A Brief Entanglement
Let’s do something a little different today and examine Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Red Table Talk with Will Smith, the one in which they discuss what happened between Jada and singer, August Alsina. Why do I want to do this? It is a great illustration of gaslighting in action and also a great lesson on how carefully curated #couplesgoals appearances are just that – appearances, Rarely do they bear resemblance to what is actually playing out underneath. If you’re not familar with the story, the TLDR is this: August publicly revealed that he had been in a relationship with Jada, whilst she was married to Will and that they had Will’s blessing. Jada denounced the truth of this, whilst sat at the red table (oh the drama!) and claimed that she and Will were on a break (insert Ross and Rachel gif. here) and that she was sort of just using August to feel good.
I want to start by saying that for the most part, it was a pretty good conversation and I enjoyed seeing Will’s maturity. It was a rare display of a guy who can actually take what he dishes out and I say this because push comes to shove, a lot of people cannot. I liked the honesty between the two of them but noticed that there did not seem to be much honesty where getting entangled and untangled with August was concerned. This is where it all got a little sticky for me. When Jada referred to her relationship with August as a “brief entanglement”, I actually hurt for August. He was so naked and emotional and when we are naked and emotional with someone, the most hurtful thing that they can say is basically, ‘You didn’t mean anything to me’. This is very different from saying, ‘You were important in my life but I don’t feel that anymore/I don’t love you anymore’. The implicit meaning of entanglement is actually saying, ‘Whilst I was the love of your life, you were meaningless to me…what’s your name?’. Ouch. It is not only minimising, it is also gaslighting. Gaslighting comes in many forms, and intentionally denying the existence of something (whether that be actual facts or emotional attachment) is one of the more insidious ones.
Why gaslight August’s recollection of this being a full blown relationship and minimise it as being something barely significant? That has got to be as painful as having your heart smashed into a million little pieces all over again. Jada could easily have confirmed the relationship with August but she didn’t. She didn’t because she had already reflexively lied; denying anything happened after August came out with his statement. Once you lie, it becomes very difficult to go back on what you have said. This is why you don’t lie…because it snowballs. No one would really have been talking much about this (and would probably have chalked it up to some weird Hollywood open marriage shenanigans) had Jada not decided to construct a Red Table Talk around this. The fact that this was done confirms that whatever went on with August is such an actual problem. And like all gaslighters, Jada was not about to let a narrative run that might ruin the image that she and Will had painstakingly built up. Hence the decision to take this talk to the Red Table and to give it her own particular brand of edited truth. I have watched a lot of her talks and when she is talking about other people, I think she is very truthful and calls it like she sees it. However, when it comes to the narrative of her own actions, I hear an awful lot of strategic editing and her own version of events as they fit the narrative. Aside from the ‘entanglement’ rhetoric that she used to devalue August and the effects of what went down, it is the reduction of how much those glossed over actions affected a broken and vulnerable third party that is particularly brutal. After all, the entanglement started because August was offered help from someone mature and caring enough to know better.
Jada talks about all the ways in which she learnt from this painful time and I believe it must have been a period of immense pain and growth for her. She talked about what it was like for her as she emerged from that period. She stated that she began to notice some things about herself and Will, August decided to end all communication with her. Hmmmmm. This sounds like an oversimplification and I am willing to go out on a limb and assert that the reality was probably a lot more complicated than this. I am willing to bet that it went something more like this:
Will told her that he wanted nothing more to do with her, so she chose low hanging fruit in the form of a young guy who was super broken who had come to her for healing (knowing that she is a therapist AND the mother of his best friend). As she needed a romantic or a sexual placeholder, Jada used August for just that. Fast forward a little bit and now Jada and Will decide that they want to reconcile, and now Jada needs to tell August that he is demoted/discarded/removed from the romantic space that he once occupied. However, August had not just caught feelings, he had fallen in love and opened up his whole heart to Jada. Once you fall in love, you cannot just accept a fraction of the love that you once got. Keep in mind that August arrived into this situation broken and even the whole of Jada’s love would not have been enough. So at this point, with a fraction of that on offer, he is in an even deeper broken emotional state than the one in which he arrived. After being told that what he wanted and needed was now too much, he had to get out of the situation altogether.
