Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

October 29, 2011

Details magazine profiles MFM poly families

Details is a macho men's style-and-fashion mag (circulation 460,000) with major gay overtones, though they might never admit it. The November issue features a six-page article profiling several MFM poly families. The approach that the editor seemed to be going for was, Who are these men who will team up with a co-husband to be with a chosen lady?

I asked several people profiled in the article what they think of how it treats them. Some cited misquotes, and one said the writer has lamented to her about the way the article was edited and cut. But first:


Plural relationships have gotten a bad name, thanks to lascivious cult leaders like Warren Jeffs. But there's a whole other type of multi-partner love gaining popularity: polyandry, in which a woman settles down with two or more men. It's more common than you might think.


On an unseasonably cool August Sunday morning in Topanga Canyon, just north of Malibu, a family of four arrives at the Inn of the Seventh Ray, an all-cage-free, everything-local restaurant that's typical of the neighborhood. This brunch is a welcome respite from the errands and worries that increasingly fill their days. Jaiya Ma, the center of the clan, is a 34-year-old with dark, wavy hair and caramel skin. Her life is wide open; she falls in love easily, suffers willingly. Next to her is Ian Ferguson, a thin 44-year-old with a shaved head and a goatee, feeding bits of eggs Benedict to their energetic 2-year-old son, Eamon. Ian and Jaiya have been lovers for four years. Sitting across from Jaiya is Jon Hanauer, an extremely fit 48-year-old wearing wire-rimmed glasses, who serves as Eamon's primary caretaker. He and Jaiya have been in a committed relationship for almost a decade.

They all live together just a few minutes up the hill, in an airy modern house with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of downtown Los Angeles....

...The three of them live a lifestyle that — much of the time — isn't that different from a conventional marriage. They're one of an estimated 500,000 polyamorous families in the United States. Polyamory, which literally means "many loves," usually isn't about having sex with whomever you want, whenever you want, as nonpractitioners often assume. It can also describe relationship configurations like Jon, Jaiya, and Ian's — governed by rules, responsibilities, and expectations — which add up to a kind of de facto polygamy. The more specific term for their arrangement is polyandry, in which multiple men are with the same woman....


Plural love is having a moment right now. That's thanks in no small part to the increasing acceptance of gay marriage: If two men or two women can get married, why can't two men get married to one woman?...

...If plural marriage is ever to gain broad acceptance, it won't be because of Mormon fundamentalists. It will be because of people like Ian, Jon, and Jaiya — affluent, educated city dwellers in mutually respectful relationships. And, indeed, some in plural relationships are adopting an activist mind-set. "We're going through right now what homosexuals went through 30 or 40 years ago," says Matt Bullen, a 42-year-old writer and married dad in Seattle who is part of a polyamorist cluster that encompasses five people and two legal marriages. "We need to start putting photos on the desk of ourselves and our partners together. When I'm out in public with my wife and my girlfriend, I need to say, 'These are my partners.'"

Matt's girlfriend, a 43-year-old filmmaker and actress named Terisa Greenan, goes further, expressing the virtues of her lifestyle in stark terms. "Polyamorous people are just smarter," she says—

"I was quoted out of context and I do not think that poly people are smarter than non-poly people," Terisa tells us.

She dates Matt but has lived with Scott Campbell, a 54-year-old classical-music dealer, for 14 years, and Larry Golding, a 54-year-old Microsoft software developer (to whom she's married for insurance and accounting purposes), for 12 years. (Matt's wife, Vee, also dates Larry.) "You've got to have a certain type of brain that's really analytical," Terisa explains. "There are more people, so you have to be able to look at each problem from many more points of view and communicate for that many hours longer."

Whatever you think of Terisa's theory, it's obvious that those in plural relationships are comfortable flouting convention. Many explained to me that humans aren't hardwired to have just one partner.

...The trick, Matt Bullen explains, is being able to ask yourself, "'Why am I happy when my partner is satisfied in any other aspect of life, but then suddenly when it comes to sex it's got to be awful feelings of mistrust?' Can you isolate it so much that it becomes like a little trapped rodent in a cage where you can say, 'See, it wasn't that scary at all'?" He claims it doesn't upset him when his wife uses their marital bed to fuck her boyfriend (and Terisa's husband) Larry. "It's just a bed," he says....


