The following interview is with an Arkansas woman living in a committed polyamorous relationship involving two men and two women, all of whom live and raise their children together. In addition, she's also involved in a "triad" with another married couple, and occasionally takes other partners. She loves them all in a romantic sense, in the same way a monogamous person might love their significant other. Though the definition of polyamory varies from relationship to relationship and person to person, in a nutshell it is the idea that people can have more than one loving intimate relationship. The woman we spoke to said she believes many monogamous couples could benefit from the openness and communication it takes to keep a poly relationship afloat. Though she and her primary partners all live in the same house, she said, the Southern tendency toward politeness has kept neighbors from asking too many questions over the years.
People always say, "Oh, how can you love more than one person?" Well, I have kids, I love them all and they're all individual people and I have different relationships with all of them. All of my partners I love, but I have different relationships with each of them. I'm married to one, I'm cohabitating with two, I'm dating a few. The idea that we can only have feelings for one person is just kind of ludicrous to me.
In the greater poly community there seems to be a split whether it's a choice that we make or we're born this way. I think, for me, personally, I was just kind of wired this way from the get-go. For a long time I didn't have the words to describe it. I didn't have the words ethical nonmonogamy or polyamory. That led to some poor dating choices back in the day. When I was dating in my college years, I'd be dating someone and then I'd meet someone else and there would be a connection. It was, "Do I pursue something with this person? Do I cheat on my boyfriend?" That led to a lot of little relationships. I'd meet someone who I really had a connection with, and I would dump the guy I was dating to go out with the person I'd met.
I had the words for it probably about seven years ago. We kind of learned about this from mutual friends online and did a lot of reading. That was the first time I really heard the phrase polyamory or ethical nonmonogamy, and I was like "Ohhhhhh ... OK. That explains a lot." The more reading I did and the more talking to people in the community I did, the more I realized that this is how I am. We're taught monogamy, like we're taught heterosexuality. You know, you grow up, you marry someone of the opposite sex and you're only with them. You have 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. There's nothing else.
Contrary to popular belief, polyamory is not just one giant orgy all day and night. We're pretty boring. We go to Girl Scouts and do community stuff and go out with friends and go to jobs. We're not just screwing all the time. People get a lot of things wrong, like, clearly my legal partner doesn't do it for me, that I don't love him, that I'm just a slut, that it's all sex all the time, that I'm not happy with what I have. It varies, but those are the big ones. Obviously we're ruining the fabric of society because we're not one man/one woman. When I meet people and they find out I'm poly and they say, "That's great for you, but that's not for me!" I'm like, "Dude, I'm not ASKING you to do it. I'm telling you what works for me." I like pickled beets. I don't expect everyone to like pickled beets, but respect my right to eat them. So you have people who are like, "I could NEVER, EVER do that!" I'm like, "Luckily, I'm not asking you to." That's usually the reaction.
I think people are threatened by polyamory for the same reason they're threatened by the LGBT community. It's something different and it scares a lot of people. There's also a fascination with poly. Like, "Wow, how can you make that work?" We make it work because we talk about stuff all the time. We talk and we talk and we talk. There's all the communication, and all the upfront-ness, and all the putting everything out on the table. I think for a lot of people, that's really scary. I think a lot of monogamous relationships would benefit from the emotional intimacy that a lot of polyamorous couples have. We have to be so open about things.
Just as in any relationship, we have rocky patches. Just take the rocky patches and multiply it by three. It's not that I'm just in a relationship with my husband. I'm also in a relationship with my partner and my partner's wife. There's a relationship between all four of us. You toss in my outside relationships and my partners' relationships, and ... yeah, there's the potential for, and it does happen, that nobody likes anybody for a hot minute. It's rocky, because you have four very strong-willed people who are trying to make one thing work. We all have different ideas. We all have different paths that we're coming from. Jealousy does happen, but usually it means someone's needs aren't being met. Once we know that, we can adjust.
It is hard to find time and energy for all the people in my life. It can be exhausting. But it's just the norm now. There's a learning curve. But it's also very rewarding. We have created such an intentional family and intentional community that I'd be lost without them. Most people have a couple friends they can turn to for a shoulder to cry on and complain about how shitty things are. For me, I'm lucky that not only do I have my in-house partners, but I also have this loving, amazing couple who will love me and tell me it's OK even when we're not sure it's OK. Having all this emotional support from people who aren't just friends — you're having intimacy from them, and they love you and you love them back — it's amazing. I honestly don't know sometimes how people can do it with one person. I know they're looking at me and thinking: "I don't know how you can do it with more than one person." Multitasking! We all hold each other up. It helps.
My best advice for those new to poly? Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Talk about it. There's a lot of really great resources out there. There's amazing books, there's blogs, there's websites, there's local groups, there's Facebook groups, groups that meet in different communities. Most communities will have an under-the-radar polyamory community. It's out there, you just have to go find it. There's no one right way to do poly, but there's like 6,000 ways to do it wrong. You just have to figure it out.
"Oh God, the children! Won't someone please think of the children!" Our youngest does not remember a time when Second Mom was not in [the child's] life. They're mom and dad. We didn't tell the kids, "Oh, this is New Mom and Dad." They just are. I remember very clearly a time when my daughter looked at Second Mom and said: "Are you our momma?" And Second Mom said: "What do you think?" Daughter goes, "Well, you love me, and you take care of me, and you're kind of bossy and tell me to do stuff, so I think you're our momma."
What will I tell my kids if they ever ask if they should be poly or monogamous? That's like them asking, "Do you think I should be gay or not?" They'll figure it out. It's up to them. I was raised by a single mom who was in a monogamous marriage and I turned out poly. There are a lot of kids raised by poly people who turn out mono. It's just what they're wired for. My kids could end up in a commune for all I care. As long as they're happy.