As a straightish, cisgender female navigating an open relationship for over ten years, I find it rare when a piece of media portrays plural love in a way that’s not the butt of a joke. So imagine my surprise when a 30-minute dramedy called (yes, literally) I Love Dick helped clarify some concepts I’d long considered, but never quite articulated, about my own nontraditional, not-entirely-monogamous relationship.
The Amazon show (created by Jill Soloway and based on the cult feminist novel of the late ‘90s of the same name) introduces Chris Kraus (Kathryn Hahn), our uninspired protagonist and her academic husband, Sylvere (Griffin Dunne) — New Yorkers who get stranded in the artists’ oasis of Marfa, Texas. There, they meet swaggering, big-time artist Dick (Kevin Bacon), who becomes the object of the couple’s mutual lust.
If I’m not mistaken, what seems foreshadowed in the event of a Season 2 is that this awkward love triangle could — maybe even should? — think about forming...a circle. As in a non-monogamous, maybe even polyamorous arrangement where it’s okay to crush on, fuck, and yes, even love more than one person at a time. Which leads me to this list of some pretty universal truths about sex and love that, based on my experiences, I think the show got right.
1. How weird it is that people walk around pretending not to be attracted to one another.
Sexual chemistry can be an unpredictable, usually palpable, and sometimes even inconvenient force — and that goes for everyone. But one thing sex-positive, non-monogamous couples aim to do well is to be honest and understanding about things we believe are built into our basic human nature to want. We accept that sexual chemistry happens, and instead of fighting it, we try (literally, when possible) to embrace it. In I Love Dick, with the help of Bacon’s oft-exposed belt buckle, we watch as Chris gets the equivalent of a lady boner for Dick, and then we get to delight in her squirming to hide it. Sylvere, Chris’s husband, also spins up an attraction for Dick — part intellectual, probably part physical — demonstrating how there comes a point in almost everyone’s life when you’re surprised, if not gobsmacked, by who, or what, gets your juices flowing. For any couple looking to foster a more open and communicative relationship, simple acknowledgment of what everyone seems to know anyway is always a great place to start.
2. How we’re basically built to want Dick (or your favorite sexy part).
Chris follows her deepest animal instincts and in doing so, taps into, oh, just 200,000 years of sexual evolution.This may sound ironically progressive, but cave ladies and their men appear to have been highly egalitarian, socially advanced, and yes, wildly promiscuous people who didn’t think sex — and even paternity — was any big deal at all. Jump to just 10,000 years ago, when humans finally figured out how to stick seeds in the ground. With these little patches of plants came a concept — possession — that arguably changed everything, and humans became the property-hoarding, sexually stingy, paternity-obsessed puritans we pretty much still are today. Save for those who dare embrace humans’ more casual and permissive attitude about sex, a tradition I suspect even the unimpressionable Dick could strap on.
3. Just because you can sleep with other people, doesn’t mean you’ll get to.
I Love Dick starts out with a hot ‘n’ sexy fantasy that reignites the flame in Chris and Sylvere’s marriage. And had Chris stopped there, all would be well in Marfa. But just because you get permission to fool around outside of your relationship, doesn’t mean it will ever be easy, wise, or appropriate to do so.
I rarely date men that aren’t my husband, and one reason is that being “out” as a non-monogamous couple is not as well-received in PTA-moms'-club-suburbia as it was in yesteryear’s kinky-brunch-Brooklyn. It’s hard work finding similarly-minded lovers who are okay with a) sharing b) doing so ethically. Potential hookups take convincing that No, my husband isn’t going to murder you and Yes, it needs to be cool with your wife. Better yet, I want to meet your wife. Emotional buy-in from three or more parties at the same time in the same place with compatible rules is a like a rare swingin’ miracle: they don’t call Dicks like that unicorns for nothing.
4. Just because you can sleep with other people, doesn’t mean you’ll want to.
Even if you can find a suitable primary-approved prospect who is friggin’ thrilled with your arrangement, you still have to overcome your own damn finicky self. My husband likes to claim that non-monogamous, heterosexual women have an easier time finding partners than their counterpart, guys like him, but I argue that this is only assuming women are willing to lower our standards to score. In fact, in non-monogamy, my standards have never been higher. I no longer have the time or tolerance for anything less.
5. How being the third wheel can suck balls.
Want to know the absolute best way to get into an open relationship? When it’s considered well before it’s relevant, when limits and veto powers are discussed and activated ahead of time, and when nothing short of support and mutual respect is expected from all parties at all times. Want to know the absolute worst way to get into an open relationship? See exhibit I Love Dick: Partner A gets a crush on Stranger X and “suggests” the idea of an open relationship to partner B. Partner B is upended, doesn’t like the idea one bit, feels coerced, but goes along with the whole thing anyway for fear of losing Partner A. Slow unraveling of trust and resentment ensues.
Okay, fine, this isn’t always the case: I was partner A in my own relationship and my partner B, thankfully, had the emotional intelligence to avoid the end of that story. But it’s an all-too-common one. What’s a poor guy like Sylvere to do in a situation where his partner, rather unreasonably, wants to boink the town stud? He attempts to defuse the situation by asking Dick to sleep with his wife. He means well, but Chris is furious: she’s in charge here; men do not get to broker this deal. As a woman, I felt her anger as if it were my own. But having seen the flip side of this once or twice, I think she’d do well remembering there’s only one member of her dyad getting the short end of the Dick — and it ain’t her.
6. How NRE (new relationship energy) is the new second honeymoon.
New Relationship Energy (NRE) is that floaty, giddy feeling that comes from dating someone new (Oh! The fun in someone discovering every little wonderful thing about you for the first time!). In polyamory, it’s widely recognized as being a Top Perk. Luscious, lusty mojo from your new relationship spills over into your primary one, and it can flow both ways. Even if things go sour, it’s amazing what you can do with a little hot, indignant rage. Dick insults Chris over dinner in a scene that perfectly portrays how a stranger can simultaneously gut you and turn you on, in a way that your long-term partner never would, or maybe never could. Thanks to that little jolt of on-screen NRE, care of Dick and a few bottles of wine, Chris and Sylvere’s impotent sex life gets a much-needed yank.
7. How getting Dick can be hard.
We get the impression that Chris and Sylvere don’t really believe in traditional monogamy, and that Sylvere is bisexual. Yet the couple discuss how they’ve never actually “walked the walk” of opening up their relationship. Why not? We can only speculate: life, jealousy, careers. But one reason couples may not know or consider is the slogging, tedious work of it all. Being in a responsible non-monogamous relationship means talking and scheduling and checking-in and rule-making and maintenance and a host of other chores that are decidedly NOT sexy. Like regular STD tests. Like family mediation meetings for when things get rough. A dear friend of mine even has a name for it: “Polyslog.” Because sometimes all this sexy abandon can be a terrible draining bore.
8. How Dick can disappoint.
Sylvere is far from off the fence on how to proceed in Marfa, and even Chris seems to give things a second thought at the close of season one. It’s actually in those series-ending moments that the creators nail a pin in the ass of what I like most about I Love Dick: disappointment.
I cherish my non-monogamous relationship, and you couldn’t pay me to close it up, but the truth is, getting dick on the side can be a frustrating mess. Regular, comfortable sex with a partner and/or routine maintenance with your vibrator can be a lot more reliable, comfortable, and frankly, efficient. And, most of the time, just as fun. Unless you love drama. In which case I recommend I Love Dick — you’ll get a whole season’s worth. And anyone sitting on the fence of non-monogamy yourself, take heed: Opening up your relationship is not always the wild, unbridled sex adventure of your dreams. In the end it’s just a little Dick.
Photos via Amazon/I Love Dick
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