Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.



September 23, 2016

A quad does us mighty proud in a tab


OurPolyLife's logo 
The OurPolyLife quad just got themselves a sparkling, idyllic, long newspaper profile out this morning. And in a sidebar, each of the four gets a chance to offer their own (excellent) advice for people thinking of trying the poly way of life.

The only off note is that it appears in the Daily Mirror, one of the UK's notorious tabs (though a pro-Labour one; over there, not every lowbrow tab promotes the interests of the 1%).


My husband’s in love with another woman – and it's the best thing ever

The Quad, Raymond, Alex, Jason and Carson, pose for a photo

By Sophie Evans

...Carson, who uses a pseudonym, is part of The Quad – a polyamorous foursome made up of herself, her husband Raymond, her boyfriend Jason and Jason's partner of 12 years and fiancé, Alex.

She doesn’t bat an eyelid as her spouse, Raymond, goes on ‘date nights’ with his lover, Alex, every week and even encouraged him to get a girlfriend. Likewise Raymond recently wished his wife "happy first anniversary" with her boyfriend.

While Raymond and Alex have been dating for 15 months, Carson and Jason are in their own relationship – and have been for nearly a year and a half.

But despite their happy pairings, Carson, who grew up in a "religiously conservative family", and Raymond are still blissfully married with a 13-year-old son, who has had to explain to his friends what his parents' polyamorous relationship means.

Meanwhile, Alex and Jason remain engaged.

...Remarkably, each member of The Quad is close to all of the others – including their partner's lover (whom they call their ‘meta’, short for ‘metamour’).

...They have left waiters bemused with their displays of affection in restaurants, while others have been startled to hear them gushing about their ‘meta’.

Speaking exclusively to Mirror Online, Alex said: “There are a multitude of situations that come up in polyamory that include an amusing take or funny twist simply because of their nature.

“There are also a lot of things said that you'd just never hear anywhere else or in any other circumstances. It's funny.”

...In fact, the group’s ties are so deep that Raymond once received some advice from Jason about where to place a ‘love bite’ on Carson.

He also tweeted on the couple’s one-year anniversary in April, writing: “Happy first anniversary to my wife and her boyfriend. #polyamory.”

...“Though we all like to cuddle, we almost always sleep in two separate beds because cramming four people into one bed doesn't typically make for a good night's sleep.”

...Over time, the separate pairings have acquired their own nicknames.

These include The Otters (short for ‘Significant Otters, developed from the phrase ‘Significant Others’) and The Owls (an acronym for ‘Our Wonderful Lovers’).

Jason, who is Raymond’s ‘meta’, added: “Each relationship really has its own identity from another.

“On occasion, Carson and I will spend a separate weekend evening together while Alex and Raymond will do the same.

“When we are all together as The Quad, most times, we act very much like a close family. At dinner, we take turns making it and the others do the dishes.

"We are support for one another. We are love.”

(The article reprints many of their tweets)

...Jason added: “Sex has never really been an issue, actually. In fact, when the sex has proven to be challenging is when our love, compassion, tenderness, pampering, and care for each other have been the most rewarding.

“Simple things, such as cuddling, are actually just as satisfying as sex can be.”

The Quad began after Carson became interested in polyamory and the deep "feeling of community and acceptance" that it appeared to offer....

But it’s not always fun.

One tweet reads: “Sometime being #poly means getting whiplash from the emotional rollercoaster. So thankful for the support system that keeps me buckled in.”

...Carson agreed about the impact on her son. She said: “I do think our polyamorous lifestyle has had a positive effect on him because it affords him more role models and access to a wider variety of world perspectives.

“He has more close-knit people who love him, that he can learn from, and that he can turn to if he needs extra support with something.

“He has said that Jason and Alex are like ‘second parents’ to him.”


