(Wellbeing &) Pleasure Play by Play: Season 1 of Girlfriends

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Ask any Black woman between her late twenties and early forties what their favorite sitcoms were growing up, and it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll mention Girlfriends. For many of us, Girlfriends became the holy grail of Black woman-sitcoms for several reasons. The first being representation – despite Black American TV flourishing in the late ‘80s, early 90’s and early 2000’s, few of the shows portrayed the range of Black women that existed then and still do now. It goes without saying that we all had our favorite characters who may or may not still be our favorites but let’s dive into this cast, shall we? The main character Joan was a successful lawyer, soon-to-be partner at a prestigious law firm who had everything she wanted except for a life partner. Maya was Joan’s executive assistant, a wife and mother who, from time to time, struggled with her identity. Toni was a real estate agent who afforded herself a lavish lifestyle while looking for an attractive, wealthy man to foot the bill. And, last but certainly not least, Lynn: the hippie, “free love” genius who had little to no worries and was constantly on the move. Together, the combination of their characters spoke to the diversity of Black women (economically, ethnically, culturally, etc.)

Their roles and on-screen experiences served as reminders that real life, Black women too interpret pleasure and wellbeing in different ways. 

Photo from Netflix

While there wasn’t much emphasis on toe sucking, Lynn did bring it to Toni’s attention that while they may be of the “free love” subscription, Joan & Maya subscribe to Essence. (A line LOL) Apparently, Lynn read in an Essence article that dating your girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend is unforgivable. Lynn then forced Toni to tell Joan that she’d be bringing Charles which led to a blowup that ultimately resulted in the trio choosing each other over a man. It’s safe to say though that this isn’t always the case in sitcoms or real life. If wellbeing/pleasure are at the center of wanting to be with a girlfriend’s ex, can friends agree to disagree and move forward?

The next episode moves us into self-pleasure territory, though unfortunately tied to “not having a man” rather than the desire on its own. However, the mere placement of an innuendo about masturbation in an all Black, woman-centered sitcom is ICONIC – especially when we’re expected to save the world before we even “save” ourselves. It first happened when Lynn insinuated that Joan’s long shower was because she was getting familiar with her massager. And it wasn’t until Lynn made the joke that Joan went back in for more rounds. Self-pleasure had never been discussed in this way between Black women on television. Nor had the bouts with singledom or embracing one’s own path as a millennial Black woman. Followed by these groundbreaking moments are some that make you question why and how archaic ideals about Black women’s sexuality still exist. Phenomenons like three-month rules and shaming women for sleeping with men to receive gifts: two topics that still plague our conversations and media today.

Photo from Netflix

They even touch upon one night stands, which Maya then compares to prostitution. What’s important is that different kinds of Black women are portrayed. It’s not about characters being perfect; it’s about them being relatable; and all of them were in their own ways. Towards the middle of the series, we get to see the impact and taboos surrounding sleeping with married men. Joan is unaware her boyfriend is married while Toni is “aware” (although it turns out that her partner was single the entire time). Similar to that of situations presented earlier in the season, this one also begs the question of whether wellbeing and pleasure can be true at the expense of other parties involved. Wellbeing for Joan usually came in the form(s) of helping friends combat their issues, celebrating their triumphs and excelling at work – all while trying her best to not make her manhunt the center of her universe. Toni’s wellbeing looked a little more self-centered – which i don’t know about you, but I’ve grown to understand. When she wasn’t selling homes to land healthy commissions or managing her appearance, she was trying to secure the bag. (Say less!) Maya, for a long time, took care of her family and saw that as taking care of herself. Her self-care time seemed a bit limited, but she was sure to make time every two weeks for a touchup by her cousin, Ronnie. Now Lynn prioritized her wellbeing through having little to no expectations – something we could all apply to many areas of our lives.

Photo from Netflix

In season 1, we see what happens when you set expectations for your birthday and how sometimes surprises can blow up in your face. It starts off with the girls prepping for Joan’s birthday party to which she is hoping to bring a new man friend, but after receiving “Happy Birthday”/”goodbye” flowers from her only prospective date, Maya reminded her that she’d be the only person at her own birthday party without a man. Maya flaunted her marriage often, Lynn was happy alone which left Joan & Toni as the “unhappily” single women in the group. That was until Toni decided to bring Joan’s ex “Toe Sucking Charles” as her date. But that’s the nature of relationships right? The relationships that we have with ourselves inform the relationships that we have with others. How we value ourselves directly impacts how and why we value our partners. Toni’s lust for wealth led to her getting engaged to someone she barely knew (twice) and losing the love of her life in the end. For the rest of the series, she wrestled with being wealthy and being happy.

