Jan. 2017 Update:
In October 2013 I watched the television series Polyamory: Married and Dating, and it changed my life. Everything in my life was shifting at the time, and I wrote two blog posts (combined into one here and edited for the sake of clarity) that capture moments of myself and my opinions from the time that I would do well to never forget.
My thoughts about the show haven’t changed at all. However, my thoughts about American society and the way we understand and talk about the nature of love and sex have developed drastically.
Because my relationship with Jesus has become personal since the time I wrote these posts, I can no longer stand behind some of the opinions I expressed in this piece about sexual dispositions and preferences. I do not speak merely of the microcosm of the sexual subculture represented here, but of the entire realm of human sexuality, romantic and sexual expression, friendship, and love when I say our continual and bottomless thirsts for love and pleasure cannot be rightly understood let alone satisfied apart from a connection with the God who is the inexhaustible source of all real love, sustainable pleasure, who also gives us the ability to practice self-control.
(It is a benchmark in my personal friendships when I feel comfortable recommending Polyamory: Married and Dating, due to the complication of the frequent, explicit sexual content in the show.)
[Michele’s Note: Because it is now virtually impossible to avoid all exposure to sexually explicit content in our current cultural context, this is a topic we intend to return to and discuss in-depth on Thing That Isn’t.]
Polyamory: Married and Dating (the greatest television show of all time)
I have seen tons of TV over the course of my life, and I have seen the evolution of the Reality Genre, but I have never seen a show so compelling as Polyamory: Married and Dating.
It is a dressing down of the understanding of marriage and monogamy in the United States. The way we actually think about sex and marriage on a cultural level is reflected back on us in the most bizarre way I have ever encountered. It points out the way people can use sex as a weapon within a relationship. I have never seen a show where both sides bully each other with sex before. I have never truly understood why we as a people practice monogamy at all until now.
This sounds a little weird and closed minded I know, stay with me please. I don’t care about anyone’s sexual disposition as long as they practice it safely. in the show, they do in fact practice safe sex, and two of them, out of the seven people in the show, have a seemingly healthy and sex-positive way of life that they appear to find rewarding. So please stick with me, this isn’t some anti-sex hum-buggery.
Polyamory: Married and Dating is currently in its second season on Showtime. It focuses on two “pods” of romantic partners. The first, a trio in LA that includes: A man, his wife, and their girlfriend. The second is a foursome which are partnered up with each other within their group, men to women.
This isn’t casual, no-strings sex. The justification engine for the lifestyle is called “Processing”, and herein the real genius of the show is unveiled. The people pull the rug out from under each other, capable of accusing each other of emotional cheating while simultaneously cheating on each other. It’s hard to state this clearly so I will overstate it. They tell each other all the time, with both words and actions, “Please do not love someone else.” then they go love someone else, then meet up to accuse each other of loving someone else.
They have collectively agreed to betray each other actively. They all have these sort of sickening smiles on their faces; they look like they are about to vomit from making themselves so miserable. Even within the act of thinking only about themselves they fail to make themselves happy. They stop in the middle of sex with each other to argue about who they are sleeping with and where their emotional attention is distributed. It’s selfish and none of them seem to have the presence of mind to see past that selfishness.
It’s like mainlining emotional drama right into your veins. Everyone should watch this show. It is on Showtime and has tons of soft-core action, but I would be tempted to show teenagers this show as an educational program, “Look at how terrible, emotionless and boring your sex-life could be.” They live like they are on a date all the time. Adjusting emotionally to a comfortable level romantically is out of the question; the tension never subsides. They trap each other in their own terrible lives and continually betray each other. Polyamory is a show about the devastating psychological effects that sexual fear inflicts on its victims.
I have never had a TV show make me a better person through watching it. This group of people make each other so miserable that it teaches by illustrating what not to do, which is a real service. The people on the show quiver from fear of each other. The way they touch each other is both clingy and distant at the same time. The economy of their own bodies within the institution of a sexual relationship has driven them insane and their minds are literally regressed to those of 15 year-olds.
