I believe that everyone should re-watch television shows or movies from our younger years at least once; they hit way differently as an adult.
Like most other ‘80s/’90s babies, I was lucky enough to grow up in a “Golden Age” of Black television, when it was more common to see ourselves and experiences portrayed on screen. Though I can say that I understood the difference between fiction and reality, I’d be lying if I said that these shows didn’t influence my behavior or outlook on dating in some way.
All through our teen years and twenty somethings, women’s on-screen identities are largely consumed by who we date or marry. As many of our classic childhood favorites hit video streaming platforms, the nostalgia forces me to reckon with an uncomfortable truth: maybe they got it all wrong.
Here are four shows that f*cked up my perception of dating, love, and relationships:
“They say the first love is the perfect love” was the first line that ever left Moesha’s lips (and pen). That should’ve told me everything I needed to know about how this would go.
From secret rendezvous with the school player to a final pregnancy scare with her childhood best friend, Moesha and her six seasons of dating can be described in one word: dramatic.
And I loved it.
I vividly remember feening for the “Tuesday TV” fix with my older sister each week, spending 8 to 9 p.m. mimicking and obsessing over our faves from Moesha (and Clueless). The thing is, however, my sister was sixteen while taking this all in for the first time; I was six. Moesha’s intense teen love affairs did a number on my tiny 6-year-old brain, I fear.
Let her tell it, it was fine to cut class, sneak out, ignore curfew, invite boys to her bedroom, impulsively go to Asia on a rap tour or even date a teacher (ew)–whatever brought her closer to finding love.
Fast forward to my teen years, did I do some questionable things involving boys, too? For sure.
I’ll admit that I was a sucker for complicated dating. Truth be told, the drama excited me.
I also didn’t see many relationships in my life or on TV that weren’t messy (to an extent), so I believed it was normal to endure a lil bit of hell to get to heaven.
Did someone say boy-crazy? The Landry-Campbell sisters have
entered started the chat.
Tia and Tamera went out SAD episode after episode; they followed boys around like little puppies.
They had vastly different personalities, but there’s one thing that Tia and Tamera definitely had in common: They’d lose all their wits about them when it came to getting a date.
The twins couldn’t go to class, win a talent show, get a job, throw a party, or do much of anything without worrying about those stupid boys. In fact, quiet as kept, Moesha was light work compared to them.
The boy-craziness was slightly more on-brand for Tamera, but Tia…where do I even begin?
Miss “1510/1600 on her SATs” was a WILD CARD when it came to her man. By the time she finished high school, Tia got a joint tattoo with her [ex]boyfriend Michael, lied about her age to date a college guy, took Tamera’s spot in summer school for a crush, and defied both of her parents to date Tyreke when he was fresh outta jail. (It’s the duality for me LOL.)
My Sister, Sister takeaway: even the “smart girls” can be crazily stupid over boys. In fact, I became one of those girls from time to time (I didn’t steal plays straight from Tia’s book, but you get the point).
A Different World
I was too young to catch this classic in real time, but, thanks to syndication, I grew up watching it just the same.
This show was the reason I thought I’d find my husband in college. If you’ve gone to college, then you know how stressful this mindset can be.
I used to adore Whitley and Dwayne’s relationship; they had the perfect balance of love and drama that I romanticized as a kid.
Dwayne wasn’t the stereotypically attractive guy, but he exuded passion–for his friends, family, career, and above all, Whitley Gilbert. And ya girl was HOOKED.
I wanted that. Needed that. Craved that kind of man.
From their failed engagement to the iconic wedding-crasher scene, Dwayne was the perfect example of a man recognizing his flaws and going after what and who he wanted, pride be damned.
But, then, I grew up.
Watching this play out as an adult made me want to scream. It was something about watching Whitley become a shell of herself for Dwayne that didn’t agree with my spirit. She sacrificed so much to be with him: her career, her inheritance, her standards, her refusal to settle. And he still found ways to ruin it.
Then, when she finally got a taste of the life she’s always dreamed of with her new man, Byron, Dwayne couldn’t let her have it. He needed her back in his arms by any means necessary.
What kills me most is that he waited until the final hour to profess his love. He begged. He cried. He pushed. He screamed. DON’T MARRY HIM WHITLEY, MARRY ME! Leaving her forced to make a decision he had already made for her. Just making a scene and embarrassing her in front of company!
Where was this fire and urgency when they *actually* had a wedding planned?
14-year-old me thought this was the grandest of gestures to profess your love. 29-year-old me will sh**t you where you stand if you crash my wedding to speak up. And I ain’t sorry!
The friendship dynamic of Joan, Toni, Maya, and Lynn is a popular point of discussion (and contention), but I’m here to discuss their outlook on dating.
They put way too much emphasis on having a man for me. Joan, in particular, annoyed me with her timelines, deadlines, and unrealistic standards. Sis was obsessed with getting married.
Maya had to let her know that her obsession became palpable and unbearable to anyone who knew her. To be real, it was giving desperate.
Sadly, Joan’s character is the result of a larger societal problem for women: we’re taught that our value correlates with our marital status; if we’re not chosen by a man by a certain age then we’re not worthy of respect.
Like many women (and Joan), I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about my hypothetical marriage. Who will I marry? When? Where? What kind of dress would I wear? What kind of flowers would I pick? What song would be the soundtrack to my walk down the aisle?
Though I used to feel the pressure to make marriage happen, and Girlfriends surely didn’t help, I’m happy to say that I have a healthier outlook on whether or not I get married. I refuse to let a ring define anything outside of my relationship.
It’s a bittersweet feeling to watch these shows the second, third, or hundredth time around. The characters were toxic but they made for a great story, nonetheless. And as a storyteller, I can respect and appreciate that.
But I’ll tell you one thing:
At my big age, I’m leaving the dramatic and dysfunctional dating strictly to TV.