These days, she calls the set of TV Land’s Happily Divorced home. On the show, she plays star Fran Drescher’s best friend Judi Mann, and their both 40-something woman still single and looking for love. In her real life, Arnold’s found true love. Once a divorced single mom, she tells us, she used to think she couldn’t love again. Then she met her fiancé Rico Hines, an assistant NCAA basketball coach and everything changed. They fell in love, he popped the question, and now they’re planning a dreamy Hawaiian wedding.
We caught up with the Queens native and asked her to open about her romantic past and how it has shaped her present day relationship. She even revealed some juicy wedding details. (You’ll never guess which R&B diva will serenade the happy couple.) Here’s what she had to say.
ESSENCE.COM: Has anything that you’ve gone through in your personal life helped to inspire your work with your character Judi?
TICHINA ARNOLD: Yes, and I think they’re writing it more and more into the script. It’s really me being up there in age, you know? Fran kind of jokes more about it on the show. She’ll go, “Ah Judi, you know we’re not gonna get any action!” So, it’s that sort of thing. We’re those two women in our 40s who are still dating, and we’re not with men. Which, you know, is half the population. We’re still looking for love. I’m finding that I’m incorporating that experience. I’m not single anymore, but I find that things do change with age, and I’m starting to see all of that in the script.
ESSENCE: What have you learned from past relationships that has prepared you for the one you have today?
ARNOLD: To not be so bossy. You know, when you’re single, you’re very independent. Very independent women raised me. We didn’t have a lot of male figures as the head of our household, so I got, and took on, a lot of that strong spirit from the matriarchs in my family. It allows you to get on through life a lot easier, but the downside is that you don’t have that experience of watching a male figure interact with women in the home. When you come from an all-female household, when you’re in a relationship, you get into situations you don’t really know how to handle, which I didn’t. A long time ago, when I was married, in the beginning it was bliss. I eloped after one month, and I married for security. I thought, I finally met a man who loves God and comes from a great family. I’m working, I love God, and I’m out here in California by myself, and I’ve met this great man. So, I said yes. And we eloped. The first three months were great, but then after the third month: Whoa. It got physical and it was just not a good situation.
ESSENCE: What went wrong?
ARNOLD: I’m a go-getter, and I move like lightning. I’m used to operating in my own space on my own time. But when you’re married, that dynamic completely changes. So there I was sharing a house, sharing a car, and sharing the money. Sharing everything. That was an adjustment. So one day I made plans for us to travel, because I love to travel. He came home and I told him, “Hey babe, we’re going to go to Mexico!” He’s staring at me, and I go, “What’s wrong? What’s the problem?” He says to me, “Babe, you never even asked me if I wanted to go.” That was wow. That type of sharing is important. I call myself taking control of a situation, but sometimes you really have to learn to humble yourself, and to submit yourself. I’m not really good with submission, so that’s the part of marriage and relationships that I’ve found very hard to deal with.
Most times, when you marry, you don’t know who you are, and there’s no way you can have a successful relationship that way. If you don’t know who you are, how the hell are you going to give to somebody else? I think every person deserves two marriages, because you may not get the first one right. You really never knew. That’s why divorce is so big. We all want it to last, but that’ not always the reality of it. But when I met Rico, I knew what to say to him, and I knew what I wanted out of the relationship. And, when he said he was able to fulfill that, I trusted him. With relationships, it’s all a matter of building trust. Before him, I didn’t trust relationships anymore. I wasn’t willing to put my trust in another person.
ESSENCE.COM: How did you get through those types of experiences?
ARNOLD: My worst experience with relationships was actually dealing with my daughter’s father. I dated him for two years and my attraction to him was just so strong. I didn’t get pregnant with her until after we broke up. But while we were together, it was at the worst point in my life. Financially I was messed up. I wasn’t settled at home. My life was in chaos. Complete chaos. Anything that could go wrong went wrong. He called me one day and was like, “I don’t want this relationship anymore.” That was it for me.
It took me two years to really get through that, because that was kind of the nail in the coffin. I was really depressed – and I’m never depressed – but that was truly a rough moment in time. So I thought to myself, how am I going to get out of this? How do I get through this? But, I got through it. You know, you get through it. You get passed it. You just gotta learn from it. I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to make the same mistakes twice. Now, when it comes to relationships, I know what to look for. Having a daughter, I have no room to see a man that’s not going to provide something beneficial to my daughter and me. I know what it feels like to hit that rock bottom where you have nothing else to give anybody. I had nothing back then. I couldn’t help myself. But getting through that really taught me so much about relationships. You need different things at different points in your life. What I needed back in the 90s is not the same thing I need in 2012.
ESSENCE: Congrats on your engagement! Tell us about the wedding plans.
ARNOLD: Most of his friends are in the basketball world. All of the people who he loves and who are close to him are in the basketball world, so they’re not off-season until August. So initially I said, let’s do a nice private small destination wedding in Hawaii or something. But then I thought to myself, Tichina, there you go again, taking control. So I asked him, but he really was serious about Hawii. So I planned this big island thing. Then the wedding started turned into something really huge. I started to want a concert theme and I thought about having people like Fantasia perform. Then I started getting the numbers, and I said, oh no. So we’re back to an intimate affair in Hawaii with about 30 people, and we’ll call it a day. I blew through a lot of money, and I don’t want to do that again.
Anita Baker is one of Rico’s favorite singers, and I walked into the Four Seasons one day and she was standing there. She came up to me and said, “Girl, I love you. My sons love you. Can I please take a picture with you?” I couldn’t believe it. It made me feel like a star. We became friends and talked on the phone. I told her, “My fiancé loves you and he has listened to Anita Baker music all his life.” She sang happy birthday to him once, and when I told her we got engaged, she said, “I’m singing at your wedding!” So, I just have to call her. I would love to fly her to Hawaii and just have her sing. We’ll see.