...Mary, a 26-year-old Ph.D. candidate in economics at Boston University (who asked that her real name not be used), says she's known since she was 14 that monogamy was anathema to her. "That's when I realized that maybe it didn't make sense for me to suppress these feelings just because of a societal norm," she says. Hardly an insatiable minx, Mary claims she's "not a sexual person at all" and still lives — in a polyandrous triad — with her first boyfriend.

...Most who take part in plural relationships claim not to feel sexual jealousy. Dean, a 26-year-old software engineer in Boston, recalls being disturbed at the start of his relationship with Mary and her long-term boyfriend, Max (all three names have been changed), a 28-year-old intellectual-property lawyer, when he overheard them having sex in the next room. In time, he decided this was a selfish reaction. "Just realizing that there are times when she wants to have sex with one of us specifically makes things a lot easier," he explains. "Knowing that it balances out over time makes it easier too."

Comments Mary: "The reporter was quite friendly, seemed really bro-y (like a bro, or pretty typical guy-like), and seemed to pick up really quickly on cracks in the relationships and the dynamics of people in general, while also missing things that didn't fit with his picture if they weren't staring him in the face."

...Jaiya, who founded a successful sex-education company, is typical of the women in polyandrous triads: intelligent, self-possessed, professionally accomplished. The men, on the other hand, have typically suffered a relationship catastrophe that prompted them to seek radical change. Jon could be speaking for any of them when he recalls, "I knew in my heart that I had to find a different way to love."

Comments Matt Bullen: "I guess my opinion is that the article is interesting; and that it takes a refreshing approach in venturing moderately into seeing poly(andry) from the guys' point of view than from the female perspective. I don't think my own situation fits Alex's comment on the tendency of polyandrous men to gravitate to a certain kind of poly woman on the heels of a relationship catastrophe. I live in my own family unit with my wife and son; we/I have not really experienced any such catastrophe either in our own marriage or prior to that; and my relationship with Terisa -- admittedly a charismatic woman -- fits well with my relationship with Vee and my other family dynamics. Even so, he makes some thought-provoking points."

A potentially bigger problem for long-term polyamorous relationships is a declining libido. On nights when Ian ventures out for affairs with other women, Jaiya and Jon live an almost monastic existence. The three of them have little interaction with the Los Angeles polyamorous community.... And Jaiya and Jon's relationship has turned effectively platonic since she gave birth to Eamon; where once, Jaiya claims, they had 20-hour marathon sessions, now they have sex only for her instructional videos and classes.... They are, Ian admits, like old married people.

...Terisa reports a similar situation. "Our lives are so boring," she says. "I cook dinner. The guys clean up. We go upstairs and watch The Soup, and then we go to bed. Or the three of us go out to the movies. Or all five of us" — meaning the Bullens, too — "sit down to watch TV together. We do things as a family.

"The great thing is that the guys can go have sex with other people."


Most men in polyandrous relationships get into them for one reason: They fall in love with the woman at the center of the triad. Few are looking for male companionship. Fewer still seek intimacy with their "metamour" — their lover's other lover. This isn't Big Love, and male polyandrists aren't sister husbands.

Although they've lived together for more than a decade, Scott describes his relationship with Larry as one of benign neglect. "We wouldn't be close friends in different circumstances," he says. "We're so different. We're perfectly cordial, but it's not common for the two of us to hang out and talk together if Terisa isn't there." Matt, Terisa's boyfriend, agrees. "I don't think I've ever been out for a drink by myself with Larry or Scott," he says. The relative distance among them, he adds, is why the arrangement works.

Max, the young lawyer, describes his relationship with Dean as being like that of stepbrothers. "We're family but not related," he says. Ian and Jon are like that too. They interact almost entirely through Jaiya and Eamon — "I get to love Ian through him," Jon says, pointing at the boy....

One Friday afternoon, Jon takes Eamon to Topanga State Park. He's scooping sand into a mound for the boy to run up and down on. "This is his athletic training," Jon says proudly. "I'd like for him to play baseball." Jon deserves much of the credit for Eamon's sunny disposition — the 2-year-old sings constantly and loves being read to. Ian matter-of-factly describes Jon as the "manny" and pays him a modest salary to look after Eamon. Jaiya says that Eamon occasionally calls Jon his "dada."