And that sidebar:


The Quad’s advice to people considering polyamory

Carson: “Read everything you can on the subject. Check out MoreThanTwo.com, get their book, and read it twice. I would also recommend working to develop solid introspection, empathy, and communication skills. It’s important (for both you and your prospective partners) to make sure your relationship is solid before you start adding the layers of complexity that polyamory brings with it.”

Raymond: “Take your time and talk a LOT. Also, check you motivations. If your current relationship isn't fulfilling, don't expect a second one to make up for it. Polyamory is a rewarding lifestyle, but it's also incredibly difficult. It involves more communication, more time management, and more WORK than you would ever imagine going into it. I think most people have been in that situation of becoming interested in someone while in a relationship with someone else. At that point, most people see three possible choices: Reject the new love interest, leave your current partner, or cheat. Polyamory offers an alternative. It's a hard conversation, especially in a relationship that's been monogamous, but, as our experience has shown, not impossible, and may be well worth having."

Alex: “Go slow. Push the envelope, but gently. Be brutally honest with yourself and your partner(s) AT ALL TIMES. It's tough to own your own stuff, but it's absolutely necessary if you're serious about polyamory and not just playing.”

Jason: “If you find yourself being more inclined to be polyamorous be prepared, more than anything, as in any successful relationship really, to always communicate...communicate often, then clarify, and repeat. Also, as a bonus, learn your partner’s love languages. Knowing what they have as needs in how they communicate their love can help your communication abilities and provide a greater love in your relationships.”


Remarks Mar1ini in the comments,


I've known Alex and Jason for eight years. I've known Raymond and Carson--through them--for about a year now. They couldn't be happier, and I have an objective perspective on the affect this has had on Alex and Jason. I've been to functions with the Quad, and it really is amazing to watch them interact and flow.


Here's the whole article, with lots of pix (September 23, 2016). The quad was as surprised as anyone by the article popping up today. "We had no idea!" they tweet. "We spoke with a reporter several months ago, but didn't think anything would come of it. 😊" They add, "BUT, I wish we had spent more time talking about the difficulties. Not everything is rosey all the time. Jealousy is a real issue, & it doesn't go away just because you're #polyamorous. If anything it gets harder."1

The article ends with a form you can fill out to tell about your own "unconventional relationship" and, if you want, upload pix. So, it looks like this story is going to be part of a series. Wanna go for it?

----------------------------------------------

1. I find it gets easier. In situations where I'm not socially expected to be jealous, it's easy for me to be my normal compersive self. Especially because I know I can talk a problem out with all concerned if I need to.

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September 20, 2016

"The court case Canadian poly families have been waiting for"


Canada's queer news site Daily Xtra reports in depth on the outcome of an ugly, contentious case with a good outcome.


The court case Canadian poly families have been waiting for

Three BC judges say polyamorous relationships are not harmful to children

Can family law handle multiple parents? Indiana Joel / Daily Xtra

By Niko Bell

In a series of three rulings over three years, a [British Columbia] Supreme Court justice and two provincial court judges have decided a polyamorous man in Nanaimo is fit to be a father, even if he has more than one romantic partner.

This is the first Canadian family law case to centre around the legitimacy of polyamorous parents.

The lawyer for the children’s mother tried to use Canada’s law against polygamy to argue that polyamorous relationships are intrinsically harmful to women and children, and accused the father of inflicting emotional pain on his children.

All three judges disagreed.

On Feb 23, 2016, the father received a final ruling establishing that he can continue to share equal parenting time with the mother of his children.

The judge also found the father’s relationship style is irrelevant to his abilities as a parent, and that his other relationships are actually valuable to caring for his children.

One legal expert says the case could be an important guide for future legal treatment of polyamorous families in Canada; another says it reveals problematic flaws in how courts treat family cases.

-------------------------

...The details of Paul and Sarah’s case are laid out in three judgments, from June 2013 to February 2016.

