Relationships are usually the most rewarding experiences of your life. They can also come equipped with their fair share of challenges. Disagreements caused by loved ones appear to be the most difficult to repair, but everyone knows if anyone can fix a broken relationship, it╒s Iyanla Vanzant. This month, EBONY reached out to the accomplished author, inspirational speaker and talk show host to help EBONY readers with their love, friendship and family issues.
Q I don’t get out much. I’m considering online dating, because I know many people who’ve had great success finding a mate that way. What are your thoughts about online dating, especially in the wake of shows such as Catfish?
Beloved, does Catfish come on at the same time as Law & Order? If so, that explains why I have no idea what it is about. Online dating is just as viable an option as running into someone in the produce aisle at the supermarket. But trust me, the same people on the dating site do have occasion to visit the produce aisle. You have to be aware of your levels of comfort and safety no matter where you meet someone. But the real question here is not about online dating. I would offer that you should explore why you don’t get out much. Is this a choice you are making because you want to be at home? Or are you too tired, lazy and disinterested to make yourself available? When you meet a potential partner, do you want someone who does not get out much, either? One of you will have to make a different choice if you are going to spend any kind of time together. Or is it that you do not get out much because you are waiting for someone to get out with? If that is the case, get out now. Go to the places you’d want to go with your partner. It’s OK to take a platonic friend for company. The important thing is to start living the life you envision with a partner right now. Who knows? You may run into someone doing the same thing.
Q I am trying to “wait” for the right person to come along, but I’m growing impatient. What can I do to divert my energies from wishing, waiting and hoping?
Beloved, your question itself is a great start because it suggests you know that “trying to wait” is not serving a higher purpose for you. Wishing, waiting and hoping are future-focused fantasy activities that are not guaranteed to produce results. As long as you are ”trying to wait,” you are not being prepared. So what is your higher purpose? What is your vision for your life? What are you choosing to create other than a relationship with the “right” person? And, when that person comes along, what will you have available to offer and share? All too often, we are attracted to people who are living their vision, doing their thing, riding the wave of success. We don’t stop, however, to consider how attractive that would make us if we were to do the same thing. Consider “Right Person No. 1” who is living life fully, pursuing dreams, taking risks and experiencing the best things in life. Chances are, you would jump at the opportunity to be in a relationship with this person. And let’s be honest, if his or her success came with financial benefits, you’d be all the more excited. Now consider “Right Person No. 2” who is as sweet as homemade apple pie as she or he sits at home fantasizing about meeting “The One.” BORING!!!! Wouldn’t you rather experience the world with Right Person No. 1? If so, the question becomes, which kind of right person are you? You focus your energy by living your vision. Start living right now as if everything you desire in life is already in your life, including the right person. Get into the feeling nature of being the best you that you can be. Find out what matters to you, and do something about it. It can be anything from saving stray kittens on the street to creating world peace. Your contribution in and to the world is what makes you attractive. When you are attractive, you don’t have to wait; you create and draw to you what you desire. Be sure that when the right person shows up, you have something more than TV Guide to share with him or her.
Q How long should you date someone before considering getting
intimate? Are there time parameters?
Beloved, I am not aware of a hard-and-fast rule or specific parameters that address this matter; however, I do wonder if you are using the word intimacy as a code for being sexual. As I see it, these are two very different things. I consider “intimacy” to be code for In-To-Me-See. This is an invitation to share all of who you are with another person who may or may not be your sexual partner. Intimacy begins the moment you encounter another person and how much of yourself you are willing to give and share. You may become intimate with someone on Day 1, or it may take you until Day 42 to trust yourself or him or her enough to fully present and reveal all of who you are. Nonsexual intimacy depends on the condition of your heart, meaning how willing you are to be vulnerable. Intimacy happens in the communication process. It is deepened by how much of yourself you share and how well you listen. Sexual encounters are physical acts that may or may not be intimate. True intimacy requires that you experience spiritual, mental and emotional safety to such a degree that you are willing to tell the absolute truth about who you are. Only in this way can the physical act of having sex become an expression of intimacy. If you want something more concrete, go with the 90-day Rule: For the first 90 days, you remain in contact and communication in an effort to learn as much about one another as possible. But remember: The focus is not on what you do not do in that time. The focus is on what you do and how you do it. Are you opening yourself to this person in acts of nonsexual, nonphysical intimacy? Are you learning about each other’s visions? Do you share ways to keep yourselves uplifted spiritually, mentally, emotionally, etc.? As you learn these things, you will be clearer about when you choose to share yourself in a sexually intimate way.
Q What should a newly married woman or man do when she or he doesn’t like the way a spouse disciplines his or her new stepchildren?