...But Jon's demeanor sometimes seems to betray a current of bitterness. When Jaiya caught baby fever soon after turning 30, she begged Jon for a child. He refused, saying he wasn't ready for fatherhood, so she turned to Wyatt (not his real name), her brash young lover at the time. Jaiya miscarried; Wyatt walked out. Later, she and Jon discussed pregnancy again, and again he demurred. "I pushed her into having other relationships," he admits. But seeing Jaiya twice pregnant by other men has stung, and Jon's time with Eamon has made him realize that he desperately wants a child of his own. But after her miscarriage and her difficult pregnancy with Eamon, Jaiya doesn't want any more kids....

Jon has one option left — to go out and find someone else.... "I'd want to move that new person in with us. I'd want to expand our family, enhance what we already have at home."

He picks up Eamon, holds him tight, and walks toward the surf. Together, they enter the water, and Eamon cackles as they take on the breakers.

Read the whole article, with photos (3,200 words; November 2011 issue).

Jaiya says she thinks the article was "pretty good. I love that a major magazine is discussing the idea that there are different types of families out there and that loving more than one person at a time is an option." But, she notes, "There were some misquotes, even things we went over two and three times with a fact checker, that still got printed wrong or sorely out of context." She writes us:

"I talked with author this morning, who is awesome by the way, and he told me that the article was different from what he wrote — as we know, editors also get hold of great stuff and change it — it was great until they edited it down and made me add a bunch of meaningless stuff.

"I did a whole article on my feedback from the Details piece [including a rundown of misquotes].

"FYI, look for us on Anderson Cooper next week — and Inside Edition — We're on a media roll! ...Jon, Ian and I have decided that we should put out our own views, knowledge and lessons we have learned over the years. We are working on a new program teaching other people how to navigate the waters of open relationships and polyamory."

This isn't the first time Details has approached polyamory; it did a much shorter bit last year. Also, three years ago a Details writer supposedly came to Janet and Sasha Lessin's World Polyamory Conference to cover it, but apparently nothing came of this.


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October 24, 2011

Dear Abby keeps the poly pot boiling

Up to 1,400 newspapers

"Dear Abby" is the most widely syndicated newspaper column in the world. Two months ago Abby (real name Jeanne Phillips; at right) printed a long letter from a woman in an MFM triad who described their family arrangement and asked advice on whether they should come out to the conservative parents of one of them. Abby said she “doesn’t readily accept this life” but gave them loads of good inkspace and a straightforward answer. I wrote about it here.

Well, Abby got tons of reader mail in response. In tomorrow's papers she's devoting her whole column to it.

She leads off with an informative and upbeat letter from "Kathy in Berkeley" — who can only be Kathy Labriola, a well respected, widely published nurse and relationship counselor who has specialized in poly issues for many years:

Readers comment on disclosing polyamory

Dear Abby: I read with interest your excellent advice to “Nowhere and Everywhere” (Aug. 17), who asked about letting family members know about her polyamorous relationship. As a counselor, nurse and consulting hypnotist in private practice, I counsel people every day in developing healthy, happy, open relationships. Polyamory and other forms of non-monogamous relationships are becoming more widely practiced and accepted, as many individuals and couples find the limits of traditional marriage do not meet their needs.

It is not realistic to expect family members to immediately accept this lifestyle if they were raised with different beliefs about sexual exclusivity in marriage. I advise couples to “test the waters” first with the most open-minded family member by bringing up the subject of a “friend” who is in an open relationship. If the relative reacts in a neutral or positive way, it may be safe to disclose the truth. Ask this person how the rest of the family might respond to the news. Couples should carefully assess whether their relationship is strong enough to withstand potential rejection.

There is a price to pay for being open, and one for staying secretive. The latter requires lying to family members and excluding one partner from family events, causing pain for everyone. (The cornerstone of polyamorous relationships is HONESTY.)

Families do become more accepting over time if they see that the couple’s marriage is not threatened by the polyamory and that everyone seems happy. I advise couples to expect drama and disapproval at first, but to be patient and keep reaching out to family members to give them time to get used to this new situation.

— Kathy in Berkeley

Labriola confirms that yes, this is her, and that she wanted Abby to use her full name. She wrote for Loving More magazine back when it was practically the only poly outlet in the world. Last year she published her long-awaited book Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Advice on Open Relationships (Greenery Press, 2010). Here are a bunch of her articles this year.

The Dear Abby column continues:

Dear Kathy: Thank you for writing. Responses to that controversial letter were passionate and numerous. My newspaper readers comment:

Dear Abby: In response to “N and E’s” request for a tip on how to let her boyfriend’s conservative family know about their illicit, immoral polyamorous relationship, my advice is to say nothing.

