We’re all familiar with the idiosyncrasies of our beloved Single Ladies characters, but unlike Keisha, Raquel, Malcolm and Sean, the actors who play them are living, breathing humans who navigate real relationships and struggle just like the rest of us. In a special gathering for Essence Music Festival’s Empowerment Panels this past weekend in New Orleans, actors LisaRaye McCoy, Denise Vasi, DB Woodside and Terrell Tilford allowed those present to get a glimpse of their personal lives, most private romantic experiences, and preferences in finding a significant other. Our favorite nuggets of the wisdom that they shared are below!
Panel #1: Finding Love At Any Age: Black Relationships Redefined featuring panelists Beverly Johnson, Shirley Strawberry, Eva Marcille, and Single Ladies stars LisaRaye McCoy and Denise Vasi
Opening with strong questions out of the gate, panel moderator and Essence Relationship Editor Charreah K. Jackson asked LisaRaye how her experiences and expectatations of love changed as she’s gotten older.
Marry For Love
“I’ve learned from such a public divorce that I had from being the first lady of Turks and Caicos, I didn’t really marry for love,” McCoy admitted honestly. “I wasn’t IN love with him. I loved him, there was a fondness and a closeness there, but we were falling in love as we were in our marriage and so I think now, looking back on that, and what vows mean, and what you mean when you say them, you have to be true and honest about that, and I was not when I said them. This time when I do it, I want to do it right, and I do not want to bring any excess baggage from that relationship to the new relationship.” Preach!
Encourage Men To Wear The Pants
When fellow panelist Beverly Johnson, the first African-American supermodel, made a comment about avoiding dating a man who rides a bike for transportaion, LisaRaye chimed in to clean up any potential misintepretations and speak directly to the men in the audience. “Aspire to be something more and better than where you are now,” she urged. “We want you to be the king, we want you to wear the pants, we want you to be the man as the Bible say[s]. You are the provider, and we want you to do just that.” Naturally, the crowd erupted in approving applause – an action they would repeat for LisaRaye many times throughout the panel.
Learn From Painful Mistakes
Getting increasingly more candid, the ladies would soon reveal deeper details about their past experiences in love and relationships. Eva Marcille recounted the difficulties involved in calling off her wedding to actor Lance Gross, labeling the trying period as a necessary growing pain and, in hindsight, a blessing in disguise. LisaRaye agreed wholeheartedly that making mistakes in love is essential to one’s growth: “One thing’s for sure: if you go through enough pain and that pain hurts you enough, you won’t ever want to feel that pain again and you won’t make that mistake anymore.”
Taking a mentoring approach during the panel, the actress who plays season two newcomer Raquel fielded many of the questions asked of her by sharing advice with the attentive members of the audience. Often speaking from her own “alpha,” “independent” woman experiences, Denise encouraged the women present to consider softening to their partners and trusting in fate.
Live Your Own Life Without Forcing Love
“It’s really important to not be looking all the time and not be on the chase. When the time is right, people enter your life. When you’re running after something, that’s rarely gonna happen, but if you just let the gifts from the Universe naturally come to you, things will work out and fall into place.”
Being Too Independent Can Hinder Your Ability To Connect
Being a motivated woman is a great quality to have, but according to Denise, strength can sometimes be an accidental hindrance when building a healthy flow with men. “As much as it’s attractive to have your own thing, you need to also let a man play his position. He needs to feel needed, he needs to feel like he has a purpose. I’m never going to be Betty Crocker, it’s just not going to happen, it’s not who I am – I know it and he has to know it – but learning to balance and understanding your place is important in a relationship.” Adding to something radio personality Shirley Strawberry mentioned about embracing femininity as a strong woman, Denise poignantly added: “You don’t always have to be the warrior.”
Let Men Be Men
The ladies may not have shared the same opinions on every issue discussed, but one unanimous opinion on the Finding Love At Any Age panel was that, time and time again, women tend to ignore the deal-breaking red flags they encounter while dating. For Denise, one kind of flag is especially crucial to keep in mind. “He can be hot, he can financially be there, he can speak five languages, he may even be able to cook, but if he’s not mentally and spiritually there, you’ve got to see that sign, and my advice would be to not get emotionally involved because at the end of the day, that doesn’t go anywhere.”
When asked to give the audience parting recommendations, both LisaRaye and Denise had insightful tokens to share. “Maintain your schedule and maintain who you are,” Denise advised while putting specific emphasis on the power of a woman loving herself before seeking love from another. As for the former first lady of Turks and Caicos, communication and respect within a partnership rang most important. “Know how to talk to [your man] and learn how to speak to him,” she encouraged listeners, imparting words her mother told her as a young woman looking to find her way in the world of love.
Panel #2: What Men Want featuring panelists Terrence J., Devin Thomas, and Single Ladies stars DB Woodside and Terrell Tilford
As the father of a two and a half year-old girl, the grounded DB Woodside admitted off the bat that being a new dad has completely changed how he looks at women, dating, and the world overall. Choosing his words wisely while breaking-down the male pysche for the mostly-female audience, DB disclosed truths that, in other circumstances, might be considered gender-treason.
