What A Supportive Friend Actually Does (It's Not Quite What You Think)

One of the most important qualities of friendship is unflinching support.

What About Your Friends?

Thanks to the current season of Insecure, all you've got to do is hop onto Twitter—Black Twitter, I mean—put in the words "Issa" and/or "Molly", and you're going to see a real-discussion-sometimes-war about what it means to have a real friendship. A good example of what I mean is Exhibit A.

Shoot, everything has actually gotten so intense to the point where executive producer Prentice Penny has come to the defense of Molly in the article, "'Insecure' Showrunner: Season 4 Backlash Against Molly Is 'Unnecessary'". Hmm. As someone who has been an avid watcher of the show, pretty much since day one, I've gotta say that "unnecessary" is a bit of a stretch (more on that in a bit). Then there is Issa Rae, the show's co-creator and her take on their dynamic. In one interview, she said, "They are friends, they are real-life friends, but there exists a specific dynamic in their friendship that both of them have gotten accustomed to. They're college friends who have taken on different paths." Real friends. That's an interesting conclusion to me as well.

I don't know about y'all, but I personally think the reason why a lot of what Issa and Molly have going on has us so triggered is because (thanks to this season's impeccable writing) we either have experienced what they are going through before or, perhaps we're recognizing that the Issa or Molly in our lives has us putting up with more than we actually should. And while their relationship has a billion-and-one takeaways, for me, I think what stands out, quite possibly the most, is it seems like they both could stand to gain a bigger grasp on what it means to be a supportive friend in someone else's life; especially if you profess that they are your best friend. If you give me a sec, I'll unpack a bit more where I am coming from by sharing some thoughts on what a supportive friend should actually do.

A Supportive Friend Makes You Stronger


While I'm not going to make this entire piece about Issa and Molly, I do think they both apply to my first two points really well. On the "make you stronger" tip, to tell you the truth, I think it's Issa who could stand to remember this particular point. Although Molly really has showed her ass in a lot of ways, one area where I totally get where she is coming from is Issa doesn't seem to be the most self-aware person on the planet. There have also been times, throughout all seasons of the show, when she comes across as extremely entitled and selfish, like when she automatically assumes that Molly is going to pick up the tab while they're out (like after the Kiss 'n Grind or when Issa wrecked her car and they went through a drive-thru to get something to eat). For Molly to get to the point where she is like "enough is enough" and "grow TF up" with her bestie, that doesn't make her evil or a bad person. It's just that her timing sucked in choosing to do it when Issa was in a bind. Plus, I'm not completely convinced that Molly's motive was pure. Without a doubt, she is passive aggressive as hell, with EVERYONE. She also isn't wrong in her eyes, hardly ever. But more on that in the second point.

Anyway, for Molly to want to pull back some so that her friend doesn't always treat her as her "get out of jail free card" is a form of being supportive, because if someone is always your crutch, if they are always enabling you, how are you going to mature and evolve?

The animal kingdom has all sorts of examples of mamas who, after a time, leave so that their babies can learn how to survive on their own. If we want our friends to be able to stand on their own, sometimes that means telling them "no". Not out of spite, but out of the sincere desire for them to embrace their own capabilities. That's one of the ways that all of us become stronger individuals.

A Supportive Friend Challenges You


If I had to choose between describing myself as being aggressive or passive aggressive, I'm definitely rocking with aggressive. I don't say "I'm fine" when I'm not (or act like things are fine when they aren't). I don't hold things in while waiting for someone to read my mind. I don't seek out to emotionally punish people who hurt me. Sarcasm isn't my first language. I'm not big on giving people the silent treatment. Meanwhile, Molly? Let me tell it, she's about all of these things. And since she sucks at being forthcoming about her feelings, wants and needs—and/or acts like folks should just automatically know about them—by the time she's suppressed to the point of being fed up, she comes across as mean…if not almost evil. She was like that with Jared (the Enterprise manager). She was like that with Jidenna's character (the lawyer). She was like that with Dro. She was like that with her dad when she found out that he did the same thing that she did (he cheated while she helped someone cheat). In this season, she did it with Issa (and she tries to do it with Asian Bae, Andrew). In fact, while I can't remember where I read the comment, a man by the name of Walt Bionick brought up another great point about how Molly tends to get down when he said, "Molly is the kind of person who invalidates your feelings if they conflict with her feelings." (I mean...)

Then, whenever all of these people bring to her attention that she could stand to look at herself and acknowledge that she's the clear common denominator in her relationships, she goes on the attack and acts like a victim (when Andrew apologized to her for helping out who is supposed to be her friend only "babied" her more into her toxic coping mechanisms, if you ask me. *le sigh*). Indeed, if anyone is the walking definition of not being able to take what they and their sharp tongue can dish out, it's Molly. Hmph. Perhaps if she listened to the people who truly cared about her, it could help her to get out of the cycle of constantly suppressing and then being resentful to the point of sabotaging so often—and so much.

