Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

September 27, 2007

"When One Box Closes..."

New York Press

Stephanie Sellars, the sex columnist for the weekly New York Press, is signing off — and in her last column she muses about whether her polyamory has kept her from the deep primary relationship she sometimes dreams of:

“What can I give you that the others can’t?” asked the guy with the funny name.

“Something akin—” I stuttered, trapped in his intense gaze. “Something akin to the first love— I want to know you— without the constraints of keeping you at a distance. I don’t want to put you in a box, to be opened and closed at my convenience. I want to lose control, let go—”

“That’s scary for you, isn’t it?”

I admitted that it was. “It totally conflicts with my principles, my modus operandi, not to mention my reputation.”

“I wouldn’t want to ruin your reputation,” he said. My reputation! Allow me to define, dear readers, what I think you think I am: the urban orgy queen, the sanctimonious slut... living a life of blissful freedom or emotional self-deprivation, depending on where you’re coming from. [But] if you read my column regularly, you’ll know that beneath the polyamorous, bisexual bravado is a hopeless romantic.

...I spilled my thoughts: “I want to be with someone with whom I can totally let go... polyamory is very controlled. Each lover is in a box, to be put in or taken out at my convenience.”

...It comes down to a catch-22: monogamy limits the variety of sexual and romantic experience, while polyamory limits how far you can go with one person.

...Monogamy may be an impediment to one's sexuality, but polyamory is a form of emotional insurance. If one relationship doesn't work out, there are others to fall back on. I'm never, always alone.

Read the whole article.

I'm of two minds about this. Part of me wants to shout, "Hey, poly isn't about limiting how far you can go with one person! You can have a lifelong primary relationship as deep as you want, and still be poly. Sheesh!"

Another part of me notices that quite a few longterm polys do tend to settle into steady primary relationships over the years — even into what Sellars calls "relative monogamy" (a good term that deserves to enter the language) — if only, perhaps, out of accumulated exhaustion.


September 26, 2007

The Onion: "I'm In An Open Relationship With The Lord"

The Onion

You know you've been painted by the culture-radar when you get into The Onion, America's #1 journal of satire. Notice how the writer signs herself.

I'm In An Open Relationship With The Lord

By Bonnie Nordstrum

With Jesus as my personal Savior, I felt like I had it all. But then we hit a rough patch, and before long, I was beginning to question both my faith in Him and His commitment to me. But I did a lot of soul searching, and together we found a solution that fit both of our needs, by adopting an alternative theological lifestyle.

Now that I'm in an open relationship with the Lord, I feel a greater spiritual satisfaction than I've ever known.

It all started when I was 16 and first asked Jesus to enter my heart. It was incredible. He filled me up with His love.... Soon the honeymoon period ended, however. Whenever I spoke to Him, He seemed distracted and distant — sometimes I wondered if He was listening at all.... A few months later, I made a potentially disastrous discovery: I found out I wasn't the only one He was sanctifying.

...I was devastated. Here I had let Him into my soul in the most intimate way possible, and He had betrayed our personal bond by accepting the thanks and adulation of Sally, and God knows how many others as well. So I steeled myself with a stiff drink of communion wine, opened up my Bible, and confronted Him. In His divinely inspired scriptures, I learned that I hadn't driven Him to seek out others.... It was part of who He was.

...To be honest, I'd been flirting with polytheism all along by accepting the doctrine of the Trinity and simultaneously worshipping the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. If I could see all three of them as viable deities, why not others?

...The Lord my God is a jealous God, and He didn't like the idea at first. He made it very clear that I should take no God before Him — but he never mentioned anything about taking one after Him!... So I've gone to Native American drum circles, New Age channeling workshops, and Shinto temples. I even spent a weekend in a no-holds-barred, worship free-for-all with two dozen Hindu gods! And now that I've opened myself up to exciting new spiritual experiences, our bond is stronger than ever.

Some may think it's strange, but I'm no longer worried about other people's unenlightened moralizing. My spiritual life is better then ever! I love God — heck, I love all of them — and I am one deeply, deeply fulfilled woman.

Read the whole thing (Sept. 26, 2007). And forward it to friends and family if you dare.

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September 25, 2007

Open Marriages on Oprah

The Oprah Winfrey Show

A few weeks ago a buzz went around the poly online communities when staffers from the Oprah Winfrey Show — the Godzilla of daytime TV — went hunting for married couples in open marriages to put on the air. The show will be on this afternoon (Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007); check your local listings.

