Photo: @marstonmovie on Facebook.
In entertainment, it used to be that if a someone sought satisfaction outside their relationship, it had to happen in secret. Not so anymore thanks to recent onscreen depictions of consensual, non-monogamous relationships. While these arrangements make for titillating storylines, you may have found yourself wondering how they play out IRL (in real life). Is non-monogamy something you should try at home? Are there lessons faithful people can adopt even if they don’t step out on their partners? We took a deep dive into a few of the sexiest non-monogamous narratives onscreen to see if we could learn a thing or two about how to open a relationship up without ruining it.
In Season 2 of the bluntly funny HBO show Insecure, relationship-seeking attorney Molly reluctantly assumes a side-chick role to her married friend Dro. “Traditional marriage – that shit just didn’t work for us,” he tells Molly. “It isn’t cheating. We’re very honest with each other.”
Molly is hesitant to use another woman’s husband to meet her needs, but the dull AF marketing consultant she’s dating doesn’t exactly light her fire, so no surprise when Molly and Dro consummate their friendly flirtation in one of the hottest sex scenes in modern TV memory.
Post-coital regret follows (on Molly’s end only) when she realizes she sacrificed a friendship for a fuck – not that regret prevents her one-time thing from happening again and again and again. But it’s not all orgasms and pillow talk. At one point, Dro ditches Molly in a hotel bathtub when his wife needs him to come home. Things also get awkward at a birthday dinner when Molly has to watch Dro and his wife be all cute and couple-y while Molly gets relegated to a public restroom quickie. But even after calling it off, Molly again gets sucked in by Dro’s sexual prowess, and the season ends with Molly greeting her married lover at the door in lavender lingerie.
The Takeaway: No one can be everything for anyone. So whether you’re part of a couple or the solo interloper, keep your expectations in check. If you’re the lover, don’t anticipate rising in rank. You very well may always end up as the discreet, last-minute, temporary high of the attached party rather than someone’s stable, publicly acknowledged, in-case-of-emergency partner. If you don’t want to fuck up a friendship, don’t fuck your friends. Avoid social events where you have to hang with your lover’s spouse if you suffer from self-esteem issues or don’t want to deal with jealousy. Lovers get to set boundaries and rules in these arrangements, too.
House of Cards
Perhaps the most adult depiction of open marriage is on House of Cards. Throughout the show’s run, husband-wife politicos Francis and Claire Underwood indulge in lusty affairs that they don’t discuss blatantly but both are aware of. When the Underwoods’ memoirist-turned-speech writer Tom Yates catches Claire’s eye, the couple finally has a heart-to-heart. Season 4, episode 11 (chapter 50) is truly a best-case scenario for anyone attempting to open their marriage. “He can give you things that I can’t,” Francis tells Claire. “It’s not my permission to give but you’ll do what’s right for you…If you want it, I know you’ll be careful and I’ll be fine. I mean, if we’re going to go beyond marriage, let’s go beyond it.”
Beyond it they go, but the extramarital ecstasy doesn’t last for long. Soon Tom and Francis both confront Claire with tough questions including, “What am I to you?” and “Are we together?”, respectively. Francis gets territorial and tells Tom “don’t cheat on my wife” after Tom gets caught – quite literally – with his pants down while fucking a White House tour guide. Soon Tom is writing about all of it in a book he plans to publish, making him less of a pleasure provider and more of a problem to be handled. “How could you be so stupid to fall in love?” Francis gripes at Claire.
The Takeaway: Yes, non-monogamous marriages can work – for a while. The rules can even be customized for each partner involved. But beware if you’re the third wheel in one of these arrangements, because this might not go well for you. The fates of the Underwoods’ lovers? Death, death, and more death. Francis pushes journalist Zoe Barnes off a subway platform in front on an oncoming train. Bodyguard Edward Meechum gets shot while protecting Francis from an assassination attempt. College lover Tim Corbet goes “missing” on a white-water rafting trip. And Tom Yates? He dies the saddest and sexiest death of them all – during sex with Claire, who poisoned him. If you must be a third, perhaps steer clear of power hungry couples who will stop at nothing to protect their partnership. And if you’re part of the married couple, remember: you can’t stop love – and really, why would you want to?
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Pulled from the real-life story of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is the chronicle of a polyamorous relationship between psychologist and lie detector inventor William, his wife Elizabeth, and their lover Olive. This all took place in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s – before polyamory had a name, much less a community. (That took balls.)
There’s plenty of kink in this threesome’s story, from shibari (a form of Japanese bondage involving rope), role-play, and spanking, but what’s more shocking about the film is that it shows the conventional side of polyamory – the cohabitation, the child-rearing, the domestic desires (Olive wants a new stove and it’s a deal-breaker). The film also emphasizes the importance of disclosure and consent in non-monogamous relationships.
All this tender lovin’ care doesn’t eliminate problems, however. After the triad starts having children and moves in together, the neighbors catch on, one of the kids is bullied, William and Elizabeth get fired from their university positions, and Olive is sent away for a while.
The Takeaway: Polyamory is more visible in society than it was a century ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s accepted by the masses. Many poly people – especially professionals and parents – keep their predilections on the down-low. Contrary to popular belief, polyamory isn’t a non-stop orgy, either; sex is only one part of this simultaneous relationship structure. And just like some monogamous people, some poly people crave commitment, a home, and children in addition to the sex. The “F” word (meaning the “future”) may come up, so don’t get involved with someone if the possibility of forever freaks you out.
There’s no one way to “do” polyamory, but if you’re doing it ethically, be honest and upfront with all parties involved and make sure everyone consents to the arrangement they’re in. Approach each relationship and each partner as the unique individual they are. And if you can’t hack it? Well, you can always return to old-fashioned monogamy. It ain’t going out of style anytime soon.