If she’s asked directly, only then should she defer to the boyfriend to explain their unorthodox lifestyle to his parents. Why does she feel the need to flaunt her private sexual relations?

If she loves the two men, her actions will speak for themselves without having to offend the family’s ingrained sensibilities. — On Higher Ground in Salem, Mass.

Dear Abby: My husband and I have been non-monogamously married for many years. My lover joined the household four years ago. Some members of my family welcome all three of us, some don’t. One, who doesn’t otherwise identify as conservative, has cut me off.

I’m sad that my happy family life offends them, but my household is my primary family unit, and I don’t lie or cover it up. Different family styles work for different people. Why is this hard to grasp? — Jean in Providence

Dear Abby: Human sexuality expresses itself across a vast spectrum. Consenting adults can and do choose this lifestyle, but it’s a no-brainer that it strikes a negative chord within our culture.

Why is it necessary to remove the last shred of illusion and comfort from those parents? They may lack the psychological flexibility to accept polyamory. They already know on some inner level what is happening. My closest friends know about my lifestyle, but I am content to not “stir the pot” by forcing it into open conversation.

We don’t live in an especially tolerant society. People are slow to embrace anything different from the “norm.” If that triad is happy and enjoying life, that should be all that matters. — E.L. in Calif.

Dear Abby: Where will she be if she becomes pregnant? A baby would complicate a triad situation. There can be only one biological dad.

Who will play Daddy, and who the uncle? Will each of them really be OK with this then? How confused might the child be? As a mom, I feel for the parents of all involved. — Not Sure If I’d Want To Know.

(Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.dearabby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.)

See a typical original, in the local paper of Amarillo, Texas (Oct. 24, 2011). Different papers are printing a variety of long and short versions.



October 21, 2011

Dissecting poly on TV

SBS-TV (Australia)

Nikó Truffelish, correspondent from the land of Oz (Australia), writes that she and friends appeared on TV for two minutes explaining poly to the Australian nation. "We were all hoping for a longer, more in-depth edit out of our shoot," she writes, "but we're grateful for the opportunity to put our alternative views in :)"

Watch here; their bit begins 2 minutes in. It was on the public television network SBS, as part of a series titled "Sex – An Unnatural History." Despite the title the series seems thoughtful and intelligent. You're watching Episode 5, "Love" ("Is it really just all about neurotransmitters, dopamine, serotonin, vasopressin and other chemicals getting released at the right time? What about our heart and soul?) The full episode starts here. (First aired Aug. 26, 2011.)

Congratulations to these folks for putting themselves out there.

The filming was done a year ago, and it seemed at the time like something bigger would result. At the time Nikó wrote,

Spent Saturday shooting for SBS with a bunch of people who are close to my heart. The shooting rocked!! We were all on message, lots of wonderful things were said and shared in an articulate way, the crew were awesome and the shoot was smooth. I spent months with the researcher and other personnel working on the poly segment and spent weeks organising the poly ‘tribe’ for the shoot.

...After the shoot we had a fantastic party! A large portion of the Sydney poly community gathered for the party and there was much, ahem, celebration to be had :)

Loving my tribe so very much! Hoping this segment, which will be the first such on Australian TV, will pave the way for an even bigger growth spurt for the community and help many people out there who are questioning their life, sexuality and relationships and who have little information or knowledge of the alternatives.

It's too bad most of it ended up on the cutting-room floor. The segments that aired do look like fragments of larger discussions that were happening. But the fact is, you usually get much less air time than you think.

After watching a bunch of these types of appearances, I would offer two tips for anyone going on camera:

1) Practice not going stiff, not even for a moment. Your body language says more than your words. Move and be demonstrative (notice how the host does this). If you're with partners, put your arms around each other! Hold hands, make faces, laugh and smile. Record practice interviews at home, critique them, and re-do them to hone your natural style; it will not come across by itself.

2) Choose some key messages that you want to put across, and practice delivering them as cool sound bites. Whatever you get asked, turn it around to deliver one. And it's okay to repeat it. The show will only air your best take.

Remember, you're not really having a conversation with the host. You're feeding the camera with hopefully rich material for them to use. Feed the camera with the good stuff you want to air. Feed it nothing you don't want to air, not a moment.

Want to become a poly media star? You actually can (gulp!). Go to the Polyamory Media Association (PMA), which is run by the brilliant polyactivist Joreth, a co-host of Polyamory Weekly, and ask for the free training in presenting yourself and your message like a pro. Get trained (Skype works), and you can list yourself with the PMA as available for the shows that are looking for polyfolks. This is for real.

The PMA is a project of the Polyamory Leadership Network.


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October 17, 2011

"The Role Non-Monogamy Will Play in the Future of Marriage"

The Atlantic

The Atlantic is one of America's old-line big-think magazines, up there with Harper's and The New Yorker. It's currently tackling the weighty subject of America's fast-changing relationship culture, in articles online and as the cover story of its November issue.

First, on The Atlantic's website is a long interview with author Pamela Haag. Excerpts:

Contrary to its "sanctity," marriage has changed over time in both perception and practice. Even the Bible was once suspicious of marriage -- it was seen as more holy to be celibate, and, in many cultures throughout time, polygamy is the preferred relationship model. Women have also been sold from father to husband. But perhaps most shockingly, monogamy hasn't always been central to American marriages as Pamela Haag, author of the book Marriage Confidential, explains in this interview about the institution's future -- and the role non-monogamy is already playing.

What are the "secretly transgressive" marriages you describe in your book?

If you're at a cocktail party with 20 married couples, chances are, one or two are in openly non-monogamous marriages. They're the marriage next door. They pay the bills, go to Little League games, recycle -- and maybe on the weekend go on swinging holidays.

Have the rules of monogamy in marriage always been so strict?

The 1950s -- a so-called golden era of "family values" -- was more tolerant of covert affairs than the 1980s. This was more true for husbands than for wives, but not entirely. Kinsey found in his research that a fair percentage of wives had affairs too.

In the 1950s there was a fair amount of "wink, wink" tolerance for a gap between the monogamy ideal and reality. The conservative 1980s were more about regulating behavior; religious social conservatives not only wanted us to act as if we were monogamous, they wanted us to be monogamous. Monogamy became a stricter social ethic.

But the reality is that a fair number of spouses cheat, and we forbid cheating. So, we end up with what I call the "shocking banality" of infidelity: It happens all the time and we're shocked by it all the time.

When did we begin to see an opening up of non-monogamy in marriage?

My argument is that in the 1970s free love and non-monogamy had a certain chic to them, but they didn't have solid foundations in demography, economy, or technology.

Today, the idea of openly non-monogamous marriages has no political chic to it, but it does have a more solid foundation in demography (we live longer and are healthier than ever), economy (women earn their own paycheck, and don't rely on the sexual contract in marriage for their meal ticket), and technology (we're connected to people more than ever).

So marital monogamy is under greater stress today. And I think it's being deliberately rethought and re-evaluated by a post-romantic generation that sees the main function of marriage as friendship, an establishment of a home base -- not sexual passion and fidelity, per se....

How are things different for younger generations, such as my own, who largely grew up in the '90s early '00s?

The younger generation that grew up in the 1990s is vastly more connected. It's my guess that your generation won't have the same expectation that a marriage should be the world to them. I think there will be more tolerance for having a range of intimate relationships and friendships, and a greater understanding that it's not a marital failure if you seek different things from different relationships. I also sensed that the younger generation has more pragmatic views of marriage, even more than my generation....

Read the whole interview (Oct. 3, 2011).


Next, the magazine's November cover story is impressively long at 12,000 words but is rambling and inconclusive. Some bits:

All the Single Ladies

By Kate Bolick

Recent years have seen an explosion of male joblessness and a steep decline in men’s life prospects that have disrupted the “romantic market” in ways that narrow a marriage-minded woman’s options: increasingly, her choice is between deadbeats (whose numbers are rising) and playboys (whose power is growing). But this strange state of affairs also presents an opportunity: as the economy evolves, it’s time to embrace new ideas about romance and family — and to acknowledge the end of “traditional” marriage as society’s highest ideal.

...Today I am 39, with too many ex-boyfriends to count and, I am told, two grim-seeming options to face down: either stay single or settle for a “good enough” mate. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck. A decade ago, luck didn’t even cross my mind. I’d been in love before, and I’d be in love again. This wasn’t hubris so much as naïveté; I’d had serious, long-term boyfriends since my freshman year of high school, and simply couldn’t envision my life any differently.

...In the 1990s, Stephanie Coontz, a social historian at Evergreen State College in Washington, noticed an uptick in questions from reporters and audiences asking if the institution of marriage was falling apart. She didn’t think it was, and was struck by how everyone believed in some mythical Golden Age of Marriage and saw mounting divorce rates as evidence of the dissolution of this halcyon past. She decided to write a book discrediting the notion and proving that the ways in which we think about and construct the legal union between a man and a woman have always been in flux.

