WHEN "Big Love" premieres on HBO tonight and Bill
Paxton's character comes
home to not one but three wives, viewers are going to
be tuning into a lot
more than what they see on the screen.
Call it polygamy, polyamory or a group marriage, but
any step outside the
two-by-two tradition is a topic loaded with
layers of guilt and
Deborah Anapol has sifted through most of those
layers in 30 years
analyzing, living and providing therapy to alternate
lifestyles in many
manifestations. The San Rafael psychologist and
author of "Love Without
Limits" isn't sure "Big Love" is going to get it
right but at least the idea
is creeping out of the closet. Gay characters on TV
shows have been hailed
as fostering acceptance. "Hopefully this show will do
something like that
for polyamory," Anapol says.
But, she says, it would take a lot more than an HBO
series to clear up all
the misconceptions about romances that go beyond two
"I'm not sure how realistic the show is going to be,"
Among that biggest misconceptions, Anapol says, is
that it's non-stop sex.
"A lot of people think polyamory and swinging are the
same thing," Anapol
says. "Polyamory means many loves not many sex
In some ways, polyamory is much like monogamy, Anapol
says. Most of the
relationship happens outside the bedroom. "One of the
that people have in polymamorous relationships, once
they get past jealousy,
is time management," Anapol says. Pointing to the
"Big Love" story she adds.
"If you've got three different wives in three
different houses, you have
your hands full."
Anapol says another major misconception, is that
polyamory is strictly a
man's game. While men with multiple wives has been a
model in cultures
around the world, many women are living the
exception, she says. That's not
the plot line in "Big Love" but it happens. "While
women have been more
thoroughly socialized than men to be monogamous, once
woman break out of
their conditioning, they are equally interested or
maybe more interested in
having more than one partner," Anapol says.
People outside the polyamory community also believe
the relationships are
inherently unstable. While they can be more
complicated, with additional
personalities stirring the pot, group marriages can
also be lasting. "There
are people who have been in open marriages for 20,
30, 40 years," she says.
Anapol was drawn to the subject, and later the
lifestyle, in her first years
as a psychotherapist. By the time she was 30, she'd
been divorced twice and
her practice had exposed her to what she calls "the
casualties of the
Nuclear families Anapol claims are not historically
the norm. Before World
War II, most people lived in extended families with
under one roof. Polyamory could be seen as a
variation on that. Where
nuclear families might be overextended, polyamorous
homes have multiple
adults supporting the family financially and around
the home. She counts the
idea that such situations are bad for children
among the biggest
misconceptions of all. "As long as everybody is
getting along reasonably
well, it is terrific for children," she says. "They
don't have the same
kinds of judgments that older people do."
In some cases, Anapol says, polyamorism might even
save a marriage. The
spouse who is looking for other partners can be up
front about it. It might
be a difficult topic to approach, Anapol says, "but
it's lot harder to have
that talk of 'guess what I did?'" Still, tension
doesn't disappear in an
open marriage either. Many of the clients she sees in
counseling are there
to unravel polyamorous relationship issues. "People
think you can take all
the things that don't work in a couples relationship,
add more people and
somehow its going to work and it just doesn't."
Anapol knows these ideas are not well-received
everywhere. Polyamory and
polygamy are deep taboos. In many minds, she notes,
it is "the quickest way
to go to hell."
"There is still this very strong religious taboo."
Even people with no particular religious beliefs are
molded by the culture.
"You get it in movies," she says. "Either somebody
dies, somebody shoots
somebody, somebody lives out there life in misery.
There is very rarely a
happy ending when somebody violates a monogamy
But Anapol believes perceptions are changing. "I've
already seen a day when
its more accepted. It's much more accepted now that
it was in the past."
"Big Love" might be part of that. "You never would
have seen a television
show about polygamy in the past. You might have had a
single episode of some
medical series or legal series," Anapol says. "To
have a whole series was
"Big Love" could force people to think past the
misconceptions, she adds.
"They might even learn a little bit from HBO."
Richard Polito can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org