Why am I harping on about the significance of this? Too many times, we get caught up in the celebration of couples, the #couplesgoals that seemed to be Will and Jada and all that they as a couple have overcome…and we forget about the third party. I am not talking about the third party person who knows what they are getting themselves into and is willing to take a gamble and to play the side piece. I am talking about the third party person who asked for none of this s**t. Whether they were not told the truth about what was going on and had their peace disturbed and now they are sucked into the drama, or a situation like this where a person was basically preyed upon in their most vulnerable state.
The reason why we need to talk about this is not to bash Jada. Let me state now I am not judging her. We are all human; capable of mistakes and messing things up. Celebrities are no exception to that rule. If we are to make meaning out of this and find the learning then we need to look at all of it, even the more uncomfortable parts. And the less that we talk about this, the more that we normalise it. The producers of the Red Table Talks would not exactly push these to the forefront because it doesn’t add to the perceived authenticity of the show and coupled with Jada’s calm demeanor and the love that we have for Will Smith, it is easy to gloss over the predatory nature of what is being referenced in this talk. And it is exactly that – predatory. It is predatory to be made fully aware of all of the things that someone is dealing with and how broken they are ( i.e. all the people in August’s life who have died or turned their back on him) and to introduce him to love, stability and support that could not be maintained and was driven by a selfish need to fill a void. That is predatory AF.
I am glad that Jada and Will unlocked a new level of commitment and growth in spite of all of the hard times that they went through. I’m glad that they can now wax lyrical about the 25 year milestone that they have reached and how they can move on and feel less bad about themselves. They need to ask themselves, at what cost? Do we just continue to ignore the fact that a third party, who did not sign up for this or deserve it, was consumed and spat out in order to help two people become more evolved versions of themselves? Do we ignore this because of the esteem that we hold the characters of this Chauceresque tale in? Should we just ignore just chewing someone up and spitting them out because of learnt lessons and the end justifies the means? Honestly, I will go so far as to say that this part is even more messed up than the whole ‘brief entanglement’ statement itself.
Jada and Will have each other at the end of the day and can soothe each other wounds. However, for the person who got brought into this and neither asked or deserved this, who do they have? Who is rooting for their happy ending? What do they have to show for their involvement in this? Nothing…just a broken heart that nobody cares about.
So what do you do if you find yourself being gaslighted by someone trying to rewrite history? It is crazy making when someone tries to tell you that not only is the circumstance changing but it isn’t actually what you thought it was. Therefore, what they are actually saying is that you were making decisions based on a reality that didn’t even exist. It is going to very tempting to wage a PR campaign trying to prove that you mattered and that you existed to the other person. It’ll be tempting not only because you do not want your reputation out there to be one in which you look foolish, but moreover, you want to convince yourself because you do not want this to be the narrative that you now have of this relationship and lose your own faith in yourself. I urge you not to and to just keep it moving. If somebody feels the need to do this to us, that really is the writing on the wall about their character. And this is the really painful part because you can’t unsee this. It is something that you cannot come back from.
As for #couplesgoals, what do you do when the glow of being the perfect couple wears off and you you are going in different directions? Asking for help is easier when you are not boxed into a golden, PR optic that you may have, in part, created for yourself. We might not be able to articulate what is really going on for us to other people in our life out of fear of being judged. Maybe the lesson here is learning to care less about how a relationship looks and more about how a relationship feels. As a society, we are very concerned with optics vs. authenticity, but we need to craft a life that we can actually live in and feels good in real life. Comparison is the inverse of gratitude, and it is gratitude that turns what you have into enough. What we have to remember about #couplesgoals is that when you are on the inside of that, it is very destructive. You are not only comparing your truth to the optics (and feeling the cognitive dissonance), you are forced to keep up with what the image that is being projected implies.