Believe you me, some of the biggest "ouches" I've experienced have come from people who loved me enough to call me out on my ish. Anyone who thinks that a supportive friend shouldn't do that might want to mosey on over to Proverbs 27:6(NKJV) where it says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." I once read that this means a real friend will tell you about yourself without broadcasting their views to others because their intent is to challenge you to become a better person without putting you on full blast in the process. A mature individual will get that this is a form of support because if you only want people to see you as you do, there will probably be blind spots that will certainly hinder your progress—if not now, eventually. Friends want to see their friends thrive in life. Growing pains can be hard, so we have to be challenged, sometimes by our friends, along the way.

A Supportive Friend Is Lovingly Rather Than Brutally Honest


As direct as I am, personal growth is teaching me to dislike the phrase "brutally honest" more and more. I know folks are out here bragging about being savage and everything, but goodness—that is a really harsh word. While savage can mean "fierce", cruel, uncivilized and criticizing to the point of not knowing when and how to let up define it too. And you know what? All of this defines what it means to be a brutal individual. And who would want a friend, someone who professes to love and care about another individual, to speak from this kind of head and heart space?

I don't care if it's advice on a relationship or job, offering up some news that can be difficult to hear or being frank with someone about their personality or character, a supportive friend isn't going to lie. At the same time, what they also aren't going to set out to do is be honest in a way that ultimately does more harm than good. After all, one definition of support is to hold someone up. How can you do that if your words are so damning that all you actually end up doing is tearing your friend down?

A Supportive Friend CONSISTENTLY Wants to See You Win


One of the reasons why I wrote articles on this site like, "5 Signs Your Closest Friends Are The Most Envious Of You", "6 Signs A New 'Friend' Is Nothing But An Opportunist" and "10 Signs You've Got A Close (TOXIC) Friend" is because, make no mistake about it, deception is real, alive and kicking out in these streets. And the thing you've always going to remember about deceit is it's designed to look like the real thing…even though it's nothing more than a fraud.

How can you know when someone who claims to be a friend of yours is anything but? One sign is if they don't show any signs of wanting to see you win in life. You set goals and they automatically look at the obstacles—whether real or actualized—in order to discourage you. You ask for help and they are rarely available to assist. You end up with something (or even someone) that they wanted and they aren't enthused, they act shady or they even completely go ghost on you. It's like, so long as they are on top or you are "in the struggle" it's all good. But when success is within your grasp (or you've obtained it), now there's a problem. And that? That is a problem. By definition, a supportive person encourages, a supportive person helps, a supportive person rallies on your behalf. You know what else they do? They celebrate you in your wins. Not every once in a while, either; consistently so.

I've had some people in my life who wanted to be there so that I could support them. But when it came to me and my needs, I couldn't name one way that they were of assistance. That is wack. That's also (one of the reasons) why I released them too. A good friend is a great cheerleader. If you've got a "friend" who you can't say that about, I'd encourage you to rethink the role and position that they play in your life.

A Supportive Friend Loves You in Spite of Yourself. Period.


Is it just me or would it be super shocking if Insecure's Tiffany was hiding a secret about her baby, Simone? As a doula, while I must say that they are penning postpartum in a really realistic way (bravo!), Tiffany has always seemed to have a shady side to me. I mean, she did know that Lawrence and Condola were dating and didn't let Issa in on it. I also remember when her husband, Derek said he had to get "rid" of the co-worker Fred. Plus, Tiffany once said they had separated before but didn't want to talk about it (dun, dun, dun, dun). Chile, we shall see. But whatever is up, if there is one thing that the girls—Issa, Molly, Kelli and Tiffany—at least strive to do (even if it isn't always perfectly) is love one another…warts and all. Just as a supportive friend should do.

I don't know about you, but I've been in situations where I thought I was in a friendship. However, those people only acted like my friend so long as I had the same views, did the same things or approached life in a similar way to them. But when I wanted to do my own thing, even if that meant making some mistakes along the way, it's like I was penalized, if not emotionally punished for it. That made me want to be my authentic self with them less and less—and when you can't be genuine with someone, the relationship ends up being pretty unhealthy. And unhealthy eventually becomes unnecessary.

Another definition of supportive is sympathetic. That's when someone tries to understand how you feel. It's also when they extend compassion whenever possible. If your friends ain't doing that, if you're not doing that for your friends, support is severely lacking. And if you're not able to lean on each other and have each other's back—really, what are y'all doing? Why do you even call each other "friends" to begin with? Because, if at the end of the day, supportive isn't a top defining word for your friendships, it really is time to shift—possibly even move on. If anyone runs into Issa and Molly, relay the message, OK? I appreciate it.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

What If You Love Your Friend...But Don't Like Her Anymore?

Always Remember That Friendships Have "Levels" To Them

The Real Reason You Can't Seem To Let Your Frenemy Go

How To Heal From A Broken Friendship

Featured image by HBO/Insecure

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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