The Washington Post covers the Poly Living conference
Today's edition has her very, very long story. Though a touch snarky in places, it is sharply insightful and generally spot-on. The Post does hire the best.
Pairs With Spares
For Polyamorists With a Whole Lotta Love, Three, or More, Is Never a Crowd
By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 13, 2008
I have a love whose name is Johnny
He is dating my best friend Bonnie
The audience members at the annual Poly Living convention think hippies, retired science teachers, a high quotient of male ponytails are singing, in round, what might be the only song ever written about polyamory. [Ed. note: not so.]
She lives with her sweetheart Jen
And Jen's husband whose name is Glenn
It's a lifestyle that has been alternatively misidentified as Swinging, Wife Swapping and Really Greedy.
Now they raise their kids together
And are happy more than ever.
[Lyrics copyright 2008 by Ben Silver]
Polyamory isn't about sex, polys tell you. It is about love. It is about loving your primary partner enough to love that they have a new secondary partner, even when their New Relationship Energy with that person leaves you, briefly, out in the cold. It's about loving yourself enough to acknowledge that your needs cannot be met by one loving person. It's about loving love enough to embrace it in unexpected form like maybe in the form of your primary's new secondary! in which case you may all form a triad and live happily together.
That kind of love.
And so some 100 people, a small fraction of the 15,000 polys on the mailing list of convention sponsor Loving More, have gathered at a Holiday Inn off the Pennsylvania Turnpike for two days of seminars with such titles as "Hap-Poly Ever After: Long-Term Poly Partnership" and "Kids and Poly Relationships: A Human Relations Primer About Melding All Your Loves."
Of course, sex is a part of love. Which is why the pastor leading "Love and Marriage in Bible Times" finds herself talking really loud to combat the noises coming from the tantric sex workshop next door. Which is why another workshop deals with the proper way to navigate a "threesome, foursome, or moresome."...
"One thing I like to say is, polyamory ain't for sissies."
This is Anita Wagner, 54, a legal secretary with a buoyant Tennessee drawl, flowing clothes and cheerful lipstick. She has a comfy mom-ness about her that says: I give amazing hugs. [Ed note: Talk about spot-on.]
...Once the second divorce was over and the daughter was grown, she acknowledged something about herself: "I realized that, being the bighearted person I am, I was denying myself something that we all need."
That was love. Big Love.
"Many of us tried to make monogamy work," Wagner says. But monogamy, she says, often seemed to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. Its practitioners would break off "perfectly good relationships" just because of intellectual incompatibility, for example, or because one partner liked ballet and the other liked bowling. Doesn't it make more sense, polys ask, to keep the good parts of a relationship, and find another boyfriend who likes "Swan Lake"?
...Thought: Maybe you can have it all. You just can't get it all from the same person.
It's the thought that illustrates a paradox in polyamory: Its practitioners have astonishing optimism for humans' endless capacity to love, to share, to forgive, to grow, to explore. But that optimism seems rooted in a cynical belief that the monogamous are stuck in a myth, one that leads to cheating, unhappiness or divorce court. They believe, as do some evolutionary biologists, that most humans do not have endless capacity to be faithful to just one person.
There's a vague aura of entitlement to polyamory. The concept that one deserves complete romantic fulfillment seems a decidedly Me Generation concept.
More than one presenter at Poly Living's sessions utters a variation of this statement, which is either an explanation, an excuse or an untruth: We're just doing what everyone else is doing anyway. The difference is that we're not lying about it.
"Your turn!" Nicole says cheerfully to her partner Rebecca. The two women, both in their early 30s, are trying to eat lunch with their other partner, James, but the trio's toddler has chosen this moment to smear cake on his face and sprint toward the hotel restaurant's door. Rebecca hurtles out of her chair, cutting him off before he careens into a waitress. Nicole rolls her eyes toward the ceiling. "I have no idea," she says, "how people do this with just two parents."
Rebecca returns the boy to the table, handing him off to James as Nicole excuses herself to the bathroom. Morning sickness. Ugh.
