Jada Pinkett Smith is talking about her marriage. It’s not the first time she has done so. She and her husband Will Smith (you might have heard of him, he’s been in a film or two) have both publicly discussed their relationship over the years. Simply put: they haven’t always been monogamous. They’ve had to figure out what marriage looks like for them, and sometimes, they’ve taken us along for the ride.
It started in 2013, when Pinkett Smith told HuffPost Live: “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. He has to decide who he wants to be and that’s not for me to do for him. Or vice versa.”
Some took it to imply that she and Smith had an open marriage, but she disputed that notion in a Facebook post, writing in part: “Here is how I will change my statement...Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want, because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship...this means we have a GROWN one.”
The discourse picked up again last year, when Pinkett Smith said she’d had an “entanglement” with another man. In September, Smith himself went into more detail in an interview with GQ. “Jada never believed in conventional marriage,” he told the magazine. “... And for the large part of our relationship, monogamy was what we chose, not thinking of monogamy as the only relational perfection.”
Pinkett Smith got candid again on Wednesday in an episode of her talk show Red Table Talk, inviting (who else?) Gwyneth Paltrow to engage in a conversation about sex. “It’s hard,” Pinkett Smith said of her 26-year union. “The thing Will and I talk about a lot is the journey. We started in this at a very young age, you know, 22 years old. That’s why the accountability part really hit for me because I think you expect your partner to know [what you need], especially when it comes to sex. It’s like, ‘Well, if you love me, you should know. If you love me, you should read my mind.’ That’s a huge pitfall.”
If you ask me, this isn’t an unreasonable thing to say about long-term relationships. People do often expect their partners to read their minds (in bed and elsewhere)! And most of the time, partners are not, in fact, psychics! What Pinkett Smith is saying is neither cringey nor revolutionary. It boils down to a mantra marriage counselors have tried to instill into their clients for decades: Communication matters.
Pinkett Smith’s comments, however, triggered an avalanche of tweets and headlines, to the point that Pinkett Smith was moved to clarify on Twitter that “Will and I have NEVER had an issue in the bedroom”.
Look. I certainly think that some celebrities have explored some pretty cringeworthy territory in discussing their relationships. I won’t name names, because I’m classy like that, but some celebrity couples, in their efforts to appear “relatable”, make their respective marriages sound like absolute nightmares. And yes, sometimes it’s weird when people you don’t actually know overshare. But I’ve never had that cringey feeling when I’ve read Pinkett Smith’s comments, or her husband’s. What they’ve chosen to share about their marriage has always felt genuine. And the fact that they haven’t stuck to one party line, but rather have allowed their public comments to evolve over the years, suggests to me that they changed along the way, too, and allowed their narrative to change with them. As far as celebrity discourse goes, that’s far from unhealthy.
One category of tweets has made me especially uncomfortable. It’s the ones that claim Pinkett Smith is “embarrassing” her husband by publicly discussing their relationship. Obviously, you want to be respectful of your partner’s boundaries (and there is nothing to suggest that Pinkett Smith isn’t). And there are topics you should probably discuss with your partner in addition to discussing them with strangers, if you want your relationship to suit you. But if you’re in a relationship, then you’re allowed to talk about the experience of being in that relationship. You don’t have to do it on a talk show or in interviews, but if you and your partner are both comfortable with that, then what’s the harm? You might even help other people figure out where they stand on a number of matters.
Not every celebrity knows how to navigate relationship discourse. But Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith have managed to do it in a way that comes off as vulnerable, authentic, and not unhelpful. That’s certainly nothing to be embarrassed about.