The internet gossip mill is obsessed with the idea of Jada Pinkett Smith cheating on Will Smith. It’s one of two topics reporters seem to be interested in asking him about anymore.
Philly born and raised Will Smith is making the talk show rounds, promoting his latest film, Emancipation. The movie stands to be an awards magnet, with venerated director Antoine Fuqua, a powerful storyline about an enslaved man escaping to fight for the Union in the Civil War, and a multiple Oscar-winning lead in Smith.
But this time his experience with the Academy Awards is working against him… because of well, you know. Smith’s press tour for the film has, in many ways turned into an apology tour for his on-stage slap of comedian Chris Rock at the last Oscars ceremony. As every living person will recall, the slap- for which the actor has been banned from the awards for a full decade- was a reaction to Rock making a joke about Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith.
The comic’s jab was about Jada’s shaved head, which she later revealed to be a solution to her alopecia. But instead of the media using this as an opportunity to raise awareness of the autoimmune disorder or the increased risk of hair loss in Black women, it’s apparently once again time to talk about whether Jada cheated on Will.
For years now, the public has been fascinated by the dynamics of Will and Jada, one of the longest lasting and most openly non-monogamous duos in Hollywood. The couple meet in 1994, started dating a year later, and were married in 1997. The quarter-century (so far) long romance is decidedly rare for two artists in the spotlight, and they’ve been unsparing with sharing the details publicly. Her Red Table Talk video series has notoriously been the platform for many of their juiciest revelations.
While the headlines tend to ask, “is Jada Smith Cheating?” they seem to forget that Will was still married with children when the pair got together or that he’s acknowledged having numerous sexual partners outside his marriage. In the premiere episode of her Red Table Talk series, Jada invited Will’s first wife, Sheree Zampino, as a guest, where they openly discussed the rocky start.
Yet few outlets have covered that indiscretion with the vim and vigor they have shown for Jada’s “entanglement” with singer August Alsina years later, during a period of estrangement from her husband. One of the most watched episodes of the Red Table Talk series was the pair discussing the situation between Jada and the musician.
While the couple shut down Alsina’s assertions (which he made while promoting an album) that the relationship was conducted with Will’s blessing, they also declared that Alsina is not a homewrecker, and Will has also repeatedly said in interviews that there has never been infidelity in their marriage. Jada has also remarked that cheating is far from the worst thing a person can do in a relationship.
In a wide-ranging interview with GQ, Will acknowledged their open relationship, saying his wife had “never believed in a conventional marriage.” He said of the arrangement, “We have given each other trust and freedom, with the belief that everybody has to find their own way. And marriage for us can’t be a prison. And I don’t suggest our road for anybody. I don’t suggest this road for anybody…But the experiences that the freedoms we’ve given one another… and the unconditional support, to me, is the highest definition of love.”
Despite the couple’s unprecedented openness, few media outlets have been able to cover the story with anything above the aplomb of a toddler clutching an uncovered cup of grape juice.
The fact of the matter is that we don’t really know the inner workings of any relationship, no matter how public. Also, cheating can happen in the context of a consensually non-monogamous relationship. While we’re here, let’s also clarify that “consensual non-monogamy” (also known as CNM) is my preferred nomenclature over “ethical non-monogamy.” Consensual is a relatively verifiable statement- that partners are agreeing to the arrangement. “Ethical” is a subjective judgment. Plenty of people have remained technically faithful despite being unethical. Cheating can also be non-sexual in nature.
Within polyamorous or other consensually non-monogamous relationships, cheating can be anything that goes against the mutually agreed upon boundaries of those involved. It can be through overt rule breaking or acts of omission and failure to be honest. It’s the same as in monogamous relationships, really, with the big difference being where the lines are drawn. For an increasing number of people, sexual and romantic exclusivity is no longer a requirement of a happy partnership.
We also know that there are many reasons people break commitments and cheat. Renowned therapist Esther Perel (who was a guest on the Red Table Talks episode about infidelity!) speaks extensively about the motivations and consequences of cheating and the incredible pressure on modern marriages.
In a piece for The Atlantic she writes, “The damage that infidelity causes the aggrieved partner is one side of the story. For centuries, when affairs were tacitly condoned for men, this pain was overlooked, since it was mostly experienced by women. Contemporary culture, to its credit, is more compassionate toward the jilted. But if we are to shed new light on one of our oldest behaviors, we need to examine it from all sides. In the focus on trauma and recovery, too little attention is given to the meanings and motives of affairs, to what we can learn from them. Strange as it may seem, affairs have a lot to teach us about marriage—what we expect, what we think we want, and what we feel entitled to. They reveal our personal and cultural attitudes about love, lust, and commitment—attitudes that have changed dramatically over the past 100 years.”
