is one of the greatest displays of love. Especially when it's coming from a friend.
Back when I didn't really know what true friendship looked or lived like, I used to have the bad habit of picking people I was always available for who weren't for me. Literally too. If they needed some money, I picked up the phone. But if I needed some help with a deadline, I constantly had to leave a message after the beep. If they were having family issues, I would miss a night of rest listening to them vent. If a man broke my heart, they would tolerate the conversation…until another call came through.
A good friend? They know that it's not about having time but making time. A bad friend (which isn't a friend at all) only makes time when it's convenient for them. That's largely in part due to my next point.
Selfish people. They really are the absolute worst, ain't they? How could they not be when they are so consumed with themselves that no one else really matters. Just in case you've been dealing with selfish individuals for so long that you don't even recognize it anymore, I'll share of few clear signs of what one looks like.
A selfish person has no problem taking but is always hemming and hawing about giving. A selfish person doesn't really do things for others unless they can directly pinpoint what they'll get out of it. A selfish person will totally dismiss your needs, just because they are in a bad mood or they feel what they've got going on is more pressing. A selfish person is so arrogant that they would rather lose you than admit when they're wrong and try and make things right. A selfish person tends to act entitled, manipulative and controlling because, again, they are self-absorbed.
It's kind of amazing that selfish folks are able to maintain any kind of relationship, being that a foundational truth about having one is you have to be willing to compromise and give of yourself. Not just when it's easy or convenient; when it is necessary.
10.A Safe Place
Every chance I get, I mention a book that has been a true lifesaver for me. It's calledSafe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't (Cloud/Townsend). If there's one thing that I think is far too underestimated, it's the importance of feeling safe in your relationships whether it's with your family, your friends or your significant other. Safety consists of being "free from hurt, injury, danger, or risk" and "involving little or no risk of mishap, error, etc.".
You know what this all means, right? Just because you've known someone for a long time, that doesn't mean they are a safe place. Just because you have a lot in common with them, that doesn't make them a safe place. Just because they used to be safe doesn't mean they currently are a safe place (which is why annual relationship evaluations are so important).
Life is risky enough without finding out the hard way that your friends weren't a place of comfort, refuge and healing for you. Not only should you expect them to be a safe place in your life, you deserve it and everything else that I mentioned on this list. Full stop.
Want more stories like this? Check out these xoNecole related reads:
The 5 Must-Have Friends Everyone Needs
The Truth About Maintaining Friendships As An Adult
Friends That Believe In You Aren't Necessary But They Feel So Damn Good
The Real Reason You Can't Be Happy For Her
Featured image by Getty Images
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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.
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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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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