"Why I'd Love a Four-Person Marriage"
So many people these days yearn for structures of family and community beyond the isolated nuclear couple.
Especially desperate are parents trying to raise emotionally healthy children by themselves — children with competence, good values and few crises — and feeling helpless against onslaughts of marketers and consumerism, damagingly stressed-out school environments, the narrowing, steepening pathway to the middle-class life that their own parents took for granted, all in an environment of little-boxes isolation from even the neighbors.
Humans are not designed to live like this. Especially children. We were shaped by evolution to thrive in rich community of extended family and tribe. Including 24-hour adult-infant contact, ample time later for free play and exploration, and extended webs of adult-child bondings.
"These traditional practices are important to understand," writes Time magazine online this week, "because many indices of poor health in children — such as obesity, depression, ADHD and teen suicide — have increased dramatically in the United States over the last 50 years."
The Time article is titled What the Pygmies Can Teach Us About Childrearing (Jan. 30, 2013). It draws upon Jared Diamond's new book The World Until Yesterday, which, says Time, "describes some of the lessons we can learn from today’s hunter-gatherer societies that most closely approximate the way people lived in our ancestral past." Diamond doesn't romanticize prehistoric lifestyles. He lived for long periods among the ancient hunter-gatherer tribes that remain isolated in the mountains of New Guinea, and he paints much of their life as fear-driven, ugly, and sometimes just plain dumb even by the standards of the next tribe over. But they do some things consistently better than we do, and one is raising emotionally healthy children. This happens in part because the job is spread around.
The modern polyamory movement has emerged at humanity's opposite pole: among the most educated, intellectual/geeky, cosmopolitan people in the most developed Western societies. The kind of people who read Jared Diamond, for instance.
And often, sex and love prove not to be their main draws to polyamory. It's often a new vision of family: extended chosen family, modernly tribal.
At the poly conferences I go to, attendees have often been asked to describe the poly situation of their dreams. Consistently coming out on top is the extended group-marriage model, often with kids. Even though this model is the rarest in real poly life. It's damn hard to put together. For now.
So where's this leading? Elephant Journal is an online magazine (formerly the print magazine elephant) that calls itself "your guide to what we like to call ‘the mindful life’: yoga, organics, sustainability, genuine spirituality, conscious consumerism, fair fashion, the contemplative arts…anything that helps us to live a good life that also happens to be good for others, and our planet."
Its February issue features a heartrending article by a woman with kids yearning for the quad relationship that she and her husband once had with another couple. Here's the thing. There was no sex involved. They were a tight poly quad in every other respect, despite being just-friends who wouldn't raise Rick Santorum's eyebrow. There is so much yearning out there.
Why I’d Love a Four-Person Marriage
Two Couples in Bathing Outfits, circa 1934.
A few years after finding and marrying each other, Seth and I found our couple-friend soulmates.
Over the few years that followed, in an entirely platonic way, we became more than just friends. When there was something going on in one of our lives, there were four people, instead of just two, who put their heads together and figured out what to do.
Instead of Seth and I planning our social schedules together, all four of us would coordinate. When one of us was being bullheaded, there were three other folks there to gently but persistently provide an “intervention.”
Let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to get your partner to hear feedback on his behavior when there are two other people there backing you up!
However, the biggest thing I took away from that experience was that the business of life felt a lot less like work during that time. Life felt less burdensome and more fun. With four adults facing the world together things just felt a bit less daunting—spending time with friends stopped feeling like it required elaborate planning or impossible scheduling feats. There just seemed to be…time.
When our couple-friend soulmates divorced, Seth and I were devastated. We all joked that Seth and I were more upset than they were, but I think in some ways we really were.
We were losing this family unit we’d created — except we didn’t have any of the motivation for wanting to move on that they had. We were perfectly happy in our sexless, four-person marriage; we hadn’t signed on for divorce.
Fast-forward two years and our couple-friends are out there dating, finding new communities, moving on with their lives and Seth and I are slogging through marriage with twin two-year-olds. Seth and I have had our ups and downs over the past couple years since our twins were born, and there were times I wondered if we would make it.
But I want us to. I want Seth as my life partner; I never really question that. What I question is why it feels so hard.... I question why the business of life seems so hard in ways that sometimes overwhelm our relationship and leaves us with too few resources for each other and our family.
...The sheer impossibility of completing all the tasks necessary to financially, logistically and emotionally manage a household, attempt to meet each other’s and our kids’ needs, maintain our careers, and oh, have some time to nurture ourselves, feels back-breaking. It is simply too much for two people!
I often think back to our foursome and fantasize about having another couple as an intimate part of our lives or even our household.
Ok, sure, sometimes these fantasies involve me exploring my attraction to women with a hot, redhead who just happens to be a member of that new couple. And I think that would be great, I really do! I think if you can have the right mindset and great communication, having two new folks to explore with sexually can be really good for a marriage.
But this post is not about that; it’s about the soul-crushing workload of a two-parent household. Whoever thought up this craziness? What culture in the history of the world isolated two people, threw toddlers at them, demanded they both find satisfying, lucrative employment, and then, as some kind of cruel joke, expected them to meet all of each other’s emotional and sexual needs?
The answer is none!...
Read the whole long article (Jan. 31, 2013).
P.S.: If this post speaks to you, if you dream of how to live in community in a new and better culture, check out the Network for a New Culture. Some of my dear friends are very active in it, and I've been going to the annual West Virginia summer camp of its East Coast branch for several years now. Which I wrote about here.
P.P.S.: Hope to see you at Poly Living in Philadelphia in a day or two! (You can just show up for walk-in registration. Day passes available.)