Created By: KingZeal on March 31, 2013 Last Edited By: KingZeal on June 12, 2013
Nuked

Problematic Polyamorous Encounter

In fiction, any form of polyamorousl sex is dangerous to a committed relationship.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
It is common that if a fictional couple begins dating other people, swinging, or otherwise opening their sexual doors to others, it will go horribly wrong.

Much fiction thrives upon the message of the One True Love: the one person that you are destined to be with, and will not only love you for you, but express how much they love you by opening themselves up to you and satisfying you sexually. Under the assumption that people are In Love with Love, the concept of finding "true" love becomes one of the most powerful feelings fiction can produce. A side-effect is the Good People Have Good Sex trope, because if you love someone, then that means you can always fulfill their emotional and sexual needs.

Partially to blame for this are Moral Guardians--particularly the Hays Code enforced by Hollywood in The Thirties. The Code would not allow positively-portrayed sexual activities outside of a Happily Married couple. Because of this, most acts of polyamory or extramarital intimacy were either negative or extremely subtle.

And so, in many portrayals of extramarital intimacy one (or both) spouses will become addicted to it and start cheating. Or, the third party will become a Stalker with a Crush, determined to win the affection of their already-wedded target. Or, something will simply happen that ensures one member of the relationship enjoyed the encounter, and the other very much did not, with the dissatisfied partner questioning whether it was really worth it. These are just a handful of ways that it can lead to disaster, but the result is the same: it's unlikely that this will be a one-time thing and that the couple just goes on with their lives afterward, with this as just one of many fond memories in a happy marriage. Exceptions notwithstanding, extramarital sex/romance, even when consented by both spouses, tends cause more problems than was Worth It.

One of the typical exceptions occurs when the Protagonist is male and the Three-Way Sex is with two women; chances of that having a happy conclusion are plausible. The odds of backfiring double for husbands, fiances or boyfriends who allow their women to stray to other men. At worst, this has the Unfortunate Implications of both insisting that women are still "property" of their husbands, and that any man who thus can't control her, or fails to satisfy her sexually, is not a "real man" at all.

The other typical exceptions are "that one couple", who may be swingers, but are portrayed as quirky, odd, or comedic. When that happens, their relationship is never the focus of the story, and they usually only act as Foils to demonstrate how well-adjusted and "normal" the deeply-committed and monogamous main characters are.

Enforcing this trope tends to invoke a few others:

Yet another form of Sex Is Evil.

Examples:

Film
  • Indecent Proposal is built on this trope. A billionaire sleeps with a man's wife for money, causing problems in their relationship. She then temporarily leaves her husband for the billionaire (whom she also states is a superior lover).
  • In the upcoming Film/{{We're The Millers}}, the eponymous (fake) couple meets with a swinging couple that want them to spend the night together. Both are excited when the wives start to make out, but things turn really uncomfortable when the other husband starts touching the protagonist.
Live-Action TV
  • In an Alternate Reality Episode of Friends, Ross's wife suggests a threeway with another woman. He's totally into it until he realizes that he isn't actually participating, he's just watching his wife have a lesbian affair. (In the main Friends reality, Ross's wife left him for a woman shortly before the series starts.)
  • An episode of That '70s Show had Red and Kitty Foreman going to a "party", only to discover it was a swingers club. The two of them express horror at the idea, and go home together immediately.
Community Feedback Replies: 28
  • March 31, 2013
    Discar
    The line "The entire Netorare Genre revolves around this trope." should be removed. Not only is it wrong (sometimes the relationship survives despite the cheating, sometimes the significant other never finds out, etc), but general examples like that are not supposed to be in the examples list.
  • March 31, 2013
    StarSword
    Trope name and trope definition conflict. Doomed Extramarital Encounter sounds like "affairs always break up".
  • March 31, 2013
    KingZeal
    ^^ Those don't disqualify. The relationship "surviving" despite cheating isn't the point. Cheating happened in the first place, which is one of the symptoms of this trope.
  • April 1, 2013
    Arivne
    Explanation deleted.
  • April 1, 2013
    KingZeal
    Yes, I get that. I was arguing about the rest of his/her statement.
  • April 2, 2013
    Frank75
    Don't we have some trope about promiscuous characters in horror movies dying?
  • April 2, 2013
    KingZeal
    Death By Sex. But that doesn't inherently have anything to do with this trope.
  • May 25, 2013
    1810072342
    Needs A Better Title. Not everyone knows what 'polyamorous' means.
  • May 25, 2013
    abloke
    With the description, the present examples and the context they have, this is already showing signs of being another sneery "they portrayed this wrong" trope with no strict guidelines. There might be a trope if you approach it from a different angle (examples of relationships being rocked by polyamory; nothing else) and get rid of the overtones, but as it is, I don't think it would work.
  • May 27, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In an Alternate Reality Episode of Friends Ross's wife suggests a threeway with another woman. He's totally into it until he realizes that he isn't actually participating, he's just watching his wife have a lesbian affair. (In the main Friends reality Ross's wife left him for a woman shortly before the series starts.)
  • May 27, 2013
    kjnoren
    What abloke said. A trope shouldn't try to generalise to all fiction.
  • May 28, 2013
    KingZeal
    ^^^^^ Dictionary.com is a thing.

