Polyamory: Married and Dating Episode 5 Review

The triad (Anthony, Lindsey, and Vanessa) travel to San Diego for a poly pot luck in order to find community? Will they find other polyamorists who they can relate to?

**Author's Note:  I claim no knowledge on the making of the series or the people involved beyond what is shown in each episode. My observations are based on my perceptions as a viewer, which may not line up completely with what actually happened. This review isn't endorsed by Showtime or the cast members.**

The drama has returned to Polyamory: Married and Dating this week, both plot-wise as well as with the community and mainstream reaction. This episode, "Poly Potluck", follows the triad in their quest to find community. We also watch the quad as they host a poly potluck and housewarming party for its newest members, and how they handle a ponit of contention with the invitation list.

If you haven't done so already, go to the show's Facebook page and "Like" them - In addition to getting previews of the upcoming episodes, you'll also get to see some of the interesting conversations between the show's viewers and the cast. There have been a couple of conversations where viewer perceptions of what's going on differ from the messages that were intended with the show (more on that later!). :)

I also recommend investigating GetGlue, a social media tool for sharing what books, music, and tv shows you're interested in.  There's already a page for Polyamory: Married and Dating, with a fairly active discussion.

Story 1: Anthony, Lindsey and Vanessa

The story opens with Lindsey and Anthony chatting in the bathroom. Lindsey laments about feeling overwhelmed at the number of emails in her inbox (first world poly problems). Anthony says that he doesn't have any unread email messages, and jokingly wonders how the two of them can relate to eachother. Anthony then invites Lindsey to shower with him, which we find out is more about the two of them being intimate than getting clean.  Intermixed with clips of the the two of them having sex in the shower, we see Anthony and Lindsey's individual studio interviews where they talk about their closeness and intimacy with each other.

The show then cuts to Anthony checking his email outside. He calls Lindsey over to show her the invitation to a potluck in San Diego. Lindsey asks him why he's on those email lists, and Anthony explains that he needs to connect with other poly people for advice and community. In his studio interview, Anthony explains how most polyamorous people are in the closet for various reasons, and that you have to seek them out through various community/meetup groups

Anthony reads the invitation aloud. The two of them snicker at the "no meat, drugs, or alcohol" part, and joke with each other when the invitation talks about "levels of polyamory" (supposed to be experience levels). After Anthony RSVP's for the event, he announces that this is the first poly event that the triad is going to as an engaged couple. He then suggests that the two of them go to Vanessa's workplace to tell her about the event.

The show cuts to a strip club and we see Vanessa dancing on stage. In her studio interview she explains that she has been a "bikini dancer" for 12 years and that she loves her job (which is noted by Anthony in his own studio interview). We watch Anthony joke as Vanessa teases them by crawling across the stage in front of them. After her performance is done, Vanessa meets her partners at the bar. They flirt with her and then tell her about the "poly potluck" in San Diego. After Vanessa's WTF reaction, Anthony continues to explain how the hosts seem like interesting people with "cool names like Kamala... and Tahl".  We see Vanessa's studio interview where she brings up the misconception that people can bond over being polyamorous, when being poly may in fact be the only thing they have in common. Vanessa responds skeptically, bringing up their past experiences with the Los Angeles poly community and not being able to find others who they could relate to. Anthony responds sarcastically by suggesting that they go to a monogamous meet-up to find people they can relate to. Vanessa concedes and agrees to going to the meet-up.

The show shifts to the triad getting ready for the potluck. Lindsey wonders whether the polyamorists at the event "do poly differently" than them, specifically whether they are out to friends and family. She is the only member of the triad who is not out to their family, and she expresses that she's done with being in the closet.  As the triad drives from LA to San Diego, Anthony laments that they have to go online and go to meetups to get relationship advice. They then joke about taking love songs and making them polyamorous.

The triad arrives at Kamala's house and marvel at the decorations. Anthony voices his thoughts about the worst case scenario: that they showed up only to find that they couldn't relate to anyone at the event.  We watch the triad approach the door and take off their shoes before entering the house.

 

Story 2: Kamala & Michael, Jen & Tahl

The episode begins with Kamala approaching Jen to ask to take a shower together. In the studio interview, Kamala explains how she and Jen have been "at each other", and she wanted to use the shower as a way to reconnect (showering seems to mean sexy-time in this episode). Jen's interview clip expresses something similar - that the majority of the time since moving in has been spent on laying the groundwork for the integrated family. As they embrace each other in the shower, Kamala proposes the idea of a housewarming party.  We learn that Kamala hosted polyamory community potlucks for several years, and that she felt it would be a great way to show Jen that she is a part of their family.

