Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

July 30, 2011

Matt Bullen tells of his poly awakening, and so do others

Several remarkably good how-I-came-to-poly stories have been published in the last few days, while I was digging out from under the work that piled up when I was away at the Network for a New Culture's Summer Camp East. Kick back for a good read.

1. Matt Bullen in Seattle was the co-writer with his girlfriend Terisa Greenan (at far right) for her poly web-TV series "Family" (2009–10). Matt and Terisa are part of a tight poly cluster of five-plus, some of whom have have been very out to the news media as the prototypical successful Seattle poly bunch. For instance, they were the centerpiece of the important and influential Newsweek online article two years ago. Now Matt, a transplanted Brit and proud of it, has just published his story of how he and his wife Vee (at left) originally came to poly.

It's in The Idler for 2011 — a well-regarded, annual British hardbound book-magazine "that campaigns against the work ethic and promotes liberty, autonomy and responsibility.... The title comes from a series of essays by Dr Johnson, published in 1758-59 in the Gentleman’s Magazine."

The More the Merrier

...In the centre of the fenced front garden of a cottage in New Zealand is a lemon tree. It yields big, contented lemons all year. My wife and I would chase our little boy around and around it, evening after evening, ducking down among the giggles to pick up a fallen fruit.... It was a welcome plateau of stability....

But geography was about to split me from Vera for several nights each week. She was set to spend a lot of time teaching at a university in Auckland, almost three hours to the north. She would be staying by herself, an attractive woman going through a time of excitement and stress, surrounded by thousands of bright, cute people. I would be alone in the countryside, looking after our boy.

She and I, it seemed to me, should talk. Any sensible couple would: even we, who had been married and utterly monogamous for well over a decade, could see that logistics might now open a sustained fracture into which sexual desire and the plain need for company might creep.

We had our talk, and then several other talks on the heels of it. Result: for the first time in our relationship, we gave each other permission to have casual sexual encounters with other people. As the odds for such sport were heavily in her favour, and I was doing little paid work, I had plenty of evenings alone after our lad went to sleep to think further about what our new arrangement might mean for our relationship. Two-thirds thrilled and one-third lonely, down among the dark paddocks of dairy country, I thought about how she might be spending the night in the city. Why were we okay with our agreement? How okay were we? Why was I mentally cheering her on, agog to hear any good war stories when she returned?...

Here’s what happened about our sex deal: neither of us did anything, at all....


...Then we met Terisa, Scott and Larry. They came to one of the cheap and cheerful cocktail parties we threw each month at our North Seattle apartment. Terisa lives with the two men, who are both her partners of many years. She met Scott first. Later, he introduced her to Larry. The guys are not involved with each other.

...Once Terisa and I had established our shared professional interest in writing, we soon started dating and making love. We also found that we were able to get on well as pals. These strands interplayed, wove in and out, curveting off each other or muttering along famously.

Soon afterwards Vera started going out with Larry, Terisa’s husband. At first this led to a couple of classic quasi-farcical moments, such as Vera and I texting each other at daybreak from respective bedrooms at the triad’s house, asking politely who was going to pad downstairs to make the coffee.

This state of affairs was, in Terisa’s phrase, all very convenient....

But something else was starting to develop. As months passed, we found that the core romantic liaisons were sprouting other relationships and benefits: other kinds of love, if you like. Vera and Terisa became good pals, lunching and doing dance class together. Our seven-year-old learned editing skills sitting on Terisa’s knee at her computer suite; editing that was valuable not just in the filmic sense, but as a general ability critical to crafting all manner of creative work. Larry and Scott would also pitch in with our lad, helping with math homework or bantering. Vera and Larry toiled hard to develop produce patches at the triad’s home: as I write there is a huge bowl of their ripening cherry tomatoes a few feet from my desk. I baked bread and made soups for the group. And “Family” continued to act as a cementing force for all of us. I helped to write it, our son had an acting role in it, Vera catered and assisted. Larry was already executive producer, Scott a director of photography. Terisa directed and orchestrated the whole thing on a shoestring budget, with a cast and crew of up to 20 people per episode. It was a relentlessly creative time, an awful lot of fun, and cost little. We also began to attract the attention of media from Newsweek to Canal+ TV France. (Egoistical side note: can you imagine my satisfaction, as a skinny English boy, in talking to the French nation about how to love women?)

More recently, Terisa has started to collect our boy from school once or twice a week to take care of him for a few hours, giving Vera more freedom to earn part-time cash teaching ballet. This childcare arrangement was, in turn, made possible by our moving to an apartment three minutes from the triad’s house.... We can nip to each other’s home to drop off a loaf or to pick someone up on the way to the huge local charity shop where we buy most of our clothes....


...People tend to want to know if there really is as much joy involved as I have begun to outline. The answer: yes. The context: polyamory also takes pretty much constant maintenance, and involves the occasional flashpoint scene that could strip the paint off the eyes of Mars. Living polyamorously is a bit like getting into the SAS: myths aside, and above all, you have to want to do it and to be able to focus way, way beyond initial illusions. To stretch this simile further, you have to be able to function well as your own person and as part of a group, sometimes parachuting into one of these two camps when you’d far rather be left in peace in the other.