Women Evolve Faster, And Men Pay The Price
“You guys have it together a lot more than us,” DB admitted when panel moderator Charreah K. Jackson asked the gentlemen why they’ve let good women get away. “I think for men, in order for us to realize what we have, a lot of times we have to lose it. Every guy up here can think about what I call that special time between three and six months- you’re sitting at the bar with your buddy, you’re watching the game, there’s a moment when it’s quiet, and you turn to him and go ‘you know what man, I miss her!’ It just takes men a little bit longer.”
Adhering To Strict Gender Roles Can Harm A Relationship
With parents that have been hitched for 47 years, Woodside has seen the highs and lows of a solid commitment. “There’s been times when my father has been down, my mother’s been the strong one. When my father’s down, my father’s been the strong one… Sometimes I have a problem with these gender roles that we throw out on people, that the man is supposed to do this and the woman is supposed to do this and I think that’s what gets us mixed up and confused.” Taking his progressive stance a step further, DB offered a suggestion: “The relationship is supposed to be about communication, and whoever does whatever best, should be doing whatever that is.”
Nobody Likes A Know-It-All
In case you’re curious, the first thing DB looks for in a woman is intelligence. Not only do smarts keep him plugged-in, but he also thinks they make a woman’s sense of humor more robust, allowing her to be secure in what she knows, and what she doesn’t. “There’s something really powerful about the phrase ‘I don’t know,’ confessed Woodside. “A lot of times people like to hear themselves talk – men and women – and I think sometimes there’s nothing more attractive to me than asking a question. [If I don't know] something and someone [asks] me, I’ll simply say ‘I don’t know, but let’s find out together.’ For me, if I’m dating and someone assumes that they know something – everything about a particular subject, how we should do something – that’s when I start having problems.”
Men Have Feelings (And Like Gifts!) Too
Toward the end of the panel, DB was adament about clearing up myths about men not having the same emotions women do. “Men are a lot more sensative than we’re given credit for. Just because we have problems communicating that, does not mean that we have problems feeling what we feel. And there’s a difference. Men need help communicating, but they know how they feel.” Dropping knowledge, DB began to list off ways that a woman can make herself more marketable. “You want to shock your man? When he comes home or when you see him, buy him a rose. Just buy him a small little gift, just something, and watch how fast he just steps back and goes ‘whoa, okay.’ It’s something nice. I think what we’re all just saying is, do something that’s thoughtful that will surprise the man.”
Equally unafraid to read from the men’s playbook, Terrell Tilford opened up to the panel’s audience to impart useful information and explanations that he’s gathered from his unique vantage point, and the crowd would often clap for his unapologetic honesty.
Confident Women Are Attractive And Inspirational
“If you have a lack of confidence within yourself, if you don’t like what you’re wearing, if you feel self-conscious, that reads,” Terrell said, echoing Denise’s thoughts from the earlier discussion and being vocal in suggesting that ladies sustain their own self-worth before looking for approval elsewhere. “If you walk in the room and you know – first and foremost, no matter what we think – that you’re on point and you’ve got you together and that no matter what you don’t even need us… what?!? That’s some strength right there. That’s the attraction, that’s the power. That’s where a brother goes ‘wow, I need to raise my game up to meet her level.”
Giving Men Time With The Fellas Should Be Embraced, Not Feared
Men have very high expectations for themselves, and articulating those often-overwhelming sentiments to a partner can be daunting. According to Terrell, taking refuge in the company of other like-minded men is essential in a man’s growth process, but he needs his partner to be on-board and see why inter-male nurturing has so much negative stigma attached. “Women, here’s a little secret: I hate to break it to you, but sometimes, we just really do enjoy the brotherhood of being amongst [friends] and being able to talk about that which is on us, within us, and about us.” Ladies might think their beaus are at strip clubs or out misbehaving, but most of the time, that’s not the case. “How often do you see men, even on television, particularly brothers, tell one another, “you know what, I love you man,” without laying on all the other connotations of it? We have to be given the freedom, and the space, and the culpability to be able to love one another, because if we can’t do that, then once we do go back home or once we do meet you somewhere else, we can’t bring all of THAT because there’s a piece of us missing somewhere.”
Women Who Reach For Their Wallets Are A Breath Of Fresh Air
Gather around, ladies- this is a doozie, but it’s very important. Every man on the panel agreed that they enjoy taking care of their female companions, but took time to mention that the courting process can sometimes be both costly and thankless, leaving them to wonder if they’re being taken advantage of. For Terrell, encountering a woman who understands give-and-take is wildly refreshing. “I’m gonna tell you something you could do that would probably really rock a dude on the first night: pay for that dinner.” As some of the crowd began to boo, Terrell refused to shy away from his point. “You can boo all you want, but I’ma tell you right now, if you’re booing, you’re probably single. You’re gonna do what you wanna do, but [if you offer to pay for that date or the next] you set a tone and you let a brother know right there that you can handle your own. We need to have a sense of parity out there because what happens is that the scales get tipped so heavily one way [and] the expectation becomes so great that you get upset when [the men] are pissed off because they didn’t get something out of the game.”
Throughout their conversation that day, it repeatedly became clear that What Men Want is a sincere connection with a woman they care about. Being the last to speak, DB closed the panel by sharing what makes a relationship special to him, and each of the other three gentlemen nodded in agreement. “Being silly together!” he said. “When you’re able to act like both of you guys are six or seven years old, and you’ve got your own inside jokes that no one else understands, when you know how to look at each other across the table and no one else understands your looks, that’s the part that I love the most.”