The weekly drama series House recently aired an episode in which the patient was in an honest open relationship. True to Hollywood style all was not as it seemed. The show was in many ways a train wreck of what can go wrong when people are not fully honest. The episode featured three stories, the open relationship, the cheating doctor and House’s best friend’s dishonesty about his feelings with his girlfriend and former wife.
The open relationship is greeted in the beginning with the doctors wagging their tongues about the impossibility of a couple have an open relationship and being happy. It is the “unicorn” they proclaim, it never truly works. The show goes on to show how the husband has been dishonest both in his feelings, his relationships and the couple’s money. He lies about being ok with an open marriage because he “loves” his wife so much. He does not want her to feel bad about what she is doing. This of course implies that the audience all knows that what she is doing is bad or wrong. According to the character House he lies about the money as a way to get even for her sleeping around. Her other partner shows up and is severely reprimanded for intruding on their family. They after all have to protect the sanctity of the family.
All of this is a reflection of people who wander out into the open relationship arena without a guide book or guide to help them through the process. Since most people have no models it can be very tricky to navigate the feelings and challenges that come when people open up their relationship whether to dating, swinging or polyamory. The show of course does not address this; it simply points fingers at how this kind of relationship never works. They never address the underlying real challenges that are basic lack of communication and honesty.
Meanwhile the cheating doctor, who was the one to speak out the loudest about the impracticality of an open relationship, brings the subject up to his wife. He is currently not cheating but has long history of doing so and is flirting with a nurse incessantly. His wife is hurt and angry but the next day gives him one night a week to do whatever. She declares she loves him and needs to accept who he is, a non-monogamous man. She does not however want to meet the women, hear about them or discuss any of it. Sounds promising and he immediately asks out the nurse. In the end his wife changes her mind and he insists it is fine that he really only wants her. A few days later he runs into the nurse and they leave in her car together after a passionate kiss. He is lying but he is doing it of course to protect his wife because he loves her.
The third somewhat back story is about the lack of honesty and communication House’s friend has with his former wife he is now dating again. He is not being honest about little things that annoy him and House makes sure to play it up. They fight but in the end they talk. They talk about how they really feel and in the end it heals much of their relationship. Wow, what a concept, honesty can be healing. Of course they are a happily monogamous couple.
It is great that Hollywood is including open relationships in their story lines. Other shows have also done this. Most of the time however, these relationships are shown to be isolated and highly dysfunctional. I do understand that many people are totally unaware that open relationships, swinging and polyamory even exist much less can and do function well for many people. These shows totally miss that often people in successful open type relationships have a culture, community and support system that can help them navigate these challenging relationship pitfalls. It is true that non-traditional open relationships can end in disaster and so do many traditional monogamous ones. Like monogamy, the open relationships that really work involve effort, communication, trust and honesty.
This episode of House was an example of the attitudes reflected in the greater society. The belief that lying to your partner can be noble and that honesty and openness never work even while the show is showing it does. It is a dichotomy of mixed messages. In truth people lie to their partner because they are afraid of confrontation, they are afraid to lose them and they are afraid of big boom arguments. They will hide their real feelings, live in unhappy and unfulfilled circumstances and let go of their real desires, needs and wants. We consider this noble. Where though is the intimacy? When you lie about who you are and what you want then you are sharing an illusion with others. With honesty and a willingness to truly be you, comes true intimacy. Is it easy? Often no, it is not. It is through the darkness and vulnerability we find ourselves and our partners. It can be an amazing journey that actually builds a stronger relationship as in the case of House’s friend. Yes, you can sometimes lose someone by being honest. In most cases this is not what happens and in those where it does both people usually end up glad to move on to a more appropriate relationship.
These concepts are probably too grown up for Hollywood at this point. Polyamory and open relating are still in the stages of being the joke. Change will come in time. More people are exploring polyamory and other open relationship styles, especially the younger generations. More shows are including open relating as a story line, albeit a disaster usually. We are making head way and things are changing. It would be nice if there was more awareness of the polyamory movement and the organizations, books and people available to help those exploring navigate the pitfalls of multi-partnered relating.
Lying results in loss of trust, which leads to insecurity, jealousy, drama and many challenges for the people involved. Often when spouses cheat the biggest challenge is building trust again. Lying is not noble and really not done out of love but out of fear. It takes guts, respect and tremendous love to be really honest in our culture.
Honest open relationships where all parties are happy, included and family, are not mythological, they do exist. They are not so different from anything else. They are based on love, and work best when all parties are honest, considerate and real about their needs. Like all relationships they are challenging long term and require us to deal with our insecurities, fears and see ourselves clearly. The rewards are numerous from expanded love and family to adventure and exploring sexuality. Each person in this world is different, for some monogamy is fantastic for other swinging is great and for some it is polyamory, most share a desire for intimacy, honesty, connection and most of all love.