The scene shifts to Kamala writing an invitation that is sent out to a couple of polyamory discussion lists. She's hoping for new people to attend the event. We then see the pod discussing the potluck and housewarming party. Kamala explains that the event is for the community to celebrate the merging of the two households - changing it from "Michael and Kamala's house" to "the pod's house".  The four of them then discuss specific people to invite. Michael brings up Roxanne (obviously!), and afterwards tries to discuss boundaries for how he can react with her. Kamala and Jen jump in to clarify that the potluck is "not a sex party" and that Michael should do what's appropriate for the setting.  After Michael gets permission to make out with Roxanne, he and Tahl do an air "high five". 

Kamala then suggests inviting some of her and Michael's other lovers from southern California. When she brings up Cheri, the camera cuts to Jen looking anxious and uncomfortable. We learn that Cheri and Tahl had dated in the past, and that Tahl had "made mistakes" with her and lied a couple of times (those of us reading between the lines are guessing some sort of cheating/infidelity happened).  Jen also admits that she and Cheri are not getting along.  Tahl says he wants Cheri to attend and that Jen has to take responsibility for her feelings. Michael jumps in to say that the household dosn't exclude people from attending just because one person doesn't want the to come. Kamala explains this further in her studio interview clip: she believes that in polyamory, there needs to be an openness to transition to friendship after a romantic relationship ends. (Given how small the polyamory community is, following the mainstream practice of cutting ties with a past romantic partner is impractical, given that your other poly friends or lovers may be dating - or interested in dating - that person.) Jen then says that if this was her house, she would not invite Cheri until the both of them had a conversation. Tahl responds by stating that it's his house too, and pointing out that he broke up with Cheri because Jen didn't want him to have sex with her. Jen reacts by telling Tahl that he hadn't owned up to his mistakes with Cheri, and the lack of resolution has been painful for her. Rather than address Jen's response, Tahl accuses Jen of not wanting him to be friends with Cheri. We then watch Jen clearly explain her position: if Cheri's around, she will feel uncomfortable.  Tahl's response to this is to "put his foot down" and say that he will not be told who he can hang out with and who can attend the party.

Michael jumps in and suggests mediation because the argument between Tahl and Jen seems to be spiraling downward (as seen by the two of them interrupting each other and Jen not looking at Tahl). In his studio interview clip, Michael explains how he and Kamala learned to communicate so that they could resolve conflict without fighting or yelling. Because of their learned experience, he hoped that the two of them could step in as mediators when Jen and Tahl fight individually. 

After that interview clip, we watch the mediation in action. Jen explains that she loves living with the pod, but that she doesn't feel like she has control of her environment (likening it to living with her parents). Kamala asks Jen what she would need to feel comfortable with Cheri at the party, subtly indicating that her not being invited is not an option. Jen says that she will just be uncomfortable with the situation and not talk with Cheri. Michael checks in with her to see if she's okay. After that, Jen says that she needs some space, and leaves to go to her room. Tahl follows her, asking to talk about the situation. Jen tells him that when she's upset, she wants him to acknowledge it and be supportive of her needs. She also tells him that she likes living with Kamala and Michael, but that she wouldn't want to stay if it affected her relationship with Tahl.

We then get to the day of the party. Kamala checks in with Jen to make sure she's okay. In the studio interview, Kamala admits that the party feels like a "farce" since Jen is unhappy.  The situation still seems tense. We're shown Jen commenting to Kamala about chore stuff. Kamala seems worried when Jen calls out the door to ask Tahl to vacuum. Kamala interprets a raised voice and yelling means a person's upset, to which Jen points out that Kamala also calls out for others from the other room.  As we watch the pod groom for the party, Tahl asks Jen how she feels about the Cheri situation, to which Jen acknowledges that she knows Tahl will want to talk with her at the party.

The guests start arriving. Cheri shows up with flowers for Jen, which makes her uncomfortable. Not wanting to get into a deep conversation with her at the party, Jen focuses her time on hanging out with the people who she really wanted to see. Roxanne shows up, and everyone notices that she, Michael, and Kamala are all wearing green. Her boyfriend isn't present, and Michael notes that making out with her is going to to require some negotiation.  Kamala teases Roxanne for kissing Jen in front of Michael.  When Michael asks for permission to kiss Roxanne, she stipulates that her agreement with her boyfriend is that the two of them need to talk first.

