What ‘Martin’ Taught Me About The Best Friend Kind Of Love (Essay)

Words by Mya Abraham. Art by Sam Liacos.

Let’s rewind to late August 1992. Cult sitcom Martin launched with this captivating prelude: “My ex-girlfriend once asked me if I loved her. [Chuckles] Do I love her? Well, let’s just say in the course of a four-year relationship, I brought her a hat, a scarf, a T-shirt and a sweater. We broke up. I let her keep the sweater. Now I know you cannot put a price tag on love, but that sweater really set a brother back, alright? How far should a man go for love? We’ll be back.” *Cue opening credits*

Fast-forward five seasons and 132 episodes, outside controversy and standout comedic timing, we received our answer in 1997, and that answer still reigns true in 2017. Following classics like In Living Color (1990), Living Single (1993) and New York Undercover (1994), Fox kept up its momentum with Martin. The show’s five-season run wasn’t without its complications, but the show’s riveting beginning compelled audiences to follow along and grant its current status as a timeless hit. Martin averaged 11 million viewers its first season. The New York Times commended the show’s “quirkiness and its willingness to embrace social issues.” In an interview with Vibe in April 1994, Martin Lawrence praised himself on extracting most of his humor from “the give-and-take of male-female relationships.” He continued by saying, “Having a steady relationship, getting with the right woman is something  I’ve always believed in. The one thing I’m most proud of with Martin is that it shows a black man loving and respecting his black woman.”

Dating in 2017 is so far gone from what it was in 1992. Unlike shows like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where we witnessed Will going through his bachelor phase until he met Lisa towards the end of the series and Sister, Sister where we had to sift through the woes of young love into adulthood, we were privy to a grown, healthy, comical, romantic relationship through Martin and Gina for the majority of the series. Luckily, we also witnessed phileo love through the friendships of him, his best friends Tommy and Cole, and Gina and her best friend, Pam. However, Martin taught me that being friends first and learning a balance between humor and seriousness keeps that spark in a relationship alive.

Martin is a street-smart radio DJ for Detroit’s fictional WZUP who, despite his tough exterior, is a romantic at heart. Gina is a level-headed executive from an affluent background who is also down-to-earth and Martin’s balance. Like most classic ’90s sitcom couples who embody “relationship goals,” each partner represents what the other isn’t. Martin and Gina’s familiarity is what cemented their fan base both then and now. When we finally find out how Martin and Gina met in the Season 2 premiere, it was refreshing. Tommy, Martin and Cole crashed a party. Martin saw Gina getting food. He set out to steal her dessert, but instead stole her heart after attempting (and failing) to serenade her. He made her laugh with his charm and wit, which set the foundation for their relationship.

Gina, like any independent woman, could’ve found someone on her “level.” During their first breakup in Season 1, she met her match, but it was her Marty Mar who she couldn’t stay away from. After Martin proposed, lost his job and ended up in a cult, Gina fought for her man—something she did fairly often. When Martin felt she was too good for him, she made him feel secure, reminding him that they were a team. Pam continuously tried to convince Gina to find a baller, but Gina wouldn’t budge. That unconditional, ride-or-die mentality resonated with me so much as a millennial navigating this dating market. Many are so ready to jump ship when things get a little rough, but this is where having a solid friend foundation is so pivotal.

I was in a relationship for a long time, and him being my friend first and always proving to him that I wasn’t going anywhere (despite all the craziness he put me through) helped our four-and-a-half year run. Unlike Martin, my former partner was all talk and no action. Despite all my efforts to be the Gina to his Martin, it wasn’t working and I left. So to answer his question from the pilot, “How far will a man go for love?” Mine didn’t do much for the love I gave him. However, based on Martin, if he loves hard enough, a man will do anything for his partner: sacrifice, compromise, beg, plead, learn, forgive.

When Martin proposed to Gina, he initially did so like a jackass. “Damn Gina, yes I’ll marry you,” he said. “Happy now?” In a low move, he temporarily lost his woman to hide his insecurities about not being financially ready to be married. However, an old soul sat him down, schooled him and helped him come to a major realization: what good is having the big house and fancy car without the woman you love to share it with? With the help of his friends and Brian McKnight (shoutout to the ’90s for all the amazing, unforgettable cameos), he re-proposed from the heart with what he could afford and things worked out alright.

Martin and Gina were a young couple just trying to make it, with a solid web of friends who had their backs regardless of circumstance. The iconic TV duo supported each other through the highest of highs and lowest of lows (job loss, relocating, homelessness) and used their sanctity of their friendship to make it work. Yes, Martin may have been a lot to deal with at times, but his love for Gina was undeniable, even 25 years later.