Television viewers turn on their flat screens and computers in an effort to escape the realities of life. However, current dramas and reality shows may force us to confront conflict in our own homes.
After watching the movie and the first three episodes of “Being Mary Jane,” the memories of my own adulterous affair have resurfaced. Like the main character, I was a single, young professional woman involved with a married man. I was also a media producer.
Of course, he was unhappy at home. You know, he was just hanging in there for the sake of the children. Cue the Sunshine Anderson track, because many of us have heard it all before.
“We can do a good job of deceiving ourselves,” explained licensed family and marriage counselor Joanne Jennings of Durham, N.C. “Who wouldn’t want to be told, ‘You make me feel special’? It is very esteeming to hear, ‘You make my life better.'”
To hear my lover tell it, I cooked like a Food Network all-star, relaxed him like a glass of brandy and made him laugh as if I were a queen of comedy. Meanwhile, I received “just checking on you” calls during the day and drive-by quickies en route to errands or picking up his child.
“The relationship may have some benefits, but not for long,” explained licensed drug and alcohol abuse counselor Sothia Green.
According to Green, who practices in Oxon Hill, Md., the adultery storylines on television may not be seen as fictional accounts because many see similar relationships taking place in their own families. She has also noticed couples discussing their relationships by referencing the activities of characters on reality shows.
“Reality television has become most of the fare of what people watch,” said Jennings. “It can help people individuate and ask why they do this or that.”
The emotion I saw in Mary Jane’s face as Andre fixed the light in her pool in episode three reminded me of the time my gentleman friend fixed my clothes dryer. Repairing the dryer was equal to caring and rescuing me. If only a few minutes and a $10 part could have fixed what was broken within me.
Years later, I watch “Being Mary Jane” as an ordained minister who has repented and identified internal issues that led me to willingly becoming “the other woman.” In the words of Iyanla Vanzant: “I’ve done my work.” I now journey alongside others as I minister during conferences, retreats, and through preaching and writing.
Ending my affair was a process done in isolation. Weeks and months after coming to myself, I shed tears at the altar and cried out to God for forgiveness and protection. Eventually, my lover’s wife discovered the ratchet relation and threatened to visit my home with relatives. I checked the parking lot daily for suspicious cars with a group of women. I forwarded an email sent by the wife to a friend, just in case there were any accidents. I was afraid and ashamed.
After discussing a possible bribe to keep their parents from finding out about her affair, Mary Jane’s brother, Patrick, encourages her to end the adulterous relationship.
“The brother’s challenge to her comes from a different space. It doesn’t pull her into a place of shame but a place of ‘this is not sensible,'” said Jennings. “The challenge is to have people who can help us with our blind spots because that is where we tend to deceive ourselves.”
As friends pose questions of concern, explained Jennings, a person may begin to consider: “Am I going to be in a relationship at any cost? What am I going to tolerate? Let me think about what kind of relationship I want.”
It will take more episodes to learn what happens with the love affairs of Mary Jane Paul and “Scandal’s” Olivia Pope, but viewers do not have to wait until a reunion show or season finale to make their own healthy love decisions.
(Arlecia D. Simmons, Ph.D., M.Div., studies the intersection of media and religion and ministers through Look ‘n’ Live Ministries. She is the author of The One, a one-woman play about the events surrounding a black woman’s HIV diagnosis.)