Discussion around consensual non-monogamy, or polyamory, is becoming more common. Yet we still hardly ever see it in popular culture, with monogamous storylines remaining the norm. Here’s 9 movies, TV shows and songs whose often difficult and painful plot lines could be solved with some simple, consensual non-monogamy.
1. There's Something About Mary
In this classic movie of the '90s, Ted (Ben Stiller) uses a private investigator, Healy (Matt Dillon) to track down his teenage love, Mary (Cameron Diaz). But when Healy ends up falling in love with Mary as well the two men fight to gain her attention.
But is all this fighting really necessary? First, it seems quite presumptuous—what if she doesn’t want either of them? More importantly, what if Mary wanted to love both? If there is something so special about her, surely, if she wants to, she could spread the love around, making everyone happier in the long run.
2. How I Met Your Mother
The love story told in reverse, How I Met Your Mother is full of impossible love triangles. At one point, Ted (Josh Radnor) gets left at the alter by his fiancee Stella (Sarah Chalke), who leaves him for her ex, and the father of her child.
Why does Stella have to make that choice?! She clearly loves both men, so why not allow her to express that? This could also be great for her child. Dating two men would mean having an extra person to help out — surely more love in her child’s life is better than less.
3. "Jolene" by Dolly Parton
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene / I’m begging of you please don’t take my man.
Dolly Parton begs Jolene not to take her man. It’s clear her man has feelings for Jolene, as does Jolene for him. If society was more open to the idea, maybe her man could love both. With an open discussion about the nature of his feelings, Dolly and Jolene could feel secure in his love, knowing that him having feelings for another person does not diminish his feelings for anyone else.
4. Love, Actually
The perfect movie about love, Love, Actually also involves some unfortunate secret, and painful, trysts.
In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes, Karen (Emma Thomson) breaks down after she realises her husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has given an expensive necklace to a colleague. This cheating is not acceptable—an open and honest conversation about his attraction from the start would have been much better than going behind Karen’s back.
In another plot line Mark (Andrew Lincoln) expresses his love for his best mate’s wife, Juliet (Keira Knightly), who is clearly attracted to him as well. But their love is impossible. Or is it? If Juliet is attracted, why could she not have an conversation with her husband and start a second relationship? Given they’re all already friends it seems like the kind of living arrangement that could work for everyone.
5. The Big Bang Theory
While characters in The Big Bang Theory eventually end up happily coupled and married, the first seasons are full of turmoil, particularly between two of the main characters - Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco). While in love, these two are very different—Penny worries she’s too dumb for Leonard, and he worries he’s too nerdy for her.
These sorts of limitations are common in relationships, but in a world where we expect to provide 100% of each other’s needs, they're rarely discussed. For Leonard and Penny, the turmoil could have been fixed by a mutual agreement on what they can and cannot provide for each other, and then being comfortable to seek others - friends or other lovers - to provide the missing pieces.
6. "Call Your Girlfriend" by Robyn
Call your girlfriend / It’s time you had the talk / Give your reasons / Say it’s not her fault / But you just met somebody new
In "Call Your Girlfriend", Swedish pop sensation Robyn begs with her new lover to call their girlfriend and finally break it off. But if the lyrics are anything to go by, her lover is clearly reluctant. So why should they have to do it? If polyamory were more acceptable then maybe Robyn and her new lover would feel comfortable telling this girlfriend about their love and finding a way to incorporate it into the existing relationship.
7. American Beauty
It’s clear the two main protagonists of American Beauty, Lester (Kevin Spacey) and Carolyn (Annette Benning) are still in love, but after years of marriage they’re tired, and frustrated. Lester fantasises about a cheerleader at his daughter’s school and Carolyn starts an affair with a work colleague.
American Beauty, therefore, is a story about the often impossible expectation that a marriage can provide continuous emotional and sexual satisfaction for all eternity. Maybe some realism about the limitations of their relationship, and the ability to find some satisfaction, sexual or otherwise, from the outside in times like this, could have saved their marriage and Lester’s life.
The most enduring plot line in Scandal is the affair between protagonist Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and the U.S. President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn).
While Scandal often dabbles in poly-style plot lines, with the first lady Milly (Bellamy Young) at times accepting her husband’s affair for political reasons, it’s clear the pain is still very raw. It seems the best solution would be for the characters to sit down, talk about the realities of these relationships and what each can provide, and create some sort of agreement. An agreement would outline clear boundaries, and points of accountability, reducing the pain for everyone involved.
9. Mamma Mia
A musical based on Abba songs. What’s not to love?!
In Mamma Mia, Sophie (Amanda Sayfried) invites three of her mother Donna's previous lovers to find out who her father is. Throughout the movie, Donna is torn between these men, who are all vying for her attention. But, if she loves them all, why can she not have all three? The guys are all pretty friendly with each other, and she has an amazing villa on the Greek Islands — it seems like it could be a perfect arrangement!
None of this is to discredit the feelings of the characters in these movies, shows and songs. When someone cheats and lies, it’s wrong, and it hurts. It also doesn’t mean all of these characters will want polyamory, or that they would even be happy with it. But maybe a greater social acceptance of different relationship forms could make it an option to discuss, and in turn a way to solve and reduce the pain.
This week's Undressed featured Nicole, who identifies as pansexual and polyamorous. You can watch the episode right now, on SBS On Demand.
If you're interested in taking part in season 2 of Undressed, you can apply right now to take part!