Mansharing in the 21st century: Polyamory ain’t nothing new, but reality TV is forcing new confrontations

From While sitting with one of my family’s matriarchs, the “main chick/side chick” conversation came about.  Well kind of, anyway.  Of course I didn’t bring up “side chicks” to a sweet and gentle woman of eighty years, who lovingly spends her days praying and saying rosaries for all of us.  We did, however, while examining old photos, discuss a distant male relative who had two wives.  Two wives, not through divorce or death, she clarified, but two women maintaining two separate households and families with the same man.  They lived in the same town, she explained; they knew of one another; the children knew that they were siblings; the “gentleman” took care of both families fully.  Picture all of this happening in the thirties in rural Louisiana.

In another conversation across town, a friend described a talk she had with her mother-in-law, who admitted to having had an affair with a married man back in the day.  Those two women also knew one another.  My friend asked, as politely as one can, I suppose, “you didn’t feel ashamed about carrying on an affair with her husband?”  She said the mother’s response was no.  She kept her distance.  She would switch sides of the road when the wife would pass.  She never went to the family’s home.  The husband was simply “a man being a man,” let his former mistress tell it.

Listen, ain’t nothing new and shiny about men having affairs and both women knowing.  We dish on “other woman” stories all the time.  And if we are really honest, and have lived long enough, many women can acknowledge that we have been on both sides of that binary. All that to say, as I look back at the inaugural season of Love and Hip Hop Atlanta, the play between Mimi and Joseline hits a bit to close to home for me, and I would garner, many of us.

What VH1 attempts to play up as some sort of polyamorous coupling may not be “new,” but our attitudes towards the representation certainly may be.  I wonder, as I watch and attempt not to break my television by cursing A LOT and throwing things at Stevie J’s virtual image, how our views on the “main chick/side chick” dynamic have changed since the days of our mothers and grandmothers?

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