The Aftermath, Part I

Or why polyamory is so tough.

“It was the impulse to hide it immediately that got me into trouble,” correspondent Jamie wrote (to protect their Internet anonymity, I’ve changed our correspondents’ names). Many polyamorists do not publicize their relationship status.

That may have much to do with the stony disapproval we meet from Anne’s friends.

Multiple relationships require negotiation, communication, trustification, and laughter. Heavy emphasis on the laughter.

Herewith about a few comments about the work it takes to make it work.

1. How did you (all) come to polyamory?

If you have hung in through eight or ten blog posts and more than a hundred comments, you may believe I’m a polyamorist, Anne’s a polyamorist, Nancy’s a polyamorist, and we all think everyone should be polyamorist, too.

Perhaps not.

I rushed a couple of the Stevens fraternities but eventually “joined” the GDI (look it up — it’s about 11 entries down). That personality quirk may explain why I don’t think of myself as “polyamorous,” either. Polyamory is sort of an organized, secular religion except it’s not very organized. Organized hanky-panky seems too, well, rulebound for me.

I think of myself as blessed to have that same intimate, best friend who happens to be a girl. And I don’t think everyone can commit to maintaining that kind of close, multiple friendships; just that the effort is good for them.

For the record, Anne not only knows about my relationship with Nancy, she knows Nancy and she gave us her blessing… [but] she does not approve of this lifetime friendship and love.

Anne isn’t polyamorous, doesn’t want to be polyamorous, and may very well decide this poly puddle is too deep. She doesn’t see the addition of Nancy as growth for us but rather as loss for her. On the other hand, she has a dear, close friend I will call “Sally”; they bowl on Mondays, play cards on weekends, and share a motel room when they travel. Looking at the way they relate, if Sally were a man we would call them lovers. (She is extremely unlikely to start her own blog on this topic despite the great blog title — Poly-Anna.) Similar story: almost 40 years ago “Rufus” thought he should beat the snot out of me at the New Thompson Speedway (he didn’t). We survived that as well as his contention that I shot him in the butt with a pellet gun (I didn’t). He has slept in my house and shared my motel room when we travel. Looking at the way we relate, if Rufus were a girl you might call us lovers. BFFs are a lot of work.

I was never the class clown. I do wonder, sometimes, if we want to be that center of attention.

2. More from Anne
“Have I accepted this relationship?” she asked. “NO.

“Did I give my ‘blessing’?”

The answer to that is actually “Yeah, but.” I don’t believe in hiding or coverups so when it was obvious (to me) that Nancy and I had something more intense than a newsgroup acquaintance, I told Anne. I told her that Nancy and I wanted to spend time together both virtually and in the real world. We hoped that she, Anne, would see this as a relationship that would deepen our marriage and our friendship

Anne’s hope today, after all these years is, “for crying out loud, go screw her and get her out of your system.”

She did originally, without much ankle chewing on my end, say yes unequivocally. She would not say yes today because she now sees herself competing with Nancy for me. She thinks she’s losing.

“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right,” famed polyamorist Henry Ford said on a whole ‘nother subject.

3. The Bible defines marriage as one man and one woman. One. Uno. What do you say to that? Isn’t all this fooling around a sin?
Actually, man ordains that. And come to think of it, Matthew reminds us that “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage.”

We do many things to force the people around us to act monogamous. We kill people who aren’t monogamous. We brand people who aren’t monogamous. We stone them. We burn them at the stake. We tell them they’re going to Hell. We pass “Defense of Marriage” laws to protect an institution that, if it were truly so natural, so God-like, wouldn’t need any protection at all.

“Moral integrity is the glue that holds society together. Without it, we can have no society. Polyamory is simply another form of immorality that is growing and contributes to the demise of our culture,” wrote Matt Slick for the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.

Meanwhile, Ugandan M.P. David Bahati has introduced an anti-homosexuality bill that, if enacted, not only could sentence LGBT folk to death, it could even extradite Ugandans caught outside the country back to Uganda for punishment. Mr. Bahati offered the bill in a religious effort to fix these “emerging threats” to the traditional family.

Sound familiar?

