Affairs of the Heart

05.28.13

Hey, ABC, So Mistresses Are OK Now?

From "Scandal" 's climactic finale to the new ABC show "Mistresses," other women are back with a vengeance on our TVs. Sophia Nelson on why she's sick of the myth of the mistress.

A mistress never is nor can be a friend. While you agree, you are lovers; and when it is over, anything but friends. —Lord Byron

The introductory promo for ABC’s hot new dramatic summer series, Mistresses, promises: Attraction. Passion. Deception. It further promises to deliver a “provocative and thrilling drama about the scandalous lives of a sexy and sassy group of four girlfriends, each on her own path to self-discovery.” Okay. So sleeping with married men (and in this case, married women) is now a pathway to self-discovery? Oy vey! What are we coming to?

I am confused. I thought we already had that kind of show on ABC; it’s called Scandal, starring actress Kerry Washington and actor Tony Goldwyn as Olivia Pope and Fitz Grant respectively. The two lovers heat up the screen every Thursday night and drive the rest of us mad, sad, upset, riveted, and sitting perched on the edge of our seats as we tweet feverishly about our favorite fixer/mistress (Olivia) and our favorite love-struck/cheating president (Fitz). We all tweet about Mellie (Fitz’s wife/first lady) as if she were the villain, as if she deserved to be cheated on and unloved by her husband just because she is a tad bit overly ambitious. Yes, Mellie can be cold, she can be calculating, and she can be charming. However, the truth is most presidents' wives (and highly successful men’s wives) share some combination of these traits. That is in part why their husbands achieve such great heights. So why do we all pile on Millie for being the bad one, when in reality her husband is the sniveling sieve who uses her for all she can bring him politically, yet gives his heart to his mistress?

I suddenly feel the need to drop to my knees, pray, and repent for gleefully indulging in promoting a show each week (Scandal) that glorifies adultery, human weakness, human desire, murder, torture, and unbridled passion. I fear that doing so has given the executives at ABC license to now take “cheating” to the next level by giving us an insider’s view into the lives of the “other woman.” Will we now see legions of people on Twitter each week tweeting about their favorite “mistress” and rooting for her to win her man (or woman) at the expense of an unsuspecting, broken, or temporarily unavailable spouse?

Why do we all pile on Millie for being the bad one, when in reality her husband is the sniveling sieve who uses her for all she can bring him politically, yet gives his heart to his mistress?

Let me make this personal. As I wrote in chapter five of my award-winning nonfiction book, Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama, when I was a very young woman, I unwittingly fell into this type of “mistress” relationship. I stayed in it far too long, lost valuable years of my life, and I can tell you it was the absolutely most painful, awful chapter of my otherwise pretty honorable life. You never quite forgive or trust yourself again for being so weak, so human, and so stupid. Maybe that is why I feel such kinship to Olivia Pope’s character on Scandal. I get her. I am a lot like her (or at least I was back then). I know the deep heartache of loving someone you can never have, and knowing they feel the same about you. You play a dangerous game with your hearts, and more important with your souls. You know it will end, and you hope it won’t end badly. You even lie to yourself about “being friends,” but you can never be just friends with someone who inflames the passions of love so deeply within you. It is a no-win situation especially for the “mistress.” You will be reviled, hated, and quite possibly worse. There is no glamour in being a mistress. There is only loneliness, stolen moments, heartache, and dishonor.

It’s just as Cyrus (Fitz’s chief of staff on Scandal) so aptly broke it down to Olivia last week in the season finale, “Romeo and Juliet both ended up dead.” His point was that being someone’s “other,” and being so “selfish” as to believe that just because you are deeply in love with one another that it somehow makes it okay for you two to be together is fairy-tale fantasy. The truth is that the wife (or the husband) always wins. Even if you get that man, or that woman, what do you get? You will forever be the “home-wrecking,” “side chick.” Even if he leaves her and marries you, everyone will know how you got him. I sincerely hope that young women, or even middle-aged women playing the “mistress” game, understand that the Faustian bargain you have struck will end with you losing a piece of your soul.

Having said all of that, let’s have some real talk and deal with the 800-pound elephant in the room. Here is the ugly truth: reality-TV shows that glorify sex, volatile behavior, deception, glamour, and drama do well. In fact, these shows do very well. So I suspect that the new show tagged simply Mistresses will likewise do very well. As a journalist and author, I am a huge proponent of freedom of the press, media, and the entertainment industry to create shows that they feel will get the best ratings. Scandal is proof positive that drama, lust, passion, intrigue, steamy love scenes, deception, and a great soundtrack win loyal fans. Perhaps all of us secretly desire to live vicariously through reality television and dramatic series like Grey's Anatomy and Army Wives. Which leads to the question, is real life that dull that we must immerse and lose ourselves in such extreme drama?

Whatever the case, we as adults and as creators of entertainment should be careful of the subtle yet powerful messages we are sending to the next generation about love, loyalty, honor, integrity, and commitment. Yes, we all fail. God knows I have, but we all should know that there is right and wrong. Cheating is never right. Being a “mistress” is never a badge of honor, ladies. Living life in the shades of gray can be exciting, but as Scandal has taught us again and again, the price you will have to pay is often higher than your heart can count.