In the comments on a recent piece of mine, "If no one's being hurt, God's okay with your sexuality," a woman wrote to share that she is polyamorous -- specifically meaning, in her case, that she is (as I learned) living with, in love with, deeply committed to, and basically in all ways but legally married to a man and a woman. I asked our new acquittance if she would be willing to let me interview her. At first she was reticent -- but, as she put it, "the opportunity to share with others a glimpse into our life is too good to pass up."
Could you give us a quick definition of what "polyamorous" is/means?
Honestly, the term "polyamorous" wasn't on our radar when we fell in love. It was later that we discovered there was a term for what we were. If we need a term, we consider ourselves "polyfidelitous," which is what polys call those who love more than one person in a long-term, faithful kind of way. Some people consider themselves polyamorous because they believe they need and/or want to be in multiple relationships at any given time. This is not a good description of us. We all feel we could be satisfied with just one person. It's just that we fell in love with two, pretty much all at the same time... and we discovered (through lots of open and honest communication!) that we were all not just OK with it, but that it was something we wanted.
Truthfully, we don't think of ourselves as polyamorous. We just think of ourselves as us.
How many people are in your relationship?
Three. One man, two women.
How long have you guys been together?
We have been dear friends for a very long time, with children who grew up as babies together.
How old are you guys?
Thirty-eight, 39, 41.
Were any two of you in a relationship before the third one of you joined it?
I was a (divorced) single mother, and they were a happily married couple. After my divorce, I had the joy of finally being free from an abusive marriage. I was supporting four children with very little support, but managing. She had been my best friend for years, and we've always been closer than sisters. People used to always comment on how close we were, but we never realized that could be sexual, too. Both of us were raised to not even be aware that was a possibility.
Long story short, the three of us began doing more and more things together and it just... worked really well. We got along incredibly, the three of us, and at some point, my best friend realized she had feelings for me. She was the one who began the conversation about, "What if?" A lot of talking, a lot of thinking, all of us talking together, as well as doing a lot of thinking on our own, individually. I realized I had feelings for her (and for him), all feelings that were completely buried (since it was impossible to love either of them like that, right?).
So it was something the three of you consciously worked out together.
Yes. We all felt very excited when we realized that we were in love and that we all wanted the same thing (a long-term, committed relationship as a three). And then there was a lot of open and honest communication, of course. There has to be with any successful couple, and so with three people, even more so. It was very important to us that every single person was on the exact same page, or there was no way we were doing anything. No one felt pushed or coerced into anything. We really tried to look at this from a number of different angles, including the potential problems we could have, and kept feeling OK about taking another step forward. Every step forward just felt so right on so many different levels, and doors kept opening up right and left. There were numerous points where we would look at each other and say, "It's so weird, but if I was still a fundamentalist Christian, I would say that God is blessing us..."
We took very small and careful steps forward, hesitantly, every inch of the way being shocked at how nice, how perfect, how healthy, how "just right" it always felt. Our fears about each next step were always replaced by fearfully taking it and then finding it delightful.
We laughingly still can't believe we had the guts to even try this in the first place!
Do you all live together?
Yep. Wouldn't have it any other way. The year that we lived apart was horrible. Fun, in that it was a new relationship, so it was exciting but totally exhausting. The minute we bought our big house together, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. Then came the adjustment of blending two families. That takes time, but we parent in very similar ways, and the children and teens already were very close, so it all meshed together well, too. If we didn't think the two families had the ability to blend well together, we never would have done it in the first place, because we feel very strongly about our kids and want the best for them.
How long have you been living together?
Two years this spring.
Is jealousy a problem? Like, if one of you feels left out of something the other two are doing or feeling?
Jealousy was something we struggled with at first. We were excited that we all loved each other, but it was easy to feel insecure. If I saw them being super affectionate, I might worry, "Oh, no! They have all these years of marriage together. There's no way I can ever compete!" If he saw us being affectionate, he might worry, "Oh, no! They have been best friends since forever. They probably won't even want me around!" If she saw us being affectionate, she might say, "Oh, no! They are going to hit it off and decide they don't need me!"
That was what we would worry about, but it wasn't ever actually true, as we would discover when we would share our fears with each other. We had yet to learn that love can be bigger than two. The realization that each leg of the relationship must be strong or the whole thing falls apart was a major discovery for us, and one that helped us shift into a truly solid loving relationship as a three.
