Three's company; so is four or five
By Jim Gerard
July 17, 1999

Linda Casper and Stacey Shelton appear to be just like any other plaid-shirted, plain-spoken, well-scrubbed Midwestern couple. Linda's a buoyant, gregarious redhead with a thick helmet of hair and an expansive smile. Stacey's boyishly handsome, bespectacled and taciturn, with a shy smile -- the kind of guy women want to bake brownies for. She sells log homes; he's a mechanical designer who retools muscle cars in his spare time. They're both volunteer firefighters in their hometown of Exceland, Wisc., which boasts a grocery store, a Chevy dealership and two bars. They have two daughters, ages 5 and 10 months, and about their marriage, Linda says, "I love my husband, and would never leave him."

Yet once or twice a month, Linda, 25, and Stacey, 28, drive three hours from their rural outpost to the Twin Cities, where Linda has sex with her lover, Steve Adams, while Stacey and Steve's wife, Aleta -- who's involved with a man named Mark -- go to the mall. Linda, who's bisexual, sometimes also goes to bed with her friend Mary Anne. Also, she's shopping around for another female lover. Lest you think that Stacey's a world-class cuckold, consider that he took a lover soon after his marriage, he once did the nasty with their former roommate, Sarah, while Linda was just a few feet away, "slaving outside" and he's currently in the market for another woman for both he and Linda to bed.

Know what? It's all OK.

Linda and Stacey practice polyamory, the policy of loving more than one person at a time, and they're part of a growing number of Americans quietly riffing new, post-monogamous arrangements on what they consider a tired two-by-two tune.

They're not swingers! Or patriarchal, oppressive junior Mormons. Nor are they trying to deface the Ozzie-and-Harriet domestic blueprint stained by pandemic divorce and infidelity. Instead, their mantras are responsibility and commitment.

For example, Linda and Stacey have asked Steve and Aleta to live with them. Linda says, "I don't think I could be monogamous. I tried it, and it wasn't me. I think polyamory is very healthy; it promotes more honesty and communication."

Polyamory is an umbrella term for such variations as group marriage (for a man, say, it would be you, your wife and your blond divorcée neighbor living together and sharing resources equally); polygyny (the Mormon model: same cast, only you're the sole provider); "intentional community" (you, your wife, the blond, the blond's other lovers, all your friends and the pizza delivery guy living in a big house in Boulder); and "intimate network" (a kind of off-site commune with primary, secondary and tertiary levels of intimacy in a kind of erotic farm system). Then you have your expanded families, open marriages and line marriages, the latter concept far too esoteric for such a venue as this.

It all gets very confusing, even to the participants. When asked how many lovers she currently had, Deborah Anapol -- author of the book "Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits" -- replied, "I haven't kept count lately, but to round it off, I'll say 12."

Since polyamorists themselves sometimes can't tell their players without a score card, trying to estimate their national numbers gets even dicier. Although no studies have been done, experts such as Ryam Nearing, who claims to have started the polyamory movement in the mid-1980s, estimate the number of American "polys" to be from 8 to 10 percent. Anapol claims her Web site gets thousands of hits daily, while her book is entering its fourth printing.

Brett Hill, Nearing's partner and editor of their magazine, Loving More, argues that "poly is the next wave of human relationships. First there was blacks, women, gays, now us. When we started 15 years ago, there were no support groups; now there are at least 50, in almost every major city in the country."