‘Insecure’ is trying me: Issa and Molly are better than the clichés they’re playing into
Infidelity can be a self-fulfilling prophesy. There are only so many times you can daydream about passionate sex with a former fling from a friends-with-benefits situation before reality knocks on your front door. Or studio door, as it is in the case of Issa and Daniel on Insecure.
The series, currently in its first season, started off rocky with tired tropes about black kids’ belief that intelligence equals “acting white” (seriously, this theory has not been proven) and the tragic single black female narrative the media drilled into the cement back in 2010. As the season has progressed, the show is funnier, more compelling. It makes for decidedly good, realistic TV in most ways — except for how Issa and Molly handle matters of the heart (and vagina).
At the end of Sunday’s episode, “Shady As F*ck,” Issa cheats on her boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) with Daniel (Y’lan Noel). It’s the classic tale of an unfulfilled woman imagining the greener grass that’s never really greener. Lawrence works at Best Buy after a tough bout with unemployment. Getting his business idea off the ground has not been successful, which frustrates Issa. Issa is also unsure if Lawrence is The One after five years together. Instead of communicating her very normal feelings of doubt to her man, she opts for avoidance by spending the night at her bestie Molly’s (Yvonne Orji) place. Daniel’s been hanging around, like all men do who think they have a chance of having sex with you again, and Issa allows it because she wants to entertain the idea of them being a thing. When opportunity presents itself in Daniel’s late-night studio session, it goes down. On the couch. Finally.
Once Daniel is fast asleep (note to all TV shows ever: Some people do stay awake after sex, you know?) Issa stares at her own reflection in the bathroom mirror. Initially, she seems pleased with herself because she finally got what she wanted. That’s until a bottle of lotion reminds her of her boyfriend Lawrence. (Yeah, remember that guy?) She rushes out of the studio leaving Daniel in his blissful, post-sex slumber.
The fact is, grown people are going do what grown people do. Issa was always going to cheat on Lawrence. Not taking away accountability for the shitty thing she did — because cheating is a shitty thing to do when you’re in a monogamous relationship where boning other people has been ruled out — but maybe if she was being encouraged to put her big girl panties on and talk to Lawrence, it could’ve been prevented. But she didn’t, and often people don’t, and that’s life… Shit happens.
In the episode, Molly’s advice to Issa about her issues with Lawrence — a message that pretty much everyone sends to women all the time — is that you don’t leave a good man. You definitely don’t leave a good black man since they’re supposed to be some type of unicorn. What you are supposed to do, if you’re a black woman in a relationship with a “good” black man, is you stay quiet and remain grateful that this fine, educated guy even looked your way. It’s not that I think Issa was thinking of the messages society sends women when she cheated with Daniel. She was thinking that Daniel was hot (seriously, goddamn) and that she wanted to do the sex with him. But the unwillingness to tell her man she wants him to do it to her “face down, ass up,” as she told Molly, might have been why she was daydreaming about Daniel. And her unwillingness to tell Lawrence what she wanted might very well have been, at least in part, because of a lifetime of internalizing messages about how you do and don’t behave should you be so fortunate as to find yourself in a relationship with a “good black man.” And as we saw, that didn’t turn out so well.
Molly is on the opposite end of the spectrum in her love life. She’s just…thirsty. Her thirst for love is so strong she loses all discernment and becomes needy. Despite having beauty, dope friends, the deluxe apartment in the sky, a lovely career as an attorney, designer clothes and a dog (a dog, what else do you neeeeed, Molly?), love eludes her. Probably because she’s so damn thirsty. Date after date, she continues to meet duds or she can’t recognize when a guy is just not that into her. Still, Insecure had never depicted her desperation at such lows as it did on Sunday’s episode.
After having sex with Chris (Jidenna), Molly is damn near begging him to leave clothes at her apartment. Bitch, what? She’s planning six months into the future with a dude she just met. Then she invites him to her friend’s engagement party. What single girlfriend do you have inviting random men from a dating app to their friend’s engagement party as if they’re a couple? Please point her out so we can have a chat. Hook-up boy Chris introduces himself as her boyfriend at the engagement party, which unsurprisingly makes Molly glow. When she asks him about it he says, “No. You seem like you needed a win.” He was not serious, but he could smell the desperation reaping from her pores. It reeks.
Drunk in need of a man to lick her wounds, she pops up at Jared’s (Langston Kerman) apartment, drunk. This is the same guy she had great chemistry with but ultimately kicked to the curb because he works at Enterprise. That’s fine. I’m all about women not settling, whatever settling may mean to them. What I’m not with is Molly’s desperation.
When Fusion asked Issa Rae if she feared that Molly was a stereotype, she balked at the idea. She said she has friends who are just like Molly. From Episode One, I was leery of the single black woman trope. It’s old and lame and has been done to death with very little nuance. Mostly it’s just not believable, at least not for me, a 31-year-old black woman. Maybe women like Molly do exist. I guess they have to. I just don’t hang around any. My girlfriends are bad bitches who just don’t care enough about men to be thirsty or needy, but maybe that’s more unique than I thought. But I suspect the opposite, that the tired clichés represented on Insecure and elsewhere on TV exist more in the fictional world than the real one.
I love Issa and Molly’s friendship. It’s the black girl friendship that has been missing from TV since Mara Brock Akil’s Girlfriends. It’s organic and fun. They’re honest with each other in a way that resembles the kind of joy I’ve found in my own friendships with other black women. It’s this love thang, though, where they both tend to be caricatures of how people think women are when it comes to dating. And I just can’t rock with it.
For 20-somethings trying to figure it all out, I suppose this is all par for the course. Issa gets a pass for being unable to communicate like she’s at the adult table, only because I imagine it’s hard to tell a man you’ve been with for five years that you want raunchier sex (and feel he lacks ambition and have been daydreaming about an ex-fling). Molly, though? Girl. There is no excuse for this “why don’t you love me?” sad ass tune on repeat. I want more for her. I want her character to want more for herself. Her life is too poppin’ for her to fall apart when it comes to men. Bad bitches aren’t thirsty. We stay hydrated at all times.