Jada Pinkett Smith Has A Problem With ‘Wife’; Lots Of Women Do

Do men feel the same way about being a husband?

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I didn’t think there was anything more that could be said about Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith’s marriage. There have been rumors over the years that they have an open marriage (and what’s wrong with that?) or they’re about to divorce (same). But now Pinkett Smith has come right out and said something that, no matter how shocking it may be to some women will resonate with a lot of others — she never wanted to get married, she didn’t want to be a “wife” and she put her family’s needs first and promptly “forgot who Jada was.”Sound familiar?

In an interview in the Guardian, she says:

I knew that I was not built for conventional marriage. Even the word ‘wife’: it’s a golden cage, swallow the key. Even before I was married, I was like, ‘That’ll kill me.’ And it damn near did!

A lot of women have a problem with being a wife. Ever since Judy Syfers’ “I Want a Wife” essay in the first issue of Ms. magazine — actually, before then — there have been lots of feels about what being a wife means. Books, fiction and nonfiction, and articles have been written about it. Our most high-profile single woman, Oprah, addressed it. And now Pinkett Smith is getting real about it.

It has nothing to do with her marrying the wrong person. She’s clear about that and calls him her life partner. It’s more about the institution of marriage itself, the roles we take on in it, willingly or not, and how that all plays out. Not always so great, she shares:

I can assure you that some of the most powerful women in the world feel caged and tied, because of the sacrifices they have to make to be in that position. So I wanted to talk about how we really feel about marriage. How do we really feel about different, unconventional relationships? How do we really feel about raising children? Honestly.”

Pinkett Smith is asking questions that we tried to address in The New I Do — if no one has to marry anymore, then why marry? What do you hope it accomplishes? Do you want to be a wife or a husband? What does that even mean? How would you create your most authentic romantic relationship if you had permission to make it happen (and, you know, you don’t need permission to do it)?

Pinkett Smith is finally in that space, but it took a lot of hard work — not that that’s bad. My hope is that people use our book as a resource to start off that way or re-create a marriage, as Pinkett Smith did, to better suit who they are now, nearly 22-years into it.

Even though no one has to marry anymore, the pull of marriage is real. Just recently, Vice dug deep into celebrities and influencers who are tying the knot in every way but legally, throwing elaborate weddings and getting lots of press. Maybe that’s the point — wedding as performance art.

It could be that they don’t want to make it legal for financial reasons; divorce is messy and expensive, and even prenups are complicated.

But it could also be that being a “husband” or a “wife” still really matters in today’s society — it’s an “achievement of status.”

I don’t know if men have such a complicated relationship with being a “husband,” although that carries its own burdens especially if we still expect men to be the breadwinner, which has become increasingly harder for men to do. As far as I know, only Barbara Ehrenrich has delved into that with The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight From Commitment, but she wrote that in in the ’80s.

Who’s going to take that on?

So, Pinkett Smith wants to talk about “how we really feel about marriage,” how we “really feel about different, unconventional relationships.”

I’m in. How do we really feel about it?

Looking for a way to marry that’s true to your values and goals? (Of course you are!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore (please do) or order it on Amazon.

Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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