Do we fight, do we get on each other’s nerves, do we get jealous? After all, Dr. Pepper Schwartz opined in a recent KOMO News piece that "it is not in most people's capacity to love multiple people at the same time, much less all live together as a happy family," The answer is: certainly there are tensions and jealousies. For example, as a family we all tend to be a little over-solicitous of each other’s feelings. This can lead to problems....

A good tip, if you are contemplating how you might deal with jealousy, is encapsulated in a section title of Dossie Easton and [Janet Hardy's] book The Ethical Slut. That is: ‘Go For The Ick’. In other words, cut to what is really making you feel anxious and queasy. Is it the thought of your partner looking into someone else’s eyes, or a fear of being dumped, or giggled about, or what? The nearer you can get to the core, the more clearly you can see yourself: and that is a good – though scary – place to be. Moreover, I advocate sharing your exploration with your partner....

...So, is polyamory enviable? Put it this way: when I go through our challenging times, I usually ask myself whether I would want to be living any other way or spending time doing anything else. No. Our son is happy and healthy. We all get on, even when the six of us descended on the UK for a hectic vacation....

...Polyamory is great, and it is tempting. But polyamory (or even swinging) is not something to be tried lightly. Ducks need to be corralled into a row, and anyone involved has to be searingly honest about what is likely to please or to disturb them. Otherwise, I almost guarantee shock and/or sadness. Indeed, I would advise not trying just in order to try, but to try with the full intention of succeeding. And that takes preparation and compassion. And courage.

The full, 3,000-word piece is not available online; you have to buy or subscribe to The Idler. It claims a circulation of 33,000. "The magazine is known for attracting opinion-forming contributors such as Toby Young, Louis Theroux and David Hockney," writes Matt. "So the readership, though small, probably reflects that."

P.S.: Matt has just started a polyamory blog about his life.

He and Terisa are working on a new web-TV series, "VNN Nicely News", that's supposed to be out later this summer.

Here's a two-part audio interview they did on poly parenting: Part 1; Part 2. These are episodes #249 and #250 of Cunning Minx's Polyamory Weekly podcast (which I haven't been promoting nearly as much as it deserves).


2. Mystic Life is the author of the small book Spiritual Polyamory (2004) and other works.

My First Exposure to Polyamory: The Witches of Eastwick

By Mystic Life

Back in college I went to a party with some friends who were visiting from out of town, and apparently one of the women at the party had noticed me. She called and asked if I’d like to go to a movie with her... The Witches of Eastwick.

...“Julie” wasn’t very attractive to me. However, she was nice, she liked me, and I had low self-esteem… so we ended up dating for over two years. She was only my second sex partner, and the first partner I ended up cheating upon. At the time, I truly believed “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” though of course it was very disrespectful and created distance between us.

...Instead of recognizing that monogamy wasn’t working for me, I thought I could get by on flings. Besides, since I was living in mid-Michigan, I didn’t see myself as having any alternative to monogamy. Also, I had some karma around the issue of infidelity since my father was a cheater as well. I didn’t see the connection at the time, but I’ve come to believe that if we’re not conscious of our stuff, we can “act out” the issues that hold an emotional charge from our family of origin.

So… back to our first date. I LOVED The Witches of Eastwick, though I didn’t know why at the time.... Jack Nicholson’s character, Daryl Van Horne, appealed because he spoke to a part of me that had yet to emerge. When asked early on in the film if he is married, he replies:

“The answer is no, I don’t believe in it. Good for the man, lousy for the woman. She dies, she suffocates. I’ve see it! And then the husband runs around complaining that he’s fucking a dead person, and he’s the one who killed her!”

From where I stand now, I feel this deadening effect is not correlated with gender.... I would later realize how marriage (or any traditional relationship) can deaden the participants’ sexuality. Later on I would read Sonia Johnson’s The Ship That Sailed into the Living Room in which she suggests that the best way to enliven a sexual relationship is to begin telling the truth. Reading Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton would further enhance my understanding of the importance of living transparently....

Read on (July 29, 2011).


3. At The Frisky:

Girl Talk: My Adventures In An Open Marriage

By Rachel Rabbit White

...So far, I’ve found a way to make my relationship with my husband, Edmund, keep its charm, passion, intimacy and commitment. And it has happened by opening the gates.

...The night of our [first] date there was a storm. The lights were out and we found an Ecuadorian restaurant lit by candles, where we drank tequila with mango and hot sauce. When we got back to his apartment, a tree cracked with lightning and fell in the street. I felt equally intense. When Edmund asked me to marry him a year later, it just made sense. Like our first date, our relationship was emotional and passionate but more than anything, it was a meeting of minds.

