By Veronica Wells

I like to joke that my father ruined me when it comes to public declarations of romantic love. From an early age, I remember watching some romantic comedy and him, leaning over to tell me something to the effect of, "Whatever you feel about the person you're in love with, that's something for only the two of you. No one else cares."

And while I know that’s not entirely true, those words had a real impact on me. I consider myself a romantic and a lover of love, still; I often find myself rolling my eyes when people speak about their romantic partners. Not because I believe they’re lying or I’m not happy that they’ve found what we’re all searching for in one way or another. But mostly because far too often, people rely on cliches. And they make me wonder if folks are speaking from the heart or saying what they’ve been conditioned to believe is the right thing to say.

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By now, you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about. Remember when Jerry MaGuire was released in the nineties? At the climax of the movie, Tom Cruise interrupts Renee Zellweger’s book club meeting to tell her not only does he love her but that she completes him. It was a good line. And for years afterward, it was the go-to. The penultimate way to express your love for someone. “You complete me” showed up in all types of wedding vows, anniversary speeches, illustrations on the internet, complete with interlocking puzzle pieces. It was everywhere, for years. 

It wasn’t until Oprah, along with Dr. Robin Smith, debunked the myth of needing another person to complete us that people started to consider the fact that requiring another individual to make us whole is indeed problematic.

These days, the phrase has changed. There’s a new, acceptable way to speak about our love relationships. It’s “S/he’s my best friend.” Now, before y’all start throwing pitchforks, let me say that I know friendship is an important foundation in all relationships. And I don’t believe everyone is lying when they say their partners are their best friends. I just wonder if they really mean what they say, or they’re just repeating what they believe is the right thing to say. It’s all too common, everyone seems to be married to their best friend.

Like we’re looking for our lovers to be all things to us. Do we abandon the women and men who were our best friends when we find a new romantic interest? Does that person push everyone else into a lower class of friendship? Does it mean the relationship is not strong if he’s not my best friend? Furthermore, if sex is no longer an option, like my other friendships, what will happen to the relationship?

I think there’s value in being friends with your partner but also having relationships that fulfill our need for companionship and connection outside of romance. Platonic relationships are necessary because you’re not expecting or required to complete the same type of transactions you do in a romantic relationship. There is value in that difference.

Tamar & Vince
I knew the best friend thing had gone too far when I heard Tamar Braxton use it, recently, to describe the relationship with her estranged husband Vincent Herbert. I literally almost flipped a table. This is the man she called her best friend after she alleged that the man fathered a child with another woman, after he was arrested for spousal assault on Christmas Day, after the two have spent months basically avoiding having a serious conversation with one another. 

If you’ve watched the latest season of “Tamar and Vince,” you know that none of us would want a best friendship like what we’re seeing between these two right now. The whole season of the show can be described as Tamar inviting her friends on trips, telling them secrets and taking drastic actions instead of talking to her husband, her best friend, about what she’s feeling. And, in her defense, Vince hasn’t exactly made himself accessible or easy to talk to in the process. Whenever she broaches a subject he doesn’t like, he either talks about her attitude, tells her to “shut the f*ck up” or walks out of the room.

That’s just not friendship, not by anyone’s standards. I know Tamar and Vince are an extreme example. It’s clear that in the midst of all their dysfunction, she’s still trying to convince us that their relationship is something that it is not.

But that’s the point, Tamar is not the only one trying to sell us something. But perhaps the use of these phrases is not so cut and dry. Maybe these descriptors are so widely accepted because the feelings of love we have are often too deep and too vast, so we get lazy or overwhelmed and rely on what someone else has already said. We try to fit our relationships into someone else’s definition and then find ourselves hurt and disappointed when the label is not entirely accurate.

Do you believe your romantic partner has to be your best friend? 

Veronica Wells is the culture editor at MadameNoire.com. She is also the author of “Bettah Days” and the creator of the website NoSugarNoCreamMag. You can follow her on Facebook and on Instagram and Twitter @VDubShrug.

