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Thanks to recent headlines sparked by singer August Alsina’s revelations about his romantic involvement with Jada Pinkett Smith, Jada and her husband Will Smith clarified what happened on her Red Table Talk show. During a very rough time in their marriage where they’d separated and weren’t planning to reunite, Jada had an “entanglement with August”. What started as the Smith family helping August as he grappled with health issues, became romantic. By her own admission, she was in a lot of pain and hadn’t “felt good in a long time”.

I want to address two things in this post:

  1. My take on why Jada described the relationship as “entanglement with August”, and
  2. Why people sometimes look outside themselves and their relationship for happiness, healing or an escape.

Something plenty of humans struggle with is descriptors for relationships that don’t fit neatly into typical categories or ours (or other people’s) expectations.

If we say that something is a “relationship” and it’s, for instance, “casual” or non-existent from the other person’s perspective, we seem presumptuous.

We might fear looking unhinged, needy and like we care too much. I remember when I needed to end things with a guy I’d been ‘seeing’ for four months. It all felt so loaded. The act of ‘finishing’ an involvement that hadn’t been allowed to become something seemed weightier than the sum of its non-relationship parts.

Describe Jada’s “entanglement with August” as an “affair”, like so many have, and it makes it sound like she was playing away. She wasn’t. Not that I want to get all Ross Geller here and focus on ‘technicalities’, but they were on a break. Call the entanglement a “relationship”, though, and, well, it might sound serious.

All humans have associations with everything. They’re the mental connections we make between things. Plenty of us could hear ‘relationship’ and imagine the two of them being and doing relationship-y sorts of things. While it’s easy for some of us to judge and ridicule Jada for what she called it, we forget how so many of us are downright terrified of the word “relationship” and the hurt and expectations we think that comes with it.

Given the nature of the situation combined with what Jada was going through emotionally, mentally and spiritually, “entanglement” is about right.

entanglement:- a complicated or compromising relationship or situation.

Yep, Jada and August’s involvement was all of that. So much so that she had to take herself to her own red table! Four-and-a-half years down the line and plenty of silence in between (August did No Contact), she’s had to explain something publicly that most of us would grapple with privately.

I think, also, that something that can occur with the passage of time is that how we term a relationship now that we have the benefit of hindsight and subsequent growth might be very different to our original summation. At the time someone is, for example, ‘the love of our life’ and we wonder ‘How will I live without them?’ Years down the road we see it as a bad romance and wonder if we were smoking crack. Not that I’m saying this is how Jada feels! But if she wants to call it an entanglement now that she recognises how messy she was back then, I get it. Which leads neatly to…

One of the traps that plenty of people in relationships fall into is thinking that their partner or the relationship will serve the function of making them happy.

They think that if the relationship is ‘right’ or that the person is doing a good enough job of meeting their needs that any pain, fear and guilt from the past will stay away. They think the relationship will heal old wounds or stop them from thinking, feeling or doing things that they associate with a more unhappy version of themselves. So when the relationship isn’t the panacea for all that doesn’t feel right within them, they feel disillusioned. They might feel shortchanged, resentful, wounded, and more.

Do you know why people cheat on their partners? Because they’re looking for an external solution to an internal issue.

‘Internal’ meaning how they’re thinking and feeling within themselves or what’s occurring within the relationship. They might reach the conclusion that their needs can’t be met by the relationship and feel they’ve exhausted all avenues. There might be issues in the relationship where they feel that the window of opportunity for resolution has passed. They might feel as if they’ve reached an impasse or that their partner doesn’t care or doesn’t get it. Resentment and frustration may be high.

That said, there are plenty of people who feel unsettled within but who are not in a problematic relationship. Yes, really. Too many people make the mistake of assuming that people have affairs because their partner is failing in some way. Nope! Some people have affairs precisely because they’re not experiencing problems in the relationship. They might feel unsettled by normality or undeserving of being in this kind of relationship. Some cheat to be passive-aggressive and play hooky by rebelling behind their partner’s back.

Affairs and, yes, entanglements, are about escapism. In the quest for an external solution to our internal issue(s), we seek someone else to be our ‘upper’ or to numb our pain.

We create complicated and compromising relationships when we don’t know ourselves very well or at all. If we’ve reached a point where we’re in deep pain and we think it’s because of X when actually, it’s because of Y, we will go down a path. And it’s through making those decisions and availing ourselves of someone or something else that we are hopefully forced to confront something. We realise that we are in deep pain and that there are things that we clearly need to address in our relationship, but also that we’ve been seeking something that we needed to find within.

It’s not that we necessarily want to use people or have an entanglement or, yes, an affair, but we’re looking to feel a certain way. That’s why we do everything: to meet needs and because of how we think we’re going to feel when we get the things we want.

Sometimes we do clumsy, crazy, cringeworthy and callous things because we’re trying to feel alive.

In a society that’s uncomfortable with feelings, needs, self-care, boundaries and addressing our emotional baggage, our discomfort with Jada’s choices is fitting. That, and I also think that society has a general discomfort with women pursuing their happiness. When we do, it’s got to be clean and pretty with a bow on top.

We may not like how she’s done things or her and Will’s humour and camaraderie where we imagine we’d want to torch the place or divorce, but it’s their stuff. Messy, compromising, complicated, but ultimately, their stuff. If anything, it’s a reminder to address our own stuff before it addresses us.

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