    ^ & ^^^ The description describes WHY it's a trope. If it becomes a problem, I'll move that part to the Analysis page.

  • May 28, 2013
    kjnoren
    Chill. You still have a trope here, but you need to tone down the rhetoric a lot.

    Basically, it should boil down to that an established couple tries some sexual experimentation (or just a polyamorous encounter) in a work, and it causes things to go bad for them or their relation. Limit it to that, and you have a worthwhile trope.

    Some examples of fiction where this trope is not used:

    The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (group families) The Sharing Knife (a polyandrous marriage) Heart of Empire by Bryan Talbot has a threesome which doesn't seems to hurt the participants any Mother Of Demons (the aliens have alien sexual mores, and influences the humans) The Millennium Trilogy (where bad sex and good sex is defined by consent)
  • May 28, 2013
    arromdee
    Thus, in fiction, if a couple begins dating other people, swinging, or otherwise opening their sexual doors to others, it will usually go horribly wrong. Usually, one (or both) spouses will become addicted to it and start cheating.

    If having sex with other people isn't automatically considered cheating already, then what actions could "start cheating" possibly refer to?
  • May 28, 2013
    KingZeal
    ^^ That is what the trope is limited to. But exceptions do not change the general rule. The more "mainstream" the fiction is, the more likely this trope becomes true. There are certain formulas that producers will follow rather than risk alienating an audience or inciting Moral Guardians, and this trope is one of them. That's why the trope is written as it is. As I said, if the rhetoric is problematic, it can be moved to "Analysis".

    ^ Plenty of things. Having sex without the partner's permission, developing an emotional connection or need for the other partner, lying about specifics of the encounter, etc. In general, "cheating" is a breech of trust, not just sex.
  • May 28, 2013
    abloke
    The description needs to be entirely rewritten. I don't think it would work as an Analysis page as it is.

    For example, the paragraph and a bit asserting that the belief that polyamory is destructive stems from an obsession with the idea of predestined, perfect mates. If you believe that, that's your opinion. It doesn't need to be in the description.
  • May 28, 2013
    KingZeal
    Nowhere does it says "obsession". However it has been, in fact, an Enforced Trope in popular media to portray polyamory, swinging, or spouse-swapping as bad.
  • May 28, 2013
    arromdee
    ^ Plenty of things. Having sex without the partner's permission, developing an emotional connection or need for the other partner, lying about specifics of the encounter, etc. In general, "cheating" is a breech of trust, not just sex.

    I understand that much, but for the life of me I can't think of any piece of fiction where polyamory isn't itself considered cheating, but it then results in cheating by this definition.
  • May 28, 2013
    KingZeal
    You'll find it a lot in erotic Cinemax stories and Lifetime movie of the week types. True, it's not very common in theatrical movies, but that's because it's a very narrow niche. Mostly, you will see it in throwaway gags on sitcoms and other types of shows. Four example, Chapelles Show had a parody of Trading Spouses where the Black husband explicitly began having sex with the white wife.