The now-eleven-year-old Divilbiss case is a worrisome precedent, though. April Divilbiss, Shane Divilbiss, and Chris Littrell were in a polyandrous relationship that became the subject of a child custody suit. The judge denied motions to submit expert testimony and stopped the trial in the middle because he “understood the case already.”

Mr. Slick and I agree that integrity holds society together. I believe loving people to be the principled choice especially in a culture that values conflict. It is up to you to decide if polyamory is moral in your own universe. It is not up to you to decide if polyamory is immoral in anyone else’s.

4. You live thousands of miles apart. How do you stay connected?
We talk on the phone. We email. We Facebook. We cope.

It also helps that Nancy is healthy, wealthy, and wise because that synchronizes the three time zones that separate us.

We talk about everything, from software glitches to hot weasel sex. The continuing conversation defines our relationship. It defines any relationship I want to be in.

“We’re working together in the lab on something now,” Jamie said about her own friend, another researcher. “It’s not the least bit sexy, but it’s the thing we share most, the creative thing. It’s fun, the brainstorming, the knitting something together.”

I’m about the least romantic man I know. I like long walks on the beach but I don’t write love songs. I don’t buy cut flowers. I show my lady valentine cards in the store. On the other hand, I would fly from Philly to Phoenix to move a … treadmill. (Yes, I almost spelled it phly but good sense [almost] prevailed.) Our romance comes with the time we spend together; since much of that is virtual time, we talk. A lot.

Cell-to-cellphone “communication” makes the conversation we adore … difficult.

“I FOOFed this morning.”

Insert your own “poopy potty” joke here.

5. How do you feel about being Nancy’s “transition” guy?
None of us see it that way. Nancy figures her turning-point fling was the transition — she fell in love and pined when it didn’t work out — helping her through the transition from feeling unloved by TUFKAS, to feeling that spark of love again.

6. How would you each feel about going from secondary to primary or vice versa?
Poly people have their own jargon . It’s how we know a movement is more than a fad. Primary Relationships involve a high degree of commitment, such as the relationship with a spouse or other legal partner. Secondary Relationships are close, ongoing emotional friendships that may have less commitment.

Our feelings about making that kind of switch depend on whom you ask. Anne sometimes says she has become “second dog” (she hasn’t). I was a secondary when Nancy was married but became her sole relationship; and you might say I’m the secondary in Anne’s relationship with Sally. If Anne or Nancy forms another bond, this alpha dog may be back to sharing.

7. How do you feel about Nancy romancing another guy? How does Nancy feel about your staying with Anne or romancing yet another girl? How does Anne feel about Nancy romancing you?
Love is not a finite resource. Time is. Balancing expectations may be the hardest part of having more than one partner.

I do tuck in my sweetie every night and have breakfast privileges with her every morning, so it would hurt me if she spent that time with her other lover. Likewise, if she has me at her beck and call for quickie phone calls when she has the chance, she would be bereft if I let her go to voice mail while I talked with my other lover.

It’s a balancing act that Nancy and I play often. We don’t talk on the phone much when Anne is in the room. I didn’t visit Nancy’s house when TUFKAS was there. She has a regular day job and has business meetings and theater tickets. I have clients to call on, an arts council to run, and a porch to build.

I looked at the time commitment and discovered there aren’t enough hours in the day for the gym or the t00b or home maintenance projects. Even we who live with sleep deprivation hope to get seven hours each night. Add half an hour to SS&S. Commuters drive an hour and a half. We work nine. That leaves an hour and a half for meals, a couple for family time with kids and spouse, and one for reading. Your significant other ends up with an hour and a half. Maybe.

Fitting another lover into that time table will certainly have an impact.

“That acceptance you commend is sometimes grudging and not all that warm…sometimes it’s downright chilly,” correspondent Charles wrote.

“I’d have to see how I feel when that happens,” Nancy said about second question, “but as far as I can tell now, I’d be content with it.”

On the other hand, Anne does see Nancy as a competitor; she distrusts and sometimes assails, bad-mouths, curses, defames, denigrates, and disparages her. That in turn stresses our relationship and makes Anne crazy.

