Louis Theroux’s Altered States – Episode 1

After receiving several impatient emails from readers, I finally got around to watching the first episode of Louis Theroux’s Altered States BBC series, which was about polyamorists. It’s a very interesting hour of television, particularly if you knew nothing about polyamory before. But if you’ve been following my blog for a while you’d find it interesting in a different way thanks to all the small details which indicate what’s going on behind the facade.

Theroux moves between three groups of polyamorists, all living in or around Portland, Oregan, which appears to be a city full of complete weirdos – and commentator Howard Roark (readers are invited to ask him to explain himself in the comments). I’ll structure this post differently from the program, and describe each group in succession.

The first is made up of two men and two women, all in their fifties. Jerry is an IT analyst who is married to Heidi, a therapist. Between them they have a daughter who looks about 9. Twelve years ago they “opened up their marriage” because Heidi felt depressed and, to put it bluntly, shagged some fella she knew back in college. So we’re not 5 minutes in and already we learn the underlying reason for this polyamorous lifestyle is mental health problems on the part of the woman. For the past 5 years, Heidi has been with a fellow called Joe, who is big, bald, and bearded. He comes over to Jerry and Heidi’s house once a week and sleeps downstairs in a bed with Heidi while Jerry stays upstairs. The daughter seems fine with all of this – for now, anyway.

Later on we meet Joe’s wife Gretchen, who doesn’t have purple hair but she has dyed the front few strands lilac. She’s fifty years old, and has two kids with Joe, both under ten. When Theroux turns up at her house, Heidi and Joe are in bed together. Heidi is wearing a t-shirt with a reference to polyamory, and you see a lot of objects advertising their lifestyles throughout the program. Theroux has a serious discussion with Gretchen in the kitchen which is revealing. Gretchen seems to resent that she is responsible for her husband’s happiness, and think it’s his issue to deal with. Perhaps unintentionally, she gives the viewer the impression that the only form of happiness she recognises is that derived from sex. She doesn’t like sleeping with Joe and is happy to let someone else “take a turn at the wheel”, and we soon learn why. Gretchen has been going to sex clubs since she was 20 and living in San Francisco, and is still into bisexual orgies with strangers. It quickly becomes obvious that Gretchen doesn’t give a damn, Joe loves Heidi because she gives him attention, and Jerry looks as though he’s about to kill himself. Jerry is not seeing anyone else and isn’t ever likely to: he’s just the poor schmuck who agreed to polyamory because he didn’t want to lose the only women he’s ever loved (one suspects). Heidi sees how much it’s hurting him but is too damned selfish to either set him loose or quit polyamory. He cuts a pitiful figure throughout, but he and his wife deny he’s unhappy even when Theroux presses them. Jerry’s responses sound as though he’s been brainwashed by a cult, and I suppose he has.

Theroux asks Gretchen whether the polyamorous arrangement she has with her husband is not simply “slow divorce”. She denies it, but admits there are problems; like other polyamorists I’ve met, she’s adamant they have nothing to do with their chosen lifestyle. Both Gretchen and Heidi distance themselves from the idea that they have any responsibility towards their respective husbands’ happiness, and that, coupled with shots of them sitting under blankets on the sofa smooching one another, make this group of fifty-somethings come across as incredibly immature.

The second set are a bunch of modern-day hippies who live in a commune consisting of a few houses and a vegetable patch. The main house is stuffed full of books and paraphernalia, almost of all of which has something to do with sex. It’s apparent that sex and polyamory defines them more than anything else, and if those are stripped away they’re unbearably dull and probably not very bright. We are introduced to Mattias, a weedy-looking hipster and his partner AJ, who looks as though she’s just been rescued from a cult. AJ is pregnant with Mattias’ kid (that’s what we’re told, anyway). With them is Joelle, who rents (or owns) the gaff, and first approached AJ for some lovin’ but got passed onto Mattias instead. One gets the impression this bunch aren’t too fussy who they’re with – male or female – provided it’s somebody. Joelle has 4 partners, but she “doesn’t like to use such hierachal terms in her poly-dynamics”. Well, me neither. It turns out AJ was married for ten years in a polyamorous marriage, which is surprising because she looks about thirty. With one eye on the character in my book, I’m half tempted to wonder if she too needed a US residency visa aged 21. Less surprising is the revelation that her husband left her for someone who wanted a monogamous relationship, which made her feel betrayed. Again like my character, it hasn’t occurred to her that polyamorous men might not make the best husbands.

