Love Guru. King of Relationships. Relationship Expert. Best-Selling Love Expert. And, according to Essence magazine, "the man women trust to tell them the truth about, well, everything." All of these words have been used to describe Steve Harvey, whose relationship-expert status has been affirmed by the women who made his books, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man and the most recent Straight Talk, No Chaser: How to Find, Keep, and Understand a Man, best-sellers.
From appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show to a column in Essence to a position on Good Morning America, Steve Harvey has been using media to tell it like it is to women who are either looking for love, desperate for a ring or trying to keep the man they have. No matter that Harvey has zero professional relationship credentials, or that up until a few years ago, he was more readily described as a King of Comedy, radio host and zoot suit connoisseur. Now the love guru formerly known as a comedian has two best-selling books about relationships. What a difference they've made in his career.
But every rose has its thorn, and in Harvey's case, it might just be his ex-wife, Mary, who recently posted a trio of YouTube videos that have garnered more than a quarter of a million views. In the clips, she accuses Harvey of multiple affairs; says his current wife, Marjorie, was his mistress during their marriage; and claims that he abandoned her and turned their son, Wynton, against her. She also claims that her allegations (in court papers, Mary accuses her ex of physical and mental abuse) are the reason Oprah Winfrey did not offer Harvey a television show.
One video ends with a slide show of photos of her with Harvey, while Whitney Houston's "Try It on My Own" plays in the background. Though the couple's divorce was finalized in late 2005, Mary said she filmed the videos to get closure from the relationship.
Steve Harvey strongly denies the claims, which are unproven, but should we be taking advice from a thrice-married comedian with some serious public relationship drama? It's easy to criticize Harvey's lack of expertise and write him off as someone trying to capitalize on those doom-and-gloom statistics about black women and relationships. But instead of hoping that the funny man-turned-guru goes away (because it would be fruitless to do so), maybe we can offer some solutions.
Labeling Harvey a "guru" may be one of the biggest problems, and we can rectify that quickly and easily. Steve Harvey is not a relationship expert or guru of any sort — so let's stop calling him that. If Mary's allegations are to be believed, Harvey is not practicing what he preaches. In his books, he writes that men show love three ways: They protect, provide and profess. Mary Harvey might beg to differ, since she alleges that he abandoned her and evicted her from their home.
Building up Steve Harvey as the go-to guy for all things relationship-oriented has made his current drama even more troublesome. A guru is expected to live and breathe what he or she teaches. Most of us would give a serious side eye to Suze Orman if she filed for bankruptcy or to Dr. Ian Smith if he regularly binged on fast food.
Harvey is not a guru. He's a man giving his opinion on men, to women. If he co-authored one of his relationship guides with a professional, his words might carry more weight. Harvey could tackle the comedic, commonsense stuff and let the experts handle the serious issues that can help make or break a troubled relationship.
Understanding the interpersonal intricacies of black men and women can be tricky for even the most skilled psychiatrist or psychologist. Such a task probably shouldn't be left up to a comedian/radio jock/host of Family Feud who's on his third marriage.
And ladies, Steve is just one man; he's not your man or every man, so his notion that he knows the mind-set of all men just because he is one is problematic. No one group thinks in one single way, so the advice that he dishes on "how to be a girl around the house," or his opinions about women who don't change their last name after marriage, may not apply in your case. Hopefully we can understand that his advice is guided by his experiences. Harvey shares the same anatomy with other men, but that's the only guaranteed similarity.
Harvey's books have sold millions, so it's clear that he has a core audience of women who love and trust him, and they most likely won't be turned away by his former wife's recent charges. But maybe we should either start expecting more from him if we're going to give him "love guru" status or be more discerning about where we get our relationship advice.
Patrice J. Williams is a contributor to The Root. Follow her on Twitter.