But we’ve all been there, right? Struggling to make a decision between what feels best and what’s actually best for us. Joan, Maya, Toni & Lynn dive deeper into the relationship between wealth and happiness specifically in the form of an “ideal” partner. Each of them decide to make a list of the qualities that they want in their next/current man – with sexual performance/penis size being towards the top. In the last of the midseason episodes, penis size resurfaces when a woman that’s seeing William (the only consistent male character in the series) makes a comment to Joan & Maya. How women feel about men’s bodies and sexuality continues as a theme throughout the episode, taking us into questioning a man’s sexuality based on how and when he makes sexual advances. 

Photo from Netflix

That’s what happened between Joan and her boyfriend Sean who ,while being a sex-addict, was one of the better partners she was paired with in the whole series. Both Maya and Toni encouraged Joan to let him go because of his addiction despite his honesty. This is of course after Toni tried to seduce him to get back at Joan for blabbing to Toni’s soulmate, Greg about her proposal to Dr. Spencer – a mess. All of this traces back to being motivated by pleasure and wellbeing whether that’s in the moment or for a lifetime. In the midst of this, Maya brings us back to what’s most important – the issues of the main characters that real Black women face, too. She’s in the process of recovering from surgery and resorts to faking orgasms with her husband so that she can shorten/limit the amount of sex they’re having.

“Faking it” has also been a taboo topic that people directly link to women’s health issues more often than male performance. As those of us who are sexually active know, most times we fake it to protect the feelings of our partners – which we aren’t taking into 2021, right? Because a lack of communication between sexual partners has often caused levels of hurt not only emotionally, but physically. Which brings me to the last major yet subtle innuendo of the season, being about anal sex.

Anal sex continues to be taboo in both discussion and performance. It’s also often been presented as a suggestion that’s centered in a man’s pleasure. Ironically and shortly thereafter, sex is then compared to sin when William’s girlfriend decides to run off to the Caribbean after he asks her to quit her job as a policewoman. He expresses his love and concern for her safety by showing up at the bar where she was and offering her marriage. Although Yvonne’s scenes aren’t plenty, it’s clear that whenever she speaks about her career, she’s passionate about serving her community in that way. This sparks another valid question: is it a prioritization of wellbeing or pleasure for Yvonne to quit the police force in order to be with William? 

Photo from Netflix

Everyone is willing to make sacrifices if it means that they’ll get something out of the deal whether that’s immediate or eventual. Toni, in the last episode, was planning to get married again to an athlete she’d just met while on vacation with the rest of the girls. Joan, feeling guilty about telling Greg about Dr. Spencer before Toni could, tried to convince her otherwise. Then, Toni hit us with one of her classic Toni-isms and said, “well, if I can’t marry the man of my dreams, I can marry the man of my dream bank account.” And Joan, out of desperation, finally confessed her truth followed by being “slapped all over Jamaica” in the words of Maya.

There’s so much that can be unpacked just from that scene, but what stands out is how Toni being willing to marry for money was framed as irregular or shameful. Marrying for money is as old as marriage itself. Marriage, originally, was for financial gain. So why is it frowned upon now for women to want more for themselves in this way? So many questions and situations were presented in this season that continue to be answered and repackaged throughout the rest of the series. On the topics of wellbeing and pleasure, we discussed the following topics: self-pleasure, money, faking orgasms, anal sex, sex addiction, trust between friends/partners and most importantly, expectations. Ahhh, expectations…said to be the killer of joy or was that perfection?

Anyway, the point is we saw many scenes where if the characters involved had lower or zero expectations, they wouldn’t have been disappointed. This doesn’t mean accepting a lack of respect or letting people down out of selfishness. It means going with the flow , understanding and trusting abundance. Wellbeing is inextricably linked to expectations, because our inner-peace and mindsets are often impacted by how we think things will or “should” happen. Inner peace connects wellbeing and pleasure as being critical to both experiences.

Share with us your thoughts on wellbeing, self-pleasure, whether they’re interdependent or not, and how you manage.

And if you identify with any character or moment from the series/first season? Share those tidbits with us too!

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