Polyamory, from the Greek words for many + love, refers to the conscious choice to participate in more than one emotionally and sexually intimate relationship at a time, with the knowledge and consent of all partners involved. Polyamory differs from swinging in its emphasis on committed, emotionally intimate relationships rather than transitory, recreational sex with multiple partners. Both swinging and polyamory are examples of ethical nonmonogamy, which emphasizes transparency and mutual consent among partners.
New Books About Polyamory
Two recent books are recommended for their nuanced and thoughtful approach to polyamory. Each is an account of the author’s personal journey, giving many examples of painful and important lessons learned along the way.
In The Game Changer: A Memoir of Disruptive Love, Franklin Veaux describes his long experience in polyamory. One of the most influential writers on the topic, his website www.MoreThanTwo.com has introduced poly to thousands of searchers. His memoir tells the story of his long marriage, in which he and his wife developed rules to guide their explorations with multiple partners.
They prioritized their marital relationship as primary: all other relationships were defined as secondary. Franklin was less invested in this than his wife, but agreed because it seemed so important to her. A corollary of this agreement was the rule that either primary partner could unequivocally veto any relationship or activity of the other spouse. This proved to be the ultimate undoing of their marriage.
Veaux describes the early years of his marriage when both polyamory and the Internet were in their infancy. Early bulletin boards and chat rooms made connections possible with like-minded friends so the exchange of ideas was efficient to a unprecedented degree. Meetups in the Tampa area, where Veaux lived, provided a vibrant and growing community of people exploring the poly lifestyle.
He was an outgoing fellow bubbling with energy and enthusiasm for long talks, joint projects, and deep friendships. He was sexually curious and loved to talk with his many friends about the intricacies of sexual friendships. He was stunned when his wife informed him she was vetoing one of his relationships. He couldn’t understand why she felt so strongly about it, yet he stood by his agreement. With deep regret he terminated his relationship with the woman his wife was opposed to.
Veaux began to question their premise. What about the thoughts, feelings, and desires of their other partners? They were asked to be open and loving, yet were always subject to a veto from a partner who chose not to approve of them. He ultimately became involved with a new partner who questioned this doctrine of primary/secondary relationships from the beginning. This led him to long discussions with his wife over a period of some years. Finally he left the marriage when they could not come to agreement.
Veaux is quite open about his process of finding his way with multiple intimate relationships. He came to believe that his early thoughts about primary and secondary relationships were not congruent with his deepest feelings about how he wanted to be with the women he loved. Game Changer is one man’s perspective on his poly journey, and well worth a read.
Gracie X’s new book Wide Open: My Adventures in Polyamory, Open Marriage, and Loving on My Own Terms tells her story as a suburban mom of two in a challenging situation. She was deeply in love with Hank, her husband of twenty years, and felt their marriage was central in her healing process from wounds she sustained in her family with an erratic mother and physically abusive stepfather. The problem was their sexual relationship had dwindled to nothing.
She struggled to find a solution, trying couples therapy, tantra workshops, talking, pleading, sexy outfits for bedtime. Nothing worked. She did not want to leave Hank or break up her family, but she could not ignore how important sex was to her.
She found herself attracted to men she met at work, in the neighborhood, at PTA meetings. But she would not cheat on Hank. She learned about other couples who had outside lovers with full knowledge and consent of both partners. She talked with her husband about her curiosity and interest, and encouraged him to explore finding a partner to have fun with. Her unspoken hope was that if Hank found someone he’d be fine with her finding someone too.
He did find someone he enjoyed, but struggled to be as supportive of Gracie’s finding someone. When Gracie finally connected with the man she had been attracted to for years, Hank put his foot down and said “No overnights,” even though he was spending two nights a week with his lover. Gracie saw the illogic of this but also understood that he was struggling. They talked a lot about the feelings they were having, and found a couples counselor who was knowledgeable about poly who helped them navigate this.
More complications ensued. Gracie’s new partner Oz was married with children, and his wife did not approve of her husband’s having a partner outside their marriage. Ultimately he moved to an apartment and filed for divorce. Meanwhile Gracie’s ten year-old daughter sensed that something was going on in her family. Each of her parents was disappearing more than usual, and they seemed to have new “friends” with whom they were quite involved. When she began asking direct questions about what was happening, Gracie and Hank spent a lot of time talking with her as she struggled with deep feelings that her family was not “normal.”
Oz realized he wanted to explore the world of multiple relationships after moving out of his marriag. When he told Gracie he wanted to date other women, she became threatened to a degree that surprised her. She realized she could not tolerate sharing him so soon after connecting with him. He agreed to suspend seeing other women, but then realized he was dissatisfied with solitary apartment life away from his children. He wanted a more domestic life where he could lived together with his children and his partner.
Hank’s partner Natalie, a single woman without children, had similar feelings. She felt on the periphery of Hank’s life and wanted more time with him.
Gracie and Hank had already decided to reconfigure their Berkeley home into a duplex to solve some of their financial difficulties. Hank, an architect, redesigned the interior space in an efficient and attractive way. As the work was being completed they decided to create a multifamily household in which both spouses could live with their partners. Hank and Natalie moved to the newly-created duplex space, while Gracie, Oz, and her children occupied the other part of the house. The children kept their bedrooms and maintained the same access to both parents.
Gracie and Hank felt relief at keeping their family together and at the same time living with their new partners. But there was a new complication: Oz’s soon-to-be ex-wife filed a motion in court questioning the propriety of her children living, even part-time, in a household she characterized as a sexualized free-for-all. This began a year-long process of depositions, legal maneuvering, and evaluations by a court-appointed therapist to determine the fitness of this situation for children.
You get the idea: unexpected difficulties, emotions, and complex situations around every corner. In the midst of this was the euphoria and excitement of finding profound and meaningful love – without losing any of the aspects of Hank and Gracie’s marriage that were working so well.
Gracie X has an interesting website, with a number of informative YouTube videos about various aspects of polyamory.
There’s no “right way” to do Polyamory
Each of these books does an excellent job of elucidating the exciting and challenging nuances of building multiple-relationship families. A common element in both books is how much communication happened between partners as they tried to create relationships that were meaningful and satisfying while nurturing and safe for all participants.
The jury is out on how possible it all is! Gracie X and Franklin Veaux are explorers in the realm of intimate relationships, reporting back from the front. They offer their stories as examples of individual journeys, not examplars of “the right way to do poly.” It appears there is no one right way to do poly, but many ways – as every relationship or set of relationships is unique.
More recommended books on Polyamory
More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert
Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, by Tristan Taormino
Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy With Multiple Partners, by Deborah Anapol
The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Adventures,2nd ed. by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy