Tristan Taormino has a cool column in this week's Village Voice about open relationships on TV. She discusses three shows that depict non-monogamous marriages, E!'s The Girls Next Door, HBO's Big Love and CBS's Swingtown and wonders what would happen if the star of ABC's The Bachelorette were polyamorous.
Taormino's assessments of Hugh Hefner's relationships with his three wives ("it's more a commercial for the Playboy brand than a show about alternative relationships") and Big Love's polygamous coupling ("the interactions here are often complex and nuanced, and can even resonate with people who identify as polyamorous. However, it's all framed in the context of a controversial religious practice") are accurate and insightful. Her analysis of Swingtown falls a little short, though. True, it's only in its first season and thus difficult to say whether it has staying power, but Swingtown's treatment of open marriages is surprisingly honest and true-to-life.
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I'm consistently impressed by the way the characters discuss their non-monogamous relationships. They understand the importance of communication, honesty and trust, which are the foundations of openness. When Susan declares she wants to open her marriage she tells her husband, "If you feel something, I want to know about it, good or bad." And here's Trina, advising Susan on managing expectations and creating rules: "You should decide what works for you and what doesn't. Just so long as you're on the same page. Believe me, Tom and I have a few pacts of our own." CBS has obviously done its homework; Swingtown's depiction of open relationship is realistic, insightful and sensitive.
Taormino makes a good point about all three shows. They "delve into alternative partnerships while portraying them as foreign, exotic, and inaccessible in some way," while the The Bachelorette is accessible to all. But alas, although ABC's lucky lady has several boyfriends for most of the show, she eventually has to pick one. As Taormino says, "DeAnna, listen: You didn't have to break anyone's heart! You could've picked them both and been the first truly polyamorous Bachelorette!" I'll second Taormino's call for normalizing polyamorous relationships, and add this: ABC, let your Bachelorette pick two!