Design For Living
seen online via YouTube
The first time I heard the word "polyamory" was over a decade ago. I was in love with a girl who used this to describe herself. She made it very clear that even though she already had one boyfriend, it didn't necessarily preclude the possibility of her getting involved with others, but she knew that this was a concept that was blowing my mind. Even today, it's still something that's difficult to wrap my mind around.
Having sex with more than one chick at the same time is perhaps the ultimate male fantasy, and I'm sure plenty of women have wondered what having two guys at once would be like too. This is not like that. Sometimes one person will date others simultaneously, without the other parties' knowledge. This isn't like that either. This is about open relationships - one person going with two (or more) lovers and everybody being aware of it and everybody being cool with it.
A dubious proposition? Maybe. But whether you're talking the free love movement of the 60s, or the wife-swapping key parties of the 70s (or much further back in time than that), it seems like for every streak of morally-induced prohibitions against sexual relations as imposed by some higher authority, there have been alternate groups pushing back against those restrictions.
I dunno... is it simply against our nature to commit to one person, long-term? At what point in human history was it decided that monogamy was how it had to be and anything else was taboo? A major reason why it didn't work out for me and that girl was because in my heart, I didn't really believe it was possible for her to love me and someone else at the same time - and she knew it. Was it wrong of me that I wanted her all to myself? I don't think so. I knew I couldn't change her, and as much as I tried, I couldn't change either. Maybe it would've made things easier, but it was a bridge too far for me to cross. I wish I could have somehow.
So I look at a film like Design For Living - a pre-Code film from 1933, if you can believe that - and while it's entertaining to a degree, I still find myself bemused and bewildered by its approach to what we now call polyamory. One chick falls in love with two dudes and doesn't feel she should have to decide between them. She agrees to forego sex in exchange for helping them pursue their respective careers in the arts, presumably to avoid jealous rages, but that doesn't quite work out the way it's supposed to. Also, Edward Everett Horton.
It's a comedy, so it's kinda mannered and... I dunno, tasteful, though I imagine 1933 audiences saw it much differently. Tom and George fight over Gilda at different points, but I never got the sense that it was all that serious. No one sees Gilda's behavior as truly unusual, and maybe that was intentional, but I think my own experience with being in a similar situation made me not completely buy this story - or perhaps, not this approach to this story. I guess this hits home too hard for me.