Allow me to start by saying, when I talk about a “faux good guy,” that doesn’t mean the man in question is automatically a bad guy. Instead, I’m just saying it’s important to be careful of the guys who prioritize saying and doing things so as not to come off as ‘ain’t sh-t’ to the point that that becomes more important than just communicating properly, taking accountability and being real.
This week’s television was a great example of that. On HBO’s “Pressure, Okay?!” episode of Insecure, perhaps the final season’s best work thus far, we saw Lawrence (Jay Ellis) struggle to establish a coparenting relationship with ex-girlfriend Condola (Christina Elmore) following the birth of their son, Elijah. He tries to be what he thinks is the best version of a dad in a prickly situation, and it’s not working. To me, it wasn’t working because he spent the entire nine months that Condola was pregnant focused on trying to salvage his relationship with Issa (Issa Rae), taking his career to the next level by moving to San Francisco from L.A. (which took him quite a ways away from the child he had on the way), and secretly internalizing this idea that Condola was responsible for blowing up his life. So instead of being involved from the beginning, he simply asked that she “keep me posted” at most about the goings on of their child.
But when baby Elijah Mustafa was born, Lawrence had a change of heart. He wanted to leave his stamp on the child’s life and be a permanent fixture. It was commendable, yes, for him to step up. And yes, Condola could have loosened the reins at times. However, Lawrence wanted a gold star for doing basic, often minimal, things. He had expectations and wanted things to be a certain way to fit what he thought having his first child should have been like and to avoid the feeling that he had, which was that Condola and her family looked at him like a “deadbeat” dad. With that in mind, soon after the birth, he wanted to stay at her home to care for Elijah (didn’t happen). He wanted a say-so in most matters (not wrong, but handled wrong). He wanted to put plans in place less than a month after the child was born to take him for a week. He wanted to feed the baby whatever he liked, not knowing what Elijah had been eating, had been introduced to or was allergic to. (And would he have been the one at the sick visit with the pediatrician had the baby had an allergic reaction after all? Doubt it.) He wanted a lot of control over the situation, including the ability to call in “sick” from the commitments he put in place to visit his son every weekend because he’s tired. He had a lot of expectations for a man who had just decided to be in the picture and a lot of negative energy toward a woman whose reactions in most cases were very calm and collected.
So he pushed to have things the way he wanted without sitting down to converse with her about what she expected or needed, what his hopes were, and how they could make it all work together (and a drive-by chat in a parking garage doesn’t count). Because of that, he turned everything Condola said or did into her trying to keep him from his son and a criticism or indictment of him as a parent. In turn, he fussed and acted out in public because he wanted it known that he was a good guy doing a good thing.
“It’s ni–as out here not even trying to take care of their kids and I’m here.”
His focus on what he assumed her actions or concerns meant, as though she were trying to make him look bad, which would threaten his constant efforts to look like a good guy instead of the “f–k n-gga” Tasha the bank teller called him in Season 2, made him insecure. It also trumped him taking the necessary action to have a positive coparenting relationship. And I, as a viewer, worry that as the episode ended with him asking what they should do to make things better, Lawrence will think the best course of action is to reunite with Condola so that he can have his family, even if he doesn’t really want that relationship. Good guy until the end.
Nothing could be a more frustrating display of faux good guy behavior though than the real-life actions of Zack from Season 13 of Married at First Sight. After Michaela’s abandonment issues led her to have one too many over-the-top outbursts on national television, he’d been propped up for the entire season as a victim of poor matchmaking by the experts. It was true that they had “fundamental differences” in how they dealt with conflict, so viewers didn’t blame him for not feeling stable and content in his marriage. But then cracks began to show. Conversations that were had off camera were brought on camera and didn’t make sense. The big one was this idea he had, weeks in advance, that they would divorce on Decision Day but date afterward. And granted, he and Michaela may have talked about it, but what sense does that make? As she asked him, if the overall problem is who she is and how she is, what’s the point of trying to work on things after the “experiment” ends?
But Zack wouldn’t let it go. He flip-flopped from at one point being done with Michaela to inviting her to stay the night and telling everyone he knows how amazing she is. By the time Decision Day came, he showed up with a whole list of their good times, tears, and his very first on-camera “I love you,” giving the impression that he wanted to make things work. But when asked to share his decision, he opted for a divorce. His whole spiel, the waterworks, telling her she is the greatest woman in his life next to his mother, was his way of trying to protect her feelings (because that’s what “good guys” do) and keep her around, just not as his wife.
“I want to divorce the last eight weeks, but I’m willing to see where this goes.”
He was rejecting her while simultaneously making plans for the future, playing with her mind. Zack had so many flowery things to say, and in the end, it all meant a whole lot of nothing. He never gave it to Michaela straight, but everyone else could see through the display. As Dr. Viviana Coles put it, “You want to be the good guy who’s like, ‘But we’re still friends!’ Everybody wants that. Hardly anybody gets that.”
Both instances were a reminder that there’s a difference between doing gymnastics to look like a good guy when your behavior runs counter to that, and just making an effort to be one. No one wants to be the heartbreaker or to be deemed problematic, but when the focus is how people will see you rather than just wanting to be better, the end result is a lot of frustration and pain for those who have to deal with the antics that come with that. In Michaela’s case, she was left to look like she was the main problem in her marriage until Zack could no longer hide the fact that he was indeed a problem, too.
No one expects perfection, whether on a sitcom or in real life. But people do expect those they deal with to be real. Individuals who care more about the image of being a good guy rather than actually being one wreak more havoc than they realize. And in reality, they end up looking a lot worse than the ones who are up front with their shenanigans. But hey, fake it ’til you make it, I guess.