    Edit: Actually, they both have sex with each others' wives. But the white man is revealed to be a deviant pervert.
  • May 29, 2013
    abloke
    No, it doesn't use the word "obsession". Before you toned it down, though, it was suggesting that the sole driving force behind this trope was widespread entrenchment in the idea of everyone having a perfect, predestined mate.

    I'm not denying that polyamory can be portrayed negatively. What I'm saying is that the description, as it stands, is a soapbox. It doesn't need snarky criticism or extensive theories about why people dislike polyamory.
  • May 29, 2013
    KingZeal
    I really didn't tone it down...or that wasn't my intention. I just reworded it to cut out my verbosity.

    And for at least the third time, if it doesn't work for the description, it can be moved to the Analysis page.
  • May 29, 2013
    abloke
    The new version is less snarky and less insistent than the old ones. That's what I mean by toning it down.

    It's all very well saying that the description can be moved to an analysis page (people could decide whether it works then), but it needs to be retooled before launch.
  • May 29, 2013
    KingZeal
    Your opinion is noted and disagreed with. I'll defer to the rest of the community.
  • May 29, 2013
    abloke
    Okay. Not to turn this into a popularity contest, but if people could say whether they think it works as it is, and explain why, that might help move this along.
  • May 29, 2013
    KingZeal
    Then let me be the first to explain, since I wrote it.

    Frankly, an index of "instances where people have extramarital sex and bad things happen" sounds too much like People Sit On Chairs. A trope implies a pattern, and the pattern here is that the act itself is portrayed as a mistake for the original relationship. Good Adultery Bad Adultery already covers both cases where someone in an unhappy relationship "trades up" in partners from an affair or someone in a good relationship unjustly cheats. That means the loss of the original, monogamous relationship has to be portrayed as a tragedy for THIS trope to be in effect.

    However, an additional thing is that this trope is the majority portrayal for extramarital promiscuity. An additional pattern for consideration is that in films with broad audiences, with sympathetic protagonists, this trope is far more likely than not.
  • May 29, 2013
    kjnoren
    Just took a look at Good Adultery Bad Adultery, and that's one bad trope to me. That's two extremely broad tropes mashed together.

    In comparison, Problematic Polyamorous Encounter or similar does carry a meaning. If X, then Y happens. There is a causality there. The main trouble with the work so far is that there is too much description, and too few examples. There is also the question on how far the trope should go - should it be limited to actual polyamorous encounters, or to an affair with a third party with the initial knowledge of everyone, or include cheating as well?

    Proposed new description:


    A couple begins dating other people, swinging, or otherwise opening their sexual doors to others, and that causes things to go horribly wrong for their relationship.

    Maybe one of the spouses decide the grass is greener otherwise, and starts to prefer the third party, or look for more sex partners. Or the third party becomes a Stalker With A Crush. Or one spouse liked it, and the other definitely did not. From now on, their relationship is starting to break down.

    Ie, skip everything that doesn't define the trope. If a trope is really common or not is best decided by the examples. A discussion how this trope evolved can be had in the analysis section, but even there care should be taken with generalising a trope to lots of fiction.
  • May 29, 2013
    KingZeal
    For the fourth time: all of that extra stuff can be moved to Analysis if it's a problem.

    Also, no--it can't include cheating, because that's not the point of the trope. The point of the trope is specifically polyamory portrayed as the death of a monogamous relationship. Cheating is not polyamory. In fact, that confusion is one of the very symptoms of this trope.
  • June 12, 2013
    abloke
    I think there's a reason this isn't getting any examples. You keep saying your "rhetoric" can be moved to Analysis. What's wrong with getting rid of it now? Anyone reading the description would have to wade through six paragraphs of editorializing (now with added Moral Guardian-bashing) to find out what it's supposed to be.

    kjnoren's version gets the point across with no insinuation that the trope is bad. What's the problem with using that, modified if necessary to explain the specifics?
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