...Nicole is the toddler's biological mother, though she fondly tells the story of how a classmate at his preschool assumed Rebecca was: They share platinum blond hair and nearly translucent skin, while Nicole and James both have brown hair and dark eyes. All three adults share a similar thick-through-the-middle build. When a reporter asks whether they all share a bed, Nicole bursts out laughing she has a hearty and well-used laugh and says, "Not until we lose some weight."
Though Nicole and James had jointly dated other people before, Rebecca, a paramedic with an efficient British accent, is the only one to mesh equally with both. For the triad's first date, James made Rebecca a plate of homemade Jammie Dodgers (one batch with strawberry jam, one with raspberry; he didn't know which she'd prefer). Rebecca brought them a plant. There was, says James, "a lot of courting," and a lot of evenings that ended with him and Nicole pillow-talking about how adorable Rebecca was.
...It's less about them wanting to fulfill personal desires, they say, and more about needing more people to meet the daily requirements of 21st-century life. As in, if it takes two incomes to keep up with the modern mortgage and school fees, then who is going to provide the kids with a stable environment at home? "Five hundred years ago," says James, " 'family' meant mom, dad, grandma, aunt, great-grandma everyone."
...Nicole, James and Rebecca acknowledge that a group marriage requires work that a monogamous one does not. "At first, I felt interrupted all the time," says Rebecca. "We all have different communication styles."
"Sure, if I'm putting the baby to bed for two hours while they're having hot sex, I get annoyed," says Nicole. "But it's not because they're having sex without me. It's because I'm really tired and I've been putting a baby to bed for two hours."
When you watch people interact at Poly Living, it can seem that we humans have no idea what makes people happy inside relationships, or what arrangements people need to navigate the world....
...[A] couple are sitting on a couch outside a conference room at the convention, waiting for a seminar on improving communication between personality types (he procrastinates; she doesn't). Victoria, who has long, thick hair and perfect, porcelain doll skin, rubs LaVasseur's shoulders. He absent-mindedly kisses her hand.
"It was hard," LaVasseur says. "I'd always identified my self-worth by my relationships. I felt really insecure that I wasn't enough for her."
They developed a system. If Victoria so much as thinks she's interested in someone else, she tells LaVasseur immediately. "Then, later, I'll say, 'I'm thinking about kissing them,' " says Victoria. "And then, 'I'm thinking about getting serious.' "
Ironically, what's helped LaVasseur's jealousy the most was meeting his girlfriend's other partner, with whom she lives. He recognized how different he and the other guy were, and realized that what Victoria got out of that other relationship would not compete with what they had together.
There is thoughtfulness, mindfulness, that goes into each one of their interactions. (A favorite poly joke: "Swingers have sex. Polys have conversations.")
...Later that night, Victoria and LaVasseur have signed up to be facilitators at a cuddle party a nonsexual outlet for people of all ages to spoon, tickle, pat and snuggle each other. It requires facilitators because cuddle parties come with 40 minutes' worth of rules on how to snuggle respectfully.
The two of them aren't sitting anywhere near each other; in fact, LaVasseur is demonstrating proper cuddle etiquette with another woman, one old enough to be his mother.
Victoria looks on contentedly; she catches his eye and they smile.
They seem ridiculously in love.
Read the whole article. And here's the print-friendly text in a single long file. (If the story disappears from the newspaper's site, you can read the text here.)
My only real beef with the story is that she did not get into the serious attention that the poly community gives (by and large) to STDs and safer sex. This will be, quite correctly, one of the first questions that readers have.
But overall, Wow, say I.
P.S.: Anita Wagner, featured in the article, blogs about her experience working with the reporter here.
Update, same day: Already the right wing is up in arms about this article. "In what can only be described as a Valentine to immorality and provocative behavior," writes Kristen Fyfe in the NewsBusters blog, "the Post ran a 2554-word feature on polyamory that describes a practice most readers even the liberal fans of the Post would find disturbing."
God help us that a newspaper would print something disturbing. Even worse: "The fact that this feature ran in the same section as the KidsPost (the page the Post dedicates to younger readers) was also irresponsible."
Update: A shortened version of the article appears in the Feb. 21st Toronto Star.