By Michael Aaron Vandiver
For around 5 years I have been practicing a lifestyle that involves multiple romantic partners. I have a loving wife, an amazing girlfriend I adore, and a few other ‘Comet’ romances. The three of us live honestly and comfortably aware of one another. My girlfriend does indeed bake my wife cookies… I am a polyamorous guy.
Polyamory (from Greek πολύ poly, “many, several”, and Latin amor, “love”) is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships where individuals may have more than one partner, with the knowledge and consent of all partners.
I’ve have also done a lot of research, networked with many like minded individuals. I have also founded and admin a Facebook group focused on discussion and support for those in the Midwest who have poly interests and for loved ones who have a hard time understanding the motivations of why someone close to them would chose these kinds of relationships. I have also participated in studies with the University of Kansas City to help the field of psychology better understand and better teach counselors to help with aiding these kinds of relationships.
I do want any readers to know that I (and my loves) by no means represent all polyamorous persons, as ethical non-monogamy covers a wide variety of relationship styles, and for people who are interested in learning about that, Google is a few clicks away. I want to write the article on polyamory I haven’t read yet, and I’m sure I’m going to be contacted with questions that I’ll likely be more than happy to answer.
I won’t dress this up as an ‘inspirational journey of discovery’ because it hasn’t felt like one the vast majority of the time, and I’m not writing to advocate the lifestyle, but to enlighten, because Polyamory does exist, and it’s a lot more common than you are probably aware of. It’s more been a process of redefining the most important aspects of the relationships we desire and depend on most as growing adults. It’s been a consistent sorting through, testing, breaking, and reassembling expectations most people commonly have for love, dating, intimacy, sexuality, and attachment.
I was asked to write this because after four years of being mostly open as a successful polyamourus couple, both my wife and I decided to come out entirely to everyone at once on Facebook. The offer to write this article was presented to me as an opportunity to dispel myths about polyamory, but the truth is there are few myths surrounding it since it hardly exists in the public awareness in general, but that is rapidly changing. The generation being coined as ‘Millennials’ are particularly starting to gravitate to this lifestyle in response to social changes and relationship pressures that have been thrust upon them in a hyperconnected, high awareness, and very fast moving world.
There were many reasons we felt we should come out publically like this and mutually decided to accept the costs of any potential social and familial blowback. The most personal reason is best described by two words that resonate strongly with me: The Public and The Private. I have developed a sensitivity to the contrast that rise from both concepts in my life for a few reasons. There are self reinforcing reasons that this should make sense to anyone who understands growing up as a bit of an outsider, and I have more than a few rather independent and unchangeable traits about myself… this sensitivity is further reinforced by a few more judgemental environments I have grown up in.
I spent most of my growing up in areas that were particularly religious, all while having a naturally skeptical character. I have never been a person to take a person or idea at their first word. It’s not in my character. For as long as I can remember I have been a critical and skeptical person. There was no dawning moment for me that indicated a loss of faith in what the vast majority of people around me believed or claimed to believe. Faith never grabbed me, and I learned quickly I would get rather negative feedback and disdain for expressing that. Still, it was never something I could, or even wanted to change about myself. It was simpler to separate my public and private, though I wasn’t particularly comfortable with doing this ever. Most social rules have always seemed almost entirely arbitrary to me until I began to understand the relationships, commonalities, and differences between people that these rules address. The same things everyone learns as they grow up in any culture amongst any peers. How to fit into the small part world you have been thrust into at birth.
In spite of not being particularly preoccupied with rules, I have always been a loving, empathetic, and understanding person, and as I’ve gotten older and found solace in Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and certain kinds of counter culture music and literature; generally things that expressed a brutal honesty and self reliance. As I grew older I found myself becoming person who practiced bringing my public and private together as something that was quintessential to my mental and emotional health, usually in spite of cultural taboos.
Apart from that, I don’t want to misrepresent myself. It feels false. It’s a dishonesty and a disservice to others to not be authentic. It’s a disservice to yourself to not be known by the world and to be disconnected from it. That’s also how a person finds themselves feeling lonely and misunderstood throughout their lives and I see examples of this in everyone, everyday. Still, not being lonely and misunderstood myself is the least important reason. I do have people in my private life who are very loving and understanding of myself… I’d say there is more of that in my life than most people, but it does lead to and feed back with other more important reasons:
I never asked for a polyamorous lifestyle. I didn’t even have knowledge of the word, and many other jargony terms an active online community have coined to get a better grasp on what they want and how they communicate that with others, which I’m avoiding for the sake of making this article generally accessible to anyone who cares to read it.
