Unless you live it, it’s sometimes hard to have an idea of what a polyamorous life can look like. Profiles in Polyamory is going to be an ongoing series where I interview ordinary polyamorous people just living their lives. These will not be the lives of perfect people who have everything together, and neither will they be profiles of absolutely insanity for the entertainment value. These are real people with real lives. Those lives just happen to include polyamory, that’s all.
Our first profile is Jennifer. She started out monogamous and then decided with her husband to try a polyfidelitous relationship with another couple. She lives in a town that’s the headquarters of a fundamentalist Christian group, so she probably chooses to be less out than most. However for all that she says she’s not a polyamory activist, she commented, “I’m really glad you’re doing this, I know it would have helped me when I first started out.”
Well, Jennifer, I’m glad you’re willing to help other people out! To get started, how did you discover polyamory?
One of my best friends in high school introduced me to it. She met her husband at the same time I met mine, and after we’d been in our respective relationships for a while, she revealed that they had an open relationship. She knew that I was rabidly monogamous, so I think she put off telling me for a long, long time. The worst thing was, even though I was shocked, I think I could have been more accepting if her husband had not been so incredibly rotten to me. He was always criticizing me for being old-fashioned and came off very angry with me for “forcing” my husband to be monogamous. I haven’t told him that I’m polyfidelitous, but I have a feeling that he would be angry with me for forcing more people to be “monogamous”. The word polyamory, by the way, wasn’t mentioned until fairly recently, when it was mentioned that my friend had an open relationship and the husband said, “Actually, we prefer to call it polyamory.” After that, I started hearing the word more often and started to get more information from various sources–a friend who researched it and shared her information, TV talk shows–and then I started to do my own research. I didn’t decide that polyamory would work for me, though, until I met my current partners, and then it was more of a matter of *wanting* it to work than thinking it would
Wanting it to work, huh? Do you think that polyamory is presenting any serious challenges to you? What’s the biggest, challenge, do you think?
Wow, this is a tough one. I feel like I should start the Spanish Inquisition sketch–“My one biggest challenge is X… X and Y …two! My two biggest challenges…” I guess I would have to say acceptance, the acceptance of my friends and family. Is that the kind of challenge you were looking for? Jealousy and insecurity have been a royal b*tch for me, lack of time is hard, but the hardest and the most on-going has been getting people to accept my relationships. My oldest son was 14 when he figured out what we were doing–it wasn’t hard, we were foolishly indiscreet. He was horrified! We’ve spent a lot of time trying to reassure him, but now mostly I just try not to mention it to him much. And sometimes friends are accepting, and sometimes a) they act as though my female partner and I hunt their husbands when they’re not looking or b) their husbands act as though we’re taking applications. Plus sometimes “friends” act like they’re okay with it and talk behind my back. And the friends who I haven’t told sometimes get angry because I spend so much time with my other partners–who they think are just my friends, too–and not with them.
How many kids do you have?
Between us, we have four kids, two each.
Have you gotten any feedback from them about the poly thing? How aware of it are they?
We haven’t really tried to hide from them that we’re poly, and frankly I don’t think we’re good at it. I mean, my husband is physically affectionate with a lot of women, so it might be tough to tell on his part if he were seeing someone, but *no one touches me* without an invitation, so seeing one of these two smack my butt would be quite a shock.
My 16 year old was shocked and upset. He liked and admired the other two, and I felt he had a good relationship with them, until he realized we were poly. Then it went from asking them for advice to “she’s not my mother!” to storming off. We just continue in a no-nonsense manner–we try to make it clear that these people are in our lives for the long run and that we’re not doing anything that we are ashamed of. He made the comment once that he felt that love should be between two people, and I tried to convey to him that that was fine for him to decide for his relationships, but I felt differently. Who knows if it made a difference? It’s taken a long time, but we had a nice family evening last Sunday, with *both* of my kids in attendance, and my two male partners helping my son with his homework. I hope to see more of that in the future.
My 11 year old was never formally told, she just seems to know. She seems to completely accept the other family. She calls the other kids her siblings, she was confused why the other adults didn’t get listed as parents on her school forms. She seems completely okay. It’s like a breath of fresh air, after her brother.
The 9 year old, I have a hard time reading. She doesn’t call me her “other mother” or anything, and when I make comments about being the junior wife or substitute mom she generally makes a point of saying that I am *not* her mother–not rudely, but definitely firm. She’s a very literal girl.
The 5 year old, is a 5 year old. He only notices what he wants to notice. Sometimes he says that I’m his new mom, sometimes he doesn’t want anything to do with me. He adores my kids, and I guess that’s good enough for him.
It sounds like societal expectations do bite you guys a bit! What do you wish the general public understood best about polyamory?
Polyamory is not a threat to anyone’s way of life. We are not out to convert anyone, and I’d like to think that most of us won’t look down on anyone for choosing a different way of life. (It doesn’t help when you get the preachy polyamorists who think that mankind isn’t meant to be monogamous, running around scaring the people who *are* monogamous by telling them that their way of life is wrong. They don’t like it when monogamous folk tell them that they’re sinning, do they?) I think most people react out of fear when they hear about poly, and that fear leads them to make stupid assumptions that can color the way they think about poly for a long time. I think that if people could see this as just another relationship choice, like the choice between same-sex or different-sex partners, then we’d stand a better chance of living in peace.