Polyamory: Married and Dating, Episode 1 Review

Showtime's new reality series about polyamory is getting people talking. Jessica's review will fill you in on what's happening on screen, and provide highlights on the boons and banes for the broader poly community to keep you in the know!

**Author's Note:  I do not claim any knowledge on the making of the series or the people involved beyond what is shown in each episode. My observations will be on what I saw as a viewer, which may not line up 100% with what actually happened. This review isn't endorsed by Showtime or the cast members (though I would love them to chime in on the comments, and I would really love to interview them if possible).**

A list of all of our episode reviews can be found here!

This year we've seen a flurry of media attention surrounding polyamory and open relationships. In addition to a couple of prime time news clips (check out Polyamory in the News to find out more), and a movie featuring a MFM relationship (Savages), we now have a reality show on a premium cable network!

Rather than give a general review of this new television series, I wanted to do something a little more in-depth. Some of you have been aware of (or practiced) polyamory for years; but others may have stumbled upon this article while searching for information after hearing about the show.  To keep everyone on the same page, and put the new series into perspective for the polyamorous and non-monogamous crowd, I'm going to examine the series from multiple angles: the production of the series and its connection with the greater polyamourous-indentified community; the story as shown to the viewers; and my views on the themes and behaviors that were presented in the show.

 

 

The Challenge of Diversity

One issue that was brought up in both blogs as well as Twitter comments was the lack of diversity in the cast.  

 

(the link is to a Tumblr post with the Showtime preview video. Some of the Tumblr responses are a bit more critical.)

 

In most documentaries and reality shows about polyamory to-date, those who are filmed tend to be white, cisgender, (upper) middle class, and educated.  Bisexuality seems to be exclusive to the female cast members.  Age and body type are other issues of contention. The shows that feature people who are older and larger tend to be met with disapproval from the mainstream audience (there were quite a few "old hippie" comments on Twitter after a couple of such shows.) Those that feature young and attractive people (like this series) are criticized for a lack of age and body diversity.

We are thus stuck with the dilemma on how to show the diversity of the poly community through media channels that predominantly cater to a mainstream audience (with mainstream advertisers).  While we have made strides to expose the public to polyamory (we've gone a long way from the MTV True Life episode a few years back), there is still a lot of work to do.

Perhaps the "movers and shakers" within the poly community could explore the option of creating a web-based polyamory documentary. (/cue foreshadowing of one of our upcoming projects...)

Polyamory vs. Monogamy

As an activist, one of my concerns is when others discuss the virtues of polyamory by degrading monogamy.  Whether it is caused by past pain or a need to separate oneself from the mainstream, this type of activity happens too often within the polyamory community.  I was surprised when there clips in the opening credits which could be interpreted as jabs at monogamy. The first was a clip of Anthony stating that he believes humans are naturally polyamorous, and that a few "freaks" are monogamous. A short while later, we see a clip of Tahl saying that "monogamy destroys families".  In the opening of the Anthony / Lindsey / Vanessa story we see a clip of their interview where they talk about supporting monogamy by choice, which seems confusing given the statements in the opening credits.  (My theory is that the initial clips were cut from a longer interview and taken out of context in order create tension.)

The Flaws of Reality TV

One of the downsides of a professionally produced documentary is that only a fraction of the material that is filmed is actually used in the final piece. The decision on what is aired or cut is determined by the director and producer, who ultimately serve the interests of the network that is hosting the show or series. This means it's in their best interests to craft a story that captures the attention of the largest audience possible, and ultimately leads to depicting an exaggerated amount of conflict and sexuality.

I'm sure that, at the core, all of the cast members are capable of having loving, "low drama" relationships. I also have the feeling that a fair amount of what happened on-screen was due to the nudgings of the producers and network (confirmed secondhand here, which reminds me of what happened with MTV's True Life: I'm Polyamorous).

Those who are experienced with being interviewed are in a better position to negotiate what is/is not recorded in an interview of documentary and can help influence the final production. If any of you after watching the show (or reading my review) think "Hey, I can be interviewed/taped for a show on polyamory", I strongly recommend that you check out the Polyamory Media Association. In addition to free training (donations encouraged), they also screen the legitimacy of media contacts.

And now, on to the review!

 

Storyline 1: Anthony, Lindsey, and Vanessa

The episode begins with Lindsey returning from finishing her English degree at Berkeley. Her husband, Anthony, and their girlfriend, Vanessa, are excited at her homecoming and give her a warm reception.

As they cuddle in the bedroom, it is revealed that Lindsey developed a romantic relationship with Krystoff while she was away at school.  Anthony asks Lindsey if Krystoff is now her boyfriend and she responds with "sort of."  As Anthony continues to interrogate Lindsey about her relationship with Krystoff, Vanessa interjects that she doesn't want that topic brought up at that time. Vanessa continues to exchange words with Lindsey about her fascination with the "brand new shiny thing" (Krystoff). The discussion is dropped and the triad moves to the bathroom to shower together.