The friends and coworkers of the people on the show all try to talk them down and help them in even a minor capacity. Their problems are not difficult.
“I am so upset that she/he is sleeping with someone else.” each person groans.
“Yes, but aren’t you sleeping with someone else?” The friend replies.
“Well yes, but it’s completely different, we have an emotional connection.” The offending party vomits out.
Never in the wrong, never taking responsibility for the cycle of pain they perpetuate, moving from person to person, wallowing in their own misery. These people have lost their decision making abilities through using sex as leverage against each other for years. The tension of pageantry between them does nothing but create a spiral of emotional issues and judgement.
True love is about self sacrifice and discipline, not emotional terrorism. The show makes me grateful for every comfortable interaction I have had with anyone. Thank you people who do not bully each other all the time with sex. The lessons we can take away from this show in an effort to understand what love is are incredibly valuable.
Go watch Polyamory, then tell a friend you are so glad you don’t HAVE to have sex with anyone, because you will mean it in a way you never understood before.
[Sam’s Note: This was the end of the first post. After I had posted it to Tumblr, a man who identified himself as polyamorous contacted me about my judging too harshly, to which I responded with some questions like: “Do you experience this [specific kind of interaction portrayed in the show] in your romantic encounters? I know that in my own romantic and/or sexual interactions, even of the traditional one-to-one ratio, similar issues have been challenging to overcome.” The conversation was a valuable one, indeed, and I wished him well in the post below and still do as a matter fact.]
As mentioned in the previous post “Processing” in the show, is a way of decompressing relationships. The problem is that when the members of the “pods” decompress their relationships they are forced to define them, which again, is what they claim to want to avoid. They use gentle words to create these boundaries, like “comfort” and “play”, but it is still rhetoric used in an effort of controlling the conditions in which love and affection are distributed; then they have to remember to not define things and tell people to remember to not define their romantic boundaries. “Don’t say anything about the Elephant” is being screamed with everyone’s eyes. Their conversations, like our own, cycle back to the disappointing question, “Why are we not happy?”
It is the epitome of the human condition: we don’t want to have boundaries imposed on us, but then we are obliged to create and attempt to enforce boundaries on others in an effort to avoid situations we don’t want. We all negotiate in this way all the time; I just never saw so clearly how exhausting it is. To re-purpose a phrase, “It’s like trying to nail jelly to cats.” The effort itself is overwhelming.
The show has people basically acting out a corrupt sexual capitalism. Most of the people stay in their relationships out of a sort of emotional and sexual greed. They say, “I love you but only in the conditions I love you in right now, if you violate these policies you will damage that love and I will have to decide if I can accept your love again. Please remember to not restrict your love toward me just as I am restricting it to you now.” Continually redefining who and what they won’t do sexually feels a little like trying to breathe when the point is to drown.
The happy people in the show walk a sexual tight-rope that I know personally I can’t walk because it is too much work. Not that a sexual identity is a wrong one, but the one presented in the show makes me want to just go do something else. Sex is not the only thing in life and to spend all of your time and emotional energy dealing with the drama seems like just spinning in circles. Sex is a part of love but isn’t the whole thing. Most importantly, love is about other people, not yourself. Too many people on the show miss that in a big way.
You could replace the act of sex with any other part of life, and the show still works. If you do things only for yourself you will be incredibly unhappy.
Polyamory: Married and Dating creates a fishbowl, exposing how terrible every person in the world is at truly defining the emotional and romantic connections that we all have with each other in a real way. It blows on the house of cards that everyone makes with their own lives. It is like watching a really complicated mental tongue twister – super confusing but fun. Get ready to be spun in circles. On top of that the softcore porn stuff gets hilarious as it is so bright, so staged, so clean and frequent that you begin to wish that meetings between people would just end in handshakes.
(Special thanks to Psychophancy, for offering additional perspective. Honest dialogue helps everyone involved shape their own lives into the most rewarding experiences possible so thank you.)