The open-marriage segment is only 1/4 of the show, which is titled "237 Reasons to Have Sex." There's an online article that goes with it:

By anyone's account, Hollie and Gregg are a typical couple.... But there's one thing about Hollie and Gregg's life together that's a little more unconventional. Like 7 percent of women and 14 percent of men who answered a poll on Oprah.com, Hollie and Gregg say they have an open marriage.

...During a long car trip Gregg asked Hollie — who'd never had sex with anyone besides Gregg — if she was curious about being with someone else. "And I said, 'Well, nothing's missing. I don't need it. I don't really think about it,'" Hollie says. "But sure, I mean, if you're curious, if you've only had one partner your whole life, I mean, sure, you'd wonder what it would be like with somebody else."

...Eventually Hollie started dating and eventually sleeping with one of their mutual friends. Gregg says he's flirted with other women but hasn't started an outside relationship of his own. Hollie stresses that their arrangement does not mean her marriage lacks something. "It's not like I get something from my sweetie that I don't get from Gregg," she says. "I mean, it's more a complement."

"She just has more love in her life," Gregg says. "It doesn't take anything away from what the two of us have."

A typical marriage doesn't work for everyone, says Dr. [Gail] Saltz [a psychiatrist with a specialty in sex therapy], and open marriages may be becoming increasingly common. "Monogamy is not hardwired, monogamy is a choice. And because of that the pendulum has swung back and forth at different times," she says. "There are some women, I think, who went to college, who were part of this sort of hookup culture, casual sex, splitting-off sex. And they're wives now, so I think there is a sort of surge of people exploring this. But that being said, what is hardwired is jealousy and envy and competition. These are normal human emotions and they're difficult to control.

"Only a third of marriages survive an affair and there's a reason for that," Dr. Saltz says. "It is very hard to get past those feelings of jealousy and hurt and betrayal. 'Do I really have all of you? Are you really mine?'"

Read the whole article. The open-marriage segment starts here. And add to the fast-growing list of comments!

Update: Didn't see the show, but those who did say the open-marriage couple was totally poly — her secondary is a longtime friend of both of them, and they explained that she's in it for the love. (Unlike a lot of open marriages, which are open only to things like one-night stands). But no one said the word "polyamory," more's the pity. And the on-air "expert" was ignorant.

Update: Hollie, the woman in the couple, writes in:

Greg and I are poly. I just read your blip about us on Oprah. They didn't want to use the term "polyamorous" for various reasons, mainly because it was a whole other can of worms and they didn't want to take the time to explain it. We agreed to call our relationship an "open marriage" because while we've been married for 12 years, we've only been poly for 18 months, and we didn't feel like we should be labeled the poly spokespeople. However, looking back, I wish we'd have used the word and explained it.

I myself haven't seen the show yet, it's on our Tivo and I'm too chicken to watch.


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September 21, 2007

Making an open marriage work

Tango magazine

One of the commonest forms of polyamory is when members of a married, life-committed couple take on secondary lovers, together and/or separately. As long as everyone knows and approves of the whole interrelationship, "open marriage" (named for the 1972 book by Nena and George O'Neill) certainly qualifies as polyamory. The key poly criteria: everyone realizes that, willy-nilly, they are all involved with each other, and all respect and honor each other's needs, boundaries, and well-being. (Say I.)

The O'Neills' book made a big splash in the 1970s. And the open marriages it inspired gained a reputation for failing dramatically. Often this was because couples (in particular, the man in the couple) relied more on wishful thinking or subtle pressure than on the rigorous communication and relationship work that polyamory demands. Also, I suspect, angry divorces are a lot more public than quiet successes; it's the dirty laundry that gets aired.

I saw very close-up how to do it well. In the early 1980s, I lived as one of several devoted lovers and housemates to a lady who ran a first-rate open marriage. She, her husband, and I remain fond friends 26 years later, long after our bedding ended. The two of them are as tight as ever.

A women who has succeeded much more recently is Jenny Block; she wrote about her open marriage in Tango, a glossy women's relationship magazine ("smart talk about love"). Now she's expanding the article into a book.