In the side interviews, Anthony explains that Lindsey is allowed to have lovers and boyfriends, but the other members of the triad need to be informed when that transition happens.  He says that the news was sprung on them.  In Lindsey's interview clip, she discusses Vanessa's jealous, "passive aggressive" reaction.

When we return to the triad fully clothed in the bedroom, Vanessa tells Lindsey to call Krystoff and let him know that she made it home safe. We see Lindsey start a Skype call with Krystoff, and the highs of new relationship energy are apparent. Meanwhile upstairs, Vanessa confides to Anthony that she resents the situation. She also comments about how elaborate Lindsey's check-in call must be given is duration. Anthony finally responds that the triad should talk.

"If you want things to come to a head", he says, "let's make them come to a head."

Downstairs, Lindsey is on a Skype call with Krystoff. She asks him when they'll be able to see each other again, and he notes that he may travel to visit in the near future. At that point, Anthony comes downstairs and teases Lindsey about her behavior. Vanessa curls up against Lindsey and converses with Krystoff. He jokingly warns her that he is conspiring to get Lindsey back, to which she quickly snaps back "Of course you are".  After Lindsey makes some affectionate comments about Krystoff, Vanessa nudges for the call to end so that the triad can make dinner.

In the side interview, Vanessa rants about Lindsey's behavior. She claims that Lindsey is being insensitive by being affectionate towards Krystoff in front of her.

The triad reviews their rules

During dinner, the difficult conversation is brought up. Anthony starts by wanting to talk about he triad's rules. Lindsey immediately responds by saying that she doesn't feel that she broke any rules, to which Vanessa responds by saying that she feels that rules were broken.  The rules are listed out (full honesty, safety, permission, and veto power), during which Vanessa adds bits of commentary that are directed towards the current situation.  Vanessa says that she feels that Lindsey and Krystoff have acted like they are off "in a monogamous cocoon". She also says that she feels hurt and left out because Lindsey is doing things with Krystoff that she didn't do with her. Lindsey reframes the response to say that Krystoff did thing with her that Vanessa didn't (couldn't? wouldn't?), which is met by a hurt response from Vanessa.

Anthony jumps in to say that it's hurtful for Lindsey to continue her relationship with Krystoff as long as the triad isn't strong. He pushes Lindsey to end her relationship with Krysoff. Vanessa says that if Krystoff is interested in being involved with the triad long-term, he will understand the break.  Lindsey questions whether cutting off the relationship inorganically would backfire, leaving her wanting Krystoff more. Vanessa responds that Lindsay's reaction is child-like. Lindsey appears to agree after some hesitation. Vanessa then says that she doesn't want Lindsey to send tons of affectionate text messages to Krystoff - she wants those texts sent to her.  She then declares that she won't feel completely better until she sees Lindsey naked, and sends her upstairs.  The story concludes with the triad having 3-way sex.

Observations and Thoughts

I like that viewers were able to see an example of how a polyamorous household handles potential conflict.  Rather than watch members of the household stew on their emotions, we saw them communicating their feelings and concerns.  Due to the time limitations of the episode, the viewers don't get the full picture - just the most tense moments. At what point did Lindsey tell her partners about Krystoff? What did she originally tell them? Did she realize how deep the romantic intimacy had become, or did her partners see it first while she was blinded to it? Some of this background information could help put Anthony and Vanessa's reactions into a more sincere light. 

I will admit that I was initially confused on which female character was the girlfriend and which one was the wife. (According to this satirical review, it seems I'm not alone). Those of us who have been involved with polyamory for some time are familiar with the Unicorn trope. For those that aren't familiar - some couples initially attempt to become involved with polyamory by finding a bisexual woman who would be interested in dating both of them, and they may feel threatened if the third seeks outside relationships.  Anthony's relationship with Vanessa appears to be more emotionally intimate (and supportive) than his relationship with Lindsey.  The Anthony and Vanessa vs. Lindsey dynamic appears to continue through the series, and is hinted at in Showtime's online teaser for the next episode.

The group shower and group sex scenes were placed immediately after the most heightened points of conflict. This felt a little disjointed, and I didn't understand the purpose of including those other than for sensationalism. Alan from Poly in the News linked the post-sexual encounters to bonobo behavior. I don't think a mainstream audience would catch that reference, though.

I'm definitely concerned about how the use of rules was framed within this episode. I tend to agree with the writings of Franklin Veaux on the topic (blog post here, podcasts on the topic here). I believe that rules are important in a relationship where they protect the physical and legal well beings of those involved (major fan of rules regarding safer sex!). However, rules that are set in order to "protect" a relationship at the expense of the potential growth of the individuals involved can be problematic.

Veto power - the ability for members of a relationship to deny a partner's relationship with an outside lover - is one of the hardest rules to deal with because it tend to lead to resentment and hurt feelings.  It also doesn't get rid of the underlying problem (the vetoing partner's personal baggage) but instead forces others to change their behavior.

