49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives
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All Acts of Love & Pleasure Are Her Rituals: In Defense of Polyamory
A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article from the BBC to my Facebook page about polyamory, which I thought was a very intelligent and sensitive article that portrayed how it works with honesty and authenticity. A few of my more supportive friends re-posted it, which I appreciate, either because they are poly or poly-friendly. One friend of mine made a reference to it and promptly took it to task on her page. I stumbled across it and was a little hurt. So this was my reply . . .
Hi, I'll take up your challenge! I am the original source of this article in the current community. I posted it because I am polyamorous and happy in this choice, and at a place in my life where I feel, to be authentic and genuinely loving and respectful of my partners, I need to be "out" about it. I think I'm going to take the points on individually here, and I'm going to take the time to challenge them because you can't just say, "Oh, I think that anyone who is not monogamous is cheating, lying, jealous, irresponsible, incapable of intimacy and unfulfilled in their relationships . . . but that's just my view on it" like it makes these statements anything less than they are, which are judgmental character slurs. Granted, I recognize that this appears to be what the rest of the world thinks (and notice the contradictory nature of a couple of those statements when phrased as bluntly as that, which of course means that both simply cannot be true,) so I relish this opportunity to help the enlightened people who are our mutual friends and associates understand something that may otherwise confuse them. And I hope to build understanding with you as well, since you are a loving and giving person and I am sure that this view of condemnation stems from either misconception (which is only to be expected in our compulsorily monogamous, heterosexist culture, because how would anyone have ever been shown another example other than what they've been taught?) or a bad experience (which, again, is fair, but just as one should not assume that all people of a particular group are jerks because one beat you up in high school, one should not assume that all polyamorous relationships are bad ones - though of course, some are, just like in any other relationship.) Please understand that I do not mean to say that you, or anyone else here is a judgmental person; indeed, metaphysical people tend to be refreshingly open-minded. I phrased things the way I did to point out how you may feel you have been coming from a place of love and acceptance in this, but these are not really loving and accepting statements you are making.
To start with, my husband Erin and I have never, in the twenty years of our relationship, been monogamous. We met over a Dungeons & Dragons game, and we developed a relationship in our first experience with "swinging." We made our existing relationships work for over a year, but both of them were emotionally abusive situations and we found that since we were not emotionally abusive in our relationship, it was not necessary to tolerate such things from a lover. After our existing partners forbade the experiment from continuing but continued to see each other behind our backs, and after their particularly poor treatment of us while they continued an affair, we decided to leave them both and make a go of it together.
This would be a good time in my narrative to explain that "open relationship" and "polyamory" are not the same thing. I have been in both and I don't think either is a bad thing, just different. An "open" relationship means that the people involved in the relationship are free to see, and possibly have sex with, other people. Generally these are friends with benefits or acquaintances within limited social groups (ie. swinger's clubs or adult friend finders,) but in some cases they are even strangers. I say as long as everyone is practicing safe sex, everyone is honest and open with each other, and everyone is happy with it (although challenges may come along, just like anything else,) then have at it! Sex is beautiful and fun and what you do in your bedroom is none of my business, just as what I do in my bedroom is none of yours. ;)
A "polyamorous" relationship means "many loves," and that means that there is genuine feeling there for more than one person. Some people find this more challenging than an open relationship. But it means you're there for the relationship, not sex. I know of a successful polyamorous trio in Kamloops who are two couples; two women, one man. It is one of the women who shares the hearts of them both, and she doesn't have sex with the other woman at all. But they love each other, raise a family together, and the kids call both women "Mom." And this has worked for them for at least 15 years.
About a year after Erin and I moved in together, we met, and fell in love with, a lovely woman named Cat. The three of us moved in together and while I worked a horrible split shift and Erin worked night shift as a taxi driver, Cat, who was receiving no other income, looked after Erin's son Daniel, recently come to live with us and quite a handful, and keep the house. We found eventually that we simply could not live together, and we parted ways, admittedly rather messily at the time. But there is genuine feeling that remains, a little bittersweet. Obviously we keep tabs on each other and keep in touch, and she has moved on to a different polyamorous relationship, and motherhood, and this seems to make her happy. And I'm glad for her.
Then for a while, Erin and I began seeing other people casually when we went to Society for Creative Anachronism events. This was more like an "open relationship" in that we had a limited number of friends with benefits. But it was not nearly as many as you might think. Erin was younger and thinner back then and I was just starting to come out of my "ugly duckling" phase, and I found it challenging on many occasions. My jealousy got the better of me once or twice, and I needed extra love and reassurance. I didn't want him to quit seeing other people, however. I recognized that it was my problem, not his. He was (and is) a man of exceptional love and caring. I think that there's simply too much love in his heart not to share it with others. By constantly giving that back to me, he taught me how to love and live more freely. I viewed it as an opportunity to grow, and I was up to the task, I am glad to say. :)
It wasn't always roses. A few years later we were having problems in our relationship that stemmed from an undiagnosed mental disorder that caused paranoia. Erin got involved with a younger woman named Tanya and for a while, it looked like he might be leaving me for her. And he considered it. But eventually, the problem was dealt with, treatment began, and we recovered. Tanya moved on to other things and she, also, is currently in a new relationship which (I believe) is either open or poly (as we say for short.)
