Polyamory: An Interview

16 Jun

A big thanks in advance to Joreth for this candid interview about the polyamorous lifestyle!

POLYAMORY DEFINED: Literally, poly = many + amor = love. The state, practice, or intention of maintaining multiple romantic relationships simultaneously, with the full knowledge and consent of all the people involved.

“The two essential ingredients of the concept of “polyamory” are “more than one” and “loving.” That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other’s lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, “cheating”, serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as “mate-swapping” parties.” ~Morning Glory Zell, coiner of the term


CFLA:  When do you become interested in polyamory?
JORETH:   I have never been very good at monogamy.  There are so many fascinating and wonderful people in the world, that I just kept falling in love with people while still in love with my existing partners.  Then, after breaking up with a particularly possessive boyfriend, I decided to look at the facts (that I sucked at monogamy) and take the opportunity of being single by vowing never to get into another monogamous relationship again.  The next guy who asked me on a date told me about the word “polyamory” after I had explained to him that I was not monogamous, but that I still wanted emotionally-intimate relationships.

How did you begin to meet people within the community?
Through the internet, of course!  The World Wide Web was still a “new” concept back then, at least as far as the general public was concerned.  But I looked up the word “polyamory” online and found some early geocities websites and a couple of Yahoo! Groups.  Then, when I moved to Florida, I found a Yahoo! Group that met in person once a month, and I went to the discussion meeting where I met the people who would eventually become my current social circle, including two of my current partners.

Have you had to ‘come out’ to friends and family? How was that experience?
I have, and it has been mixed.  The first time, I was accidentally outed.  I was learning html for a job and I practiced by building my own website – the one that would one day become the sprawling land of the Inn Between.  I wrote a page all about polyamory and what it was, but I didn’t write anything personal at the time.  I was afraid that my parents would see it (I was still living at home at the time), so I built a mirror website without the poly stuff.  But I forgot to change a hyperlink somewhere, and my mother just happened to click on that one wrong link, and it took her to the original site, where she eventually found the poly page.

We had a screaming fight where she accused me of being immoral and a slut, and I tried to say that I wasn’t poly, I was just writing ABOUT poly in support of my friends who were poly.  My sister jumped in to defend me on the grounds that our cousin had recently come out as lesbian and we still loved her, so they should still love me no matter what as long as what I chose to do made me happy.  The argument finally ended when my dad came home and shouted at us all to shut up because he could hear us arguing all the way down to the sidewalk (my parents are big on the whole public-appearances thing).

The subject remained tabled for a few years, although I continued to date more than one person at a time.  Eventually, I moved out and stopped caring what my parents thought, and I also began to hate censoring myself and keeping parts of my life and even who I was as a person a secret from anyone, but especially my family (whom I was still very close to).  So my real “coming out” was more of a gradual thing, where I just talked a little bit more about who I was dating and answered more honestly when my mother asked me questions like “so is THIS guy someone you’re getting serious about?”

Then, one year, I bought a house with my metamour (i.e. my boyfriend’s other girlfriend), and she and I moved in together along with our mutual boyfriend.  Then I brought them home to meet my family that winter holiday season.  But even after all of that, I don’t think my parents quite got it until the day my mom asked be about a later boyfriend and whether or not that was “getting serious”.  I explained to her for the umpteenth time that, yes, it was serious, but so was my relationship with my other boyfriend, whom she insisted on forgetting about.  I think it finally started to click, because she then asked me if that meant that she might one day have two son-in-laws.  So I said yes, but then had to break it to her that I didn’t plan on ever getting legally married, and I didn’t want children either.

That conversation went much more smoothly than the first coming-out conversation did, in spite of having to shatter her worldview on more than one topic.  I fully believe that my attitude was what made the difference.  I was confident and unashamed, and I answered her calmly and matter-of-factly.  People take their cues on how to treat you … from you.  When I act ashamed or embarrassed, people treat me like I SHOULD be ashamed or embarrassed, but when I act as though I have every right to my relationships and that they are perfectly normal and natural for me, people are much more respectful in their reactions, if not their private opinions.