By Vince Lake

She said I love you...and I was an asshole. An asshole like that episode of ‘Friends' with Ross when he said I love you to Emily, and she replied, “Thank you.” No, more like an asshole by telling her, “You don't love me.” I tried to dictate her feelings for me when the funny thing is, I hate it myself when someone tries to dictate my feelings. What was I supposed to do? Tell her I love you too? That wasn't happening. I can't reciprocate what I don't feel. I never lie about my feelings, so why should I start now? Embrassas her, I did...but am I an asshole?

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At what point are you going to claim responsibility for your actions?
Most men have been in this position before knowing it would come to this point. When getting involved with a woman, a man must be upfront with her on what his intentions are. That way she can make the choice on whether or not she wants to proceed with what he has in mind. Due to whatever work/career position she might be in, some women don't mind having a physical relationship. Other than being gay, no man in history has turned that option down. Let’s be honest though, in my opinion; women aren't built for just a physical relationship. They're not wired like that. (Sidebar- Hate to tell you but, Spike Lee’s “She's Gotta Have It” is fiction).


So what does a physical relationship consist of? Sex...lust...the fulfillment of pleasure when requested by either party with no strings attached. That pretty much sums it up. It’s what I like to call a “Service Plan.” A “Service Plan” is like your cell phone bill. You pay (your time/attention) for the amount of service you feel that's best for you. For me, at the time, the unlimited nights and weekend plan worked perfectly. But my day time minutes were limited. And she was cool with this. We both were busy. The issue with the unlimited nights and weekend plan is someone on either party expects to spend more time than agreed too.

Sex is simple, right? Wrong! What makes it complex is when feelings gets involved. Who’s to blame for this? You are!

Yes you! You think throwing it back on him, dancing, busting it open..licking, sucking (and for some swallowing) isn’t grounds for making him fall in love? Yes, Eve did pick the apple, but she didn't eat it alone. Men are just as guilty. Deep stroking, kissing, licking, sucking, eating, making squirt, lifting (a chosen few perform such an act) pulling hair and changing position as if you're a yoga instructor. Oh I forgot, plus bathing her and cooking for her afterwards too! If his service plan includes all this, not only would a woman proclaim her love for him, sh*t! She done moved in with him and he doesn't even know it.

It's easy to say what we will and won’t do at the beginning of an affair, but trust; it never remains the same from when it's first initiated. If it's a physical thing, know your limits. Meaning, he or she shouldn't be treating either party as if they’re more than what they are. Granted, if you he/she wants more than what's presented, communicate that and move on from there. They both start with the same letter and are four letter words, but love and lust have two different meanings. As young adults some of us don't know how to differentiate the two until we’re older. I believe experience and maturity will teach you what defines these two words.

So who's really the asshole then? The naive person trying to switch up the “Service Plan” or the one who's sticking to it? Just a little advice ladies and gents, either you stick to your “Service Plan” or upgrade it. Otherwise...your Uber is waiting.

Does someone always catch feelings in physical relationships?
Renaissance man from The Bronx, NY, Vincent "VJ" Lake creative career started in fashion, and expand through fitness and the military. Vincent is also an entrepreneur with his own active-wear lifestyle apparel brand; "PURESPORT ATHLETIC aka PSA". Currently, he is finishing up his first non-fiction book of short stories titled,"I've Had My Share."  The book is scheduled for release in early 2018.

By Erickka Sy Savané

Your husband turns his back on you and goes to sleep. In less than five minutes the room is engulfed by the steady sounds of his snoring while your mind is still fixated on the argument you just had. How can he sleep with so much hanging in the balance? He knows you’re not supposed to go to bed angry. It’s one of the first things you hear when you get married. But here you are playing with fire, having another brush with relationship death, even after ten years of marriage. Really? Why can’t you resolve your issues by bedtime like your best friend? Every time this happens you can’t help wondering if it’s a sign that your relationship is ultimately doomed. Perhaps it’s time you answer the question once and for all:

Will going to bed angry ruin your relationship?

