“Modern Love”: The Story I Wish Lisa Ling Had Told

Lisa Ling is one of my favorite reporters, and her show, “This is Life” on CNN is a show I enjoy. I love that Ling isn’t afraid to present alternate lifestyles and philosophies. I know these shows and others like them take a slant and find cases that fit that angle. However, the episode “Modern Love,” an attempt at presenting polyamory as a new take on love, fails to provide a basic foundational understanding of non-monogamy.

Ling never even uses the term “polyamory” once during the whole show. She focuses on “polygamy” and on “throuple” as her terms to describe being in non-ethical non-monogamy. “Polygamy” carries a huge negative stigma thanks to the history of the Mormon Church and abusive criminal leaders such as Warren Jeffs. “Throuple” doesn’t even begin to accurately represent what polyamory is or the wide variety of relationships that can occur in the polyamory community, not to mention I’ve only heard the term “triad” used to describe a threesome relationship.

The first story of the episode showcases Gary, a married farmer in Missouri who always loved multiple women, and felt something was missing. He and his wife Sarah watched the reality series “Sister Wives,” and voila, that was the answer. He met a woman named Tracy online on the website http://www.sisterwives.com. They spend six months talking on the phone since she lives in Colorado, and she and her children visit him and his family for the first time for a week. Ling presents their story well as a story on its own, and the three adults seem to be approaching it in a level-headed manner. I do appreciate that Gary points out that his desire to have another wife isn’t about the sex; it’s a mantra many of us say repeatedly.

My hesitation is that given the stigma that accompanies “polygamy,” I think Ling missed an opportunity to present the idea in a more neutral way. Yes, the reality is that if having multiple spouses was legal, many non-monogamists would be polygamists. I have to wonder that since this couple got the idea from the TV show “Sister Wives,” did it make a more sensational case to present as opposed to talking about a polyamorous couple who didn’t get their inspiration from the show?

The second story in the episode is about a married female couple in Texas, Jessica and Mary, whose marriage got a little stale, and they decided what they were missing was another partner. They met Camille on http://www.openminded.com, and after meeting in a coffee shop, decided there was chemistry and they would pursue a triad or a “throuple” as Ling refers to it. Camille’s story is a bit more poignant; she grew up in the south, and followed her traditional upbringing and got married straight out of high school. Married, for 20 years and battling her desires to be in a relationship with a woman to the point of being suicidal and committing herself to a psychiatric institution. Finding out she was gay and not crazy, Camille divorced her husband and three months later found herself in not only her first gay relationship but her first poly relationship.

Again, Ling portrays the story as everyone is fairly level-headed, but to anyone in the poly lifestyle, we know the challenges are there. The reality is that Camille will have much evolution to go through as she emerges from her heterosexual marriage, and will have challenges in co-parenting her children in the aftermath of divorce with these circumstances.

I want Ling to tell the polyamory story, but I wish better cases would have been selected. Poly isn’t about polygamy as we know it from the Mormon Church. Poly isn’t, or it shouldn’t be, about bored couples looking to spice up their love life. I wish Ling would have used the language that those in the lifestyle are using, and presented the concepts we talk about: communication, consent, boundaries, negotiation, safe sex, scheduling…

Ling had a great opportunity, and she missed it by pursuing something that was more sensationalistic. Many of us in the community are excited to see more and more stories about non-monogamy in the news and in pop culture, but we want to see more accuracy in how our relationships are portrayed. cropped-georgian-ghan1.png

The Two Sides of the Metamour Coin

When I first began my polyamory journey, I wasn’t equipped to be the primary partner in a non-monogamous, long distance, BDSM relationship, nor was I equipped to be a metamour. I’d never heard of polyamory, was just coming out of a 15-year marriage, and to be frank, I was a hot freakin’ emotional mess. The reality is, to this day I’m stunned my relationship lasted the four years that it did. My partner, C, had his hands full each time he had a play date, especially the first two years. I wasn’t ready to share him, I didn’t know these women due to living 428 miles apart, and we had only technology as a means to reconnect after his dates.

I can only imagine how horrible I was as a metamour. Insecure, afraid, and sometimes downright resentful, I wanted to be the ideal metamour, but sometimes it was just impossible. It’s not to say I didn’t try my hardest. I wanted to be what I believed to be the ideal partner and metamour: warm, supportive, willing to share, and lacking one iota of jealousy. Instead, I was all over the place in my actions and behavior. Sometimes I was accepting of the play partner but still struggled with sharing from afar. Sometimes I didn’t like the play partner but had to accept the situation anyway, which resulted in my resentment. Sometimes the play partners were empathetic, but other times they understandably were frustrated with me. And then afterward I’d feel guilty for having my feelings. And so the vicious cycle continued.

Over the duration of the relationship, I grew less anxious. To be honest, very few of his play partners wanted to become something more than just a dalliance. Over time, I came to realize this, and my focus changed from worrying about them staying to worrying about them leaving. Play partners would come for a few play dates, and then they’d move on to the next exciting Dom in the community. I began to hope his partners would become something more, felt compersion when things went well, and felt sorrow when they ended for him. I wanted him to have the true poly relationship he so badly wanted but seemed to elude him.

I also realized that my comfort with a play partner was based on her willingness to communicate. A lack of transparency or a refusal to communicate with me became my red flags.

Fast forward almost a year, which included a short-lived relationship fraught with a lack of transparency and cheating (on his end, not mine), and I find myself on the other side of that metamour coin.

I am the new partner arriving on the scene for two different couples. Each woman who is the primary in each relationship is different from the other in how they are handling my presence. One metamour doesn’t want to socialize with me in any way at the moment. It’s not personal; she struggles for a while with new metamours and it takes her time to process and accept. I get it. My feelings aren’t hurt, and my hope is one day we’ll get to a place where we can have a conversation and I’m not seen as a threat.

The other metamour is different. She’s nervous, but we text, we talk, and the three of us have hung out. This coming Sunday, she and I will have our time to hang out and get to know each other on our terms. She’s been through some major life events recently that also add an emotional element to our situation, and as best as I can, I’ve tried to be a source of support and encouragement.

I appreciate the efforts the second metamour is making, and because I still remember clearly how I felt during my time with C, I reciprocate, and I express my appreciation for her efforts. This morning, following a date with her partner, I sent her a text, thanking her. There was more to the text, but the important aspect was that I wanted her to know her support meant something to me.

Being metamours is not easy, regardless of gender. Rarely are humans not inclined to a certain level of jealousy and insecurity.  At this time my way of handling being on this side of the metamour coin is to clearly articulate my motives, or lack thereof, and to be empathetic. I try to remember how I wanted C’s play partners to treat me, and how I wished the metamour relationships would have evolved for me. I can’t assume all metamours want or need what I did and still do, but I feel like it gives these relationships a chance to foster.

I think much like romantic relationships, metamour relationships are profoundly affected by baggage. The thing is, we all have baggage. Very few people get through life without having baggage. The real issue is, what do you do with that baggage? Baggage can be detrimental if you let it be, but you can also choose to make it a learning experience. What’s been done to you does not have to be done to someone else. Being vulnerable is hard, and it requires blind trust. However, without vulnerability, the deep longing for connection and recognition will go unfulfilled.

If you’re a metamour and you’re struggling, it’s okay that you are struggling. Take a deep breath, and think about why you’re struggling. You have to own the struggle. A hurt may have happened to you, but in turn, you can learn from the hurt and turn that into a positive outcome and find that multi-layered relationship that you’re seeking. cropped-georgian-ghan.png