But as for friends – I have always been “out”, from the moment I decided to not be monogamous, even before I heard the word “polyamory”.  I have never hidden anything from friends.  To me, that defeats the purpose of calling someone a “friend”.  Those who had a problem with it were never very good friends to begin with, and they just faded away.  Everyone else was either also poly, or didn’t care that I was.

Have you ever been interested in someone but they did not know you were polyamorous?
No.  The one value I have always held was honesty.  I have not always lived up to that value, but the whole reason for me deciding to be poly in the first place was to live more ethically and treat my partners with more dignity than I had in the past.  Even though the word “polyamorous” is a literal translation of “many loves” and does not include the word “honesty” in the translation, honesty has always been an implied but fundamental part of the definition of that word, for me.  Love, to me, requires that I honor and respect the person I am claiming to love, enough to allow them to make their own informed decisions about how their life should look.  I cannot do that and hide my polyamory from someone who I am interested in and/or intending to be in a relationship with.  And one of the ways that I ensure this, is to be as open and honest as I possibly can about all areas of my life and about who I am, so that no one will ever feel misled or entrapped.  I can’t imagine ever intentionally doing that to someone I loved, or even someone I thought was kinda neat.  In fact, I even have a “Me Manual” online – a collection of eassys discussing various things about me that are important for potential partners to be aware of, from polyamory, to religious views, to political views, to specific details about sex, to my favorite foods and music.  The first thing anyone should do if they are interested in dating me, is to read through my Me Manual, located on my blog.

Will you describe some polyamorous relationships you have/have had and how they functioned?
That’s about as difficult as asking me to describe my monogamous relationships and how they functioned.  Every relationship is different, and it is comprised of the people who make up that relationship.  I have been in relationships made up of a live-in dyad with satellite partners, I have been part of a live-in triad made up of two women and one man, and I have been part of an extensive network that morphs and changes as people come and go.  I do not use the terms primary and secondary because I have never done relationships that prescripted a hierarchical nature (and I think those words make it too easy to fall into that prescripted hierarchical trap), although I have had simultaneous relationships with an unequal distribution of life-entanglement, just because that’s how the relationships wanted to be naturally.  I have tried rules-based relationships and they have always failed, utterly, as people start to hold onto the rules to avoid the growing pains that come with change.

Currently, I am in a very extensive network, made up of mostly people who feel a strong sense of family – particularly intentional family.  The metamours mostly all know each other and many of us are friends with each other independently of our mutual partners.  All of my partners actually knew each other and were friends with each other before I ever met any of them.  Everyone in the network has a different way of structuring their various relationships.  Some incorporate rules, some (including all of mine) prefer personal boundaries over rules.  All of them are open and honest – no DADT relationships here.

How would you describe the composition of the polyamorous community?
That’s like asking to describe the composition of the geek community, or the atheist community, or the cat-lover community, or women.  If there is one thing that all polyamorous people have in common, it’s that we’re all different.  Just like everyone else on the planet, we are a community made up of individuals, with our own values and ideals and opinions, and especially, our own relationship structures.  There are also several subsets to the poly community, and many individuals are in more than one subset, such as the poly-pagan community, the online poly community, the poly-and-geeky community, the isolated polys (people who are not online and who don’t participate in the various meetups), the kinky-poly community, the religiously-justified poly community (those who use their religion to justify, codify, or mandate multiple partnerships), the pro-polygamy community and the anti-polygamy community … the list goes on and on.

Is the polyamorous community in anyway tied to Morman polygamists?
No.  Period.

First of all, let’s get our definitions straight.  Polyamory is many loves; there may or may not be marriage.  Polygamy is many marriages; there may or may not be love.  A person can be both polygamous and polyamorous if they have multiple marriages that are based in love.  But the words address TWO SEPARATE CONCEPTS, one being love and the other being marriage.  They do not have to go together, although many in Western cultures seem to prefer it when they do.  You cannot assume marriage when one says he is polyamorous, and you cannot assume love when one says he is polygamous, even though people often have both.