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You think back to the first time it happened early on in your marriage. What you were arguing about you don’t recall, but you do remember cozying up to him in bed, his back turned to you, whispering softly in his ear, ‘You know you’re not supposed to go to bed angry.’ In an instant he turned around, eyes red as fire, and said, “I will not make up with you so that you can have a good night’s sleep!”

Ouch.

It was in direct contrast to your best friend, an adamant believer in never going to bed angry, who made it look easy. Perhaps it was through talking to her that you decided it would be something great to adopt. And though it never quite worked out on your end, you wonder if it still holds true for them some 10 years later.

“Noooooo. We don’t go to bed angry.”

“How is that even possible?” you ask incredulously.

“We don’t dwell. We say we’re sorry and move on. It’s very comforting.”

“But is it realistic? Do you sometimes say you’re sorry even if you don’t mean it so that you can just go to bed?”

“No. We get into resolve mode. It comes from the fact that we’d rather be happy, and we hate when we’re angry at each other.”

She says it’s something they both decided they wanted early on in the marriage. Now they’ve been doing it so long they’d never go back.

Comforting indeed. In those moments when an argument between you and your hubby can last up to two days, adopting this attitude would be like red velvet cake from Cake Man Raven.

Imagine, knowing that everything would be patched up by bedtime.

Determined to get a second and third opinion, you ask two women who work at your daughter’s pre-school. Do they go to bed angry?

Egyptian Woman: Most of the time we try to resolve things before we go to sleep because they say it’s not good for your health.

Haitian Woman: If you feel like it’s something you can solve then do. But sometimes you just have to go to bed.

Egyptian Woman: It’s like a circle. You’re arguing and not talking, but you have kids so you have to talk. So just let it go. There’s nothing worse than not talking.

Haitian Woman: Sometimes something happens right before bed and even if he wants to solve it, you’re not ready. Not everything can be figured out that fast.

Somehow knowing the Haitian woman goes to bed angry helps. But really, it’s time you talk to your husband. Is he at all concerned that consistently going to bed angry might land you guys in real hot water?

“I don’t like going to bed angry,” he says. “But if I’m angry, I’m angry and I don’t want to not be angry because of some saying.”

“But don’t you believe in it?”

“No. It’s one of those things you pull out when it works for you.”

Hmmm…you think about the times when you’ve been so mad at him that if he even thought about pulling out the don’t-go-to-bed-angry-card you might actually chop off his hands.

He also feels people take advantage of it. “Hey, I screwed your best friend.” Said at 11:59pm. He’s got a point.

Honestly, there will always be something that you like about the idea of never going to bed angry, but doing so won’t ruin your relationship. At the end of the day, you have to make your own rules because sayings are everywhere. ‘The family that prays together stays together’ or ‘Love is never having to say ‘I’m sorry.”’ I’m sorry, but there’s nothing like a good apology. So after ten years of marriage, you’re ready to let this one go. The next time you go to bed angry, you’re going to try your best to have a good night’s sleep.

This article appeared on Madamenoire.com

Do you go to be angry?

Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of CurlyNikki.com, a wife and mom, based in Jersey, City. Her work has appeared in Essence.comEbony.comMadamenoire.com and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter and Instagram orErickkaSySavane.com

By Vince Lake

A few years ago, I was a personal trainer in the New York tri-state area. As a personal trainer, you learn a lot about people. I heard all types of stories from my clients, but there’s one particular story I remember to this day about a couple I trained.

This couple lived in Harlem, but worked within the city. I would train her in the morning and her  fiance in the evening. They were engaged for two years and their daughter was five years old. They were in their late 20s to early 30s. She was a manager at a clinic and he was a physical therapist. Their fitness needs were different, she loved cardio workouts while he favored strength endurance training. They started training to have a healthier lifestyle and I admired this. They were a team, living the dream.



After six weeks of training them, I got to know them further and their goals as a couple. I would only ask questions when they initiated the conversation, and I never shared conversations between the two of them. Even though at times I felt as if I was a conduit for them, which I didn't mind; but I was cautious. I've trained couples before, but for some reason I felt more connected to them. Was it because we were close in age, or maybe it's because I saw their relationship as one I wanted for myself. I soon learned that all that glitters isn't gold.

