Hm, I’m Liking Will Smith’s Definition of Marriage

Will surprised Jada Pinkett Smith on a stop on her book tour to say that marriage is a “sloppy public experiment in unconditional love.” I couldn't agree more.

Hm, I’m Liking Will Smith’s Definition of Marriage
Photo:Drew Hallowell (Getty Images)

It took a minute, but I’ve finally found a snippet from the recent news cycle surrounding Jada Pinkett Smith’s book tour for her memoir Worthy that I deeply resonate with. I’ve reluctantly learned about her and Will Smith’s designated “sex room” that their kids eventually “hijacked”; I tilted my head like a confused dog upon the reveal that the couple have been separated since 2016; and my brain reached full “random facts” capacity upon reading that Pinkett Smith helped dog trainer Cesar Milan get an English tutor before he was famous. But, finally, I’ve learned something about this couple, or, uh, ex-couple I guess, that makes me say, “Yup!!! This was all worth it for this!!”

On Wednesday night, the slap artist himself surprised Pinkett Smith at one of the last stops on her book tour at a Baltimore public library. In an impromptu speech at the event, with him and Jada’s kids beside them, Will described their marriage as a “sloppy public experiment in unconditional love” according to The Baltimore Banner. The outlet speculated that his appearance was aiming “to quash public speculation that the couple’s long and storied marriage was over.” Will also used the term “brutiful” —a gorgeous portmanteau of “brutal” and beautiful” to characterize their union.

He said some other courteous things, like acknowledging Pinkett Smith’s sacrifice of her own ambitions so that his career could thrive. “There were many times when Jada put her career aside so I could follow the dreams of mine,” he said. But I really am stuck on him calling his marriage “a sloppy public experiment” because…have truer words ever been spoken? Is that not exactly what getting the government involved in your horny hobbies is? Is every marriage not ultimately a vulnerable and humbling undertaking where you’re asked to declare to strangers that you file joint taxes?

The public tends to give other types of relationships—friendships, coworker-ships, neighborly acquaintances—more wiggle room in how they are defined. But I do think the general understanding of what makes a marriage remain embarrassingly narrow and stiff. Two people fall in love, they get married, maybe that love fizzles a bit, but you stick with it because It’s What You’re Supposed To Do—unless of course, you don’t stick with it, in which case you, l’horreur, Get Divorced.

Plus you have to sign a lot of papers and meet with a lot of lawyers should things go awry. You can end a friendship with one rude text. A neighborly acquaintance relationship, too, for what it’s worth. Calling a marriage a “sloppy public experiment” loosens the rigidity of the tradition in a refreshingly unromantic way! I’m here for it!

On the one hand, I am perplexed by Pinkett Smith’s revelation that she and Smith have been separated for as long as they have. Not because I think they automatically owe us insight into their personal lives, but because Pinkett Smith invited the public in, to do explicitly that with her show, Red Table Talk. If I had been a bit more invested in that show, I imagine I’d feel slightly betrayed.

On the other hand, I welcome more honest discussions (however long they take to become actually honest) about the complexities of long-term relationships. With that in mind, Will is exactly right—long-term relationships are “sloppy public experiments.” Now excuse me while I figure out how to incorporate that phrase into my wedding vows.

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