Later on we find out AJ has met someone else, another weedy hipster and software developer called Q. We are told they met at – wait for it – a class she was teaching on how to use sex toys. I swear I’m not making this up. I didn’t even know there were classes on how to use sex toys, but apparently they’re delivered in Portland by pregnant women. Maybe that’s what keeps Mr Roark sticking around? When interviewed, they speak as if they’re on a higher spiritual plane, as if promiscuity has gifted them insight unattainable by lesser, monogamous beings. But I reckon the pretentious language is simply sophistry to avoid admitting they’re hurting each other. Theroux interviews Mattius and asks how he feels about another man shagging the mother of his unborn child and he rambles for a minute or two before admitting that yes, it’s pretty f*****g hard. Like the first group they seem impossibly childish, and matters aren’t helped when they attend a semi-naked costume party and then a soft-porn orgy attended by the sort of fat, ageing, tattooed, ghouls you see in pictures from Burning Man. One of the things I liked about watching this program was how so many of the threads I’d written about on this blog wove neatly together. The physical resemblence of this second group with some of the polyamorist/Burning Man lot I encountered was striking. In the epilogue we learn AJ has given birth to Mattius’ child but “they have decided not to assign the baby a gender”. That meaty slap you can hear as the credits roll is my palm hitting my forehead.

The third group was a woman and two men…sorry, boys…in their late twenties who live together as a threesome. They work in “tech and engineering” and look as though they’ve come straight from an all-night session of Dungeons & Dragons. If these three didn’t lose their virginity to each other on the night they all met, I’d be astounded.

Their relationship started as a threesome, but now Nick and Bob appear to take it in turns with Amanda after finding there were some, ahem, sexual incompatibilities. They all still sleep in the same bed, however. In the beginning they seemed to be fairly happy, but as the program went on it was revealed that Amanda is on medication for depression which she’s had since her teens, when she engaged in self-harm. Both the boys mumbled that they’d prefer to be “enough” for Amanda, but each accepts they never will be. When Theroux remarks that Amanda seems lucky to have a double dose of love and support to help her deal with whatever monsters lurk in her past, it is hard not to conclude it’s attention she craves. She obviously has deeper underlying needs, and whether these can be met over the long term via a threeway relationship with a couple of man-children is doubtful.

In summary, the episode confirmed something I already knew but polyamorists go to great lengths to deny: they are simply not normal. Now I don’t care what polyamorists do, but the idea that these are ordinary, well-adjusted people who simply choose another relationship arrangement is not borne out by the evidence . As I’m fond of saying, for many this is less a lifestyle choice than a coping mechanism, and despite protestations from polyamorists, a lot of them seem to end up hurt or making their existing condition worse. My point is, should you ever encounter a polyamorist on a dating site you should assume they are very, very different from normal people regardless of what they say. And if they used to be polyamorous, they owe you a long and detailed explanation right up front. Even then, you should probably just walk away.

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18 thoughts on “Louis Theroux’s Altered States – Episode 1

  1. Polys seem to fall into two classes: utterly selfish and utterly desperate.

    There’s also a correlation here, the women are selfish and the men are desperate. My only question is which comes first? The polyamory or the mental illness? I’m tempted to say it’s the mental illness that drives the polyamory.

    It’s like the thing about women who own (or god help me – rent) horses. Never met one who wasn’t sex made and completely self-obsessed (or horse obsessed)

  2. I am on the periphery of the kink scene, been to a few events, met some interesting people but even by our standards poly are considered weird. They know it themselves using the phrase “Unicorns”. Although as ‘unicorns r us dot com’ explains:

    “A “unicorn” is a beautiful (of course!), single polyamorous woman willing to be sexually and romantically involved equally with both members of a couple in a closed relationship……. such a woman is almost impossible to find.”

    “Beautiful” and “Impossible” being keywords.

    The ones I know who describe themselves as poly are generally sex workers or fat and hideously ugly, if not both; the Wayne and Waynetta type. I have the impression the men are desperate for any port in a storm, while the women are ‘the greasy fat girl from the playground’ who is still fat and needs the validation.

    If kinky people are ten percent of the population, poly are probably less than 1% of kinskters.

    However, at the other end, you have the banker/ rock star ‘Predator’ type: R Kelly, NXIVM, Manson.

    These people have the money and the influence to keep the abuse hidden. That’s far scarier than a few weirdo’s with blue hair on Jeremy Kyle. In the kink scene, predators are soon discovered, called out and blocked (I did say I was on the ‘Periphery :-)).

    As for mental illness, that is definitely true, but no more so than any other kink. Whether that be playing with train sets in the attic, or tying up your wife in a shed. I would say these people are already damaged and poly is damage control.

    To sum up my input: What you think you look like and what you actually look like.

    They think they’re Hugh Heffner in a bathrobe, but it’s just Wayne trading Waynetta for free pizza, or Hannibal Lecter stocking up his freezer.

