"Love's New Frontier" in the Boston Globe
As the cover story of tomorrow's Sunday magazine, New England's largest and most prestigious newspaper (which I've read for most of my life) presents a 3,400-word article about Poly Boston and some of its most out members. The article is already on the Globe's website. So is a well-produced video, in which people in the article are interviewed.
The article is thoughtful, detailed, and accurate. But I do think it could have given a little more attention to poly models other than those that are basically open marriages, especially in light of its wonderfully sweeping title.
Love's New Frontier
It’s not monogamy. But it’s not cheating or polygamy, either. It’s called polyamory, and with hundreds practicing the lifestyle in and around Boston, is liberal Massachusetts ready to accept it?
By Sandra A. Miller | January 3, 2010
Jay Sekora isn’t actively looking for an additional relationship, but he admits to occasionally checking a dating site to see who’s out there. Sekora’s girlfriend, Mare... said she is not pursuing anyone, either, but is “open and welcoming to what might come along.” In the three-plus years they have been together, a few other people have come along, like the woman whom Sekora, a 43-year-old systems administrator from Quincy, met online and dated briefly until she moved away. There was also a male-male couple that Mare and Sekora, who identifies as bisexual, dated for several months as a couple....
Through the lens of monogamy, this love connection may appear distorted, but that’s not how Sekora and Mare, who is 45, describe their lifestyle. Adherents call it responsible non-monogamy or polyamory, and the nontraditional practice is creeping out of the closet, making gay marriage feel somewhat last decade here in Massachusetts. What literally translates to “loving many,” polyamory (or poly, for short), a term coined around 1990, refers to consensual, romantic love with more than one person. Framing it in broad terms, Sekora, one of the three founders and acting administrator of the 500-person-strong group Poly Boston, says: “There’s monogamy, where two people are exclusive. There’s cheating, in which people are lying about being exclusive. And poly is everything else.”
Everything else with guidelines, that is....
Polyamory has a decidedly feminist, free-spirited flavor, and these are real relationships with the full array of benefits and complexities plus a few more as the members of Poly Boston’s hypercommunicative, often erudite, and well-entwined community will explain.
[Says Cambridge sex therapist Gina Ogden,] “Polyamory isn’t a lifestyle for everybody, any more than monogamy is for everybody. Keeping one relationship vital is a lot of work, and if you start adding more relationships, it becomes more work.” Though common descriptors used for monogamy don’t easily apply to polyamory, there is a recognizable spectrum of how open these partnerships may be. On the closed end, you might have a couple in a primary relationship who will then have one or more secondary relationships that are structured to accommodate the primary one. There’s also polyfidelity, in which three or more people are exclusive with one another. On the open end, there might be chains of people where, for example, Sue is dating Bill and Bill is dating Karen and Karen is dating Jack, who is also dating Sue.
“I’m not sure there are as many ways to be poly as there are people who are poly, but it’s close,” says Thomas Amoroso, an emergency room doctor from Somerville and member of Poly Boston.... When a woman he had just begun seeing revealed she was polyamorous, the concept, new to Amoroso, resonated. Amoroso and the woman stayed together for five years, while each sustained additional relationships, including for her one with Sekora that drew Sekora and Amoroso together in a close friendship that they still maintain. For Amoroso, being poly is less about sex than the authentic expression of caring for more than one person. “People tend to harp on the sexual component,” he says, “but the relationship component is just as important.”
It’s complicated, as the poly catch phrase goes. It’s also still surprisingly closeted. Nonetheless, Valerie White, executive director of Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund in Sharon, says we are ahead of the curve in Massachusetts, particularly compared with the South, where teachers have lost their jobs and parents have lost their children for being poly. But she notes there is no push in the poly movement to legalize these relationships, largely because there’s no infrastructure for it. “It was easy to legalize gay marriage. All you had to do was change bride and groom to person A and person B. But we don’t know what multi-partnered marriage looks like,” White says.
...“A lot of poly people who feel jealous say it’s a warning sign that your needs aren’t getting met,” says Sekora. He says he’s felt insecure about relationships but not necessarily jealous of his partner’s partners. He recalls a time early in his relationship with Mare, however, when she felt threatened by a woman he had started dating. When the three sat down and talked, the women got along well and Mare’s worries dissipated. “Sensible, mature, self-reliant, and stable partners would be a welcome asset” to their relationship, says Mare....
...“I think you can play the part of a monogamous person without necessarily having to think what it means for you,” [Sekora] says. “There’s a cultural script that we learn from movies, sitcoms, songs on the radio, and watching our parents. Because there isn’t a similar script for poly relationships, you have to think about what you’re doing and decide what you want.”
