I should preface this by saying I didn’t always roll my eyes when someone mentioned Being Mary Jane.
When the drama series first debuted as a BET movie in 2013, I rejoiced over a fresh dose of on-screen representation (and naturally celebrated another win for Girlfriends mastermind Mara Brock Akil). At first, Union’s character served as a welcomed, brilliant approach to what I’ve silently struggled with as an ambitious, professional black woman who prefers work over meeting random guys on Tinder dates.
The hour-long show heightened that whole inner “Is love really in the cards for me?” debate, but served as a healthy dialogue more than a self-loathing session. Nowadays, it’s pretty taboo to admit you want love in a non-for-Instagram-only sort of way, so when Mary Jane openly longed for the real thing in the age of hook-ups, 90-day marriages and public celebrations of savagery, all of us who felt the same sighed with relief.
But as the seasons rolled on, Mary Jane’s desire to be loved spiraled into romantic misadventures and reckless emotional flailing that began hitting too close to home, and she now embodies everything I’ve, at times, feared I’ll become.
Unlike Scandal’s high-powered political figure, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), Mary Jane is a semi-everyday black female journalist in her late-30s dodging life’s crap from all directions, especially from old and new lovers. It goes without saying that the TV drama is, at times, a gross exaggeration, because seriously, who actually steals their ex’s sperm? Yet, somehow Mary Jane’s predicaments largely seem like an all-too-real depiction that reflects the times I’ve found myself willingly tethered to past baes in search of wholeness or endured the cold sheets of loneliness.
Each week, the show slowly began reinforcing, or dare I say championing, the unhealthy side of singledom — childish mind games, excessive drinking and relentless pettiness.
Once I joined in on the weekly justification and empathy for MJ’s self-sabotaging, selfish and manipulative quest to find love at the expense of her sanity, I wondered if it’s the same slippery slope I’d subscribed to when I’m 35-plus, zeroed in on my work and being without a life partner is far too much to bear. Desperation had already become one helluva of a motivator to resort to things I never previously considered, like single-parent adoption, freezing my eggs and bargaining with God to make things work out with an old flame.
This love stuff is cute and all until “Oh, you’ve got time to find Mr. Right” turns into you dining alone every night and asking yourself, “Where did the time go?”
Next month, I’ll be 29, knocking down 30’s door. And while I will happily step into the next decade with good health, a great career and the best friends and family anyone could ask for in tow, I’d be a damn lie if I didn’t say I question why I am still single. My 22-year-old self would’ve argued I’d have at least a husband, a house and a bun in the oven by now. But how’s that saying go? Tell God your plan and He’ll laugh? Well God must think I’m Sasheer Zamata right now.
Point, blank: Being Mary Jane is simply the future I don’t want to face. A decade from now, I don’t want to be pining for love, waking up alone or unable to recognize the right guy when he approaches me. I don’t want to control love; I just want to be emotionally open, aware and prepared for it when it comes.
So, sorry not sorry, Being Mary Jane; I don’t want to support the narrative that a black woman can’t get her shit together until she’s lived half her life. No healthy relationship or emotional awareness until almost 40? Not being able to discern real men from the f—kboys?
I want to feel that I can have it all — the love, the career, the family — so a show that tells me I have to get it on a layaway plan? Yeah, I’ll pass.