Despite the complexity of the beautiful and talented Mary Jane Paul in Being Mary Jane, there’s one consistent theme laced all throughout the debut (and presumably the series): you are not complete unless you have a man.
Nearly everyone implies it. And so does Mary Jane.
“I was so busy trying to make you his wife, I couldn’t see how much he was hurting you. All I could see was how pretty you’d be on your wedding day, and beautiful babies, and holiday dinners at your house for a change,” said her mom, Helen Patterson.
Upon her daughter’s return from the hospital, she feels a bit of mom-guilt when she realizes that her daughter’s near-fatal car accident was caused by the unsettling news that her precious David was cheating. Though the accident had absolutely nothing to do with Helen, mom is completely empathetic, profusely apologizing for holding on to dreams of grandeur (i.e., marriage, children and holiday dinners) that she kept for her daughter. “I was just so worried you wouldn’t have a man in your life.”
As for Mary Jane’s implication: “I really don’t think that we were put on this earth to be alone,” the 38-year-old said to her younger brother P.J. during a surprise visit. Let’s be clear: this statement was made within the context of love, partnership and her estranged beau, David. Mary Jane longs for a pure and sincere love, similar to that of her parents, and is still coming to grips that she hasn’t found it in David—a major upset arising from the previous season.
The fact is, this claim—that a man (or woman) completes the package—just isn’t true, but it is pervasive and somewhat archaic. I have experienced some family members pushing this idea on me, particularly the more traditional folks.
I’ve been a single woman (read: not in a relationship, but casually dating) for upwards of five years. Big sister has been in relationships as long as I could remember, and would go on to be married in her early 20s. Soon came her children, while my dating life would fade to black. Amen. But through the years, that’s beginning to change.
On a recent visit to my grandmother (Abuelita), I showed pictures of a close friend’s wedding, including one picture of a particularly handsome young man and I. She drilled me about the guy in the picture, and I smiled and referred to him as my friend. My 97-year-old, non-ambulatory grandmother mustered up the stamina to give me a round of applause after showing her the picture of this “friend.”
She’s expressed her worry for me, a single woman, and seemed a bit relieved. Abuelita went on to congratulate me, and imparted her wisdom on choosing a partner (though a bit premature), emphasizing love, respect and employment. Finally, she said she wants to live until the age of 100, so she could see my brother (who’s in a serious relationship) and I get married.
No doubt, as a young woman, I enjoy the company of others and certainly appreciate male energy (assuming the man’s energy isn’t off). I find myself trudging through the dating game, but am relatively unscathed. I refer to this as Grace. And I welcome partnership; I am willing to offer my love freely. But through the years, I’ve accepted that if my path doesn’t lead to a family with two children, a dog and a white picket fence, that I will survive. Why? Because I am whole. Complete. My happiness comes from within. Hence my Being Mary Jane disconnect.
But back to last night’s debut.
Mary Jane read her former bestie, Lisa (Latarsha Rose), for filth. Shots were fired. The first bullet: “I’m sorry that you couldn’t find a man to love you.” Treachery isn’t cute, and Mary Jane was hurt. We get it. Imagine how impactful Mary Jane’s read of Lisa would have been if her message was “I’m sorry you didn’t love yourself,” or “I’m sorry you didn’t realize your true worth.” After all, self-love and self-worth, or a lack thereof, would certainly be a factor leading one to betray a friend by sleeping with their partner. Perhaps Being Mary Jane will explore and empower women in this way. Alas, sex sells, so maybe not this season?
Being Mary Jane doesn’t merely discuss the tragedies and triumphs of Black single womanhood as seen from the perspective of Mary Jane Paul. It reinforces ideals that often we, as Black women, have accepted, and to some extent have become a part of our psyche.
In so many ways I relate to Mary Jane: I am a single Black journalist looking to attain success, for instance. But our perspective of love and values in life don’t seem to add up. Being married can be wonderful (from what I’ve heard) and singlehood can be just as grand. Whatever works. But it would be perilous for Black women to cling to the notion that we are incomplete without a partner. There’s freedom in knowing that we are already completely whole, just as we are.