In 2020, Hulu’s adaptation of Sally Rooney‘s novel Normal People splashed across the small screen, providing a coming-of-age story that was a respite from the height of the pandemic. Two years later, the same team has returned to bring us an adaptation of Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations with Friends, which focuses on four characters: our protagonist, Frances (Alison Oliver), her ex-girlfriend Bobbi (Sasha Lane), and married couple Nick (Joe Alwyn) and Melissa (Jemima Kirke). The four of them navigate a series of increasingly complicated relationships, culminating in an affair between Frances and Nick.
Conversations with Friends is different from your typical tale of infidelity. Most affairs are depicted as hidden in the shadows and met with an ultimatum when brought to light. Instead, Frances and Nick’s affair is eventually acknowledged and allowed by Nick’s wife, Melissa. Many have interpreted this, among other aspects of the novel, to mean that Nick and Frances have a polyamorous relationship.
We’re here to tell you that, well, that’s not how polyamory—or any form of ethical non-monogamy—actually works.
It’s understandable why folks would interpret the relationship between the characters of Conversations with Friends as polyamorous as opposed to cheating. There are some commonalities: Nick is aware of Melissa’s previous infidelities, Bobbi and Melissa have a flirtatious relationship of their own, Bobbi and Frances are exes, and towards the end of the novel, all four characters coexist while aware of the affair. In many ways, the four of them resemble a subset of polyamory called kitchen table polyamory, where partners are comfortable enough to spend time together sharing a meal, going on group outings, or even taking trips together.
What makes Nick and Frances’s relationship distinctively not polyamorous is the mindset. Polyamorous relationships require disclosure, boundary setting, and a commitment to some sort of relational equity.