...But the sex itself is not a threat. I think of it as the “playpen effect”: You keep a kid locked up in one of those things and all she thinks about is how to get out, how much she’ll love what’s in the other room. But let her roam free and check it all out, and odds are she’ll end up at your feet, playing with a puzzle.

Is there a chance she’ll love another room and stay in there instead? Sure. Just like there’s always a chance one of us will fall in love with someone else and decide to end our marriage. But I don’t think that having sex outside our marriage increases that risk. In fact, I believe it decreases it, because it removes all the fantasy. I don’t pine. If I want someone (and he wants me), then I have him. So far, no one has come even close to making me want to jump ship. But I’ll tell you the truth: Before we tried out this open marriage thing, I definitely wondered about the quality of the grass in other lawns.

Read the whole article (in the April/May 2006 issue of Tango. The article was also reprinted on the Huffington Post site for November 27, 2006, and in Cosmopolitan Germany).

Block's book is scheduled to be published by Seal Press in June 2008. It's one of a spate of poly guidebooks now in the works. She is seeking people who will contribute their own stories for the book. She writes:

I am looking for people in open relationships who might be willing to be interviewed for the book. All responses would be used anonymously. I will email a list of questions to anyone interested and follow-up as necessary. Would you mind posting this on your site and/or blog to help me get the word out?

Thanks so much for your help!

Anyone interested can email me at:
myopenbook (AT) yahoo (DOT) com.

Best Wishes,

Jenny Block

She was also interviewed on amNewYork (May 7, 2006) and has more to say at Feministing.com (Aug. 30, 2007).

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September 15, 2007

Songs of Polyamory

Any number of pop songs have poly overtones (big list, scroll down). But here are some that address our lives consciously and face-on.

1. Folk guitarist and singer-songwriter Penelope Swales has just released a CD of songs of polyamory: Skin:Deep — Polymorphous Love Songs (2007). Based in Australia, she occasionally tours the U.S. She sounds impressively good. This is from a letter she posted to the Chesapeake Polyamory Network:

Myself and one of my partners are going to be traveling through the US in September-October [2007]. We would love to catch up with any [polyamory] groups that we might be passing.

I recently released an album of poly love songs which has gone well. I've traveled around to several poly meets here in Australia and given small informal concerts, either at meetups or at "potlucks" in people's homes. We would love the opportunity to do the same over there....

penelope (at) penelopeswales (dot) com

(you can hear some of her songs here)

From a promo blurb:

"Her latest album Skin:Deep — Polymorphous Love Songs (2007) explores the uncharted territory of human relationships that most mark with the words, 'here be dragons'. Skin:Deep distills the sexual and romantic experiences of twenty years of unconventional loving into 14 songs that range from affectionately playful to darkly erotic."

2. Gaia Consort is the first poly-music group that pops to many people's minds. Their devotional "Three" [lyrics] [mp3] [streaming audio] became the informal theme song of the last two Loving More East retreats. It's still running through my ears. Their "Family" [lyrics] [mp3] was used in the soundtrack of the poly documentary "When Two Won't Do". They've also done "Move to the Country" [lyrics] [mp3] and others.

Gaia Consort is probably best known for their songs to the neopagan community, but their newest album, Vitus Dance, includes the awesome poly tune "Goodnight" [lyrics] [mp3] and the pointedly satirical "Perils of Poly" [lyrics] [mp3] ("Oh, if we all dream together/ Can we nightmare too?").

Gaia Consort has played at various poly venues, including PolyCamp Northwest.

Update March 2009: Christopher Bingham's song "Family" is now also the theme song of "Family" the web TV show. He's offering free downloads of his re-recorded version on his new Bone Poets Orchestra site.

Update November 2010: Renamed Bone Poets Orchestra, the group has just released its new album Belladonna Smiles, including Bingham singing the thoroughly poly song "Yes!"; lyrics (scroll down); listen. They played the Poly Living conference in Seattle in November 2010, and I finally got to hear them live.

3. Don't miss "My Boyfriend's Girlfriend (Isn't Me)" [mp3] by Must be Tuesday (Nancy Price). Another sweet funny one. YouTube video version.

4. The granddaddy of the genre is "Triad" [lyrics] [song on YouTube]. It was written by David Crosby when he was in the Byrds but was first released by the Jefferson Airplane on their Crown of Creation album (1968), Grace Slick singing. I first heard it that year in the hallway of my freshman dorm — and it stopped me dead in my tracks.

