"Surrounded by Love: Our
Rethinking Everything: Sex
We've seen a spate of stories by longterm polyfamilies lately. Here's one from Nikki Starcat Shields, in the online magazine Kind Over Matter:
Read the whole article (Sept. 13, 2012).
The Many Ways of Love
So, here's the thing: I have two love partners. One is my husband of 21 years, Matthew. We have two teenage kids. My other partner is Brent, and we own an online business together. We've been together six years. Matt also has another love partner, a delightful woman named Ocean. We all live together, except for Ocean, who has her own home about an hour's drive from us. We're polyamorous, and it works for us.
...Our daily life is much like that of any family. The kids are used to having multiple adults around, and it really comes in handy when getting them to their soccer practices, social gatherings, and other events. For the most part, our friends and extended families are used to our unusual setup and take it in stride. People in the local community, like the other soccer Moms, seem to assume that Matt and I are divorced but still friendly, and that Brent is the stepdad. No one really freaks out about it.
That's not to say that the path leading to where we are now was easy. Far from it....
Nikki Starcat Shields is a writer, Mom, blogger, Reiki healer, and licensed priestess... [and] author of the forthcoming book Starcat's Corner: Essays on Pagan Living.
That article is a short version of a 4,500-word story she wrote that filled eight pages of the magazine Rethinking Everything last January. It goes into a lot more detail about the rough parts. Excerpts:
Surrounded by Love: Our Alternative Family
We’re relaxing at home on a Friday night, listening to jazz and figuring out the plan for the rest of the weekend. “Okay, I’m taking Tristan to the soccer tournament on Sunday, right?” Brent asks. “Then we can meet you at the potluck afterwards.”...
“Honey, what time will you be back from the festival on Sunday?” I call out. From the other room we hear, “Oh, probably three-thirty. We’re playing in the morning.”
“Can you grab the casserole before you go over to Mom’s?”
“What’s up at Mom’s?” Matt asks, coming into the kitchen. He never pays attention to the schedule until he needs to, usually the day before....
Matt is my husband of twenty years and the father of our two children... the at-home parent for 11 years, unschooling the kids and keeping house while I worked outside the home. Now he’s the primary breadwinner.
Brent is my love partner of five years. He lives with us, and he and I have started a business together called Feline Dreamers....
There’s a whole community of folks out there with more than one long-term love interest. It even has a name polyamory, or poly for short....
So how did I get here? It started in college. When my husband and I met, we were both in committed relationships with other people. Seeing those relationships disintegrate rather messily is what helped us found our partnership based on truth. We were done with the lying that we witnessed and participated in during that crazy year. This led us to admit that we still had other attractions, and eventually evolved to an intimate relationship with another married couple, whom I’ll call Lou and Carol. The relationship with Lou and Carol was close for several years, although we never lived with them. The four of us started out doing a lot of spiritual work together, and that expanded gradually into love and intimacy. No one outside of the four of us knew the full nature of that relationship; we simply included Lou and Carol in our lives as our closest friends. Matt and I eventually moved three hours away, to build our home on family land, so we saw them less often, but remained close for years.
And then Matt fell in love again, with a single female friend of ours, whom I’ll call Maria. This rocked the boat – Lou and Carol became very jealous and didn’t want him to create a relationship with her. To Matt and I, loving multiple people was about freedom and openness, but they felt that what we had was exclusive and should be guarded closely. After a year or so of painful attempts at compromise and reconciliation with Lou and Carol, the relationship we had with them broke up. It was soulwrenching. There were times when I was ready to throw in the towel, to conclude that polyamory wasn’t worth all the heartbreak and emotional damage. Over time, though, I healed and moved on....
The relationship that developed between Brent and I was very intense, and took up a lot of my attention. In our previous relationships, Matt and I had treated our marriage as our primary relationship, with our other partnerships as secondary to what we shared between the two of us. The love I felt for Brent as a soulmate caused me to want to include him more fully in our lives, and this meant I was changing the rules. I tried to balance where I put my energy, but there never seemed to be enough to go around, especially during those early months. I was Matt’s only partner at that point, and he became very demanding of my time. He and my closest friends, seeing the passion and excitement Brent and I felt for each other, felt like they were missing all the fun even when we were all hanging out together, which mystified me. I was sad that they couldn’t seem to share our joy.
We had some very rough times. Matt felt betrayed, and so did I. Brent wanted me all to himself at first he seemed to think he could somehow win me away from Matt, and it took him a while to become comfortable with the daily realities of a poly lifestyle. The kids were witness to our discussions, fights, tears, and recriminations. Over a period of months, we tried again and again to compromise on various details of our changing relationships.
We were sailing in uncharted territory here. Matt desired rules and guidelines. Brent wanted me to be free to do whatever felt right to me in the moment. I was willing to compromise, but by this time it seemed like every choice I made was the wrong one. We would work through one problem, things would go along fine for a while, and then something else would come up.
For Matt, some painful and deep-held issues within himself were brought to light. Coming from a family that was very patriarchal, he had known for years that he didn’t want to be a controlling husband and father and had been creating a new model. Yet the anger that came up for him during this time led him to try and control me. He could see himself falling back on the behavior he had witnessed in his father, who had let his anger hold sway over his family....
Eventually, step by painful step, we worked through the crisis.... I feel sometimes like it was my sheer stubborn belief in love that got me through, and gave us all the impetus to keep trying. Ziggy Marley came out with a song in 2006 that the three of us could easily agree on, and it became sort of a personal anthem: “Love is My Religion.” It may sound corny, but it was really love that got us through those difficult times.
These days, things are much more stable for my family. Brent moved in with us a couple of years ago. Though we need to expand our living space, and there is tension between Brent and the now-teenaged Tristan, we are a pretty typical happy family. The kids have grown up with us in our various incarnations of polyamory, so it’s a part of the fabric of their lives. Matt’s love partner enjoys having her own space, so he sees her two or three times a week and that works out well. They’ve been together three years now, and we’re all very fond of her. She is such a sweetheart she adores the food Brent and I make for her, and it’s always a delight when she comes for a visit. No one really asks, but I can see it in their eyes. Or maybe I’m just projecting my own curiosity, the way I’d feel in their place.
...It takes a lot of dedicated practice to release those old patterns, to discover a new way of experiencing life and love. Even if you are polyamorous, or feel inclined in that direction, in practice you will probably be challenged in ways you don’t expect. Matt often paraphrases from one of the books he read about polyamorous relationships, Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits by Deborah M. Anapol, which states that if you’re not willing to process your issues externally, then polyamory is probably not for you. What the author is referring to is the hours of (often intense) discussions necessary to make a complex web of relationships work for everyone involved. Ideally, decisions are made by group consensus, and any boundaries are set up with respect to the needs of all the people involved. Open communication is essential.
Over the years, we’ve found that it’s important to honor the emotions that come up (like jealousy, anger, and sorrow) yet to not let them limit you or others. Each person needs time to work through his or her own feelings, but it’s not productive to use them to blame or control others. This can be tricky, as we’ve all been taught in this culture to rely on others to satisfy our needs. But I think that as we all strive to become more conscious individuals, we develop stronger and healthier relationships with one another, and that ripples outward to our other relationships, with friends and extended family.
One of the most interesting things about this whole experience is that most of the other folks Matt and I have been involved with over the years haven’t been self-identified as poly. None of us really set out with the intention to have multiple partners. But we, and they, have followed the path of love, and this is where we find ourselves today....
Read the whole article (Jan. 2012). You get a 22MB pdf file of the entire magazine; scroll to the table of contents and click the title.