We then watch Jen and her lover Viraja share chocolate (one bites on the chocolate and the other bites on the exposed end, and then kissing ensues).  We then watch Viraja do the same with Michael, and then Tahl (which gets a WTF - LOL response from Jen).  In her studio interview, Jen explains how Tahl likes to make out with many people, so a personal boundary for her is that Tahl needs to wash his mouth out before kissing her.

 

Story 3 (1+2): The Polyamory Potluck / Mashup

Kamala greets Anthony, Vanessa, and Lindsey as they enter. Vanessa's studio interview indicates she is surprised by this, as the warm greeting is different than what she's used to in L.A.  The pod greets the triad by asking if for permission to hug them.  Tahl, Kamala, and Michael all mention in their studio interview clips that they felt their new guests were attractive. Anthony seems surprised by the amount of hugging going on. 

Kamala transitions the potluck from informal conversation to a circle discussion. When she brings up the topic of "love styles", Vanessa seems nervous. She is both unfamiliar with the terms and came into the meet-up expecting a party, not a discussion. She mentions not knowing the "levels", and Lindsey chimes in about not knowing the "terms" and nervously asks if they're going to have sex. Kamala explains that by levels she meant levels of experience. In Kamala's studio inteview clip, she comments on the triad's behavior and how they weren't familiar with the local group's etiquette where their cross-talk would be considered rude. Kamala sees Lindsey and Vanessa quietly chatting and asked Lindsey if she had a question. Lindsey asks why drugs and alcohol aren't allowed at the event.  Kamala's response is that she wants her guests to make choices with a clear mind, and to not do things at the party that they might regret the next morning. In her studio interview, Kamala seems slightly agitated - saying that the no drugs or alcohol policy shouldn't imply that they are recovering addicts. She notes that she feels like they are interrogating her, and that she had to remind herself that their questions and reactions are because they're "new".

Anthony then asks how many people are "out" and laments on how that affects their ability to be accepted. Kamala asks those who are out to their family to raise their hands, which about half do. Lindsey seems inspired by this. Kamala notes that she wants the conversation to continue while everyone eats and mingles.

We then watch the triad interact with the rest of the party. We see Vanessa explaining the dynamics of the triad. Afterwards, the show cuts to the studio interview where she expresses how comfortable she felt at the party. Anthony asks about Roxanne's place within the pod, where Michael explains how they have "tea and chats".  In the next room, Lindsey and Tahl talk about not being out to their parents. Tahl mentions how his Jewish mother has a conservative view on marriage. Lindsey explains that she already struggled with getting her family to accept Anthony (since he's not rich or Jewish), and questions whether they will accept her transition to a polyamorous marriage. She admits that she is tired with hiding and plans to come out to her family, which makes Tahl consider doing he same.

In another room, Vanessa explains how the triad just celebrated its 3-year anniversary and that they're engaged. Lindsey mentions wanting a commitment ceremony before "the big ceremony" (getting married). Kamala offers to help them plan their commitment ceremony. Michael and Kamala then discuss their own marriage ceremony, where they exchanged lovers instead of rings and consummated in front of everyone. Vanessa asks Kamala for help in planning their commitment ceremony, to which she excitedly agrees.

As the triad leaves the party, they marvel about their experience. We also see a clip of Kamala's studio interview where she discusses how she thinks the triad benefited from attending their gathering and how she looks forward to getting to know them more.

 

Observations and Thoughts

I want to make sure the following is clear:  It is not my intention to critique the cast members themselves or nitpick their personal lives. I appreciate the cast's willingness to be filmed and to have their story of their lives filmed and put in front of an international audience. I also appreciate that someone was willing to put in the time and effort to create this series and pitch it to a major network - something that the poly community would not have been able to do on their own.

My analysis is focused the behaviors presented within the context of healthy relationship dynamics, as well as the messages that this show sends about polyamory and the poly community.  Since the show is "edu-tainment", it is meant to introduce a mainstream audience to the concept of polyamory and not be a comprehensive guide on the various aspects of healthy, open, honest relating. My hope is that by providing additional commentary, I can expound upon (or challenge) the messages that this show presents, from the point of view of someone who is both a member of the polyamory community as well as one of the local and national leaders.

This week, I'm going with a slightly different format for my observations:

 

The Awesome

Here are the parts of the show that I really liked.

The Triad Finding Community

From a technical, narraitive standpoint, I think this story was well done.  We learned of the triad's struggles to find community in the L.A. area through Lindsey's conversation with Anthony (not finding people going through similar issues) and Vanessa's studio interview (the cultural response on vetting out the importance of newcomers). The show also provided us with why they were willing to drive from LA to San Diego for a pot luck (needing to find community for support and solidarity). We squeed when we saw members of the triad learning from other guests and sharing more about their own relationships, and we ended the show feeling happy that they found support.