We had talked about non-monogamy once, when we first started dating. It was during the “getting you know you sexually” phase, where weekends are spent entirely in bed, save for meals out. We learned that we were both bisexual and enjoyed porn. “Who knows what the future holds for us. Polyamory?” he half-joked. The thing we agreed on about monogamy and marriage is that it should be open to change, fluidity. How can you make such a serious a decision once in your life, and never go back and evaluate it? Monogamy or divorce was just so black and white.


...While marriage had taken its toll, making us feel at times a little like brother and sister, we feared non-monogamy might break the beautiful relationship we had. But soon, Edmund stopped seeing it as sharing me, and started to view it as us exploring together....

I couldn’t guess how I would feel about my partner’s sexual conquests — until it happened. It was my birthday and a female friend came home with us. I poured some white wine, but it wasn’t long until her honey-blonde hair whipped to the side, and she writhed her body onto my lap, as our mouths touched. Soon, the three of us fell into bed together. As I pulled back watching the two of them, I could feel myself beaming. I felt excited for him, happy with a surge of “Yeah my husband is hot!” I also learned that having sex with people outside your marriage makes you want more sex with your husband. For weeks, Edmund and I couldn’t keep our hands off each other....

I still don’t know where we are headed or what our future will look like. But I trust the flow of it. I get it now, it is just me and him. You make the rules in your own relationship.

Read the whole article (July 28, 2011).


4. By a bi-guy columnist for AfterElton:

Snails & Oysters: Kelly, a Bipolyamorous Love Story

By Chris O'Guinn

In 1993, just after the death of my mom, I got a best friend — which was a big deal because I hadn’t had one of those since I was five....

At the time I was basically feral. I had long hair and a leather jacket, loads of anger and more issues than a magazine rack. I was timesharing groups of friends — that is, I had two distinct groups of people I spent time with, none of whom was I very close with.

Kelly picked her way through the briar patch of my defenses with an ease that I found alarming. She knew what it was like to put up a wall of hostility to keep the world out because she had done the same thing....

We started to really connect through our writing. She was always a better writer than me — such a consummate perfectionist. I was awed by her stories....

Then, in the course of a conversation with Kelly’s BFF I learned that Kelly was, in fact, bisexual. I absorbed that knowledge without much drama, so I was a little surprised when Kelly freaked out and begged me to meet her for a talk.

She tried to downplay what her BFF had said, panicking that I would reject her because I now knew this secret about her. The only response I could think to give her to calm her down was that I was bisexual too.

I had never told anyone that before.

...Yes, of course I developed a crush on her. There was a small hitch, though — she was dating one of those guys I nominally called "friend." I think this might have been the first time the words “F**k my life” had ever been spoken.

Well, their dating became their getting married and I just learned to deal. I still had a best friend in Kelly and that was all sorts of awesome. We wrote together, we laughed together. I even got invited to her parents’ house for special dinners. It was there that I learned that families could be about something other than tearing you down. Who knew?...

Read the whole article (July 28, 2011). It becomes very moving; no spoilers here.

Update Sept. 6, 2011: At The Experience Project, there are currently 141 experience stories in the section "I Am Polyamorous."


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Blogger Alan said...

P.S.: There's a big, related discussion going on right now in the Polyamory section of Reddit (3,300 members) around the question, "Do you feel like there's some unusual event or situation that led you to 'reject societal conditioning'?

Lots of stories. The link:


July 30, 2011 4:10 PM  
Blogger Jessica Prescott said...

Really appreciate your pulling all these things together.
Love Matt's story.

July 30, 2011 8:05 PM  
Blogger kendermouse said...

The snails and oysters story left me with sudden, unexpected tears in my eyes.

July 31, 2011 12:00 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

If you're looking for more good polyamory writing, vzn has just posted a lengthy list, with commentaries, at:


July 31, 2011 8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to burst your bubble, but I sure wish there was a bit of focus on what my partner's girlfriend and I have come to call the poly widows. It's not all puppies and rainbows out in poly land. It's complicated and often painful, and I'd sure rather be single than poly at the moment. But I'm here with my partner because he's a good co-parent, until the kids are grown. Then I'm so, so done.

August 26, 2011 11:21 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

> ...poly widows. It's not all puppies and
> rainbows out in poly land. It's
> complicated and often painful,

True. I hope I don't lead anyone down a primrose path.

> ...until the kids are grown. Then I'm so,
> so done.

Have you told him? Have you thought through what you truly want and need -- and asked for it? If not, don't put the blame on him. "If you're afraid to say it, that means you need to say it."

Think about what being single would get you that you couldn't get by agreeing with him to drop back to housemate status -- just being friendly, respectful housemates coparenting the kids, like he was your cousin or something -- and then actually pursuing whatever you're imagining you will do when you're single.

That might make a happier, stabler home for the kids to grow up in than one based on a dead, fake marriage with the wife secretly plotting to divorce as soon as the kids are gone -- and keeping it secret from her husband while telling strangers on the internet.

August 27, 2011 10:29 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

Another interesting how-I-came-to-poly story, by Alicorn on LessWrong ("a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality"). Polyhacking:


August 27, 2011 2:18 PM  

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