Polyamoury 101: Consensual Non-Monogamy for the 21st Century
By Kit Peters
Polyamoury is defined simply as the action, or possibly the art, of loving more than one person concurrently. To prevent misunderstanding, let's go a bit deeper. Polyamoury, to me, is the art of loving many people at once, all in different ways, but with the same intimacy, compassion, and gut-wrenching feeling as the kind of love you read about in romance novels. The sort of love that means being "in love," and not some watered-down, politically correct version of it. This is what polyamoury is. It is not, as some would have it, the conceit of a man having a harem of wives. Neither is it just a way to avoid a true commitment. Often in a polyamourous relationship, the participants are committed to everyone within the relationship, and not just one person. Above all, polyamoury is just what it means. Love, multiplied many times over. Love shared is love increased, a thousandfold.
A wise old sage, Ben Franklin I believe, once said, "A burden shared is a burden lessened." In a polyamourous relationship, this is doubly true. If you are having problems with one of the people in the relationship, often you can talk to another participant about it, with the added advantage of having a confidant with a good perspective on the relationship. When one person has problems, everyone else is there to help them through it. Child rearing benefits greatly in a polyamourous setting as well. Children are exposed to a wide range of viewpoints and experiences. To use a personal expample, children raised in my Family (here I use the capitalized spelling to denote a polyamourous family unit, such as a group marriage) are exposed to my experiences growing up in rural Illinois, two of our Family's childhoods in the city of Chicago, and my fiancee's chilhood in South Carolina. Perhaps one day we will have a Family member from outside the United States, offering an entirely different perspective. This also makes it easier to supervise a child. When many people live in the same household, they can take turns supervising the children, offering the rest of the members of the household a chance to catch up on chores, do homework, or simply go out for a while. Try doing that in a two-parent household without paying for a babysitter. On a purely practical note, having ten incomes in a household is much more flexible than just two. If one of the family suffers a loss of income, the others can help to make up for it. It is much easier to get by after losing one tenth of household income than it is after losing one half. Expenses are also significantly reduced in a polyamourous household, as they are in any situation when multiple adults occupy the same house. Many people rent their homes. When a Family lives in one house, this cost is reduced greatly. The rent is divided among the family members, who can share such things as communal kitchen space, bathrooms, and living rooms. If each member of a Family of ten were to get an apartment for zirself, the rent could be upwards of $300. In many cities, $300 will only secure barely adequate living quarters, unfurnished, in a poor location. On the reverse, a combined $3000 a month could provide a substantial payment on a very large house, well situated, large enough to house the entire Family. This also consolidates and reduces heating and electrical bills.
Polyamoury is not an easy task, as some people might think. Not only do you have to deal with the faults, quirks, and fears of one person, you have to deal with these characteristics of everyone within the group. Posessiveness can be a major stumbling block, and often it prevents what could be a successful polyamourous relationship from forming. When people are viewed, even inadvertently, as posessions, they become a commodity, a valuable one at that. Just as most people are reluctant to let go of what little money that they have, people are also reluctant to "share" their beloved. After all, what if zie finds someone else who is more attractive/intelligent/well-liked/successful/etc.. than zie, and decides to abandon the relationship in favor of the new lover? These sorts of inferiority complexes must be resolved, completely, before a polyamourous relationship can be truly successful. Any polyamourous venture should be undertaken in complete trust on the part of both parties, no matter how relatively small an undertaking it might be. Otherwise what could have been just innocent experimentation becomes an "affair," seen as a malicious action, or, worse yet, final proof that one is just not good enough for zir beloved. To return to the "burden shared" analogy for a moment, the burden shared is still a burden, often a great one. If one person is depressed or angry, it affects everyone involved, not just one significant other. Tensions can run high, and an angry beloved now has ten sets of faults to criticize and ten old wounds to reopen. Instead of a one-on-one conflict, conflicts involve everyone, and often end up lasting five times as long as they would have between two people. Jealousy and possessiveness, as stated before, can wreak havoc within a polyamourous setting, spreading feelings of resentment and distrust among the entire Family. Soon what was an excellent relationship has degenerated into little more than ten strangers living in the same house, who once knew each other. In short, a polyamourous lifestyle can be just as difficult to maintain as a monogamous one. A marriage is still subject to the same pressures and problems whether there are two or twenty people involved. A single polyamourous person can have an even worse time of it. Not only does zie have to worry about the common problems of living alone, zie also has to deal with uninformed people, who, when informed of zir polyamourous lifestyle, immediately condemn it as "sinful," or "morally wrong." If a single polyamourous person wants to get married, he must deal with the fact that polygamy is illegal in the United States, a felony I believe. It only takes one ultra-conservative judge, one uninformed and fearful fundamentalist Christian neighbor, one jilted lover to alert the authorities as to zir situation, and cause a debacle similar to Waco, or the current situation involving the Montana Freemen.