I'm not sure how long Krystoff and Lindsey were dating (or emotionally involved) prior to the starting point of the series, but I think that it is a fair assumption that he's emotionally invested. One of the topics that wasn't discussed was how he would be emotionally hurt by Lindsey suddenly breaking off the relationship with him.  The closest that we see is Vanessa's assumption that if he wanted to be involved with the triad in the long term, he would "understand" (I suspect this may be an excerpt of a longer statement). For those who are in secondary relationships (they are outside of the main couple/group), the fear of being dumped to preserve the integrity of the "main" relationship is legitimately real. 

I'm interested in seeing how this story play out in the next episode. The teaser on the Showtime website shows that Anthony and Vanessa make a surprise drop in on Lindsey and Krystoff as they hang out at a restaurant.  I'm hoping to see a candid and calm discussion among the four of them, but that may be too bland of a story.

 

 

Storyline 2: Kamala & Michael, Jen & Tahl

The story opens with the introduction of two married couples: Kamala and Michael, and Jen and Tahl. We then watch as Kamala and Michael discuss their plans to ask Jen and Tahl to move in with them. They also discuss these plans with their 5-year old son, Devon, who seems happy and calm.

We then learn through side interviews that when Kamala asked for everyone to meet and talk, Jen was afraid the discussion was going to be a break-up.  In Kamala's interview clip, she seems concerned that her proposal is going to mess up their relationship.  She is coming into this assuming that Tahl will support the idea, and that Jen will be peer pressured into the decision.

After Kamala and Michael arrive at Jen and Tahl's home, they have a sit-down meeting on the bed. That is when Kamala proposes that they live together. Tahl is touched by the offer, but Jen seems hesitant. She admits that she has a few concerns. At that point, the tension becomes noticable. In the interview clip, Kamala questions how the relationship can keep moving forward if they aren't moving towards their dream of a shared household.

Kamala then asks what it would take for the four of them to build their community. Jen says that, at least initially, she wants Tahl to be with her after she returns from work. She admits to her feelings of jealousy and how having him available will help her feel more secure. Tahl says that Jen's request would be difficult for him, and Kamala chimes in how she and Tahl feel like they don't get enough time with each other.  Jen responds by reaffirming how she has grown (in managing her jealousy, I'm guessing), but that due to the significance of the life change, she needs Tahl to be available to her.  Michael suggests that it is possible for Jen to ask for Tahl when she needs time with him, to which she voices her concern about seeming like a shrew by constantly asking for him (rather than having him available).  The four cuddle on the bed while Jen apologizes for being upset. At that point, Jen agrees to the arrangement. In the side interview, Jen mentions her concerns with moving in; she fears that the arrangement wil not work out and that she and Tahl will fight.

In the final segment, we see Jen and Tahl packing their belongings for the move. Kamala notes how people do crazy things for love, and wonders if this is one of them. Amidst clips of of the move-in we see an interview clip where Michael wonders if they will have more or less sex after the move, to which Kamala responds by saying that there will be more. We find out that Devon is being taken care of by his grandmother so that the quad could have some "adult play time".  Amidst clips of Kamala, Michael, Jen, and Tahl lovingly making out, we see side interviews of each of them discussing polyamory and their interpersonal dynamic. The segment closes with Kamala's clip where she notes how others consider her to be a slut, but she considers her actions to be a celebration of life... so what's the big deal?

Observations and Thoughts

This story was not as tense as the Anthony / Vanessa / Lindsay saga, though I think that will change as the series progresses. We saw a lot of great communication between the four individuals, and a peek at how jealousy is managed when the triggering person is within the established tribe.

I think that a lot of the dramatic tension in this series will be centered around Jen trying to reconcile her personal needs with what she feel others exepct of her.  It was noted a couple of times (both in the dialogue as well as the side interview) that she has worked a lot on herself and on managing her jealousy. I also feel that when she stated that Tahl likes to please, she was projecting her image of herself onto Tahl. Kamala already predicted that Jen would be peer pressured into the decision.  Given that Kamala and Michael proposed the decision, and when her husband seemed excited about the prospect, Jen was in the awkward position of either letting everyone down by saying no or agreeing to a change for which she may or may not be prepared.  She also seemed almost apologetic for wanting to set up temporary rules and boundaries in order to feel more secure.  Based on the previews, we already know that her main rule is going to be broken, and that she and Tahl will end up fighting.

What's Next?

Episode 2 of Polyamorous: Married and Dating airs at 11pm Eastern and Pacific on Showtime, with reruns throughout the week. I will be live-tweeting for @modernpoly during this, and hope to get my review of the upcoming episode posted sooner than I did this one.

Feedback on this review is welcome and encouraged, especially if those who are "in the know" about what happened (and are able to talk about it) want to provide some insight on the events from Episode 1 that didn't make it to the final cut.

Stay tuned.

Additional reviews of Polyamorous: Married and Dating, Episode 1

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About the Author

Jessica Karels - Cheif Technical Officer - Active Contributor

Jessica is a writer, speaker, and workshop facilitator who is helping to bring about greater public awareness about polyamory. She is currently working on several creative projects locally and online, including her new blog (The Polyamory Pundit), and a webcomic (Not Quite Normal).


Jess is also one of the co-founders of Modern Poly, and currently serves as their Chief Technical Officer. She is in an open marriage with her husband of 10+ years.