Trying to find the polyamory group in your area? We bulit a community-collaborated registry of poly groups, which also includes a listing of online-only organizations.

Michael and Kamala as role models / mediators

I liked this part of the show for two reasons. First is the modeling of communication and negotiation that happened after Michael and Kamala stepped in to help Jen and Tahl work through their disagreements. The second is it shows how more exprienced polyamorous people can act as "role models" for their closer friends and members of the community. There comes a point where you're able to teach others through your own mistakes.

 

The GRRRRR.....

Here's where I started yelling at the screen and wanting to throw objects.

Dirty Fighting

The expression on my face as Jen and Tahl argued mirrored what we saw on Kamala's face during the brief shot of her.  We don't know how much time has passed since Tahl "made mistakes" with Cheri or what happened. We don't know what has gone on since then for Jen and try to heal from her hurt, other than her asking Tahl to not sleep with Cheri.  However, it seemed like she was still hurting from his indiscretion and he resented her request to end the relationship - and that came out in how they argued. From what I could tell, Jen was trying to be assertive that she would feel uncomfortable at her own housewarming party if Cheri attended, and Tahl interpreted that as her trying to control who he hung out with (two different issues).

I think that the story would have been cooler from an educational perspective if we got to see the pod discuss why Jen is still upset and why things aren't working out between her and Cheri, and then transition to Jen meeting with Cheri to air her grievances and find closure (potentially with Kamala mediating).

Irony of the Invite List

I felt a little unsettled after watching the mediated discussion where it was established that Cheri was going to attend the party, even though it was going to make Jen uncomfortable.  I know that there's a lot of "behind the scene" stuff that we don't know about (timing of the invite planning to the actual event, whether or not it would've been feasible to have a sit-down between Jen and Cheri before the party, etc.).  Ultimately, it felt like what Jen needed to feel completely comfortable - at her own housewarming party - were set aside for what would make the rest of the pod happy. Thankfully, Jen looked like she had fun at the party, but that was because she took it upon herself to find people she felt comfortable with and to hang out with them.

It turns out that I wasn't alone in my sentiments. The blog Lifestyles of a Polywife and Mom took a rather aggressive stance. Also, a heated (yet civil) discussion thread developed on the show's Facebook page (You need to be a "Fan" of the page to see it. Silly security settings!)

Elizabeth raised this question on how the pot luck invitation was handled:

In terms of the Poly Potluck, I think it was a bit confused because it was a housewarming party for the pod and it was supposed to celebrate their moving in all together. Couldn't that have meant that, if Jen was uncomfy with one attendee, than can forego THAT attendee for THAT particular event? Kamala said they have REGULAR PolyPots, they couldn't hold back A LITTLE for that ONE "Special" combo event?

Gypsy Bee, a fascilitator for the bay area PolyConscious group, shared with us her own observations:

I found this episode painful to watch. Most disturbing was the interaction between Kamala, Michael, Tahl, and Jen regarding Jen’s discomfort with Cheri’s attendance at the potluck/housewarming party. When Jen expressed her concerns, the other 3 responded by shutting her down, judging her, and insisted on Cheri’s attendance. Jen’s offer that she would be more comfortable with Cheri’s attendance if they had a chance to meet beforehand was ignored. Jen’s communication that Tahl had previously engaged in sexual contact with Cheri and lied about it was dismissed. All fingers pointed at Jen, accusing her of not being poly enough, not facing her own fears, not being able to transition into a more harmonious relationship with Cheri.

I understand that Jen is more hesitant about exploring poly and has more rules/restrictions than the other 3 in the pod, but does anyone see that this might be a completely understandable reaction to the dynamic in the pod and especially with Tahl? Instead of realizing that the entire pod contributes to and perpetuates her discomfort by continually judging her, dismissing her feelings, and displaying frustration with her needs to go slower, they place all of the blame on Jen. Jen isn’t refusing to face her fears and discomfort, she is only expressing the desire to challenge herself in a loving and supportive environment.

It’s a common dynamic in pods where some members are more tentative and others are more enthusiastic. However, the tentative partners are more likely to open further if supported, heard, and accommodated within reason. Jen is not being offered that depth of grace and love in this pod. Tahl, Michael, and Kamala are ignoring how Tahl’s cheating with Cheri in the past contributes to Jen’s tentativeness. It’s difficult to feel safe and secure when trust is broken and not properly repaired. The responsibility for repair now falls on the entire pod, yet they are missing this important opportunity in a big way. This episode highlights the discomfort I feel when watching nearly every episode. People seem to be more concerned with judging others for “not being poly”, hiding behind their own selfish motives, trying to be “poly” instead of just being human.