The Fundamentalist Mormons (who are a break-away sect of the Mormon Church – mainstream Mormons reject polygamy as required when the US ratified Utah as a state) practice a form of polygamy called polygyny, which is, specifically, many wives.  Polygamy is “many marriages” and does not reference the gender at all.  Polygyny does specify many wives, and polyandry specifies many husbands.  There are even more forms of polygamy than that, and you can read more on my Poly Terms page at http://www.theinnbetween.net/polyterms.html

But more than just having the practice of many wives, the Fundamentalist Mormons, or the FLDS Church, practice a religiously-mandated polygyny, where a man is obligated to care for several wives and the wives are obligated to serve their shared husband.  It is decreed by the tenants of their religion, and some insular groups of Fundamental Mormons take this to the extreme by marrying off young, even pre-pubescent girls to men old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers, and often related to the women (or girls) as cousins or uncles once removed.  These women (and girls) are given to the men as rewards for service to their church, and it results in a starvation-economy of brides, so that many young men are left without prospects because they do not have the political clout or social status to earn a wife, let alone several.  So sometimes young men are driven to the outskirts of their compounds and dumped in the middle of nowhere, excommunicated, and with no resources.

This is the antithesis of all that polyamory stands for.  Polyamory is about love and about freedom to make one’s own informed decisions.  Polyamory is about consciously designing your relationships to bring about the most amount of happiness for those involved.  Polyamory is about loving your partners so much, that their happiness is integral to your own, which is what brings you to give your partner the freedom to explore life and love.  Polyamory is egalitarian, in the sense that every individual can choose what the relationship looks like, and that relationship structure is decided upon by the participants in it, not by someone or something outside of the relationship mandating the structure.

The men and women in these types of mandated marriages may grow to be fond of each other, the way spouses did in monogamous history where those marriages were also arranged by family and/or chosen for political/financial reasons.  But that version of “love” does not resemble the type of love that polyamorists use to describe their own relationships.  Polyamorous love is based on romantic feelings that drive the direction of the relationship, whereas mandated marriages are when a relationship drives the direction of the feelings.

When a marriage that includes multiple people is based on love, respect, and the ability and freedom to make informed choices by all those involved, that multiple-person-marriage may, indeed, be polyamorous.  So some Mormon polygamists may also be polyamorists.  But the two terms address different areas of their relationship, and the word “polyamory”, along with the poly community, developed totally independently of the Mormon religion.  Polyamory is not tied to any particular religion, does not dictate a total number of partners, does not dictate the gender of those partners, and does not require marriage or a marriage-like relationship.

I write extensively about what polyamory is and isn’t over at my website and on my blog.  You can also hear me occasionally as a co-host on the Polyamory Weekly podcast, available for free on iTunes or on here and in person at our local poly discussion group, OrlandoPoly.  I am also a presenter at various polyamorous and alt-relationship conferences, the most recent one being Atlanta Poly Weekend, and can be found in various news and magazine articles around the world.  You can friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, but I do warn readers, my Twitter stream is not for the faint of heart – I’m much nicer on Facebook!


4 Responses to “Polyamory: An Interview”

  1. Emma Cardenas June 19, 2011 at 12:08 PM #

    Great interview! Always interesting to learn about different types of relationships & expand your mind 🙂

  2. Markie Kadizade June 20, 2011 at 11:16 PM #

    I’m considering the practice and lifestyle of being polyamorous. Sadly now a days “commitment ” and “marriage” have been toy’d with to the point of no importance .. The generations after us have been exposed to a life filled with adultery. Divorce and pimping. Great interview Laura.

    • Laura Wise June 21, 2011 at 10:29 AM #

      You should watch the movie ‘women in love’, it gives a really honest look at one persons journey into the lifestyle. Thanks for reading.

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