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.