Who TF Did I Marry captivated millions. What made the TikTok series so relatable? | Lottie J Joiner

April Reign watched all 50 parts of the viral TikTok series, Who TF Did I Marry?

Reign, creator of the 2015 viral social media campaign, #OscarSoWhite, was among the millions and counting who tuned in to see Reesa Teesa, whose real name is Tareasa Johnson, talk about how she “met, dated, married and divorced” a man who she described as “a real pathological liar”.

Johnson told TikTok viewers she met the man, who she called “Legion”, in early March 2020 on a dating app. He moved into her three-bedroom townhome soon after so they could quarantine together during the pandemic. They married in January 2021 and divorced six months later. The year and half she spent in the relationship was filled with broken promises – promises of a new home, a new car and a trip to London. After feeling abandoned during a painful miscarriage, Johnson began to really reconsider her relationship.

During the video series, which launched on Valentine’s Day and totaled 500 minutes – or eight hours – Johnson, while driving her car, putting on her makeup or curling her hair, admitted she did not “pay attention to the United Nations of red flags”, and bravely confessed: “I was desperate. I wanted to be married. I wanted a family and I thought it was my turn.”

It is not a unique or abnormal plight – wanting love, marriage and family. Look no further than reality TV dating shows including Love is Blind, 90-Day Fiance, Married at First Sight and The Bachelor and Bachelorette series – wanting, and being in search of love is a universal human desire. But why did Johnson’s story resonate with so many people and why did so many tune in to her tale of romantic woe?

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Reign pointed to Johnson’s great storytelling skills. She also noted that people connected with Johnson’s romantic mistakes.

“Overall her story was incredibly relatable and sad in the sense that most of us, I don’t want to speak universally, but I think that most of us have ignored red flags because as she said, we were lonely or we were searching for companionship,” said Reign, a creative consultant and an advisor to the social media app, Spill.

Johnson’s story, shown in 10-minute videos, had all the drama of a good reality show with many viewers calling on the Lifetime network or Tyler Perry to make a movie of the TikTok series. And within weeks after premiering, her tale of deception was written about in major mainstream media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USAToday and Time magazine.

By the time Johnson talked to Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts and talk show host Tamron Hall, the Who TF Did I Marry series had garnered more than 400m views.

Johnson told Roberts that “there were a lot of things in this story that were red flags”, but she “felt like time was running out”. She also ignored the red flags, she said, because “Legion” was paying all the bills and being a provider. Johnson told Roberts that she “had never experienced that before”. But the TikToker said she learned during her relationship that the person she had married was previously arrested for impersonating a police officer and had an open warrant out for his arrest. “Being single is not always the great thing, but being married to the wrong person is a completely different type of hell,” Johnson said.

On her talk show, Hall noted that millions had made the Who TF Did I Marry series into “must-watch TV” and it had “become an obsession for many”. Johnson told Hall that on their first date the man she called “Legion” was charming. “He was very career-minded. He could dress very well. He carried himself as someone who was serious. So when he presented himself saying: ‘I’m 42. I’m ready to settle down.’ I believed that,” Johnson said. She would later find out some things “Legion” had told her, such as he attended San Diego State or played Arena Football, were not true.

Johnson’s story, shown in 10-minute videos, had all the drama of a good reality show. Photograph: TikTok / Reesa Teesa

“I’m embarrassed. I’m still kicking myself,” Johnson told Hall of not being more diligent about checking the background of her former husband. But ultimately the goal of her sharing her story was to help others, she said, those who may “want the fairytale” like she did. “It costs you nothing to verify, but it may as well cost you everything if you don’t verify.”

Johnson was later signed to the talent agency CAA, according to the Hollywood Reporter, following the interviews. And most recently, Johnson talked to reporter Ashan Singh of ABC News’ Impact X Nightline for his report, How I Got Played, which gave examples of different romance scams. Johnson told Singh that for a long time she felt “embarrassed and ashamed” for allowing “this person” into my life.

Patrice Berry, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, says she had only seen about 10 episodes of Who TF Did I Marry, but notes that it was the intimate details that Johnson shared about her “roller coaster” relationship that kept people tuned-in.

It is this message in Johnson’s mess that Berry focused during an episode about the series on her own YouTube channel.

“I think a lot of people can relate to making poor decisions from a place of pain and later gaining the courage to let go of a relationship that was never meant for a lifetime,” Berry said. “I think she was trying to encourage people to listen to their intuition, trust themselves, be aware of the signs of a toxic relationship and that it is OK to be alone.”

DeVon Franklin, a New York Times best-selling author and relationship advisor on the popular reality show, Married at First Sight, noted that “none of us get through this experience called loving someone else without some scars. None of us.”

Franklin faced public scrutiny throughout his marriage and divorce to actress Meagan Good.

“Who has gone through love and not had some pain?” Franklin asked. “I don’t know anyone, right? So I respect her decision to be transparent. I think even if we can’t relate to the specifics, we all can relate to having a hope for love and it not working out the way we anticipated.”

The way Johnson told her story, in 10-minute cliffhangers – and the details of her bad romance were juicy for sure – but what made Who TF Did I Marry? such a watercooler topic was how and where it was delivered, Reign says.

The TikTok platform is free, which makes the video series accessible, and the platform also allows its content to be shareable across other platforms, Reign points out. She also notes that TikTok videos don’t disappear, unlike an Instagram Live, which expires after 24 hours. Viewers were able to go back and watch previous episodes to catch-up on the series. It was also the visual medium of Who TF Did I Marry? Reign said, that TikTok offered something that could not be replicated in a book or an audio podcast.

“I could not have done what she did. I have been out there and I’ve gotten dragged, and had horrible things said about me just because I have a public platform,” said Reign. “So, I give props to her for sharing and hopefully helping someone else and being able to weather that social media storm.”


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