...It was Biversity Boston, a thriving, well-organized bi community, that helped draw Sekora to Boston in 1992. After a few years, he and two other non-monogamous bisexual friends envisioned a similar organization and separate social space for poly people. Their research revealed that a small, albeit active, polyamorous group called Family Tree had already been in existence locally since 1980.... But the Family Tree meetings usually took place, and still do, in the suburbs, and its members were generally older. Sekora imagined Boston-centered, T-accessible events that could also draw an urban crowd. In December 1994, Sekora and the two others who are no longer active in the community launched Poly Boston as a mailing list of five people. Six months later, it started taking root with new members. Sekora took over the list in 1998, steadily helping it grow to its current 500 members, with an almost equal number of men and women....
The flavor of the group reflects the city in general, with a fair amount of students as well as people who came here to study and then stayed on. But, demographically, it is more bisexual than the city at large.... Information technology, academia, and biotech are well represented among the professions, but, though the group is somewhat skewed toward the sciences, plenty of Poly Boston people work in the humanities or the service industry, according to Sekora. The most obvious common feature beyond their lifestyle may be a love of intellectual ferment.
She got that right. I'm a regular at the Poly Boston dinners; a recent one featured excited discussions of conspiracy-theory culture in Serbia, on-air radio pranks people have engineered, verb forms and numerology in Latin vs. Greek vs. Aramaic, championship chess, Tesla coils we have known, how to get on shortwave radio, the Pope and the split in the Anglican Church, plans to start a wingnut internet meme that the city of Indianapolis does not exist, recent discoveries among extrasolar planets, and points of Unitarian theology.
“It certainly seems to be a group of people who are, by and large, interested in the discussion of ideas,” Sekora says.
...Poly Boston members Alan and Michelle Wexelblat of Burlington [Ed. note: he's not me; I'm the other Alan, Alan M.] take turns attending the cafe gatherings. As the parents of two boys, 6 and 9, the poly couple find that the get-togethers though child-friendly conflict with homework and dinnertime. “There’s nothing that having kids didn’t affect in our lives, including how we date,” says Alan. That would be dating each other as well as other people outside of their stable 10-year marriage. Both Alan and Michelle identified as non-monogamous when they met and hit it off 15 years ago at a science-fiction convention in Philadelphia. Authors such as Robert Heinlein, whose stories often feature nontraditional marriages, are frequently credited with the striking overlap of poly people and science-fiction fans....
...How long has it been since Michelle has dated anyone? “Long enough to be annoying,” says Alan, who would like to see his wife find a boyfriend.
Michelle, who calls herself a romantic, says she gets wistful rather than jealous when her husband goes out on dates, and while she would welcome having someone new in her life, it also has to be the right person. There’s compatibility to consider but also schedules, goals, and, of course, the feelings of other partners....
...In 2006, Elisabeth Sheff, an assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University who had been collecting data on poly families since 1996, launched the first long-term study of children raised in such families. While her findings are not yet conclusive, Sheff says her initial generalization is that kids raised in poly families have access to many resources, such as help with homework, rides when needed, and the additional emotional support and attention that comes from having other, nonparental adults in their lives. Sheff adds, however, that “kids in poly families also sometimes feel extremely upset when their parents’ partners leave, if it means the end of the relationship between the kid and the ex-partner.” She says that poly families often pass as mundane, blended families from divorce and remarriage and therefore easily fly below the radar.
Many poly people don’t necessarily want to stand out, but quietly seek acceptance for a lifestyle that they say is challenging, often time-consuming, and yet rewarding....
Read the whole article (January 3, 2010). Click on the graphic there for the video. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org .
The article was many months in the making, in part because Globe editors insisted that people profiled have public identities and real names. This constraint made the article hard for the writer to assemble and ruled out some of the most interesting people she approached, including two thriving, living-together triads with young kids.
One reason why I think the poly movement is poised for a major cultural breakout is because there are so many great people who, for one reason or another, still feel it's best for them to remain private. (Frustratingly, me included.) For gays, the great sea change began when people grew sick and tired of life in the closet and the dam against coming out finally burst. We're not quite there yet.
Partly, I think, this is because compared to gays, we have it easy. Polys are not assaulted by thugs on the streets. We're not dying of a dread disease. For at least six years, high-end leaders of the right wing have tried to whip up hysteria against us as the next great threat to Western civilization, but they've gained no traction beyond their immediate followers and seem to have given up.
Update: Kamela Dolinova, in her smart Boston Open Relationships Examiner blog, reviews the article:
The Boston Globe tackles the issue of polyamory in the Boston area with sensitivity and aplomb....
...It is my sincere hope that the publication of this article marks the start of a new era in journalism around polyamory and related lifestyles; for too long our story has been relegated to page 19 at best, and often rife with misunderstandings and sensationalism. The Globe story points out how closeted poly people still tend to be, given the dangers of losing kids and jobs over the practice in some states. Perhaps a true outing is finally in the works.
Read her whole post.
In fact this "new era in journalism" about poly has been building for several years. Here is my pick of the best.
Update: Two weeks later the Globe Sunday Magazine printed several letters about the article, most of them hostile.