Browsing: A Poly Home Companion

I am fascinated by stories about polygamy, both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve watched every episode of the HBO television series “Big Love.” I’ve read the Brady Udall novel “The Lonely Polygamist.” I’ve read Irene Spencer’s harrowing account of her life as a polygamist’s wife in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, “Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife.” I have several other fiction and non-fiction pieces to read or watch in my queue that I haven’t gotten to yet.

Our boyfriend and girlfriend Julian and Hanne are going through a bit of a relationship crisis this evening. They may make a major change in their relationship to add some space between them to allow healing to happen. The intent is not for them to break up, but any major change can be like a seismic shift in the foundation of a relationship and the outcome is unpredictable. It’s a strange to be in a place where I’m worrying about my boyfriend’s reaction to making pivotal and significant changes to his relationship with his other girlfriend. We just don’t have cultural scripts for how to deal with that. What do you do with the compassion you feel for your husband’s girlfriend as she deals with personal issues and momentous changes in her relationship with her other boyfriend, who also happens to be your boyfriend? We get to make it up as we go along.

I’ve met a few poly couples and read about many more who have a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy in their relationship. They both date other people, but have a rule that they should share as little as possible about their outside relationships with each other. I can’t decide if this is a brilliant idea or a really terrible idea for a relationship.

Dating is complicated when you already have multiple partners. People have this vision of poly people as having a free-wheeling lifestyle where they date anybody they choose and pick up new partners at the drop of a hat. I’m sure some poly people do that, but it seems to be rare. My experience is that dating people in stable poly relationships is more like dating someone in a traditional Greek or Italian family — all the extended family has to meet you and gets a say in whether the relationship is a good idea.

When you add more people to a relationship, things get complicated. One relationship can be a challenge. Adding more relationships to your life is not only going to increase the joy and love, but also the drama. With each added person, the issues don’t increase linearly – they seem to increase exponentially because there are what I think of as “ricochet effects.” The bullet may have been intended for one person, but the rebound can hit others as well. One person’s or one couple’s drama can infect all. It wasn’t clear to me that it worked that way when we got into a relationship with Julian and Hanne two years ago.

The question is: Do I sit her down and have a little chat about the situation? Something like, “You know that Julian is my boyfriend and Hanne is daddy’s girlfriend. I want to tell you that this is unusual – most people who are married don’t also have a boyfriend or girlfriend. They only have their husband or wife. Most of your friends and their families would think it was strange. You might want to be cautious when mentioning it to them.”

Jealousy is very common in both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships. However, in monogamous relationships it’s much easier to engineer the way you and your partner interact with others to minimize activities that trigger jealousy. In poly relationships, you’re nearly guaranteed to regularly encounter jealousy in either yourself or your partners.

Relationships can have many levels of closeness and intertwinedness — from casual fuckbuddies to regular, serious girlfriend or boyfriend to long-term live-in life-long committed partners. The category that we think our relationship falls into affects the way we interact with that partner today and the vision we have for the future of that relationship. In the monogamous world, we talk about dating someone casually or say that someone is marriage material. In the poly world, people talk about primary and secondary relationships.