As far as I know, this song started the word "triad" being used for a family of three lovers. (Otherwise it might be called a "triple," by extension of "couple"). Unless someone knows an earlier use of the word this way? Please write me if you do.

Update March 2008: I just discovered David Rovics, progressive activist and poly folksinger from Portland, Oregon, and his "Polyamory Song" (2001). The song is now the background music for a sweet educational video "Boyfriend(s)", from Robert Anthony Hubbell and Think Films (2007). Thanks to Minx at the Polyamory Weekly podcast for the tip. Update April 2010: More about Rovics.

Update February 2009: "Three Days" by Jane's Addiction: (lyrics; YouTube video of live concert.)

Update April 2011: On a less sentimental note: "Poly" by Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits. (Video NSFW.)

Update June 2012: "Unconditional" by RockSolomon. (Click "Show more" for lyrics.)

Update February 2013: "Amu Rin", a polyamorous love song in Esperanto from France (translation and link).

Update July 2013: It's actually about geometry, but James Blunt's haunting Sesame Street performance of My Triangle might also be for all the triads and threesomes out there. It's based on his hit song "You're Beautiful" and aired August 31, 2007.

Update August 2013: Can't Help But Fly (The Poly Song), musical, uplifting female rap by Naima Infinity and Be Steady.


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September 13, 2007

Veto Power: the Nuclear Option

The Stranger (Seattle)

Alt-columnist Mistress Matisse tells poly newbies something they need to know:

The veto

It's something you hear a lot when a previously monogamous couple decides to become polyamorous and start seeing other people. They say, "Of course we have veto power over each other's other partners. If something doesn't feel okay to me, then I tell my partner they have to end the other relationship."

I understand why people say this. My lovers and I said the same thing when I began practicing poly. I said it so my partner wouldn't feel insecure; my partners said it as a way of reassuring themselves that they had some control over the situation. Those aren't bad things to want. It's just that the veto clause is rather like the nuclear weapon of poly: Using it might neutralize one set of threats, but it's going to create other problems that won't have a quick fix....

Read the whole article (Sept. 13, 2007).

It's worth noting that some poly couples do use veto power successfully, especially if they're toward the friends-with-benefits end of the poly spectrum, where emotional attachments are less deep (but these things do sneak up on you).

Better than a veto agreement, IMO — and filling some of the same needs — is a Right of Consultation agreement. You get to meet your partner's prospective new love interest before things get too serious, perhaps over a nice dinner at your home. This is a good time to have the safer-sex discussion. Watch how the person reacts to this rather novel situation. This is likely to give you a good idea of their true feelings about polyamory, and their feelings about your partner's relationship to you.

It's also in-bounds to do a discreet background check for such things as restraining orders, an unmentioned husband or wife, or horrors splashed across LiveJournal or MySpace.

You can then calmly give your partner your best advice and counsel, and perhaps establish boundaries such as the person not getting into the house when you're not there. Do all of this just as early as possible. But veto? That's Latin for "I forbid," and it won't go over well.


September 11, 2007

Poly in South Africa

The Sunday Times (Johannesburg)

I just got alerted (via health-worker friends recently returned from southern Africa) to this item that appeared in a major South African newspaper three months ago (June 18, 2007):

Cliches barred and convention challenged

Rebecca Pointer’s four-year-old daughter raised some eyebrows when she recently drew her family tree at playschool.

Pointer and her husband are polyamorous — and have for the past two years shared their home in the Cape seaside suburb of Muizenberg with another man, the father of Pointer’s eight-month-old son.

Pointer, 37, who was raised in Krugersdorp and studied journalism at Rhodes University, is not averse to challenging convention.

In fact, this is what she set out to do with Bitchpress, a small publishing house she co-founded with Pierre Norton, and which was launched at the Cape Town Book Fair yesterday....

Read the whole article (short).

South Africa, in some ways a very liberal place post-apartheid, has an organized poly scene. Here are some other positive local articles listed on the South African Polyamory site:

  • Forget monogamy -- we're polyamorous, 13 November 2005, Mail & Guardian

  • How To Share a Lover, 10 May 2005, Health 24

  • Bringing a new meaning to sharing, 12 April 2005, The Star

  • Sex talk: Speaking of Open Relationships, 2005, Gmax.co.za

  • Many loves better than one, 21 May 2003, Mail & Guardian

  • Labels: