"A many-splendored thing? The polyamorous family"
We may think of Seattle as the poly capital of the world (Elisabeth Sheff has said of one part of it, “You’ve heard of gayborhoods? This is the first poly-neighborhood I’ve heard of.”). But many people who live in the city have no idea. A few more of them now get the concept following this long, informative article in a smallish city magazine about Matt and V. Bullen and some of their network:
A many-splendored thing? The polyamorous family
By Alberto Lacao Jr.
The afternoon lunch rush has been long finished at the Columbia City café. A family with a husband, wife, their 11-year-old son and the husband’s girlfriend walks in.
“Edwin” drew a picture of his family’s
polyamorous dynamic when he was younger.
Image courtesy of Matt Bullen.
Yes, the husband, happily married for 17 years, has a girlfriend, and his wife has no issue with it. In fact, she has a boyfriend, too.
They are a polyamorous family. Polyamory is a relationship model in which a person has more than one intimate relationship with the knowledge of everyone involved....
Matt Bullen and his wife, Vee (not her real name), who live in Southeast Seattle, opened their relationship more than five years ago while they were living abroad.... Emma (not her real name), who has been dating Matt for the last 16 months, said she felt nothing odd with the arrangement. “I was actually pretty surprised with how everything was normal,” she said. “‘Normal’ is the only word you can use to describe it.”
She attends the Bullens’ son Edwin’s soccer games on the weekends, and Edwin (not his real name) sees her like an “auntie.”
Emma, who enjoys her independence, found this relationship fit perfectly and considers herself monogamous. “I date Matt and have no other interest in dating anyone else,” she said. “The dynamics work out well for me. I get my time and then relationship time.” There is no set template for the structure of a poly relationship. Like Matt, Vee and Emma’s arrangement, there are triads involving three people, or quads involving four people, group marriages…the list goes on.
...Polyamory is more centered on the actual relationships more than sexual contact. However, this can be a sticky subject, according to Allena Gabosch, executive director for the Center of Sex Positive Culture in Seattle. She acknowledged, “There’s a bit of controversy about what ‘polyamory’ means to those of us who are poly. We get to define it, and we all define it differently. For many, poly puts the emphasis on ‘loving, intimate relationships,’ where[as] ‘open’ may be more about casual sexual encounters. That said, I know many poly folk who practice both.”
As for her relationships, Vee makes it clear that her relationships “are not a casual thing. We truly love each other, and if something is to happen to the other one, we are there for each other. Our relationships are like friends with benefits but long-term.”
The new relationship wave?
Matt believes that the next wave of polyamory being more socially acceptable will be “those who are currently poly but who camouflage it, will finally stop it. They come out and say that, ‘You know what? This picture on my desk at work is not my sister or brother, but my other partner.’ Because they had found a second or third partner and are sick of disguising it.”
...Those in polyamorous relationships include former National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland, actress/comedian Mo’Nique, actress Tilda Swinton, magician Penn Jillette and financier Warren Buffett.
...“People are used to the monogamous paradigm — they don’t know there is another option,” Vee said. “Rather than thinking healthily of how to communicate the feelings that they have with partners…, you are either doing serial monogamy or you are cheating. If people knew they had another option that wasn’t unethical and it could work for them, a lot of relationships could be saved because a sharing could be accommodated.”
The long run?
According to Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington, not enough studies have been done on polyamory to know its actual viability. “Polyamory is a much more complicated form of living together for people who have not grown up with a village or [are] living in a group mentality,” she said. “Not impossible, just difficult. Even in those societies where multiple forms of marriage are legal and culturally familiar, the anthropological literature is replete with tales of competition, jealousy and favoritism. So I do not see it as a new trend but something that a small group people will want and an even smaller group of people will be able to do successfully.”
Vee agrees about the uncertainty, but she points out that it is “no different from a monogamous relationship, with a 50-percent chance of divorce. If you ask that about every mono relationship, people would be paralyzed.”
Matt added, “Monogamy is seen like the eldest child that is forgiven everything: No matter how many times it goes wrong, they still kind of favor it.… Then there’s the youngest son, polyamory, and everything he does is wrong. People tend to favor monogamy because that’s what’s always been around.”
Gabosch, of the Center of Sex Positive Culture, said that polyamory can be both “life-changing” and “important,” especially if one is going through a crisis. “I recently went through breast cancer, and having my poly family there was amazing. I never went to the doctor or chemo alone. In fact, many times, several of them were with me. I also think that the financial and emotional support that a poly family brings can be important.”
The Bullen’s son, Edwin, can definitely agree with this. He enjoys spending time with Emma, bantering about the Sounders or the latest James Bond movie, and with Vee’s boyfriend. A few of his friends know about his family dynamic, as does his schoolteacher (Emma is listed as an emergency contact), but he has not had any negative backlash from it....
Read the whole article (online April 19, 2013).