We learned that if I am deeply in love with him, it strengthens and supports my loving relationship with her (and her relationship with him, too), and so on. Normally, you think that if your significant other is in love with someone else, it weakens your relationship with them. In our case, since we are a three-person relationship, seeing my lovers relate happily together means that our three-person relationship is stable and supportive. Their love strengthens my individual relationships with them both and our relationship all together as a three.
It took a little while for us to wrap our heads around that one, because it is so different than how we grew up thinking about the way love works. Once we learned to see our partners' individual relationship together as a strength and not a threat, we found ourselves released from the trap of jealousy and insecurity and that let us nurture and grow a deepening love. Insecurities still arise from time to time, just as they do in any relationship, but it's on a much different level now -- just normal occasional stuff. Mostly, we just have a lot of fun together.
To what if any degree do you guys feel compelled to hide your relationship from the rest of the world? Is that hard on you psychologically, not being able to be open about who you are and how you live?
I personally feel very compelled to be in the closet, almost entirely because of our children and for the safety of our professional careers. There are eight kids in our house, and we live in an extremely conservative town in a very Republican part of the South, the kind of town where a gay kid will probably commit suicide one of these days. There is a conservative church on almost every corner, and the few people who have been brave enough to be openly gay have experienced a lot of trouble.
We decided we didn't want to risk our children being persecuted for our choices. Also, employment-wise, we are all professionals in our careers, and while we do great work, we know that many employers are openly right-wing and openly homophobic (and so we can only guess what they would feel towards us if they knew). One man I have to work with, someone with a lot of power in my field, sometimes openly expresses that he believes gay people have a psychological illness.
So we live as just "housemates," including in front of our children. We have differed a little bit on this, as I mentioned, and I am the one who is the most hesitant about coming out. My two lovers have been really kind about respecting my fears about the children and agree to keep it private for now, but we all look forward for the day when we can just be open.
The teenagers know that we are all in a relationship together, since it's pretty hard to keep anything from teenagers, but the younger children do not. They just know that we are all best friends. The teenagers were upset at first but have grown to like it. One of them recently said, "I can't believe I ever thought it would be weird for you all being together. I love having two moms!"
One set of our parents found out, through extremely disrespectful snooping, and pretty much disowned their adult child. They told my partner that they wished she had died in a car accident because at least then she would have still gone to heaven. They said and did some pretty horrible things, along with then spreading "Christian" rumors (you know, asking for "prayer"). So, um, that was fun to go through. With family like that, who needs enemies, right?
I haven't had the joy of my family finding out yet, but I expect the reaction may be fairly similar. Maybe I am wrong. That would be nice, but I'm not getting my hopes up. It's strange to think your own relatives would rather see you in an abusive marriage than be in a healthy, happy, and stable relationship with two partners. That's the world we live in, though. It's just how people are trained to think. It helps if I don't make it personal and instead just remember that this is how our culture teaches us to think. I was plenty judgmental myself before I began questioning the religious views I'd grown up believing to be true.
As for being "out" at home, we have a great time at our house, and it's very open that we are all best friends. There is always something to laugh about going on. The three of us are very lighthearted and playful and loving, and it makes for a fun living environment. The kids are supported by three adults who love them, and there's always someone there for the kids when they come home from school, or someone to attend the important school event (we arrange work schedules so that the kids are always taken care of).
We consider our home a gift from God to us. Best of all, the master bedroom and office bedroom are attached by a bathroom, so that allows us an adults-only "wing" of the house to be in privately. It will be nice, someday, to be out completely, but that will have to wait until the kids are grown and we can move. For now, the adult wing is our slice of heaven at the end of each day.
How does it work socially? To the world, are you pretending to be really just one couple -- with, like, a roommate? So that if, say, a married couple asked you out, would just (the same) two of you go, or would all three of you show up, or what?
We often show up as a three. I am the best friend, and they are the married couple. That really bothers my two partners, but, like I said, it's what I prefer for now. Just as often I will go with one of them to something, and the other adult will stay home with the kids (whether it's a sporting event or an activity at one of the kids' schools). People are now pretty used to the fact that we come as an interchangeable unit of three. The other thing is that we really don't go out all that much. Between raising this many children, all of whom are very active, and working in our professions, which can be demanding, and somehow keeping up with the gigantic amount of laundry our house produces, we don't have a lot of spare time to go out to social events, even if we wanted to.
What's the sexual deal? Are each of you bisexual? Do you all sleep in the same bed?
