The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Living Single. And an at-home marriage proposal with a main character singing Jagged Edge's original version of "Let's Get Married" (good job, Randall/Sterling!). Yeah, you've got a love a show that's Black-aware enough to put these kinds of intricate details into it.
And while it's rare that I miss an episode of This Is Us, last week, after Randall left a voicemail that was the shot heard all around the world on Beth's cell ("I hope that you're having fun teaching bored housewives how to twirl better. Grow up, Beth.") and I then peeped the preview of the episode that aired last night that included Beth saying, "We've been having the same fight since we met. I'm not giving up what I love. Now what?"—as a fan of the show and a marriage life coach in the real world, I knew it was must-see TV. And it was.
Per usual, there were way too many things addressed and great one-liners to recap everything in one article (although if you put the hashtag #ThisIsUs into your favorite search engine, you'll catch a ton of what went down, blow-by-blow). But there are a few things that I do think need to be addressed. There are several reasons why I think last night's episode should be required viewing for singles who want to be in a serious relationship someday (first) and long-term committed couples who already are (second).
Here's why I say that.
Something that has always been stellar about the writing team of This Is Us is they constantly remind us that life is lived in layers; so is love. That said, if you only watched the episode featuring Randall's rude voicemail, you might chalk him up to being a selfish jerk or, if you're married and know that rudeness happens sometimes, a man who was having a really bad day (REALLY BAD). On the other hand, if you only saw Beth say that she wasn't going to give up what she loved, she might earn the same response from you.
But since the writers were kind (and thorough) enough to take us all back to the beginning of their love story, I'll be honest—I walked away from the episode knowing that they love one another but wondering how much they actually like each other. Whether it was day one or now. Because while they are committed to one another, a part of what comes with truly liking another human being is accepting that they are not like you, probably won't ever be and...being OK with that. Celebrating that fact even. Some of the core of Randall and Beth's beings? It seems to constantly get on each other's nerves. Not because anything is "wrong"...just different.
A lot of energy seems to be put into wishing the differences weren't so and merely tolerating that blaring reality.
Peep their first date, for example. Randall dressed up. He bought a bouquet of flowers (several, actually). He took Beth to a fancy restaurant. Beth was in a sweatshirt. She berated Randall for dressing up and talked about wanting nachos and ginger beer instead of the fine cuisine. Oh, and she cut the date short after saying, "It's too much. It's all too much."
You know what else I noticed about their date? Beth's father died a year before Randall's did and also—this is key—Randall told Beth that she had a love for dancing. In response, Beth shut him down and said no, her passion was architecture. Bookmark both of those points. I'll be coming back to them.
Fast forward to Randall trying to propose for the umpteenth time and Beth once again getting irritated. One of the things that she said to Randall was eerily reminiscent of her review of their first date—"I love you, but you consume things." After they went putt-putt golfing with Randall's mom and she convinced Beth that she was more than fine with her being Randall's wife, that same day, Beth did the proposal her way—at a casual restaurant with some nachos and ginger beer sitting in front of her. After Beth told Randall that he could then propose, something she declared was, "We're not gonna lose ourselves in each other. We're gonna be full people; a team." Was that a mutual agreement or a way to convince herself to marry him…then?
Fast forward again to their wedding day. Before the ceremony, Beth was wingin' her vows while Randall realized that what he wrote was (his words) "a dissertation on marriage." They then have an impromptu meeting in their bathroom and write their vows together. Something Randall says is, "You're the only thing I'm ever going to need." Something Beth says is, "The single most extraordinary thing I've done in my life, is fall in love with you." Sure, it sounds sweet, romantic and tear-jerkingly wedding day appropriate, but was it the total truth? Do any of us only need one person? Are all of us only capable of doing one most extraordinary thing?
Fast forward one more time to when Tess was a newborn. While sitting in the kitchen in the middle of the night and eating nachos, two things that Beth says are 1) "Making it work' usually means I adjust. I make it work...I have to lose something," and 2) while comparing their relationship to a bowl of chips, "You're a whole-chips-with-a-lot-of-cheese kind of person. So am I." As she looks down into the bowl at the smaller broken chips, Randall catches on and says, "What? I leave you with the crumbs? I'll never eat nachos again." He wasn't playing, by the way. He was dead serious. That's another thing that I wonder about them—how much of their cute playful banter is really more like a low-key form of passive aggressiveness because they're still learning how to hear—and I mean really and truly hear—one another. And then respond appropriately. Hopefully.