  3. Rollo Tomassi from the Rational Male blog says that Poly is a HB3 (hot bird 3/10) shagging two desperate beta males, whilst she dreams of finding that one alpha who will fuck her.

  4. I’m not certain whether all polys are mentally unwell but it’s clear that 100% of Theroux’s interviewees are nutters.

    If you ever get a call from one of his researchers, immediately present yourself to medical professionals.

  5. Think Mr Galt is right – the wife of a Lord once offered me some action in her stables.

    Marriage was breaking up and the horses were the only thing she would miss, she reckoned. So yes, self-obsessed too.

  6. As for mental illness, that is definitely true, but no more so than any other kink. Whether that be playing with train sets in the attic, or tying up your wife in a shed. .

    I once thought about reassembling my boyhood train set in the attic. I never realised what that indicated.

    That said, I have no intention of allowing the wife in my shed, tied up or not.

  7. @Tim N

    In summary, the episode confirmed something I already knew but polyamorists go to great lengths to deny: they are simply not normal.

    After providing Magnets for you, I felt obliged to download myself.

    Well done for watching, I found it all so stupid I kept giving up. Eventually made it to end and my review:

    “Bunch of weirdos with no self-confidence, honesty, loyalty or morals”

    Well done for watching it and posting a full review.

    Portland, Oregon, which appears to be a city full of complete weirdos

    Yep, sure looks to be

  8. “Portland, Oregon, which appears to be a city full of complete weirdos”

    We are deep into the philosophy of the Zombie apocalypse where if you are the last human on earth and everyone else is a Zombie, YOU are the monster and are abnormal. Or so it seems to me …

    All polyamourists I have met, without exception, have been nuttier than squirrel shit. The women in particular crave validation and multiple sex partners “proves” that they are beautiful, sexy and desirable whereas their “paramours” are simply desperate for sex and could not score in a brothel if they waved bundles of $100 bills in the air.

    Still, it takes all sorts, I suppose.

  9. Phil B
    Plot line of “I am legend” – last man in a world of vampires.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_Legend_(novel)

    It’s the extent to which rational people jump on bandwagons. The judges who have prevented Trump from shutting down DACA – it’s so outrageous that I cannot understand the logic. It’s an executive decision – the judiciary have no grounds on which to demand a continuation of a legally highly questionable policy that was executed by the executive and is now being shut down by the executive.

  10. I am on the periphery of the kink scene, been to a few events, met some interesting people but even by our standards poly are considered weird.

    Well, yeah. I have no problem with people ticking a few boxes, but if one’s sexual preferences becomes the single criterion by which you define yourself and you shout it from the rooftops, you’ve got issues which aren’t being addressed. I’ve known people into sex clubs and kink, but you’d not know it unless they told you – and the ones I know generally kept it pretty quiet.*

    *I found out because I was at a mate’s wedding and two of them got together and, having not seen each other for a while, started talking about when they last met and under what circumstances. This was in the church. I’m not religious, but even I thought that was a little, erm, inappropriate.

  11. Holy crap, where do I start? I’ve become infamous now. I wish all of you could understand how much Portland has changed in my lifetime. It used to be a Conservative stronghold with two Republican Senators into the 1980’s. I have no explanation how it happened except for perhaps the influx of Californians that started 30 years ago.
    Nowadays, I’m so aloof that I don’t know what happens here except through Twitter. I work in Portland about two miles from all the Antifa antics but have always lived in Conservative suburbs. To say all these changes are a disappointment is the world’s greatest understatement.
    I’d say more, but I have a 2 year old squawking right now and have to get to work. It’s a sad affair, but there are still a million reasons why I’ll stay.

    Lastly, if you said sex toys in front of my wife, she’d blush so hard, her head would explode. Ha.

  12. I am on the periphery of the kink scene, been to a few events, met some interesting people but even by our standards poly are considered weird.

    I am not on the periphery of the kink scene, but I know a large number of people who are involved in it and I sometimes go to their parties for the entertainment value.

    Every single person in it has a raft of rationalizations for why everyone else’s sexual dysfunction is wrong, but theirs is perfectly normal.

  13. I & MrsPcar are open minded hetero and were not on the periphery of the kink scene, and went to their meets/munches, parties, nightclubs (eg Torture Garden) for the entertainment value.

    Every single person in it has a raft of rationalizations for why everyone must be an SJW Leftie.

    Decided watching paint dry more entertaining.

    .
    btw: Radio4 1230pm Sat 8: May in Antarctic selling her deal to Attengreen’s Penguins and on Mars – rather amusing.

    .
    OT Rory Stewart humiliated again:
    Brexit no deal trade warnings, as ministers try to sell May’s plan

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