What Coontz found was even more interesting than she’d originally expected. In her fascinating Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, she surveys 5,000 years of human habits, from our days as hunters and gatherers up until the present, showing our social arrangements to be more complex and varied than could ever seem possible....

...No one has been hurt more by the arrival of the post-industrial economy than the stubbornly large pool of men without higher education. An analysis by Michael Greenstone, an economist at MIT, reveals that, after accounting for inflation, male median wages have fallen by 32 percent since their peak in 1973, once you account for the men who have stopped working altogether. The Great Recession accelerated this imbalance....

The implications are extraordinary. If, in all sectors of society, women are on the ascent, and if gender parity is actually within reach, this means that a marriage regime based on men’s overwhelming economic dominance may be passing into extinction.

...In his book, Is Marriage for White People?, Ralph Richard Banks, a law professor at Stanford, argues that the black experience of the past half century is a harbinger for society at large. “When you’re writing about black people, white people may assume it’s unconnected to them,” he told me when I got him on the phone. It might seem easy to dismiss Banks’s theory that what holds for blacks may hold for nonblacks, if only because no other group has endured such a long history of racism, and racism begets singular ills. But the reality is that what’s happened to the black family is already beginning to happen to the white family. In 1950, 64 percent of African American women were married — roughly the same percentage as white women. By 1965, African American marriage rates had declined precipitously, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan was famously declaring black families a “tangle of pathology.” Black marriage rates have fallen drastically in the years since — but then, so have white marriage rates. In 1965, when Moynihan wrote with such concern about the African American family, fewer than 25 percent of black children were born out of wedlock; in 2011, considerably more than 25 percent of white children are.

...Our cultural fixation on the couple is actually a relatively recent development. Though “pair-bonding” has been around for 3.5 million years, according to Helen Fisher, the hunters and gatherers evolved in egalitarian groups, with men and women sharing the labor equally. Both left the camp in the morning; both returned at day’s end with their bounty. Children were raised collaboratively. As a result, women and men were sexually and socially more or less equals; divorce (or its institution-of-marriage-preceding equivalent) was common. Indeed, Fisher sees the contemporary trend for marriage between equals as us “moving forward into deep history” — back to the social and sexual relationships of millions of years ago.

...Perhaps true to conservative fears, the rise of gay marriage has helped heterosexuals think more creatively about their own conventions. News stories about polyamory, “ethical nonmonogamy,” and the like pop up with increasing frequency. Gay men have traditionally had a more permissive attitude toward infidelity; how will this influence the straight world? Coontz points out that two of the hallmarks of contemporary marriage are demands for monogamy on an equal basis, and candor. “Throughout history, there was a fairly high tolerance of [men’s] extramarital flings, with women expected to look the other way,” she said. “Now we have to ask: Can we be more monogamous? Or understand that flings happen?” (She’s also noticed that an unexpected consequence of people’s marrying later is that they skip right over the cheating years.) If we’re ready to rethink, as individuals, the ways in which we structure our arrangements, are we ready to do this as a society?

In her new book, Unhitched, Judith Stacey, a sociologist at NYU, surveys a variety of unconventional arrangements, from gay parenthood to polygamy to — in a mesmerizing case study — the Mosuo people of southwest China, who eschew marriage and visit their lovers only under cover of night. “The sooner and better our society comes to terms with the inescapable variety of intimacy and kinship in the modern world, the fewer unhappy families it will generate,” she writes.

The matrilineal Mosuo are worth pausing on, as a reminder of how complex family systems can be, and how rigid ours are — and also as an example of women’s innate libidinousness, which is routinely squelched by patriarchal systems, as Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá point out in their own analysis of the Mosuo in their 2010 book, Sex at Dawn. For centuries, the Mosuo have lived in households that revolve around the women: the mothers preside over their children and grandchildren, and brothers take paternal responsibility for their sisters’ offspring.

Sexual relations are kept separate from family. At night, a Mosuo woman invites her lover to visit her babahuago (flower room); the assignation is called sese (walking). If she’d prefer he not sleep over, he’ll retire to an outer building (never home to his sisters). She can take another lover that night, or a different one the next, or sleep every single night with the same man for the rest of her life — there are no expectations or rules. As Cai Hua, a Chinese anthropologist, explains, these relationships, which are known as açia, are founded on each individual’s autonomy, and last only as long as each person is in the other’s company. Every goodbye is taken to be the end of the açia relationship, even if it resumes the following night. “There is no concept of açia that applies to the future,” Hua says.

