The problem with polyamory

August 24, 2012

There’s someone for everyone in this life of ours, but polyamory offers more than one someone.  Polyamory proponents believe in having multiple, stable, committed relationships at the same time and a new TV program on Showtime purports to illustrate how this plays out in real life.

Because “poly,” as they call it, is not swinging or swapping. It’s a high-minded concept that’s all about relationship.  That’s what they say, anyway.

Having watched the show myself, I don’t think it went the way they intended. So let’s see how it actually unfolded, ok?

The cast of characters includes Michael and Kamala, who look to be in their late 30s, have been married for 10 years and together have a dozen other lovers, some together and some individually. {I can’t even imagine how they have time for this. I can’t even find time lately for dinner parties.}

They’ve invited another couple, Tahl and Jen, to move into their house and be part of their “pod.” {yes, they call themselves a pod. Are they whales? Or is this first grade? Are they in the “Blue Pod?”}

And that’s where the problems with this way of life –and the TV-show– become clear.

L to R: Jen, Tahl, Kamala, Michael (button up, dude)

1. The characters are unlikeable. First, Kamala. She’s strung tight as a bow and comes off as controlling and hugely self-important. She chastises Jen for calling out to her husband across the yard, (too jarring, I guess) chastises (to the camera) a newbie couple for speaking out of turn during a “circle” that she wanted to run….and generally does her best to stay wildly in control of how her husband interacts with other women. My advice: Kamala, take a chill pill.

2. No matter what they say, it’s really all about the sex. Michael. for example. He just can’t hide the fact that he’s all about the sex. When Kamala sets up a “tea and chat” date for him and her girlfriend (lover) as his anniversary gift, he is less interested in the tea and the chat, and single-mindedly focused on the amount of physical contact Kamala will let him get away with.

“So how far can we go?” Michael pushes. “Can we make out? with tongue?”   {Umm. Is this high school?}

Yes, say what they will about these relationships, Michael is just another horn dog. Every time a new woman enters the scene, Michael is busy trying to find out what Kamala will let him do. Nothing new here, men have been this way since time immemorial.

3.  Jealousy is rampant.  Kamala set up this date as a “gift” to Michael, but she is overly-concerned with restricting their physical contact –the level of detail about how much Michael can touch his date was incredible. And then, Kamala was visibly nervous when he stayed out on his date longer than expected. 

Turns out that Tahl, Jen’s husband, who is the other male in the pod, stepped out of the pod secretly to cheat with Cheri. Imagine: it’s not enough to have permission to sleep with a bunch of other women; he had to step out on THAT. Wow. Way to go, Tahl!

Tahl is also a horndog.

 Jen becomes sullen and bent out of shape when Kamala and Tahl invite Cheri, “the other woman,” to a party celebrating the foursome’s moving in together. That green-eyed monster again. And Jen is decidedly ungracious about the bouquet of flowers Cheri gives her at the party. Seriously rude.  Again, nothing new here–women do not like to share their men. What’s different is that these “evolved” couples are supposed to be “handling” their emotions. They aren’t jealous. Because they are polyamorous.

4. The camera doesn’t lie. It’s obvious that these relationships aren’t as high-minded as the couples want us to believe.  The flaws can’t help but leak out around the edges. {But it’s the only thing that makes the show interesting–the emperor has no clothes! Figuratively and literally.}

5. Living together is hard for two people, impossible with four. By the time the party date comes around, it’s obvious that the pod is disintegrating.  Kamala’s overly-controlling ways are getting to Jen, who doesn’t feel as if their home is her home –and she’s none too nice about it. In fact, she’s bitchy.

“What do you need to make this feel like your home?” Kamala asks Jen, as she strokes her arm.  Jen doesn’t say the obvious: she needs Kamala to take a chill pill.

6.  It’s all about the sex Kamala decides that the way to handle the problem is to have sex with Jen. Which is good, because it’s pretty clear that Jen doesn’t like having sex with her husband. Or maybe any man at all. That’s broadly hinted at. And then there’s the obligatory Showtime girl-on-girl sex scene.

Meanwhile, back at the party, Michael is busy scoping out other women with whom he can have sex. Gotta give him credit for focus, right? But really, if I saw him coming at me at a party, I’d run, not walk, the other way.

I’ve decided this should be Michael’s icon.

7. The sex is boring.  Thanks, Showtime, for finding a way to make sex un-sexy.  Showtime made sure to include a lot of sex scenes in the show, and it was amazing how NOT HOT they were.  I fast forwarded so much I aggravated my repetitive motion injury. 

So much for all the high-minded prattle around polyamory. It’s obviously just swinging, at least the way this “pod” practices it.

Lindsey, Anthony, Vanessa

On the other hand, the triad between Lindsey, Anthony and Vanessa appears to be faring a little better.  Young, bright, attractive, they don’t have that jaded air their older counterparts display. Still, I’m just not convinced that for them this is anything but a youthful experiment. Have fun, kids!