It should be known that I have a rather blessed relationship with my wife and in a lot of ways it’s considered by others close to us as a model one. We will be celebrating our 8th anniversary on New Year’s Day. In the 10 years we have been the best of friends; both of us can honestly say we have never actively fought one another, felt the need to lie to one another, and we have almost never felt the need to hide aspects of ourselves from one another, but no relationship is perfect…
There was a day when my wife was afraid to share something with me, afraid to the point of tears. I went into the restroom to shave and she came into the bathroom and sat down, looking concerned and afraid. When I asked if she was alright, the sobbing began, as she said, “I have something to talk to you about?” Of course when I’m presented with this, the first two thoughts in my mind are fear based, “Are you having doubts about us?” and “Did you sleep with someone else?” I asked what was wrong and with more than a little difficulty she finally got it out through the sobs,… “I want to have a girlfriend”.
This elicited more than a few things to consider, as I’ve said, my wife and I had very rarely had anything we felt we couldn’t share with one another. I had always known, and been comfortable with the fact that my wife is indeed bisexual. She has always been aware of the fact that I do indeed fall in love with people easily, that I rarely fall out of love with someone, and I’ve always been comfortable with being in love with someone without much attachment. These were things we had discussed before, and understood and accepted about each other. These facts never got in the way of either of us being in love, being good teammates, or up until this moment; being monogamous.
Not being monogamous is nowhere near the largest problem with this situation I became aware of as we talked and I considered all the factors, the most significant problem was that this woman I have loved and shared the raising of a wonderful child with is coming to me from a place of shame, and it was a shame I recognized and oppose with every fiber of my being. She had been privately suppressing her love of women her entire life and it was something that was hurting her. This is a shame a lot of people understand, many don’t, but those who do know it stems from the fear in many of us that is created by prejudice and bigotry. She had to smother a significant part of who she is because she was afraid to rock the boat, and protect other people’s sensitivities… Well, I’ve kinda been about rocking boats my whole life.
It wasn’t difficult for me to determine that if I really wanted to recognize my wife, understand her, and support her, we determined it was time to thumb our nose at tradition after a long conversation of what kind of relationship we were looking for. As a bi-sexual man myself, I have an intimate understanding of the fears rising from dealing with a homophobic culture. Becoming polyamourus for us is solely to accommodate who we are as thinking, feeling people.
If there is one myth I would like to directly address about polyamorous relationships, is that it is the same thing as ‘Swinging’, which is always more about solely sexual relationships. One could make a spectrum between swinging and polyamory, but in most cases both parties partaking in open relationships generally weigh very heavily to one side or the other. Swingers seek sexual gratification, polyamorists seek romantic and intimate gratification and commitment. Some poly relationships forgo sex altogether…
Since the day my wife came out to me as desiring a lover, we’ve been through a variety of romantic arrangements that involved both of us together, each of us individually, with very few problems that didn’t have more to do with external social pressures and expectations, the same fear of prejudice and misunderstandings, and the very same feelings that get in the way of monogamous relationships every day.
Within our individual relationships, if my wife or I have learned that if we begin to have feeling of jealousy, it’s treated as an emotional indicator that there is something we are afraid to lose and we discuss and diagnose that; then make adjustments to make sure everyone involved needs can be met through compromise. On the other hand there are also feeling of ‘compersion’, which is a word coined by many poly folks to describe a empathetic feeling of seeing an intimate partner of yours emotionally gratified by another partner. A lot like the feeling of seeing anyone else you love about doing particularly happy.
And this brings me to the third, and most important reason for both of us coming out the way we did. We made this decision together to accommodate my wife’s bi-sexuality, and this is a common reason many people chose to become polyamourus. She deserves to be who she really is, like so many people do. As a bi-sexual, polyamourus, non-Christian, Social Anarchist, I have fought my battles throughout my life to be who I am, and in this polarized hyper political environment where I discuss intimate topics with a wide variety of perfectly good people. A lot of people who do not have the courage to be who they are out of fear of what others think. For obvious reasons there is a lot of crossover between poly and LBGT and gender rights.
So I get to hear first-hand about a lot about very specific situations involving the prejudice and bigotry, and it seems to me the best thing to do is set the example that we can be what we are, and be honest and empathetic about that. We can combat that prejudice with the actual truths of life and love. I have no desire to hide my love and affection from those who mutually inspire those feelings within me in spite of gender or how I love them. It’s not a fair way to live for anyone. You shouldn’t need permission to love anyone else, as long as it can be done ethically with honesty, dignity, and consent; but that doesn’t mean there isn’t another minority out there who will take on the role of bully, scream everyone else down, and in many case abuse the media and legal systems to prevent others from living as they are.
This has taught me no matter who we are, if we want representation in our society we have to start by representing ourselves honestly. After many years of doing that, my wife and I proved to ourselves that we can be who we are and live harmoniously in society despite what many people believe. There are feelings in other people not particularly involved we are simply not responsible for, and they are not responsible for ours, and our lives are more honest, free, and loving because of it.
Do you have a unique perspective on love and relationships? Pitch your idea at firstname.lastname@example.org.