He is not bisexual. I suppose that both of the women are. Well, honestly, I don't even know if we are. I just know that I love her. And she loves me. And being intimate feels like it makes sense, given the depth of our feelings for each other. We had been incredibly close friends for years, prior, and it never seemed close enough. Now, it feels just right.
We all sleep together every night. The person in the middle gets seriously snuggled on. It's fun.
Sexually, we have learned a lot about how three people can have an amazingly wonderful experience that feels like making love for everyone. We occasionally joke about the bestselling book we will write about how to have amazing threesomes one day. It was delightful to learn that you can have that feeling of being "one" with three. You totally can. That was one of the things we worried about at first -- what would we do about sex? Now, my mind automatically assumes that making love takes three.
We are sexual as couples, too, just not as often. We prefer three, as the norm, but enjoy time as couples on occasion, when opportunity allows, which is maybe once a week or so for each of us.
The world is pretty set up for couples. Do you ever feel a desire to be just a "normal" one-on-one coupley relationship? You know what I mean? Does it ever get kind of lonely knowing you're living out such a radically different kind of love relationship from the rest of the world?
The only reason I would want to be only a couple is just to be able to walk outside the door of my home while hanging all over my partner. If I wanted to, anyway. I can't do that. I always took that for granted, as a straight woman in a heterosexual marriage. I never thought about the fact that I "got" to hold my partner's hand in the grocery store. I just did it if I wanted to. I never thought about the fact that he "could" put his arm around me in a social setting. I just took it for granted. Now, I don't take those things for granted anymore. It is something that bothers us all. One of my partners swears that this whole experience might just turn her into a full-on gay rights activist marching in parades. We felt bad for gay couples before, but we never actually understood what it felt like. It's horrible.
In the beginning of all of this, when we were first talking and wondering, I realized that the only reason I would not be willing to do this was because my society did not approve of it as a valid choice. It just seemed a shame to turn down something that felt so right on so many levels, all because of wanting to maintain social approval. On my death bed, am I going to gasp out, "Well, turned down a joy-filled life with my two best friends, all so that the world would like me!" Never! I like social approval as much as the next person, but it's not worth choosing over love.
And I do I love my two partners. I love our life together. I love our big, happy home. But I do not love the fact that I live in a community that would rather me live as a struggling single mom to four children than to have the support of two adults who love me dearly as a life partner. The fact that my community would believe wholeheartedly that my sexual relationship with my abusive ex-husband was righteous but that my sexual relationship with two committed life partners (if they knew about it) is unrighteous, just seems so hypocritical. It especially makes no sense how they define "biblical marriage," when the Bible is full of life unions with multiple partners. "One man, one woman," really? What Bible are they reading, anyway?
Do you know any other polyamorous, or polyfidelitous, relationship units? (I guess "couples" isn't the right word, is it?) But do you know any others like yourselves?
No. I'm sure they are out there, but we don't know of any personally. That's OK. Honestly, I don't think this would work for very many people. The reason it does for us is that we are just the right three people for each other. It's hard enough to find just the right one person for yourself, much less two! When I think about my relationship as a three, I mostly just feel incredibly lucky, like God is smiling at us. I get to be loved by two best friends and lovers. I get to love two amazing people back (and they really are amazing). I get to love a whole house-full of children. It just feels like so much goodness. When I come home from work and pull into our drive, I smile. I love us!
We knew of a couple who were recently trying to be polyamorous, but, honestly, it seemed like trying to make it OK to have an affair. One partner really wanted to bring in a third, while the other partner pretty much cried and cried and cried about it, and then reluctantly agreed to it only because she felt like she had to. There were kids involved, too, to make it even worse. This made us mad. This is not at all what we are or who we are. We felt like it was 100-percent not OK to force a partner into something like this. We work because we all wanted it -- no coercion, no pressure, no pushing down the needs of one partner to meet the needs of another. To us, it is not loving or respectful to try and make three when one partner only wants two.
What do you want people to know about people like you, and relationships like yours?
That we are normal, solid citizens. That we are professionals that you work with at the office. That we are the teacher in your child's classroom, the person who delivers your mail, the doctor who looks at your injury. That we are the mom at the soccer games. That we are the dad at the geography bee. That we are the people with the really huge cart of groceries ahead of you in the supermarket line. That we grew up in conservative Christian America and certainly never imagined that we would do something like this. That we certainly weren't looking for something outside of the norm, but that love found us, and we were willing to step outside of the norm to meet it.
We are not monsters. We are not weirdos. We are just normal, everyday people who found that, for us, love could be bigger than two.