There is a wealth of resources available for polyamourous people, or merely the curious, especailly on the Internet. Many sites on the World Wide Web are poly-friendly, offering advice and a chance to communicate with other polyamourous people around the world. One such resource is maintained by a man calling himself Bearpaw Macdonald, entitled the Open Hearts Project. This site provides an excellent definition of polygamy, to wit, "responsible, honest, and consensual non-monogamy." Hypertext links are provided to other sites dealing with the issue, and stories are available of certain polyamourous people who have become well-known on the Internet. Another Internet resource is the Usenet newsgroup, alt.polyamory. Alt.polyamory was created for the discussion of polyamourous lifestyles. There, one can find news of conventions in the near future, stories on how a particular person handled a polyamourous experience, announcements of polyamourous people in your area, and much more. Loving More Magazine is a quarterly periodical created for the advancement of the polyamourous movement. They act much as the newsgroup does for those who do not have Internet access, giving event news, personals, stories, etc. They also act as educators, attempting to educate the public about polyamoury, its benefits, and its limitations. As they put it, "We see no reason to end a perfectly good relationship to begin another." I personally got started on the idea of polyamoury after reading the works of Robert A. Heinlein, a science fiction writer. In many of his adult works, his characters become involved in polyamourous environments, to the betterment of all concerned. This affected me a great deal. As a child, then later as an adolescent, I was less than successful in relationships. I was sixteen years old when I had my first girlfriend, and that relationship lasted all of two weeks. My relationships did not substantially improve after that. Girlfriends were few and far between, and oft times I found the object of my desires wanted nothing to do with one such as me. So I turned to my books, losing myself in epic tales of adventure and romance, but always hungering for something more. At that time also I was beginning to have serious doubts about the Lutheran faith, which I had been raised in. I was never one to conform to the expected ideal of society. So when I read about the Long family, and the happiness they had, I decided that I wanted that happiness for myself. I wanted to be like them; I wanted to be special. I wanted to be loved that way, too. High school gave way to college, this wondrous new environment where I found that the old boundaries need no longer apply. I was free to pursue my dreams however I saw fit. But I was still alone. So I continued my search, having the occasional girlfriend, but nothing truly permanent. Then I was introduced to Jenn. Ever since I had spent a week during the summer of my junior year of high school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, I had become addicted to the Internet. Here was this magical new way of communicating, of reaching my soul across the void to touch someone else.
With college I had access to the Internet again. One day I was talking to my friend Julia, who I had previously met in my Math 130 class, and attempting to convince her to have sex with me. She was not terribly responsive to my advances, however, and told me to talk to her friend Jenn, who was looking for some "cheap, meaningless, netsex." I, being not at all averse to the idea, readily agreed. Netsex is similar to the concept of phone sex, in which participants describe imaginary sexual acts in great detail to arouse themselves and the person on the other end, so to speak. It can be quite satisfactory indeed, especially when neither of the participants was involved in any other sexual relationships at the time. After this first virtual encounter, Jenn and I had many others, becoming fast friends in the process. During these encounters, I found myself becoming increasingly fond of Jenn, even though I had resolved that I would not involve myself in a relationship again (I had just broken up with my previous girlfriend, another Internet romance...). When she sent me a poem that she had written about me, I could not help but acknowledge the feeling that had been growing within me. So I told Jenn that I loved her. She replied that she loved me as well, and so was our relationship born, even though she is in Boston, and I am in Champaign. Ever since that day we have been together, through my expulsion from the University of Illinois, my moving back in with my parents, and my subsequent return to Champaign. I have seen her through her darkest times and her brightest times. In that time we have grown a great deal closer, and are engaged to be married. When I first broached the subject of polygamy to her, she was a little confused, but not opposed to the idea. So the idea of the Family was born. As time went on, Jenn and I became involved with a variety of other people, whilst still remaining involved with each other. Certain of these people we have loved enough to ask them to be part of our family, and those special people have shared our lives with us. One day we intend to bring the Family together in one place, to live as we see fit, no matter what anyone says. Jenn and I both have become quite attached to this idea of the Family, and honestly could not now see living any other way. It is not a way that will suit everyone, and it will take a great deal of work to see it through to completion. But all of us in the Family are dedicated to it, and to each other. We help each other through crises both large and small, and share the joys of our existence. In short, this is our preferred lifestyle.