There is no right or wrong way to be poly. Many common poly experiences are judged as wrong in many episodes.  Jen’s desire to have rules is a common reaction with untrustworthy/unsupportive partners and can be an attempt to establish trust. But in this pod, she is ignored, judged, and dismissed.

I hoped to see the cast respond more to these types of questions and observations from viewers in order to have a deeper discussion about polyamory and their own feelings on the events that happened within the show. However, they have stayed mostly silent during these discussions. Instead, the show's director/producer is responding to a lot of the observations, most of which has involved challenging the viewer's perceptions or focusing on the risks the families have taken by being filmed.

In this episode, we heard Jen say that she didn't want to live in the house if it was going to affect her relationship with Tahl.  We already know - thanks to the series trailer - that Tahl is going to "make mistakes" with Kamala and get caught by Jen.  I'm curious as to what the fallout is going to be, and whether the series will end with the pod still living togehter or Tahl and Jen going back to living separately.

 

The "WTF?"

Here's some of the stuff that left me scratching (or shaking) my head.

They come in the door and I'm thinking WHOA. Fresh Meat.

Tahl's comment about his first impressions of the triad was tagged by a couple of snark bloggers. Alternative communities struggle with creating supportive, safe spaces. While it was probably meant as a joke, that line is typically associated with creeper dudes.

We don't know how much of Tahl's, Michael's, and Kamala's "they're gorgeous/hot" thoughts (which we 'saw' in the studio interview clips) projected into their interactions with the triad.  We also don't know if the triad was present during the chocolate make-out scene, or if similar activities were happening throughout the party. This makes me wonder whether Lindsey's concern about whether or not the potluck was going to be a sex party was based on assumptions made ahead of time, or her perception at the party on how the guests were behaving.

OMG THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE!

Viraja and Cheri (the two lovers who were named and got decent screen time) were fairly attractive. Unless Cheri is a horticulturalist or is on good terms with a florist, the epic-sized vase of flowers she gave to Jen cost a lot of $$$. The other attendees shown in the clips were slim, trim and well styled. Viewers seemed fixated on how many of the party attendees were young, beautiful, and potentially well-off.

Tim, who has been following our coverage of the series, voiced his concerns about the lack of diversity in the pot luck scene:

The sad thing in this weeks episode was the Poly Potluck seemed to only be attended by white / 30 something / stereotyped people. Where were the people of color or the fat handi capped people of which I am one. I use the word fat only because I'm 6'6" and 324lbs but can only stand for 10 to 15 minutes at one time so usually not that tall...

Star Foster from Pantheos analyzed the show to see what messages this episode gave about polyamory. Here's their thoughts on the demographic factor:

All poly people are thin, attractive and under 45. There are no fat, ugly, or old poly people. Or gay poly men. It’s all straight dudes with cheesy haircuts and Hot Bi Babes.

Poly people don’t drink, do drugs, eat meat or wear shoes when they are trying to hook up.

Poly people are uber-stylish. They would never wear crocs.

Star isn't alone. We've seen an uptick in bloggers reviewing (and in most cases snarking about) what they've seen.

Solidarity Through Snark (The Mainstream Response)

In case you're wondering, the mainstream-ish snark bloggers (and their commenters) seem to be indifferent or supportive of polyamory. They just have a bone to pick with how the show presents polyamory to an audience that is unfamiliar with the concept. They're more up in arms about first impressions than our own community! (A warning about that link- the blogger makes some pretty unfair assumptions about Michael and Kamala, who have been the most visible outside of the show.) I view this as a small victory in our efforts towards mainstream acceptance.

 

What's next

Episode 6, titled "Radical Honesty," airs August 16th. We see in the trailers that Lindsey plans to come out to her parents. Tahl's discussion with Jen about coming out to his own family is met with some hesitancy. He's thrown another curve-ball: his dad found pictures of him naked on a website. This is going to be an emotionally intense episode as it deals with a topic that many polyamorists are concerned about: family acceptance. We hope that you have a chance to watch this show.

 

Additional reviews of Polyamorous: Married and Dating, Episode 5

Are there any reviews that we missed? Let us know!

 

Bonus Round - the pot luck episode of Family, a web comedy series created by Terisa Greenan

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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.