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.
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.
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Different puzzle pieces are creating bigger pictures these days. 2024 will mark a milestone on a few different levels, including the release of my third book next June (yay!).
I am also a Professional Certified Coach. My main mission for attaining that particular goal is to use my formal credentials to help people navigate through the sometimes tumultuous waters, both on and offline, when it comes to information about marriage, sex and relationships that is oftentimes misinformation (because "coach" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, oftentimes quite poorly).
I am also still super devoted to helping to bring life into this world as a doula, marriage life coaching will always be my first love (next to writing, of course), a platform that advocates for good Black men is currently in the works and my keystrokes continue to be devoted to HEALTHY over HAPPY in the areas of holistic intimacy, spiritual evolution, purpose manifestation and self-love...because maturity teaches that it's impossible to be happy all of the time when it comes to reaching goals yet healthy is a choice that can be made on a daily basis (amen?).
If you have any PERSONAL QUESTIONS (please do not contact me with any story pitches; that is an *editorial* need), feel free to reach out at email@example.com. A sistah will certainly do what she can. ;)
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Russell and Nina Westbrook are one of those low-key, unproblematic couples we don’t talk about enough. They met in college and got married in 2015. They also have a beautiful family with three kids. While Russell is an NBA star, Nina is a licensed family and marriage therapist and a mental health advocate.
She recently launched the podcast The Relationship Chronicles with Nina Westbrook, and in the latest episode, she had none other than her husband on as a guest. The college sweethearts dived into important topics from marriage to children and how they navigate it all.
One of the topics they touched on was dealing with resentment in your relationship. The former MVP highlighted the sacrifices his wife has had to make in order for him to pursue a career in the NBA, and that’s why it’s also important for him to support his wife whenever he can.
“For me is respecting and understanding what your partner do and the time it takes,” Russell said. “Not kind of downplaying what they do, understanding the time and energy and effort they're doing to make sure whether it’s their job or making sure home is taken care of, and understanding that, I think that is the challenge of not being resentful.”
Nina agreed and also shared her thoughts on resentment. According to her, one of the best things couples should do is have their own identity and passions outside of the relationship in an effort to be fulfilled.
“I also think that when you’re in a relationship, that’s why it’s so important that each individual kinda pursue their own passions and follow their own dreams as I feel like it only becomes or leads to resentment when one person is not feeling fulfilled in what they're doing in their lives,” she explained.
“And so, they will start to look at the other partner who’s happy or excelling or promoting or moving along in their journey, then they’re left feeling stuck like they sacrificed themselves, their happiness, their career, their future and have not pursued it in the name of the relationship or their partner. So, it’s so much easier to avoid those feelings of resentment when you’re each equally pursuing your passions.”
The couple has many passions that they work on together and separately. Outside of basketball and his family, Russell has become known for his eclectic style and started the fashion brand Honor The Gift. Nina has her podcast, and she also started the mental health website Bene. Together, they run the Why Not? Foundation, which works with kids in underserved communities.
“I’m a firm believer that one person can’t be everything to you, so you have to sort of seek out those different friendships or groups or hobbies or activities that help to fulfill you,” Nina concluded.
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Feature image by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Religion of Sports