Washington Post: "To be young and polyamorous in the age of OkCupid"
The story profiles a local polyweb of young twenties. They seem remarkably wise, emotionally intelligent, and poly-intelligent. Thank you for representing us extraordinarily well.
To be young and polyamorous in the age of OkCupid
Clockwise, from top left: Rachel Ruvinsky, 22; Sam Brehm, 21; Bennett Marschner, 26; and Hannah Schott, 22. The group of friends carry on multiple relationships simultaneously. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
By Lisa Bonos
...Ruvinsky didn’t want anything super-casual, so she figured that would be it. But Marschner persuaded her to keep seeing him, reassuring her that it wouldn’t be a booty-call thing. They could both see other people. “I was like, ‘Okay, I like hanging out with you,’ ” she remembers saying.
The next time they discussed their relationship status was a few months later. Marschner told her his other relationships, with two other women, weren’t so casual; there was an emotional attachment. He’d been reading about polyamory, he said, and he thought it applied to their situation.
Ruvinsky did, too: “We knew it was more than casual, but we didn’t have a word for it.” Since then, the two go out with other people separately or hang in a group. “A lot of times,” Marschner says, “if you get more than one of us together, we’re going to sit on a couch and cuddle and make out.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines polyamory as: “The fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, esp. in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners involved.”
Polyamory in the United States has roots in the 19th-century Oneida Community in Upstate New York, where all members were considered married to one other, according to Deborah Anapol, author of “Polyamory in the 21st Century.” Modern versions came out of the free-love movement of the 1960s, but the term “polyamorous,” combining the Greek and Latin words for “many” and “love,” wasn’t coined until 1990 and was added to the OED in 2006. It draws adults of all ages, and online dating has made it easier for the polyamorous and poly-curious to find one another.
...Ruvinsky and Marschner keep each other in the loop on their other dates and relationships. Sometimes Marschner will screen OkCupid messages for Ruvinsky, deleting anything unwelcomingly vulgar, prompting her to jokingly call him her “sexcretary.”
...If one of them feels jealous, they try to pinpoint what insecurity or self-esteem issue might be to blame. “It’s important to realize that it’s valid” to be jealous or envious of another partner, Ruvinsky says, “but not necessarily true.”
More than jealousy, though, the emotion they talk about is “compersion,” a feeling of joy when one’s partner finds happiness with another. Ruvinsky says she feels it when Marschner texts her after a good date with someone else. He says he feels it when he meets women he thinks Ruvinsky might like and those instincts turn out to be right.
Marschner has a couple of primary partners, including Ruvinsky, and several secondary ones. He sometimes introduces his partners to one another and is happy for them to date each other as well. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
Over a year ago, Marschner introduced Ruvinsky and Hannah Schott. They gathered for a night of figure-drawing, each taking a turn as a nude model. Schott now lives in New Zealand, but Ruvinsky still has the picture Schott drew hanging in her bedroom.
Within the “web” of partners, one-on-ones, threesomes and orgies have been known to happen. (They test for sexually transmitted diseases every three months or when a new person joins the mix.) But Marschner says “polyamory isn’t necessarily about sex. Polyamory is about being in love with multiple people.”
Marschner and Ruvinsky say they are thrilled to be free of the constraints that can come with monogamy: They don’t have to be everything, sexually or emotionally, to each other; they can be open about their attraction to others. It might be fueled by youthful idealism that will crash and burn as she and Marschner get older, but for now they seem happy.
Ruvinsky’s eyes light up as she describes having so much love to give, and receiving it, too. “Even the love you feel, feels different,” she says, “not in terms of quantity or quality, just in how it feels.”
Asked to map it out for a reporter, Marschner drew a diagram of dozens of people. Straight lines connected people with ongoing relationships; long dotted lines for former relationships; short dotted lines for people who have “sexy times,” as Marschner put it, but aren’t in a relationship.
The connections are fluid, too. An ex of one of Marschner’s former partners is now housemates with one of his current partners.
When members of the web get together, it’s as if a group of high school or college friends is reuniting. Primary, secondary and past partners piled into a booth at Bar Louie in Rockville Town Square in late December.
Some are meeting for the first time. “Are you a hugger?” Zia Frazier asks, and waits for the go-ahead before embracing Sam Brehm, a 21-year-old model and fire performer who met Marschner at a medieval camping trip. (The poly community is big on consent, starting with something as simple as a hug.) At different times throughout the night, Marschner keeps a hand on Brehm’s leg while deep in conversation with Ruvinsky.
...Marschner asks Frazier, who is 23 and just finished her first semester of grad school in San Francisco, about a new guy she is dating who’s poly and straight.
“Is he pretty?” he asks.
“He’s tall as s---,” she says.
...They order extra cocktails before happy hour ends, eat off each other’s plates and offer one another sips and cherries out of their drinks.
When Frazier complains about having to write so many papers and the long lines at the DMV, Marschner says: “That’s what you get for going to California and leaving us all behind.”...
Lisa Bonos is the lead writer and editor for Solo-ish, a Washington Post blog about unmarried life. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the whole article (online February 11, 2015).
Update: It's been reprinted on the websites, at least, of the Chicago Tribune, the Calgary Herald, the daily Santa Fe New Mexican, South Africa's Independent online and The Star ("South Africa's Most Influential Daily Newspaper"), the Watertown Daily Times in upstate New York, and probably elsewhere.