America has a rich history of its own sexually alternative utopias, from the 19th-century Oneida Community (which encouraged postmenopausal women to introduce teenage males to sex) to the celibate Shakers, but real change can seldom take hold when economic forces remain static. The extraordinary economic flux we’re in is what makes this current moment so distinctive.

...“We are not designed, as a species, to raise children in nuclear families,” Christopher Ryan, one of the Sex at Dawn co-authors, told me over the telephone late last summer. Women who try to be “supermoms,” whether single or married, holding down a career and running a household simultaneously, are “swimming upstream.” Could we have a modernization of the Mosuo, Ryan mused, with several women and their children living together — perhaps in one of the nation’s many foreclosed and abandoned McMansions — bonding, sharing expenses, having a higher quality of life? “In every society where women have power — whether humans or primates — the key is female bonding,” he added....

Read the whole article (November 2011 issue). And join the fast and furious comments, now more than 800. The commentary is both revealing and depressing.

The article "is a bit disappointing in its own way," remarks Bitsy, "because it doesn't take polyamory as a way of changing how one thinks about relationships seriously, despite getting to my poly-friendly thoughts by the end. Also, or maybe because, like many casual mentions it seems to dismiss [poly] as sex-focused."

Update: The Atlantic cover story, and its banality, continue to stir people up. A columnist in the U.K's Guardian echoes Bitsy above:

Referring to "couples upending norms and power structures," she describes a tall friend dating a short guy, and a woman with a younger man. With all due respect: yawn. Are these the relationship boundary-pushers we have as models of dissent? While she relies on black and white, most of us Generation Y-ers and Millennials are happily existing in the vast grey in-between. Many of us are already living and redefining these norms, from perpetual long-distance relationships to polyamorous ones.

Read the whole article: Women can be independent and intimate (Oct. 22, 2011).



October 14, 2011

"First Time for Everything: Dating a Couple"

The Frisky

People sharing stories like this one are gradually changing the world. The popular online magazine The Frisky ("Love. Life. Stars. Style.") just published this:

First Time For Everything: Dating A Couple

By Chloe Monroe

I met Greg through a dating website and we talked online and then on the phone for about a week. I was very hesitant because I had never tried online dating before, and also because of one very glaring fact: Greg was in a four-year relationship with Jen.

No, he wasn’t on a cheating website. He was looking for another partner because he and Jen are polyamorous and they often maintain more than one relationship at once.

I asked a lot of questions. Polyamory wasn’t something I’d ever considered trying....

[Greg and I] got pizza, talked, and ended the night with kissing. It was one of the most normal (and frankly boring) first dates I’ve ever been on.... I left before eleven o’clock, feeling a bit of a thrill at the thought of meeting his girlfriend. Just to meet her, of course. Ask her questions, collect data. To explore this new relationship model in a way that would make Kinsey proud.

...Jen was very different from how I had imagined her.... I felt like a nervous 14-year-old boy trying to figure out how to introduce himself to a girl at a school dance. Luckily, she gave me a quick handshake and from there, we clicked famously. The three of us spent the rest of the night talking and joking, and I lost track of time.

The next day, Jen and I spoke in private.

“Greg and I are not a boxed set,” she surprised me by saying. “I find you very attractive, but I want you to make the decision to be with us or just with him.”...

Some days later:

That night, well fed and relaxed, I felt very happy and slowly it dawned on me.

This felt so normal. So right. So — not deviant at all.

Read the whole story (Oct. 13, 2011). Here are other articles The Frisky has run touching on polyamory.

"Slowly it dawned on me. This felt so normal. So right. So — not deviant at all." How many times I've heard people say this, since I first experienced it myself!

This is partly why I think poly is no modern invention but something that has been deep-rooted in human nature all along — something that we suppressed or lost track of. That, of course, is pretty much the thesis of Sex at Dawn (now available in paperback), which collects evidence from anthropology and human physiology to make a case for what I thought I grokked from the beginning.

Not that you can rely on your instincts to make it work, however! It's a huge help to study up on the experience and wisdom of others, and apply consciousness and reason to what you do accordingly — that's where modernity really does make things different. As food for thought, you can start with Franklin Veaux's Guide to Dating a Couple.

