Nerve.com covers a Loving More conference: "A Surprising Weekend Inside the Touchy-Feely World of Polyamory"
For several years I've gone to Loving More's annual Poly Living East conference in Philadelphia. Among the 200 people there last February was a young writer named Alex Mar. She was introduced to the crowd as a journalist covering the event, and she followed Loving More's rules for journalists about non-intrusiveness and respecting confidentiality. I talked to her a bit. And that was all I heard of it.
This morning, five months later, her article finally appeared — at Nerve.com, an edgy online magazine about sex and relationships. The piece is huge, 6,700 words. I'm in it! "...gives the impression of an even skinnier Mister Rogers" — okay, I guess that's about right. But "polished and politic"?
If you wonder what Loving More conferences are like, the article presents a fairly correct picture — if you allow for the writer's much-stated distaste for the idea of processing and "talking everything out" in romance. Which are things you do need to be good at when multi-relationships turn complicated.
A Surprising Weekend Inside the Touchy-Feely World of Polyamory
By Alex Mar
...I figure out where the registration table is.... The sign-in-sheet lady, a perky, voluptuous fortysomething with shaggy blonde hair, wears a flouncy summer dress even though it’s February. She hands me my plastic bag of conference materials and makes sure I peruse the behavior guidelines. “The one thing is: no nudity in the lobby,” she says. “But that should be easy enough!”
Without looking up from her laptop, another volunteer chimes in: “Oh, you’d be surprised.”
...Polys are into talking about feelings, and openness, and contractual agreements. As the Loving More pamphlet reads: “Polyamory requires a commitment to honesty, to sexual safety, to facing one’s own insecurities, to making difficult sacrifices when necessary, and a willingness to be with a partner through some very strong emotions.” Commitment, honesty, sacrifices — not “free” love at all. But some believe it’s worth it: “Despite good hearts and good intentions,” many “repeatedly fail at monogamy, or live miserable lives if they do manage to stay romantically exclusive.” This is why Loving More is sounding a clarion call for poly awareness. “In this way vast numbers of failed relationships might be avoided — and for some, new options for love, joy, and wonder will open.”
...In the evening, everyone gathers in the ballroom for a rah-rah keynote address. Predictably, the aging-hippie set is here in spades; as well as the “practical moms,” in professional slacks and running shoes, many of whom will turn out to be therapists, and the guys who will turn out to be computer programmers. The crowd is dotted with zippered sweaters and blouses with batik patterns, and countless pairs of Tevas with socks. There are tees and khakis and khaki shorts with sneakers; long denim skirts; hair cut in a practical bob or uncut for twenty years; lots of gray hair on the women, regardless of age. (As Loving More director Robyn Trask had told me over the phone, talking about their conference attendees: “Poly people tend to not get plastic surgery. Or wear a lot of makeup. Or color their hair. Or wear clothes that aren’t comfortable.”) I’m surprised by the mix of ages and races: while maybe half the attendees are over-50 and white, there are also a lot more Latinos in the crowd than I would have expected — I’m half-Latin myself, and we skew Catholic and maritally-inclined — plus a strong contingent of grad-student types in their late 20s and early 30s....
Chuy hands the floor over to Robyn and a man by the name of “Alan M.” Alan, who gives the impression of an even skinnier Mister Rogers, runs a poly news blog. He reminds us of the keynote’s topic — “Polyamory Is Here to Stay! Why We’re Excited, and Why You Should Be Too” — and is determined to drive this message home. “Certainly, this is the greatest time in the history of the polyamory movement — and it’s only going to get better!”
Here follows talk of how the poly community is “all about choice” (applause), and how the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned (more applause), as was Utah’s anti-polygamy cohabitation law (even louder now). This feels more like a rally than a lifestyle convention. At the same time, Alan, polished and politic, throws the normals a bone. “We should not let people put out the idea that we are against monogamy, or that we think monogamists are, well, limited, or primitive, or any of those things that people used to say.”
Eventually, as with any decent stump speech, it’s time for the Moving Personal Anecdote: the story of Robyn’s own poly awakening. Robyn was a 20-year-old college student in Texas, engaged to be married, when she soon found herself in love with another man at the same time....
...“I don’t want it to be okay to be polyamorous,” Robyn corrects herself. “I want it to be celebrated — that I can stand up with three partners and make a commitment and have it be just as celebrated as a couple getting married.”
...The reception has a familial air, and not just because entire packs of people here are dating one another: many have come to Loving More conferences five, six, even 10 times.... I speak to a couple, likely in their late 50s, who live on a five-acre lot in small-town New Jersey. She wears a “career woman” sweater and delicate gold necklace, her hair in a neat bob; he’s fit, in a checkered shirt that shouts “casual Friday.” Though they’ve been coming to the Loving More conferences for years, he wasn’t a huge fan of the politics of tonight’s talk. He’s experienced the cost of public polyamory firsthand: not long ago, his girlfriend was involuntarily outed to her family, which led to death threats from her Irish Catholic father. “Things finally seem to be quieting down a bit,” he says, though there’ll be no trips to Ireland in the immediate future....
Saturday morning, in the “tropical” atrium, I eat an omelette — a high-protein breakfast before poly boot camp — and eavesdrop on the table beside me: an L.L. Bean-clad couple with thick gold wedding bands. They’re choosing what sessions to attend, and planning the night ahead.
“John’s parties are more orgy-like,” she says.
“Peter’s parties have orgies all the time,” he says.
I hustle to workshop number one.
Chuy and Robyn’s session [of the three in the time slot] seems the best place for a newbie like myself to start: “Negotiating Boundaries and Polyamorous Relationship Agreements.” I find a seat, packed in with about fifty people (the workshops will all be about this size). Chuy and Robyn, I now learn, are a long-term couple; following an established pattern, he’s a computer guy, and she’s a counselor, specializing in polys and their families.
“When people come to me for counseling, I warn them that I’m not here to keep their marriage together,” she says, “but to help them live in a way that’s true to themselves.”...
...On a simpler level, but with just as much nuclear capacity, is the issue of PDA: who gets to make displays of affection, and when and where? A fiftysomething woman in an elegant shawl and Grace Kelly ‘do says, “For the wife to do that in front of me was okay, but she couldn’t see me do that with her husband.” Another middle-aged woman, this one in an elf-cartoon tee, points out, “For some people, PDAs are the opposite: it’s a way of showing that you’re not cheating.”
Robyn can relate to fear of PDA: she remembers, long ago, visiting a new boyfriend’s house and finding his girlfriend in the living room with her boyfriend, and all four of them just standing there, uncertain of where, politically, they should sit down on the two love seats. “So” — no surprise here — “we created a support group to figure that kind of thing out.”
As silly as it sounds to create a support group to navigate such burning issues as seating arrangements, I have to admit that all this frank talk — nothing’s too small, too trivial, too personal — reminds me of how often people censor their real desires, poly or no. And for women, as I’ve experienced, this can come from a dread of being seen as hysterical or needy or high-maintenance. In poly, however, both men and women seem a little more patient with these piddling negotiations because everyone wins: stomaching some extreme honesty gains you access to things previously unimaginable in a committed relationship.
Then things become even more explicit, as the question arises of when it’s okay to — for me, the gross-out term of the weekend — “fluid-bond.”
Robyn was once in a fluid-bonded relationship with five people, in that her partners and their partners were all strung together through group-consensual unprotected sex. That said, she “would never fluid-bond in the throes of NRE”— a statement you will only hear at a polyamory conference....
Happy hour at the hotel bar tonight is dominated, of course, by the non-monogamous. Not that you could tell: this looks like a cross-section of Americans you’d find at any of our finer airport hotels — if slightly giddier-looking, in clusters, leaning into each other more closely, asking for consent more explicitly....
That's enough — go read the whole article (July 3, 2014).