Not long after that we met a couple through our Wiccan circles named Jamie and Sandra1. They had been in a successful open relationship for twenty years or more. Sandra became a very good friend of mine, Erin and Jamie became fast friends, and Jamie and I started having a casual thing at Sabbats and other Pagan gatherings. That was twelve years ago (I think,) and during this time it just kind of gradually deepened from friends with benefits into something more. It's in a kind of odd place right now; not nearly casual enough to be "boyfriend or girlfriend," but not nearly as committed as spouses. We're in the process of trying to figure that out and that's not been a perfect road either, but I think we're starting to find some answers. Everyone is committed to trying, anyway, and that's the key I think.
Recently life has been a bit of a roller-coaster, I must admit. In the spring I started seeing a much younger man and I found that something I had, and he had, intended to be mere fun to be something else entirely, something surprisingly deep considering our age difference. And that challenged everybody. Jamie, who had spent some considerable time trying to sort out his feelings for me, decided to confess them to me just as things were getting more involved with my new boyfriend. This made both my husband and my long-time lover very jealous. It almost alienated my new boyfriend, who was also Erin's good friend, and seriously damaged chances of Jamie and him ever becoming friends. This makes me deeply sad but I have faith in them both, and I believe that may change.
It also created problems in Jamie and Sandra's lives. But somehow, ALL the relationships involved, to my current knowledge, have survived, simply because everyone is honest, direct, and willing to work at it; though problems have come up due to lack of, or ineffective, communication, and it's cut close a couple of times. All the relationships have been forced to change and evolve, and everyone has been required to open their hearts, state their boundaries clearly, and challenge themselves to growth. I have been required to learn to be the queen of time management (hey, I always said I wanted to learn that skill, just wasn't expecting this teaching medium!) Jamie and Sandra are living apart but still are together, because he wants to move up here and take over my store and she doesn't want to leave her home, where she has friends who really matter to her, and her children, and a life that works for her. He hopes she will move up to join him in a few years, once there is less chaos and things are more established. I hope she will too.
And incidentally, for the record, I have counselled Jamie from the very beginning to hold on to his marriage, to choose her over me if there must be choice, because I see how happy they can make each other and that makes me happy. "Compersion" is apparently the word for that, according to the article I posted.
This is a lot more personal information than I generally care to tell in such open public forums, but I think it's important to see that we're just like everyone else. More people does make things more complicated. If you get involved with someone who's poly, it's not just them you have to be concerned about the feelings of, but their other partners as well. Getting involved with them is like getting involved with a parent with children; you can't not have a relationship with the children. They are part of the package that makes up that person. Certainly it's not for everyone. But there's nothing bad, immoral, or wrong about it either, and yes it can work, and it can work for many many years.
When Erin's accident happened, I left everything to be in Vancouver with him (for those who don't know, he was airlifted to a better hospital in a major city because he was critically injured, enough that no one in the medical field expected him to survive.) It was Jamie and Sandra who held me while I cried, who took me out to force me to leave the hospital once in a while, who stayed with me for days at a time so I wouldn't have to stay alone in an empty house like I hadn't done since I was a teenager. I love them both so much. And I love my younger boyfriend too. And I'm in the process of falling in love with my amazing, loving and beautiful husband all over again, as I have again and again and again over the 19 actual years of our relationship, even though we never promised monogamy in our wedding vows.
I ask you to consider this: a woman who marries young becomes a widow at a young age. She is devastated and she believes she will never love again. But eventually, time heals her heart save for a bittersweet ache (as it will) and she falls in love again and remarries. She loves her new husband every bit as much as she did the one who died. Now, let's say that the Christian view of the afterlife is correct and, being good people, they all go to Heaven when they die. What happens there? Which one is her husband? Does she stop loving one in favor of the other? I don't think it works that way. I think that as long as you really do your best to conduct your life lovingly, honorably and authentically, love is the only thing you can get lots more of by giving it away. And since I do believe in reincarnation, and I believe that we are spirits who are here to have the human experience, the ability to love freely is all the more imperative.
From one perspective, jealousy isn't about love, it's about possessiveness. If you genuinely trust your lover, who cares who else they're sleeping with? And why should their affections for one person diminish their affections for you? Do you love any of your children more or less than any of the others? Not if you're a good parent, you don't, though certainly you may get along with some better than others. And some couples (or trios, or committed groups) will fight more than others will. It doesn't mean it doesn't work, just because it wouldn't work for you.
I think I've said my piece for now, except for this. To those who say it's about the sex, I say this: there are many easier ways, believe me! I suppose I could do what 75% of married men and 50% of married women do; I could cheat. Nobody would ever have to know and I could avoid conflict entirely; until I was found out of course. But that's not what it's about and for me, that would be utterly immoral and wrong. Also - for all of this experience, I can count, including the current ones, the number of significant relationships I've had in my life on one hand, and the amount of sexual partners I've ever had on two. I know teenagers who can't say that.
Thanks for listening. Blessed be.
1. Name changed for privacy.
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