"Welcome to Polydelphia!"
The Philadelphia public just got two long feature articles, each nearly 4,000 words, about the local poly scene. Coincidence, I presume! This first one appeared in glossy, upscale Philadelphia magazine. Next up will be the one in the more street-level Philadelphia City Paper. The author of this first story is occasionally snarky but mostly is amazed and impressed by the people.
Welcome to Polydelphia!
Everything about these Philadelphians is completely normal. Well, except that Tiffany lives with Phillip, but also has sex with Jon and Josh. Meanwhile, Josh also sleeps with Heather and Mae, who both hook up with Phillip (who, you’ll remember, lives with Tiffany.) Isn’t millennial love fun?
FAMILY DINNER: From left to right: Jon, Josh, Tiffany, Phillip and Mae cooking up dinner at Phillip and Tiffany’s house in Bensalem. (Photo by Gene Smirnov)
By Chelsea Edgar
...Tiffany and most of her boyfriends are polyamorous, meaning that they’re free to pursue multiple romantic relationships at once.... All of her partners and her partners’ partners have complicated networks of their own. As if managing these relationships isn’t enough, Tiffany runs a 200-plus-member secret [Facebook] group called Polydelphia, an online community for Philly’s young poly cohort. When she’s not being polyamory-extraordinaire-about-town, she works a full-time job as a nurse. Oh, and she’s in a band.
...But here’s the thing about Tiffany: When she’s with you, she’s 100 percent with you, and you’ll forget that she was late in the first place. She makes direct eye contact. She barely looks at her phone. We talk in the coffee shop until the barista shuts off the lights in the pastry case, and she ends up missing part of band practice.
This is how she manages to juggle so many commitments: She doesn’t try to be everywhere at the same time. But it hasn’t always come this easy. As she sips her coffee, she explains that she’s a recovered serial monogamist.... Being polyamorous, she says, without a hint of irony, has helped her figure out how to get her needs met without losing herself in the process.
...Lately, the concept of fluidity in relationships has been inching its way into the zeitgeist... This increased visibility is partly a function of the Internet and social media, where everything that was once considered niche now lives at our fingertips. But polyamory also seems to be gaining currency as we search for a relationship model that can withstand the complexity of modern life. The numbers prove there’s growing interest: As many as 12 million Americans practice some form of consensual non-monogamy today. There are poly meet-up groups in major cities on both coasts [sic], including the notoriously in-the-box Philadelphia — which, incidentally, has hosted an annual polyamory conference since 1995 [Loving More's Poly Living East]. And now, thanks in part to Tiffany’s organizing efforts, polyamory is having something of a moment among Philly’s under-40 set.
Tiffany and Phillip first came up with the idea for Polydelphia about a year and a half ago, after attending a series of unsatisfying meet-ups. Tiffany doesn’t mince words in explaining what the problem was: “We were the youngest people in the room by, like, 30 years. And the most attractive. So we were this novelty, and everyone just wanted to talk to us.”... Tiffany and Phillip were looking for an active, engaged community, not a self-help circle.... Instead they would focus on issues relevant to them: how to manage packed Google calendars, how to navigate sticky situations at work, how to introduce significant others to their families. And, you know, have fun. By January 2014, an invite-only Facebook group had been created, and Polydelphia was born.
To preach the gospel of anything-goes while leading an exhaustively scheduled life might seem contradictory, but that’s the biggest surprise — or perhaps the biggest letdown — of polyamory: What appears to be romantic and sexual spontaneity is often a minutely choreographed balancing act, revised as needed to ensure that no one feels forgotten. Tiffany is at home in this particular world, and she says she’s never felt less constrained. Her goal, she says, is to experience real emotional freedom. She gets to be selfish at times, to focus on meeting her own needs instead of obsessing over someone else’s. She gets to date both men and women whenever she wants. She gets to use her unsurpassed gift for making new friends (“I used to have resting bitch face,” she confesses, though you’d never know it), and she can let those friendships seek their own level without imposing limits. She doesn’t do “me” time. Instead, she recharges by surrounding herself with people.
But it’s not just about being social; Tiffany says poly has given her an opportunity to “bash away at her insecurities.” “Initially it was hard for me to open up about my feelings when I was feeling jealousy or discomfort with a new situation,” she says. “Now, vulnerability is my baseline.”
...I can’t help but feel a stab of envy. What would it be like to have two or three or even four people who might be available to deliver an organic chocolate bar in times of need? What potentially could be an unreasonable request of one person — a last-minute ride to the airport, a late-night pep talk — is light work for a vast network of romantic partners — a network that becomes, in effect, a family. As Easton and Hardy write in The Ethical Slut, “When you are part of such a circle, new lovers of any member are potential friends and family members of your own, so the focus changes from competition and exclusivity to a sense of inclusion and welcome, often very warm indeed.”...
Read on, and on (May 2015 print issue; online April 5, 2015).