Those of us who watched BET’s Being Mary Jane evolve from network movie to scripted drama aren’t surprised that the show’s season finale drew in more than 5.8 million viewers last week, getting picked up for another season in the process. Most of us tuned in with baited breath because we loved seeing a bit more openness and vulnerability from Gabrielle Union (the show’s titular Mary Jane) as a character. Some of us watch because, well, Omari Hardwick (who plays Mary Jane’s Achilles heel) is… well… he’s just so fine it hurts. But many more of us can’t turn away because Mary Jane is a mess, and, at times, so are we.
It’s complicated with Mary Jane, and I was happy to witness that type of complicated Black female character hit my screen. I identified with her in many ways: a daddy’s girl with a difficult but adoring relationship with my mother; a career that can sometimes seem to shine brighter to others than to myself; a treasure chest of bad relationship decisions that have often left me in tears and misery. I’m all up in this story line, as many women are.
Creator Mara Brock Akil and husband Salim Akil successfully wove us all into the tapestry of Being Mary Jane in a way unseen since our beloved Girlfriends (another Akil creation). She’s also taught us some great lessons about what not to do in our love relationships.
We should be very clear about whether we’re headed towards monogamous relationships or not. (We have Mary Jane’s back and forth with David to thank for that lesson). We should never allow ourselves to become enraptured in rebound relationships when we haven’t healed from our previous ones, because as fine as Andre is, he was a bad decision that only compounded Mary Jane’s heartache and self-loathing.
We cannot build a future with a man who’s still building a future with someone else, period. We must not conflate passion with love. We have to consider others who are affected by our decisions—wives and children—who don’t deserve what we are subjecting them to by only thinking of ourselves and living in the moment. Sometime we have to learn to say goodbye before everyone is reduced to rubble, especially us.
As wives, future wives, or dedicated partners, we learned that we cannot berate our lovers for becoming the men we encourage them to be. What we give in our relationships are just that: gifts. And we can’t hold those gifts over our lovers’ heads when those relationships aren’t going the way we’d like. We can’t blame the other women when our significant others cheat, or when things fall apart. We have to remember that falling apart began long before whatever “she” entered the scene.
We should also maintain the passion in our relationships and find time to be the woman who laughs at his jokes, makes him feel desired, and gives him the awesome… treats he’s probably uncomfortable with admitting he’s not getting. We should remember that being wives is hard f**king work, and we shouldn’t sign up for the task until we’re ready for all that.
But what about the Andres of the world? What do they learn from Being Mary Jane, and what do we learn about them? We learn that they can be deceitful and still earn home-cooked meals and laughs and hot sex with no real strings attached. We learn that the wife and mistress will battle (and embarrass) one another and pretend to battle him, only to eventually succumb and hold on tighter.
We learn that instead of men finding the language to communicate the frustration in their marriages and do the patient, honest work of making them better, they often have the option to unload their hurt, pain and longing on a new, hot pretty thing. They’ll disguise this selfish unloading as passion and love. We learn that, idiotic as it seems, a man can actually attempt to commit to one woman while still living with, sleeping with and being married to another.
But mostly we learn that all of this behavior is acceptable. That his friends will not chastise him about his bad decisions, but only imagine how sweet the new nana is and remind him to at least take care of his responsibilities as a father.
What about his responsibilities as a husband, or even his responsibilities as someone who cares about the lover to whom he can’t be what he promises?
Being Mary Jane reinforces what we’re taught again and again about men, which is that they will only be men and that we shouldn’t expect more. Mary Jane is labeled a superficial, mean-spirited tramp. Avery (Andre’s wife) is labeled a boring, overly dramatic and conniving housewife who lives to emasculate her husband. And Andre—who deserves to be villianized most—appears as a kind, downtrodden soul just trying to give and receive love as he is.
As much as I love the show, the Akils owe us more. As always, the show proclaims (and we accept wholeheartedly) that the onus of doing the right thing—keeping our men from cheating, and making our relationships successful—lies on women. Frankly, it’s time for us to share the load, on camera and in real life.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.