On the possibility of Nancy romancing Leroy Jethro Gibbs (“he has my heart forever,” she said), he and I will be OK as long as we don’t start competing for her. Anne will be OK as soon as she understands she doesn’t have to compete with Nancy for me.

“What constitutes ‘competition’,” Nancy asked me.


Some people want a main partner. People of our age all grew up knowing that virtually all Americans had married by their mid-40s. Even now, only about 13% of men of that age have never been married. I suspect that we are pretty well conditioned to it and that the 87% of men who have been married may be conditioned more.

Competition doesn’t mean racing for some of that precious time. It means preventing someone else from convincing that main partner to forsake us for him or her.

8. Ownership/Neediness/Cling/Maintenance
“Some people need a lot of time alone, so that probably would be helpful for this arrangement,” correspondent Becky Sue wrote. “For a clingy, needy, jealous type like myself, I just cannot fathom the concept.”

We don’t have enough data points to generalize, but that has a ring of truth. Nancy and I and more recently Anne are occasional hermits. I have a house in the Keys where I can be alone. Anne can be alone in the house in Vermont. Nancy has a house in the Southwest where she has more alone time than Anne or I do.

While we treasure the moments we have together, we also cherish the time we have alone. I wonder if the hermit gene counteracts the cling gene?

Nancy also notes that I am “medium maintenance.” Anne might believe me to be “high maintenance.” And, no, I am indeed smart enough not to categorize either of them. To Nancy, my need for a touchstone is higher than her desire to reach out. To Anne, picking up after me — or driving me to the airport — takes more than her fervor for support.

9. How do you keep so many partners straight (so to speak)? How do you find the time?
I couldn’t juggle many more friends as close as these, but then again, I don’t multi-task well. Nancy is a girl so we expect her to do better.

In reality, multi-tasking involves switching quickly from one to the next to the next.

“I’m already juggling emails, blog posts, Facebook messages, pokes, between a host of friends,” she said. “Phone calls are another matter.”

Nancy says she is not a phone person. I am. We work well on the phone because we find every syllable we grunt at each other fascinating, and we actually like what she calls the “mind numbingly boring things” of work and home.

We do make time for the important things. And the mind numbingly boring things. But it always comes at the expense of something else.

“I may get too stressed out and make things change just to keep my sanity,” she said. “Or I may find something else in my life giving way — maybe t00b reruns, or blog posts, and FOOFery.”

10. Why on God’s green earth would you go public with this?
It has never been a secret but there are people who didn’t know. It really is simple. Anne and Nancy are two beautiful ladies. Why ever would I not want share my love for them with the world?

Stop right there! Nancy took a further look at the primary/secondary roles and competition in Who’s on First .

Editor’s Note: gekko and I shared the four-part polylocution that lead up to these afterposts. Please visit The Poly Posts for the entire series and for other resources.]

Why is this Part I? Next time, I’ll drop the M word.

Sculpture by Ania Modzelewski

3 thoughts on “The Aftermath, Part I

  1. When I was in HS I had two best friends. We still keep in touch, go on girl’s outings, get together for card games, parties, etc. to this day. There was no difficulty for me keeping them straight, nor sharing time with each of them such that neither felt I was shorting the other. Of course, they were girls, as was I, so any jealousy that might have existed would not have been of the intense sort a wife or a husband might feel if their spouse added another friend of “spousal importance” to the marriage. But the point, I believe, does illustrate that it does not necessarily have to be difficult to balance multiple loves. I didn’t love Sherrie any less because Tami was a part of my life. Tami did not feel neglected when I spent time with Sherrie. Neither did I feel left out when Tami spent time with JoAnne or Sherrie with Sandra.

    And so forth.

    We so easily accept multiple relationships when we do not believe sex is or can be involved.

    We make it complicated when it is supposed to, or has the possibility of involving romance or sex.

  2. @gekko: We so easily accept multiple relationships when we do not believe sex is or can be involved [but] we make it complicated when it … involves romance or sex.

    I disagree.

    See, I think gekko was poly even in high school and her data point may not be enough to draw a conclusion.

    We all remember high school hissies when one girl gets left out when her BFF malls with some other girl. Sherrie may well have felt neglected when Tami was with JoAnne and gekko with Sandra, so Sherrie was left holding short shrift.

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