Written by: Mia Fields-Hall
Philanthropist, socialite, writer and “lover of all things fabulous” are just a few of the words that come to mind when describing Joi-Marie McKenzie.
From the outside looking in she arguably has it all. As the founder of The Fab Empire and a journalist, she hobnobs with some of the biggest celebrities in the country. She is the big sister in our head and the writer whose interviews we’ve always loved.
We have to admit we were surprised when McKenzie announced that she would be coming out with a personal book, The Engagement Game, based on her dating life.
The very private McKenzie shared with her readers that she wanted to write a book specifically for women like her — women who were trying to figure out the next step in their relationship. The Engagement Game, in bookstores nationwide today, explores why McKenzie said no to marriage and yes to herself.
The Fab Empire: Your readers, some who have known you socially for 10 years, would say you seem to live the dream life with an amazing job and a popular website of your own. So what made you want to write such a personal book?
Joi-Marie: I had no idea I was writing a book when I first started. I’ve kept a diary since I was 8 years old and so writing for me is instinctual and cathartic. It’s what I do to relax. So one Friday night, I was watching yet another episode of “Say Yes to the Dress,” and was really frustrated in my five-year relationship that we still weren’t engaged. So I just started writing out my feelings. I wrote 20 pages and sent them to my mom to get her feedback — as I often do since she’s a writer as well. She sent those pages to an editor, who just so happened to want to buy it and publish it! Writing a book was definitely by the grace of God.
When readers read this book they’re going to learn so much about you. What’s the one thing you think people will be surprised by?
Wow. I’m not really sure, but I think we do live in a time where we’re able to curate our lives and filter our lives. But the reality is life cannot be curated like social media. You can’t just purge the negative experiences and highlight the positive ones. This book details those moments that aren’t pretty, aren’t tweetable, aren’t shareable. They’re real.
We do live in a time where we’re able to curate our lives and filter our lives.
Without giving too much away, what was the hardest scene for you to write?
Opening up about my depression after my break-up was by far the hardest part to write. By the time I was writing that portion of the book, the clouds had lifted and I was already on the other side…but to write it in an accurate way that was truly reflective of the experience I had to take myself back to those feelings and those thoughts. That wasn’t fun, but I felt it was necessary in order to tell my story so I challenged myself to revisit that dark period.
Do you remember the last book that made you cry? Do you think The Engagement Game will have a few people in tears?
You’ve read the book so, you know, I don’t really like feeling emotions. So no, I don’t think a book has ever made me cry. But the last time I cried while consuming art was during a screening of “Fences.” I was actually sobbing. It speaks to the power of August Wilson’s universal story of trying to love the unlovable — something I know a lot about.
I’m not sure if The Engagement Game will make people cry. That definitely wasn’t the goal, but as long as people feel something — sadness, laughter, empowerment — I think then my job is done.
I only saw myself…through the lens of men.
Did you have any ‘aha moments’ while writing the book ? If so, what’s one lesson you can share with us.
Absolutely! I had several. My biggest ‘aha moment’ came when I realized that although I felt stuck in my relationship, I already knew what I needed to do to get what I wanted…I was just deathly afraid to do it. I kept asking God for signs and God was just patiently reminding me, ‘Well, I’ve already told you…’ and ‘Remember when I whispered this to you.’ So for me, knowing that I already had the answers to solve my mess was life changing. I just needed to gather up the courage to act.
Why does marriage matter so much in your opinion?
It doesn’t matter to everyone. It certainly matters to me. You have to realize, I grew up in a household with two parents who truly loved each other, and had a partnership. My parents have been married for nearly 50 years. And so to grow up with that, you want to replicate that in your own life. I’d be amazingly lucky if I had a covenant relationship like theirs…and I do think it’s possible.
There are lots of women out there who are in relationships where they’re frustrated because it’s not moving to the next level. How do you think your book can help them?
Well, I’m very clear about this. It’s actually on the first page: The Engagement Game is not a how-to book. It’s simply my story, but I do hope women can see themselves in my story and then decide for themselves what’s best for them. I’m not an authority on relationships; I honestly don’t think anyone is and I’d be completely skeptical of anyone who calls themselves a relationship expert because interpersonal relationships come with so many variables. But I do hope it empowers women to do the hard work of figuring out what’s wrong and then give them agency to fix it. Because you don’t have to live out your life in frustration. Frustration is meant to prune you, educate you. It’s not meant to house you.
Frustration is meant to prune you, educate you. It’s not meant to house you.
What’s the best advice you can give to the people out there who feel stuck — stuck in their relationships, in their jobs or in life in general?
Turn inward. So often we blame others, blame the dog, blame momma, blame Tyrone, blame God. The reality is often times we already know the answers to our questions. We just have to be still enough to hear our gut or hear the voice of God instructing you to act. And at times, at least for me, it took serious effort to hear what God was telling me to do and then when I heard him I didn’t want to do it — it seemed too scary, too hard. But it’s hard work.
What’s your ultimate goal for The Engagement Game?
To empower people to become the authority on their lives. And for the memoir to become a blockbuster film.
Joi-Marie McKenzie is an entertainment/lifestyle writer for ABCNews.com. Her critically acclaimed debut memoir, The Engagement Game: Why I Said ‘I Don’t’ to Marriage and ‘I Do’ to Me is on sale now.
Photo credit: Tayo Ola