Like I said. Most things are in layers. But the reason why I think that singles and those in long-term relationships (especially engaged) couples should see last night's episode is because of what went down on the first date, especially. Ever since Randall lost his dad, it seems like he's been trying to be him; to fill his shoes and to overcompensate in ways that no son fully can when his dad leaves far too soon. And Beth? I can't help but wonder how much of her "tensed-up-ness" isn't just about Randall "being too much," but about feeling anger about losing her own father and perhaps convincing herself to do architecture over dance, maybe because it was something her dad always wanted her to do or because she felt like she needed to take care of her family in a way that no daughter should feel burdened to when her father leaves far too soon.
Cautionary tale #1—Process your childhood. Where you feel wounds, fear and/or uncertainty, heal. Have hard conversations. See a therapist. Confront your pain. Love on yourself…before looking for someone else to do it.
Next up. Randall saw Beth. He really saw her. He asked around. He paid attention. When he spoke her passion into her life at their first date, she damn near bit his head off. And so, he shut down. All these years later, Beth is ready to do what she loves and what Randall recognized way back when. However, Randall has gotten used to it being a dream deferred. Beth says it's been about her breaking the promise they made of neither of them losing themselves all along. Randall says she's reciting (his words) "revisionist history."
Cautionary tale #2—Be honest with yourself, most of all. What do you want? Who do you want to be? How do you see your future before bringing someone else into it? A part of the beauty of having a season of singleness is you can focus on you and nothing but…unapologetically so.
There were moments in last night's episode when it was implied that Randall often convinced Beth to move outside of her comfort zone or timing. Sometimes that's good for growth. Other times, it feels nothing short of being railroaded and ignored. If you're pushed into a corner long enough, even if it's by someone you love who has the best of intentions, you're gonna lash out. Healthy love? It feels like freedom.
Another point. During the current day fight that they were having, in response to Beth wanting to dance and it being non-negotiable at this point, she said, "I am not going to bend. And that's the problem. Our lives don't work unless I'm doing the bending. And we both know it." A lot of marriage counselors and relationship coaches will say that, in a relationship, you should compromise and not sacrifice. I disagree. Sacrifice simply means giving up something good for something better. The thing is, when two people are in a long-term commitment, sacrifices should be mutually agreed upon and mutually made, not always at the same time but as both individuals need them to be. Beth shouldn't always be doing the sacrificing. Randall either. And neither should say—or worse, act—like they are OK with said sacrifices when they are anything but.
Cautionary tale #3—No matter how much you love someone, you were an individual with a purpose before they ever arrived. So no, they can't be all that you need because you need to fulfill the reason why you were placed on this earth to begin with and, also no, being in love is not the most or only extraordinary thing that any of us are called or expected to do in this world. It sounds good, but it's not realistic.
As one of my favorite Leo Buscaglia quotes on love so poignantly points out, "Love is continual becoming." You need to become your best self; that is what's truly extraordinary. The man or woman who can support you in that happening, all throughout your life, that is the best kind of love story.
Randall and Beth are on quite the emotional roller coaster ride right now but personally, I like that they are being revealed in this way. It's a reminder to not look at some rom-com or scripted sitcom where a couple has no issues and say, "I want that." Instead, we should look at this beautiful Black couple, see where their missteps are, ask ourselves if we're making some of the same ones and adjust accordingly. Then rinse and repeat. As often as needed.
Randall and Beth (or R&B as Susan Kelechi Watson, the dope chick who plays Beth, calls them) are not a perfect couple with a flawless love story. They are two individuals who are learning to love themselves, their purpose and one another simultaneously. That's no easy feat. And what last night reminded me is when you're striving to be in a solid and lasting relationship, all three kinds of loves must factor in. From day one and every day that follows. By both people. Intentionally so. Otherwise, it's hard to like who you're with or your life with them or even yourself after a while, no matter how much you love them.
Thanks for the reminder, Randall and Beth. It's noted. And profoundly appreciated over here in the real world. It really is.