So much new love and sex is thriving in the four-person, two-couple pod profiled on Showtime’s reality series Polyamory: Married and Dating. Tonight’s Season 2 premiere is something of a cram session to catch us up: Kamala is dating her business partner Jason, who is 10 years her junior. Michael, Kamala’s husband, has been dating Rachel for a few months. This is his first lover outside of the pod, and Kamala is “pretty thrilled” about that. Their lovers, Jen and her husband Tahl, have been living with Michael and Kamala for about a year, nearly as long as Jen's been dating Jesse. Tahl’s new girlfriend is named Tziporah, whom Tahl describes as “my little Spanish gypsy, she’s just cute.” Tahl is also out this season as bisexual. “This is who I am. I’m a bisexual poly man,” he beams.
Like most reality television shows, Polyamory documents (ostensibly self-directed) stories woven out of interpersonal relationships. As always, certain personality types serve as perpetual plot generators. The collective capacity of Polyamory's core four to explore the depths of their polyamorous configuration, while remaining committed to each other, is as infinite as a Real Housewife’s ability to find haters, circumstances to be offended by, and meals to spoil.
But on Polyamory, the results are largely of joy and self-discovery, not turmoil and drama. Sure, jealousy tiptoes into the bedroom, boundaries are trampled, and certain sexual encounters turn out to be awkward stumbles. But for the most part, these people are having a great time. And why shouldn’t they? They get home from work and there’s a party waiting for them.
As in last season, the sex within (and without) the group is portrayed in a frequently cut, split-screen, and softcore Real Sex-esque manner. It's as potentially giggle-provoking as the phrase "making love"—a favorite euphemism on the show. But unless you are for some reason unable to access the Internet and a 14-year-old boy, you don't watch Polyamory for the sex scenes. You watch it for the conversations. What Polyamory captures so precisely is the joy of talking about sex—the great American pastime of sitting down with friends (or lovers) and unpacking whatever crazy relationship situation you find yourself in at any given moment.
There's a particular exhilaration when it comes to polyamory because there's no normative model, nor could there be. The complex interplay of feelings and comfort levels expands and alters as more people are added to the mix. A new consensus dictates new rules. And even as you determine how everything fits in the first place, you find yourself relating to society hand-in-hand-in-hand—a different way of presenting all together. My own limited but intense experiences with polyamory since the last season of this show aired made me feel like a virgin. Everything was new—worth exploring, discussing, and examining. Everything was fascinating. To consume love in such quantities is to remind yourself of capable you are as a human of generating seemingly infinite joy.
There’s always the threat, of course, of being consumed, of getting so caught up that you slip out of sync with the fellow wheels of your great love expedition. More fraught than the quad-pod is the almost impossibly attractive trio joining the show this season—mixed-martial arts-studio owner Chris, his wife and pole-dancing school owner Leigh Ann, and their girlfriend of three years, Megan. (Last season’s similarly structured “triad” of Anthony, Lindsey and Vanessa are nowhere to be found.) “I feel like an outsider in my own marriage,” laments Leigh Ann, whose studio work regularly pulls her out of the group. While the foursome is a lot looser about extra-pod play, this trio has stricter rules and is much less forgiving about breaking them. There’s no right way to conduct a polyamorous relationship, but the there are a lot of wrong ways.
And yet, joy persists. “I couldn’t name a favorite position,” says Chris of having sex with two women at the same time. “The best part is changing over and over and over again. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube.” As he says the last sentence, there is a shot of him on all fours apparently being humped from behind by one of his women. Even Leigh Ann finds beauty in the physical: “I definitely sit and watch the beautiful moments with them, practicing ‘compersion,’” she notes. “It’s one of the reasons that I’m really into poly, because I really enjoy watching two other people connect.”
Yes, "compersion": Poly jargon remains in full effect. “My primary” is used repeatedly to denote a coupling that preceded the polyamorous grouping (typically this refers to the legal spouses, and so part of Leigh Ann’s despair comes from feeling that Megan is becoming Chris’ primary). The term “fluid bond” is applied to a person one has unprotected sex with—it’s a major plot point with Jen, who decides to switch her fluid bond from her husband Tahl to her boyfriend Jesse because Jesse hates condoms and Tahl is prone to having several sex partners. Tahl is more than accepting of the decision: “To tell you the truth, I’m kinda pretty turned on by it. Like just the idea of a hot, sexy man ejaculating in my wife strangely turns me on.” To an outsider, these people may be “freaks” in the sideshow/reality TV way, but to anyone, they are freaks in the she’s-a-superfreak-superfreak-she’s-superfreakay way. And they love it.
Later in the season, Jen informs her non-poly sister of her fluid-bond switch over a pedicure and her sister practically throws up in her own mouth. She’s judgmental and says, “Ew,” a lot as Jen describes her configuration and boundaries. Jen laughs and describes her life with good humor. She's evidently used to having to explain all of this, and probably amused by her own predicament that is both fun to be in the middle of an examine from a remove. There’s something wonderfully relaxed and unperturbable about these people, especially the pod. They giggle along with the rest of us, allowing America into their bedrooms and hearts with the glee of exhibitionists and the fearlessness of pioneers. I was struck last season by how perfect their stories were for reality TV, and that perception is is only reinforced this time around. I think it's because pulling off this kind of relationship successfully requires emotional transparency and articulation.
"What is polyamory supposedly about?” says Chris at an emotional high point later in the season. “What is the first most important thing? Rigorous honesty." And at the very least, that's exactly how the show feels. If these people weren’t explaining themselves to a camera, they would be to each other.