This piece was originally published on November 30th, 2016 on The Frisky.
The sight of black men cheering for Lawrence during Sunday night’s Insecure season finale gave me heart palpitations. Men gathered around the TV to howl like it was a NBA Championship game when Lawrence (Jay Ellis) had revenge sex with bank teller Tasha (Dominque Perry). It was a low moment for the #LawrenceHive who see themselves in the unambitious “good guy” that they think Lawrence is. I’m…embarrassed for them. And because any time men are loud and wrong they must be humbled, I’m now in the unfortunate position of having to defend Issa (Issa Rae), who is almost as insufferable as Molly (Yvonne Orji). Here we go.
As one tweeter put it, black women and men haven’t been this divided since Sporty Thievz’s “No Pigeons” response to TLC’s “No Scrubs” phenom. It’s ugly out here. But my duty is to make sure we all walk away from Season One holding these truths to be self-evident: Lawrence is not a catch. He did not win.
That revenge D Lawrence gave Tasha were the backstrokes of a man frustrated from years of unemployment. It was the concentration of a man who wants someone to pay for his broken heart. It was the pounding of a man looking for a new home for his pitiful pillow. It was the Mary J Blige equivalent of “I’ve done enough cryin’, cryin’, cryin’.” Had he been giving it to Issa like this the entire five years maybe she would’ve been all, “Daniel who?” Because who really cares about a damn high school crush. But he wasn’t stroking her like that, so here we are.
Early on in the season, we learn that Lawrence has been “getting his shit together for four years.” He’s moping around the house because his job search turns up fruitless. (Been there, done that, wore the t-shirt.) Shit happens. The typical man — or one worthy of being with — would see his girl out-hustling him and get motivated real fast to get to the money. Uber driver by night, designing websites by day, bartending, something. Not Lawrence though. He’s too good for the jobs that aren’t a good fit because he has a degree. When he finally does take a job to bring in some coins, it’s at Best Buy. I mean, it’s a job, but he may as well sit home to collect unemployment because that hourly wage check is being gobbled up by taxes. Best Buy, dude?
An actual “good guy” who feels inadequate because his finances aren’t in order at least tries to go the extra mile at home. Laundry, dishes, Fabuluoso’ing the bathroom down, cooking, anything that doesn’t make you look like a shiftless bum. Not Lawrence though. He sulks. Lawrence is too bool to get an edge up. He can’t even remember Issa’s birthday. An unemployed broke boy forgetting your birthday is unforgivable. Even if he couldn’t spend any money, it should’ve been the most creatively sentimental celebration he could muster up. He has nothing but time to visit Dollar Tree and Michael’s for some arts and crafts. Issa should’ve cheated sooner!
Somehow his lack of ambition landed him a full-time job with benefits that he almost turned down to work on his app until Issa brought him back to the reality that is BILLS. If he didn’t get his app off the ground during unemployment then too bad so sad. Entrepreneurship costs. You have to fund said ideas. And this is the character with whom [y’all] wanna place your faith?
We are not going to act like Lawrence was a desirable partner. Dude refused to get a line up for a job interview. His level of ain’t shitness was written on the walls.
To be clear, Issa ain’t off the hook either. All jokes aside, cheating is a selfish, shitty thing to do. Personally, I believe repetitive cheating is a character flaw. But for the purposes of the show, Issa needed to cheat. Issa did not have the courage to walk away from a man she clearly didn’t want. She specifically didn’t know if she had the fortitude to deal with an unmotivated man who wasn’t giving it to her “face down, ass up” in the way she daydreamed Daniel (Y’lan Noel) would. Eventually Issa scratched that itch with Daniel for her own selfish reasons. And I love that a woman was able to be selfish for once, that her cheating challenged the idea that women only cheat if we’re emotionally invested in the side dude.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Issa Rae discussed the importance of having Issa’s character cheating not be about Lawrence in that moment.
The idea of a woman cheating is so bewildering for a lot of men; like it’s a huge mark of betrayal for them in a way that’s kind of a double standard…[An executive] strongly believed that women could not come back from cheating and I remember thinking how unfair that was, because I watched shows and movies where women forgive men for cheating all…the…time. It was also important to me to have Issa cheat precisely at a moment where Lawrence wasn’t necessarily at fault; where it wasn’t about him, it was about her. I think we always think that a man has to do something for a woman to cheat, and this was very much about Issa and her decision to be “aggressively active” for once. She just failed to think about what she would lose in the process.
Sometimes the game is the game.
Essentially, Issa’s inability to communicate the years of unspoken issues was the relationship’s downfall, at least partly. The hard truth is she didn’t really want Lawrence. At the very least, she was uncertain if he was the forever guy, and she should’ve broken up with him to embark on an exploratory phase. Instead, she convinced herself she wanted Lawrence because a woman’s worth is always tied to having a man. Her own best friend told her she didn’t deserve Lawrence. Issa was beaten over the head with the idea that Lawrence was a “good man” so she’d best be appreciative of scraps lest she find herself alone with a dozen cats. As if being alone is the worst possible thing that could happen to a woman. This societal pressure on women to find and keep a man is why women settle all the time because it’s better to have a piece of a man with potential than to be alone. That’s bullshit. Had Issa been encouraged to break up with her man to figure things out, just maybe she wouldn’t be on Daniel’s studio couch having itches scratched.
The most predictable storyline of the season was Lawrence having sex with Tasha — the one who listened and encouraged his ideas. Because all a lazy unmotivated man needs is a woman to build him up. Yet men are never expected to build women up. It was also predictable because men don’t tend to handle breakups like women. Women emote, men ho. He was going to have sex with somebody shortly after the breakup regardless. Was he wrong for hooking up with Tasha? Not really. Was it a fuckboy move? Absolutely. It was done vindictively with the intent to hurt Issa when she finds out.
Lawrence-Issa & Co. were all insufferable with the exception of Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) and Jared (Langston Kerman). All of them exhibited trash behavior, so Lawrence isn’t on that You Are Nobody’s Catch float all alone. I’m team #everybodyistrash, but couldn’t miss the opportunity to pump the hurt boys’ brakes about their beloved Lawrence.
The visceral reaction we’re all having to Issa and Lawrence’s relationship drama is because it represents the messiness of life and love whether we relate to the characters or not. Perhaps the mark of a good show is the ability to get viewers invested in the characters enough to talk about their decisions as if it’s real life. If that was the goal the show succeeded.
The Lawrence and Issa saga challenges our ideas about gender in relationships. It specifically points to the double standard of cheating. A woman cheating deserves revenge while a man’s cheating deserves forgiveness. A man is always “just fucking them girls he was gon’ get right back.” Never do we see a man encouraged to take back a cheating woman. If Lawrence had cheated and then Issa had revenge sex, men would’ve protested the show with the kind of rage they displayed over Olivia Pope sleeping with a white president. Issa did what men have always done, and Lawrence is nobody’s “good man” worth rooting for. He was a boring birthday-forgetting bum who barely pulled himself together in the ninth hour. Unfortunately, a day late and a dollar short has consequences. A guy who was a catch would’ve known that.
Ben Viera is a Brooklyn based journalist who writes about culture, race and gender. Her work has appeared in GQ, Vulture, ESSENCE, Cosmopolitan, ESPN, VIBE, Glamour and ELLE. When she's not writing she's stanning for Nas. Follow her on Twitter at @beneviera.