A few sessions had gone by when I noticed Terri (I called this couple TnT for Terri and Tony ) not wearing her engagement ring. During our training sessions, I would store her ring in my zipped sweatpants pocket until we were done because it was so big. One morning, I made a light joke, “I've noticed you've gotten weaker with your left hand.” A look of confusion came across Terri’s face before she caught the joke, chuckled a little, and said that she lost it. She then quickly changed the subject. It was an awkward moment. After our session ended, I told Terri that I hoped she would find her ring because I knew how much it meant to her.

The same evening I had my session with Tony who I noticed was a little more aggressive and intense than usual. When I asked him if everything was ok, he brushed me off and said yes. But his body language told a different story. Finally, ten minutes prior to the end of our workout, Tony broke down.

“It's been eight years bro! Eight long years I've committed my life to her...to us...and she’s still not ready! I'm a patient man, but I can’t anymore.”

I realized this brother needed a baggage handler, someone outside of his circle. Since he was my last client for the evening, I offered him a round of drinks at the pub down the block.

After a few beers, Tony continued to unload his sorrows. Turns out, Terri didn't lose her ring after all. Tony took it back from her.

“I proposed to her two years ago. She said no, she's wasn't ready. But I let her keep the ring. I thought that it would change her mind with time, but it hasn't and I’m ready to move on.”

After our round of drinks, Tony thanked me for listening.

As I made my way to the train station, I couldn't help but think of TnT’s situation. I really thought they were winning. I don't know what Terri’s issue was, but I do feel she lost a good man. A man who is educated, has a good job, is a provider, and a father to his child is hard to come by. And not to speak for all men...but to settle down knowing that this is the woman you want to spend the rest of your life with is a major process for a man to face. When a man is ready, he is ready. I feel Terri was stringing Tony along. Maybe she didn’t mirror Tony’s feelings for her anymore, but Tony loved Terri for certain; and I feel Tony laid the foundation for the three of them to build a life together, at least from what I witnessed and heard from him and Terri. Men have patience, but I do believe we know when to throw in the towel and move forward.   

Should there be a cut-off time when waiting for a partner to get married?
Renaissance man from The Bronx, NY, Vincent "VJ" Lake creative career started in fashion, and expand through fitness and the military. Vincent is also an entrepreneur with his own active-wear lifestyle apparel brand; "PURESPORT ATHLETIC aka PSA". Currently, he is finishing up his first non-fiction book of short stories titled,"I've Had My Share."  The book is scheduled for release in early 2018.
LaVerne Knighten & Son Willie Knighten
By Erickka Sy Savané

African Americans are only 13% of the American population but make up the majority of innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated, according to a study conducted by the National Registry of Exonerations on race and wrongful convictions. Blacks constitute 47% of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the Registry (as of October 2016), and the great majority of more than 1,800 additional innocent defendants who were framed and convicted of crimes in 15 large scale police scandals and later cleared in “group exonerations.” This racial disparity exist for all major crime categories, but the report focused on the three types of crimes producing the largest numbers of exonerations in the Registry: murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes.

This, however, was not on Laverne Knighten's mind in 1996, when her oldest son, Willie Knighten, was issed a life sentence in connection with a drive-by murder in Toledo, Ohio. For any mom this would be devastating news, but what made it even worse was the she knew deep in her heart that her son was innocent.
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Her first reaction was to blame herself, perhaps if she and her husband hadn’t both worked full-time time jobs she could have stayed home and things might have turned out different. Or maybe she should have been stricter when she realized that he was going astray. Eventually, she was able to see that she had a choice in how she was going to deal with his life sentence and it was a series of choices that kept her sane throughout the years he served in prison, leading to the day he was released.