7.  It’s not really reality.  The show reeks of stage management. For example, Tahl decides to come out as polyamorous to his traditional Jewish father and his prudish mother –at Shabbat dinner, of all things. Cameras follow the pod into the house and to the dinner, which is hugely stilted. Everyone is waiting. Because everyone knows what’s coming next, that’s clear. Including Tahl’s parents, who do not seem at all shocked by his nervous disclosure. {Really? I’d have to summon an ambulance if I had sprung something like this on my unsuspecting parents.}

They reluctantly give him lukewarm support in a scene that looks forced and artificial. The only thing his old-fashioned father said, after a long silence was “as long as you are enjoying it…”  an odd comment that he mumbled and that seemed to reflect his discomfort with the topic.

8.  It’s all about the sex. Oddly, Tahl’s father texted him just before Shabbat dinner. I mean, the idea that this guy texted, a guy who looks seriously like Methuselah, rang false. The text supposedly said that a cousin in Israel had seen photos of naked Tahl and Jen on a wife -swapping website. {Really? His conservative father texted him that, just minutes before dinner? I call B.S.}

“What’s that about?” Michael asks Tahl. Tahl claims innocence. He’s not on any swapping website! Then he changes the subject. Quickly.

Umm. I see. All too clearly. {No one asks the most obvious question of all: what was the Israeli cousin doing on a US wife swapping website?}

The Israeli cousin may also be a horndog. If he even exists.

The young triad that’s the other part of the show also comes out on camera and in their case, all parents are lovingly accepting and –surprise! –don’t seem at all surprised. {Ok. I’ll say it. Yes, of course, they all live in California.}

I’m sure that there are some people in the world who practice polyamory in the pure sense. Just not this pod.

So I’d have to say that Showtime has done a disservice to what might be a valid lifestyle. {On some other planet.}

Have you seen the show? What do you think?

9 comments on “The problem with polyamory
  1. Unknown says:

    Of course it’s staged. “Reality” shows always are.

    Of course none of them is perfect. Are you?

    Of course sex plays more of a part for some than for others – as with any group of people, anywhere, in any set of configurations.

    And of course polyamory works for some of us. This fall I celebrate 31 years with one partner and 30 years with the other, in a family of six, all in the same house since 1985. Most “traditional” marriages don’t last this long.

    If you will look at relationship successes and failures, you will see that most are common to all of us. Only a few relationship problems can be called polyamory problems specifically.

    I refer you to the Internet. You can learn about actual polyamory rather than making guesses, and at you can read reviews of this show by people who are polyamorous.

  2. Thanks for the link–I did an initial search for reviews by polyamorous people and didn’t find them, thanks to Google’s newish algorhithm, which buries true results way far in. Showtime is all about the sex in their shows. I think Sister Wives does a better job of presenting the polygamous lifestyle in a little more balanced way than Showtime does this. I think the show is pretty ridiculous and truly, I’ve never seen a less likable set of people. This post is more about the show and the show points out many of the negatives and none of the positives. Since you didn’t leave an email addy, If you email me offline at ccassara at (a o l) I’d love to ask you something. Thanks.

  3. bbqcornnuts says:

    Hi Carol,
    Very interesting review. I’ve been writing about the show as well. Whew doggies, if Anthony shows up here, you will have an interesting time. He comes off very different on the show than he does on the internet.

    I wrote a column called “Should Polyamorous People Be Offended by Showtime’s Polyamory?

    I also wrote another one poking fun at Michael and Kamala and Anthony showed up in the comment section and threw what can only be described as a tantrum. His comments are a very entertaining read:

  4. Reality shows are not reality, and the problem with a show about “polyamory” is that polyamory can take many, many forms. Relationships can be closed or open. They can be based on sex or any number of other things. In some, only one-on-one sex ever takes place. In others, there is group sex. About the only thing all polyamorous relationships have in common is that 1. they involve three or more people and 2. everything is by consent of all involved. It could be a woman who has two male lovers who never meet and neither of them wants to hear anything about the other, but they are aware that she is seeing someone else, and have agreed to this. It could be four people who live in a group marriage. There are so many different wants polyamory plays out.

    Polyamory isn’t for everyone but is for some. Some people could not be monogamous if their lives literally depended on it.

  5. BBQ,thanks for the link! Actually, I live quite a few miles from Anthony’s parents.

    ME, thanks for your post, too. I’m not against non-traditional forms of relationship (trust me, if you knew me in IRL you’d see that!). I just think the show is bullshit and does proponents no favors.

  6. PS BBQ–Wow, read the entire commentary. Poor Anthony….one day, years from now, he’s going to be really, really embarrassed by that thread of his arrogant comments. At least I hope he is.

  7. Shay says:

    Nah I don’t buy the poly thing, whether it’s showcased on tv or in real life.

    Polys usually consist of desperately sad and pathetic people. There’s always one in any given poly group who’s the bitch, one who’s treated like a servant, and one who sits back and laps it all up – it’s not just a ‘reality tv show’ scenario.

    The one who’s treated like a servant is often the one who’s uncomfortable with the whole arrangement (read ‘hates it’) but doesn’t know how to walk away, or is too afraid to walk away/stands to lose a great deal if they walk away.

    Watching poly groups is enormously entertaining – and a constant reminder of how life doesn’t work.

  8. Lia says:

    This is a really crappy and judgmental take. You watched a TV show and think that means you can judge polyamory across the board? *yawn* stick to your day job

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