(Off topic: That threesome feet photo? It just showed up in a real estate ad for an "ultra hip" condo development in Victoria, BC. Remarks a commenter, "We are everywhere, bwahahah!")


October 5, 2011

Media rush in France continues


After a late start behind the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia/NZ and Germany, France continues its catch-up rush of media attention to polyamory. Our Paris correspondent, polyactivist Guilain Omont, has just been profiled on the back page of the venerable lefty paper Libération (co-founded by Jean-Paul Sartre), which claims a daily circulation of 170,000:

A lover who doesn't lie

Profile: A 29-year-old Net entrepreneur, in a couple, defends polyamory: relationships that are simultaneous and unhidden.

Love is a high-performance sport. Training, discipline and good spirit may not be enough to prevent failure among doubles-athletes.... The proof is in the killing statistics: in the Paris region, one in two [married] couples will separate; one in three in the rest of France. Among those who risk it anyway, daredevils complexify things: these are the polyamorous. They lead from the front, having several relationships with the agreement of the various protagonists. Guilain Omont, 29, is one of them.... He's a bit of a Usain Bolt running the 100 meters with feet tied and still crushing his opponents.

...This guy, sitting at a Parisian terrace sipping a mint tea at the cocktail hour, doesn't exactly look like a beast of the gyms. Tall, short dark hair, three-day-old beard (a must for under-30 males in 2011), his facial features are as slim as his figure.... not the kind of guy to turn girls' heads....

Guilain prefers to speak of "plural love" rather than "polyamory," a term he considers too "technical". He gives his definition: "It's the freedom to live in several loving relationships with the consent of the various partners."... He tried exclusive love once, for two months....

Today he is in a relationship with Gabrielle, an architect of 28, also polyamorous. Together for a year and a half, they live in a little two-room place he rents for peanuts from his parents. Since the beginning of their relationship the young man has had four or five parallel idylls, but right now, apart from Gabrielle, there's no one. She's his "primary lover".... In his life a hierarchy has taken hold: "Before, wishing to be egalitarian, I wanted all my relationships to be at the same level, but I quickly realized I did not have the same desires with my various partners."

...Born in Pontoise on his parents' farm, he grew up with his three brothers in Montherlant, a small village in the Oise....

It closes with a sudden twist:

And in the end, what does he want? "There's one thing that annoys me, that I'm going to die." Yeah, like everyone else. This calm and poised boy: would he be a hypochondriac? No. But "in 60 years I'll be 90, and it's over." Ultimately, then, it comes back to the good old clash between Eros and Thanatos. Or how this bulimic [compulsive overconsumer] defies death with ever more love.

Sartre might have written that last bit. Read the whole article, in French (20 Sept 2011).

Omont liked the article regardless. He writes, "Polyamory is still getting more and more mediatised in France :-) ...And in few weeks there will be a TV show about polyamory on one of the five main TV channels."

Meanwhile, in Le Soir, the French-language newspaper-of-record in Belgium:

Polyamory: or multiple loves as the default choice

...In Brussels, "poly-cafés" are held every first Wednesday of the month.... "It's nice to know we are not alone in this life choice," confides Mathilde, 36, accompanied by her husband. Mathilde, married to Bastien for ten years, spends two nights a week with her ​​husband, one night with another lover and sometimes a third. Dirty minds, stay away: sex for sex is not the heart of things here. "The saying 'You'll only love one man like you'll only love one God' always made me angry," she says. "I can love two people without feeling guilty. These aren't one night stands. Why is it more shocking to say I love several people than it would be if I said I'm deceiving my husband? The world is upside down!"

Read the whole article (6 June 2011).

This one cropped up on a big health-advice site: When love rhymes with plural.

Here are all my posts about poly coverage in French (including this one; scroll down). See the many community links and websites in the post previous to this.

Here's an article I missed earlier, from the French Glamour magazine (9 Sept 2010):

I have two lovers, maybe three...

Websites, gatherings... the polyamorous, as they call themselves, talk a lot among themselves. A marketing slogan for open relationships? A metaphor for swinging? An investigation into the world of multiple loves.

And another, in l'EuroMag: Etes-vous prête(s) pour le «polyamour»? (6 Aug 2010):

Are you ready for "polyamory"?

...At the heart of the concept is the idea of ​​breaking the norms of love; a questioning of exclusivity. Proponents of polyamory think that one person is not sufficient to meet all emotional, sentimental, and sexual needs... as the perfection of the human does not exist.


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