USA Network's new relationship drama Satisfaction asks a lot of questions about modern marriage. It begins with the obvious: Are you satisfied? The answer to that question begets other queries starting with if you're not satisfied, why not and what are you willing to do about? The show's premise taps into something that's already caught fire in American society.
Somewhere between searching for professional success, achieving a modicum of it and creating a relationship that works, something went missing. Looking for the Zen in life is easy if you're not busy. The quest for spiritual enlightenment is not high on the list of someone who's got no time to seek it. However, making sense of what is happening when things go wrong isn't optional when you hit a crisis point.
Grace Truman, played by Stephanie Szostak, will sound familiar. She once had big dreams and chances, passing up a Fulbright scholarship after getting pregnant in college, and though she loves her husband and talented daughter, her world after 18 years of marriage isn't what she'd hoped. In many ways she has the same life her mother had and this realization shocks her. How does she change things?
Matt Passmore plays Neil Truman, a guy who seems to have it all, if that includes working 80-hour weeks, never seeing your daughter and a wife you barely talk to about anything but ties. He's a successful money manager who's now wondering what it's all been for if he can't connect to those he loves.
Neil's first stab at acting out comes after he tells his boss that he hates his job. "We don't contribute anything to the world in any meaningful way. We just horde money," Neil bluntly pronounces. When he makes the break from his job and goes looking for his wife to tell her, he's met with a shocking scene of Grace up against a wall with another man ravaging her. What makes matters worse is when Neil finds out she's paying him for sex. It doesn't take long for Neil Truman to decide two can play this game.
But what woman pays a man for sex? Grace Truman didn't plan it. She was at a bar with her girlfriends when a guy hit on her, finding out sometime later that he was a male escort. The irony is that she had just told her girlfriend at the gym, when asked how often she and Neil have sex, that when you're married, "sex just doesn't become that important after a certain point."
That's a lie people in committed relationships like to tell themselves, because facing the alternative truth is too painful.
The billboards USA Network posted in cities across the country ask, Would you risk your marriage to save it? The answer is that if your behavior is truly risky the last thing you'll likely do is save it. Especially if you're the woman cheating, because men are far less likely to forgive. Loyalty is expected in a woman, with a man's ego much more fragile than a female's.
Provocative relationship dramas are rare, because our puritanical society has never been comfortable taking on cultural questions about sex inside a marriage, let alone on television, especially when it's the woman seeking satisfaction from a man not her husband.
Can marriage be made satisfying enough to last as long as we now live? If the friendship is solid and the sex is satisfying, varied and often enough, monogamy can work well, but what do you do if it doesn't?
Women have arrived sexually. We're ready to see our desires manifested on screen so we can contribute our side of the conversation that men have been having with each other for centuries. It's one reason why the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy was an international sensation, while the upcoming film trailer was too hot for television.
Friendship has always been seen as the main ingredient in long-term relationships, but in modern life the sexual component has caught up to be its bookend.
Getting naked with someone may start with taking your clothes off, but that's only the beginning. In a long-term relationship or marriage, fully revealing yourself to the person you love, including when you feel your life is coming unglued, is the only way through.
Taylor Marsh is the author of the new book The Sexual Education of a Beauty Queen - Relationship Secrets From the Trenches out August 5th.