Late last year, actress Keshia Knight Pulliam announced that she was engaged to former NFL player and reality star Ed Hartwell. Many found it to be a surprising turn of events. Pulliam had been in a very public and lengthy relationship with celebrity radio host Darian “Big Tigger” Morgan, and many didn't even know the pair had broken up. Pulliam and Hartwell were married on New Year's Eve 2015 (when she revealed that she was engaged, she was actually already married), and last week, Pulliam announced that they were expecting their first child together.
But how quickly the celebration turned sour. In a classic case of “It was all good just a week ago,” Hartwell recently filed for divorce from Pulliam. Making matters worse, he has questioned the paternity of the child Pulliam is carrying. In a statement to The YBF via a representative, Hartwell said, “Right now, the only thing I want is a paternity test for the baby.” Reportedly, Pulliam was informed of the divorce filing via social media.
Predictably, the internet responded to the news of the divorce filing with variations of “I told you so.” Ever since the engagement announcement, naysayers have said that Pulliam was rushing into a doomed relationship, given that she had met Hartwell years ago when he was married to his first wife, and the pair appeared to be advancing their relationship commitment at full speed. In light of the impending divorce, folks are also saying that Pulliam had been “desperate” to get married so soon.
Yeah, Pulliam (and Hartwell) moved fast. Maybe Pulliam was pushing for marriage because she was as desperate as “they” say. But would a 36-year-old woman's desperation for marriage be any surprise? I mean, folks start badgering single women about not being married around 25. By 30, it's a full-on assault, with relatives and cabdrivers alike openly wondering, “What's wrong with you?” for not having a husband. I certainly don't think all, or even most, single women are desperate, but like, seriously, how does anyone realistically expect a woman not to be, given the bulls—t single women listen to all the time about being less than and inadequate?
Culturally, we treat single women, especially of “a certain age,” as if they are tragic and flawed. When single women in their 30s proclaim that they are happy (despite) being single, we say they're lying and “would trade it all for a husband and some kids.” When they express a desire to get married, we call them, well, desperate, and tell them how they wasted their 20s because apparently doing anything (including pursuing education and professional goals) other than actively looking for a husband is considered wasteful.
We treat single women overall badly, but we treat single black women worse, hosting televised forums on what they need to fix about themselves and trotting out damning statistics about black marriage rates (among women only) and the percentage of black children born to single mothers. When a woman, particularly a black woman, gets pregnant sans marriage, so many talk about how she's another stereotype. So many remind her, dripping with judgment, that she and her out-of-wedlock child are just what the community needs. How she's a burden to society. How she's setting back “the race.” How her unmarried-with-child self is the sole source of all the community’s ills. We ask why she couldn't wait for a ring or get the child's father to put a ring on it, as if most of these women didn't hope/try/wish/plan/beg for that.
So when I hear of a 30-something woman being called “desperate” for wanting to be married or for even getting married, I can't help thinking of all that context and baggage and bulls—t. I think of how Teflon-strong a single woman's gotta be not to internalize all the horrid traits ascribed to her for not having a husband. And I have a lot of sympathy for the women who have become desperate after listening to a decade of people wondering what they must be lacking and what they need to fix or change or stop in order for a man to want to marry them and ”complete” them.
Was Pulliam desperate? Who knows? Maybe she was desperate or maybe she was madly in love with Hartwell, who, from TV, we can see is easy on the eyes and charming. Maybe she figured, “This is it! Why wait?” And maybe she wanted to be married, too, which isn't desperate but an accepted cultural expectation of an American woman, especially in her 30s. Why do we tell women constantly that they should be married, then turn around and shame them for wanting to be wives? Maybe Pulliam didn't want to have a kid out of wedlock and listen to folks drag her like they did Angela Simmons. Could you really blame Pulliam for wanting to avoid that?
I'm genuinely sorry to hear that Pulliam's marriage is coming to an abrupt end, and in such a quick and horrifying way. This situation is all-the-way messy. An eight-month marriage, divorcing while pregnant and a husband so grimy as to publicly imply that his wife might be carrying someone else's child is an unscripted drama better suited to an ’80s late-night soap opera than real life.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She is also a blogger at SeeSomeWorld.com, where she covers pop culture and travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.