Beloved, the real issue here is the relationship the stepparent established with the child prior to the marriage and what the conversation and agreement about discipline was before the wedding. One huge mistake a partner can make is failing to establish a loving, trusting relationship with a mate’s children prior to joining the household. Another is for the partner to fail to discuss how to handle things such as discipline and decision-making where the children are concerned. Without these two important understandings being in place prior to the wedding, you are in many ways shutting the barn door after the bull is out terrorizing the town. If there was a conversation about this before you got married, you must get into alignment with that agreements you made in the conversation. If not, take a few steps back to create an agreement. After marriage, all the children must become “our children.” To hold on to “my children,” “her children” or “his children” creates a recipe for disaster and an issue of separation rather than unity. Once the marriage occurs, it is no longer about “my spouse” or “me.” Marriage is about “the family.” Both partners must trust that what is being done to, with and for the children is for the good of the family. If you trust your spouse and know he or she has done the work to create a relationship with the children and if you believe your spouse has the children’s best interest at heart, you need not like the discipline. You will, however, need to accept it is for the good of all involved. If you have suggestions about how discipline can be administered differently or better, have that discussion in the privacy of your bedroom with your spouse, and be willing to disagree and make compromises.
Q Family members think I’m rich because I’m gainfully employed, single and don’t have any kids. They constantly ask for money because I’m generous. Now, I’m ready to stop something I’ve started. How do I end my days of being Mr. Moneybags?
Beloved, stop giving out money. It’s that simple. It is critical that you recognize you are responsible for starting the pattern and that you also have the power to stop it. Also, make the clear distinction between generosity and guilt. Very often when one family member becomes more successful or stable than other members of the family, she or he experiences guilt about having what others do not. In addition, it is customary, particularly in the African-American community, that when we “make it,” we reach back and help those who have not. This is a powerful cultural principle; however, it must be practiced with wisdom. Money never solves a money problem. When people ask for money, it is an indication that they are not handling some underlying issues in their lives. Here is a simple rule I use to address the issue: Unless there is an unforeseen emergency, I require that people handle their own basic needs, and I can help them with the extras. It really doesn’t help people when you do for them what they need to do for themselves. If they can’t cover their basics, it is a clear indication that they may have a problem that money will not solve. It also means that providing the money for them will not appropriately address the underlying issue.
Q I know my family members want what’s best for me, but they interfere with my decision-making too often. What should I do?
Beloved, is it that they interfere with your decision-making or that you do not trust the decisions you make on your own? You are the only one who gets to make decisions in your life. If you did not invite their input, they would not continue offering it. And if you are not inviting or requesting it, there is no need for you to feel obligated to take the unsolicited advice they offer. To suggest that someone can interfere or impose his or her will on you makes you a victim. You are not the victim of anyone or anything unless you choose this mindset. It might be time for you to take a stand for and within yourself, trusting that you know what is best for you. When you receive uninvited guests in your decision-making process, you can simply say, “Thank you for sharing, but my mind is made up.”
Q My best friend and I fell out over money, and we haven’t spoken in nearly two years. I miss the relationship, but I want my cash. How do I get both?
Beloved, my daddy taught me a very important lesson when he said, “If you don’t have it to give, don’t lend it.” Money destroys more relationships than any other challenge in human interactions. The hard, cold truth is that very often, we value money more than we do people. It is also true that we put our money where our hearts are. You didn’t loan the money just because you had it. You loaned it because you had given this person a piece of your heart, and she or he handled it carelessly. In the scenario you have presented, there is no way you can rebuild the relationship while holding onto the desire to have the cash, because the real upset is how [that person] handled your heart. Release your attachment to the money, forgive your friend and rebuild the relationship if that is your desire. On the other hand, what your friend has demonstrated is a lack of personal integrity. The failure to repay the money indicates this person does not honor his or her word, refuses to keep agreements and breaks commitments. Knowing this is far more important than having the cash. The real question is, why would you want to be in a relationship with a person who takes personal integrity so lightly?
Q I love my mate, but my best friend hates him. How can we all just get along?
Beloved, it is not clear to me how your best friend came to believe that she or he should have a vote in whom you choose as a partner. This raises a few questions: Have you created an inappropriate boundary with your friend? Is your friend afraid that you don’t have enough love to share with two people? Or can your friend see something in your mate that you are acting like you don’t know? The latter issue, I believe, is the more important one. A really good friend is one who will tell you that you have something green in your teeth before you take the group picture. You will listen and be grateful because you know your friend has your back. It would be interesting to know if you have listened to your friend’s objections about your partner, receiving them as a genuine concern, or if you are in denial about who your partner is. This is a question only you can answer.
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Senior Editor, EBONY Magazine