We should really be tired of talking about Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s marriage, but apparently we aren’t. We’re curious and insatiable. We want to know how they’ve managed to have successful careers, raise a seemingly happy, well-adjusted blended family, and remain married in Hollywood for 16 years (which is like two lifetimes on that scene). We adore the idea that they still appear to be very much in love—with one another and themselves. We’re happy to witness that they’ve managed to remain strong individuals, and seem to be curating a partnership while committing in the ultimate way.
As we all try to figure out the magic of forever, Will and Jada serve as models—and let me tell you, we’re in dire need of models. So we pry.
The latest invasion into the Smith’s most intimate connection is a recurring question about whether their marriage is “open”—which traditionally means that one or both parties agree(s) to allow a space for extramarital sexual (and other) relationships without considering those outside relationships as deal-breakers.
We keep asking the Smiths this question (and speculating when we don’t get an answer that satisfies us) because the idea of open marriages makes most of us uncomfortable. People aren’t supposed to be allowed to choose what their marriages mean. There are rules that must be followed. And what works for one relationship must work for them all… except that’s not true, ever, with anything.
The conversation this ongoing question about the Smiths should raise is whether it’s time to really shift the paradigm on the way we think about relationships and marriage. We’d be foolish not to admit that the foundations of what we’ve come to know as marriage were more about money, politics and the passing down of property than about romantic love. And while I’m personally happy when love enters anything, I can’t help but wonder how we’ve come to confuse love and marriage with ownership.
In a recent conversation on Huffington Post Live, Jada Pinkett-Smith made the following comment on her husband’s ability to be free and make his own choices as a man: “I’ve always told Will, ‘You can do whatever you want as long as you can look at yourself in the mirror and be okay…’ Because at the end of the day, Will is his own man. I’m here as his partner, but he is his own man.”
Those comments, of course, added to the age-old rumors of the couple’s “swingers” lifestyle and more. So Pinkett-Smith set out to clarify her statement and speak some real, true spit on how we look at marriage, commitment and love:
“Do we believe loving someone means owning them? Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should ‘behave’? Do we believe that all the expectations, conditions and underlying threats of ‘you better act right or else’ keep one honest and true? Do we believe that we can have meaningful relationships with people who have not defined nor live by the integrity of his or her higher self? What of unconditional love? Or does love look like, feel like, and operate as enslavement? Do we believe that the more control we put on someone, the safer we are? What of trust and love?”
Will and Jada aren’t the first famous, successful couple to publicly contemplate how they (and possibly we) should observe and redefine marriage and commitment. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, who I affectionately refer to as the prototype of Black love, also candidly spoke about themselves trying an open marriage. Davis wrote in their joint autobiography:
“It occurred to us, from observation and reasoning, that extramarital sex was not what really destroyed marriages, but rather the lies and deception that invariably accompanied it—that was the culprit. So we decided to give ourselves permission to sleep with other partners if we wished—as long as what we did was honest as well as private, and that neither of us exposed the family to scandal or disease… But looking back, I’d say no matter what did or did not happen, we freed each other.”
In the end, and we’d never admit it, but many of us have seen “open marriages” that lacked equal consent. We’ve also seen relationships where those in them have seemed more interested in owning their partners than loving them.
Should we be moving towards a more open, honest, chattel-free love when we envision marriage? Sound off!
Josie Pickens is a writer, educator and cultural critic. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.