Cover image: Tasia Wells
In the latest episode of Man Enough, the heart of Queer Eye Karamo Brown goes deep on relationship communication with his fiancé, Ian Jordan, alongside Justin Baldoni and his lovely wife, Emily in our first ever couple’s edition. The good-partner gospel according to Karamo is that, regardless of the kind of relationship, a successful one always starts in the same place: with you.
Yes, there’s a “me” in “team,” but let’s agree narcissism isn’t a great jumping-off point in a relationship. A sense of self, be it our own wants and needs, or our perceived shortcomings and reasons for being in a relationship in the first place, is the foundation from which we build upon. So before you go putting the cart before the horse (or perhaps your disinfected groceries before the Prius), consider getting an introspective makeover from Karamo, the guy with the magic eye for relationships.
Anyone who has seen new episodes of Queer Eye on Netflix (and we feel sorry for you if you haven’t) knows that the show has grown in its ability to reach the muscle-bound, traditionally toxic lost souls of men, as well as women, not just in their outer appearance (along with cooking skills and home aesthetic) but in undoing the inner knots and smoothing out the inner turmoil, whether they’ve been living under a rock or just going to the wrong parties. That’s where Karamo, our personal mental health Zamboni, comes in.
What many don’t know is Karamo practiced as a licensed social worker and psychotherapist for more than a decade before making it “big” in entertainment. All that in addition to being a kid’s book author, musician, podcaster and skincare line guru, Karamo clearly has a firm grasp on what’s working for him, which means he probably has a good grasp on what might work for you, but more importantly, what might not. He joined a team of LGBTQ non-actors in a show whose mission is to revamp struggling folks from top to bottom, inside and out (sound familiar?). So yeah, we feel safe with taking his advice. Plus, who would challenge a man with such a high-caliber beard?
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Amongst other great nuggets about relationship communication in his talk with the Baldoni’s, like taking on one (and only one) issue at a time, Karamo’s understanding that it takes a strong foundation to build an empire. That empire is your family, your work, your everything, but the foundation is simply you.
It sounds simple, and it’s been said before, but there is no use in being in a relationship if you don’t love yourself for who you are, how you spend your time and what you do with your life. Once you’re happy with the direction you’re going and love the way you move in this world, that’s when it’s good to find someone to dance with. Otherwise, just keep dancing like your dad drunk at a wedding reception well past the appropriate time to go home.
So many people get married in their 20s, which is fine if they’re happy on their own and understand what they want for themselves. But keep in mind: Being young is unpredictable. And finding what you want early on without considering options and learning from endless embarrassments makes truly knowing yourself early on more difficult. You want to be a strong foundation for yourself and the others in your life, which means you have to grow and mature through life lessons. The 25-year-old version of yourself might look pretty troubled up against the 35-year-old you (or maybe the other way around), but the point is to find your center, know your goals, have some role models, preferably ones who haven’t been outed for sexual aggression or systemic racism, and learn to love yourself.
From there, it gets much easier to let the right kind of love in.
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Communication is everything in a relationship. Simple as that.
Nobody is reading minds, which means if you have a problem with yourself or the relationship itself, you have to be confident enough to vocalize that. Sometimes it takes many failed relationships, unnecessary squabbles and a few late-night shouting matches that trouble the neighbors to learn, but once you understand that simple idea, it can make a world of difference. Literally, your world will change.
Whether quarantine pandemic or not, we are constantly mourning losses, be it professionally or personally, and we as men must be vulnerable enough to open that side of ourselves, which invites in more openness from others around us, lest we stuff it down deep next to the midnight pizza binges and excessive amounts of wine, ice cream and porn to make ourselves feel better. Ever notice how when you share something dark and deep that others feel more comfortable to try and top you? You’d be amazed what you can learn from people you’ve known for a lifetime.
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The best thing you can do is say, “Hey, got a minute?” knowing full well you aren’t going to get everything you want. And you shouldn’t.
Getting everything you want in a relationship implies the other side doesn’t, and whatever hurts the other side, in the long run, hurts the whole team. And this is a team sport, make no mistake about that. Healthy relationships are all about balance, and communication is the vehicle to get you there, be it that fancy, fully-stocked Prius or some lemon you drive because you’re busy saving for fewer, better things.
So get to talking (you got somewhere better to be?) From there, it’s all uphill (or downhill, whichever one is easier). Because if you think keeping it to yourself will keep everything together, think again.
And if you need more help on communicating to yourself or your partner, check out new episodes of Queer Eye and let Karamo take the wheel for a few. You know it’s great to watch even if you’re not gay, right? Good, just checking. Because you are, as we all know, man enough.
Check out Karamo’s children’s book I Am Perfectly Designed and his skincare line Mantl for more great Karamo goodness.
For more Man Enough episodes, go here.
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