The first choice that 50-something year-old Laverne made following the sentencing of her son was deciding to end the pity party that had been going full-blast since the moment he was convicted. It was a co-worker at the factory where she worked, who was relentless in getting Laverne to see that blaming herself for what happened was ultimately going to destroy her. She says,
“In time, I was able to accept what happened and let God take care of the things that I could not change. I knew that Willie didn’t kill that man, but I had to look at some of the things that he did do. I knew that he was running the streets and doing drugs, so I realized that it could be much worse. At least in prison, I wouldn’t have to worry about a phone call in the middle of the night telling me that I would have to go identify my son.”
Now that Laverne had accepted the situation for what it was, she was able to take the next step. She became ‘Little Willie’s’ biggest supporter, along with her husband of 47 years, Pastor Willie Knighten, and tons of church members and friends. They wrote letters to the judge, signed petitions and showed up to one of Little Willie’s hearings via chartered bus, determined to do whatever it would take to free Willie.

Laverne and her crew were no joke. But still, the years passed, each one packed with holidays, special moments, and the two toddlers that Willie left behind growing up fast. What does that do to mother’s  faith? For Laverne, the passing years brought with it the opportunity to make another choice.

“I told myself that God may not always be there right when you want him, but he’s always on time. I believed everyday that went by, we were getting closer to the time when he’d be coming home.”

About six years into Willie’s sentence, Laverne received an unexpected phone call from the mother of the man Willie was convicted of murdering. She told Laverne that she didn’t believe that her son had killed her son and it had been weighing heavily on her mind. She was sorry, and wanted to arrange a meeting with the Judge.

For Laverne this looked like a turning point. Was it the answer to her prayers? With a mix of anticipation and excitement they met with the Judge, armed with information that the victim’s mom had never presented before. However, things didn’t go quite as planned. The Judge had doubts. Why hadn’t she presented this information earlier? For now, Willie would remain behind bars. Laverne was devastated again. But again she had a choice to make.

So she dug her heels in deeper, throwing even more love and support behind Willie, making sure that she and her husband were there for every single visit, whether he was at a facility right in Toledo where they lived, or moved to a prison a few hours away. It was during those visits that she became aware that many of the inmates didn’t have the support that she was giving Willie. In fact, Willie told her that some inmates were committing suicide from being abandoned by friends and family. LaVerne wasn’t having any of that, and became a surrogate mother to some of Willie’s friends.

“My husband and I sent packages and little things to the inmates that didn’t have anyone. Sometimes we sent money. One of his friend’s mom had died was while he was locked up, so I adopted him as my son. If you got a loving heart you know that God is going to bless you regardless. It seemed like every time we reached out to them God blessed us more.”

Lifted by his mom’s unwavering support, Willie joined in on the fight, writing letters to the judge, re-proclaiming his innocence, presenting him with new evidence whenever there was a change to the story, which by that time, was happening with greater frequency. More witnesses began coming forward, changing their testimonies, at one point the judge ordered Willie to take a polygraph (lie detector) test, which he passed three times. Even though polygraph tests results aren’t admissible in court, they did however, place doubt in the judge’s mind. Had he unfairly convicted Willie?

Twelve years into Willie’s life sentence, the Judge was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Before dying, he wrote a heartfelt letter to the Ohio Parole Board stating that he believed he was wrong in convicting Willie of murder, and in good conscious he could not leave this earth without informing them. Shortly after he died, and sure enough the Governor of Ohio granted Willie Executive Clemency. After serving almost 13 years, Willie was free.

And what did it mean to his mother?

“It meant a new beginning for the whole family, and more importantly for Willie, as I was able to share with him what I learned during those 13 years. He could be anything that he wanted to be; it’s all a matter of choice. ”

This month marks the six-year anniversary that Willie was released from prison. As of today, he is an anti-gang activist who mentors at-risk youth, he sits on the board of directors for the Reentry Coalition of Northwest Ohio, and serves as a member of the African American Leadership Caucus (AALC). To hear more about his story, check out his Toledo TedX Talk.

This article appeared on Madamenoire.com

Do you know someone wrongly imprisoned?

Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of CurlyNikki.com, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in Essence.comEbony.com, Madamenoire.com, xoNecole.com, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or ErickkaSySavane.com