When Jada Pinkett Smith and Esther Perel spoke about infidelity on Red Table Talk, the women spoke of the many types of betrayals beyond extra-dyadic sex and whether a marriage must dissolve after cheating is discovered. Perel declared, “I’m not of that persuasion because I think there are many relational betrayals. Contempt, neglect, and violence and indifference and nobody tells people, ‘Leave, leave, get the hell out.”
Jada has remarked that in her experience, cheating on someone was more devasting than being the cuckqueen. A cuckqueen, for the record, is the feminine version of cuckold. If you’ve never read that word before, perhaps ask yourself why. It may point to why the headlines routinely only ask, “Is Jada Smith Cheating?”
Proving that cheating can and does happen in CNM, I recently posted a call for readers to share their experiences of infidelity within non-monogamous relationships. I’ve also recently covered cheating in general and how to tell if your wife or husband is cheating.
“I specifically asked a partner to not seek out the romantic company of a person we knew was having an affair. I did not trust the person participating in infidelity to be open about their sexual habits and protection use, nor did I trust the person who was married and lying to their spouse to not lie to the connected person. We were in the car and this person sent my partner nudes. That he opened in front of me. I was mortified and so angry. He told me he never touched them, so it didn’t count. I disagreed, and we broke up not long after.” – Cay
“I had an ex who started sleeping with someone and lied about it for a few weeks. There’s so much freedom in polyamory, I find it hard to grasp why someone would feel the need to cheat tbh” – Rachel
“I feel like I’ve been cheated on more by people who said they wanted open relationships or were poly. Agreeing to be in a poly relationship doesn’t mean that “no holds barred” free for all… But seems like a lot of cis het dudes see it that way.” – Lauren
“A partner of mine slept with someone who I asked not to be intimate with because we had complicated history. They chose to do it anyways without being transparent because they met via tinder vs through me and my partner felt they had the autonomy to proceed.” – Bria
“I had a partner who really loved their autonomy and would feel trapped by boundaries that were made collaboratively in the relationship. It was the infidelity that brought that to light and showed a true incompatibility between the two of us. Mistakes can be forgiven if it’s uncharted territory; however I think it’s important to realize that in non-monogamy, incompatibility cannot be avoided or fixed wirh boundaries and agreements and non-monogamy itself.” – Julissa
“A few years ago, I was asked on a date by a woman from my past. She was in a relationship with a man and they cohabited and had children together… She was in her early 40s, restless and felt that she was wasting her last years of “looking pretty” (her words) in monogamy. She suggested an open relationship to her partner, but he wasn’t interested in the concept. At this point, as I sipped my beer awkwardly, I thought to myself, ” If one partner isn’t down with an open relationship…that’s pretty much cheating.” I didn’t want any parts of that situation.” – Jim
“In the context of an open relationship in which I experienced infidelity— it honestly felt so frustrating to see them crossing the boundaries we set out because the sense I had was “we have so much freedom, why do you need to keep testing it??” This looked like secret late night conversations and meetings with people I believed to be my close friends, spending money on sex in ways that were troubling based on our current boundaries and budget, and just being intentionally misleading…It made me feel so foolish, and really harmed my sense of trust in not just my partner but also my friendships” – Ani
“My current poly-marriage had one instance of infidelity that we worked through well over time. We had an agreement that all PIV intercourse with others would include barriers to protect from transmitting the HPV I had at the time. While both were under the influence, my not-yet-spouse had unprotected PIV sex with his other girlfriend. Thankfully, he immediately informed me of his error in judgement (while still under the influence, even!) so I was able to forgive them that transgression over time while immediately amending our agreement to avoid sex with anyone while under the influence of substances in order to avoid a repeat of that mistake. We’re still close friends with my now-husband’s former girlfriend, and I appreciate the valuable life lessons we all learned together.” – Lynne
In her many books on infidelity, Perel has said that “philandering is here to stay,” but that “not condemning does not mean condoning.” She insists open dialogue offers up an opportunity to build stronger, more sustainable relationships, saying, “people renew their licence on a regular basis, but they never renew their vows, they never renew their commitment.” Couples then should be “Asking, how are we doing? What needs to change? I mean, there is not a single system that is left languishing for so long, with no input, with the hope it will last forever.”