...“There is no evidence that being raised in a polyamorous family has had a negative effect,” [Judge Ronald Lamperson] writes. “The evidence is that both boys are well-adjusted and happy and have good friends who sometimes stay over.”

Moreover, he says, the close relationships Sarah’s children have with Theresa and Clara are reasons for them to stay in the family, not to leave.

Like Saunders, he found Sarah was equally responsible for any violence, that it was not serious, and that it was unlikely to happen again.

Angela and her little brother, Lamperson ruled, will stay in Nanaimo with their father, who will parent them half of the time. The case was over.

-------------------------

As a BC provincial court case, Paul’s trial has little power to set precedent, says legal scholar John-Paul Boyd, who is also executive director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family. But that doesn’t make it insignificant, he says.

Judges in future, he says, are still likely to be guided by the example.

“You do have three separate judges who did not reach the conclusion, although they were invited to do so, that there is anything inherently harmful about children living with adults in a polyamorous relationship,” Boyd says.

“Here are these beautiful, beautiful trial decisions where the judges don’t descend into any moral opprobrium. It makes me so proud to be Canadian.”

...Paul still lives in Nanaimo, where he raises his three boys and one girl with Clara and Theresa.

Since the trial ended, he says, he and Sarah have made some amends, and they focus the best they can on taking care of their children.

Mostly, he’s happy to be done with the oppositional court system.

“The court process is just so hard,” he says. “Some days we’d be in family court on a Monday, which is family day. It was just rapid fire in the morning, going through a million orders. And I’m sitting there, feeling like I’m fighting to be a dad. And meanwhile, you see families there where dad didn’t bother to show up, or didn’t do this or that. They’re trying to force fathers to be fathers. And there I am, begging to be one.”


Read the whole article (September 20, 2016). Names have been changed.

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September 18, 2016

"Five Things White People Can Do to Make Their Poly Communities More Welcoming for People of Color"


The crowds you see at poly-community gatherings are not altogether as white as they used to be, but they're still a lot more so than the general population.

Kevin Patterson.
Interview on Talk Like a Man Project.
This is true even though a recent study of consensual nonmonogamy (CNM), which drew on a massive database of Americans, found remarkably similar rates of CNM relationship agreements at some time in people's lives across age, education level, income, religion, region, political affiliation, and race.

So the poly movement is racially isolated, to the movement's detriment. Theories abound.

Kevin Patterson is a Philadelphia Black & Poly activist who founded and runs the Poly Role Models project and frequently presents at poly cons. He recently discussed the topic in depth on the Poly in the Cities podcast, Episode 49: The Intersection of Race and Polyamory with Kevin Patterson. Listen from that page.

From an interview elsewhere:


From the inside, I’m often required to shrink because I know how threatening the world can be when you look how I look. I’ve got to tone down my natural strength and avoid attention because… from the outside, that strength is often perceived as dangerous, emotional, and unstable. There are studies that say white people subconsciously believe black men to feel less pain....

At the same time, as a person who engages with a lot of romantic and sexual partners, I have to be equally wary. I occasionally encounter non-black women who are less interested in me and more attracted to the collection of stereotypes they believe me to represent. Part of that package includes the concept of black men being hypermasculine and hypersexual. Staying vigilant against being placed in that box is exhausting.


Sociologist Elisabeth Sheff, who has studied the poly movement for years, posted a writeup prompted by the podcast. She's in an interracial marriage herself, and she tells us that it "has encouraged me to think more deeply about white privilege and recognize it on a much more immediate, less theoretical level."


Five Things White People Can Do to Make Their Poly Communities More Welcoming for People of Color


By Elisabeth Sheff

...Turns out white folks in the poly community routinely try to tell Kevin Patterson about his experience as a Black person: When Kevin names race in conversations with some poly folks and event or group organizers, it all too often turns into an adversarial interaction instead of a collaborative discussion.

...When the liberal white people are too afraid to talk about race, the only white people who will speak of it out loud are the white supremacists, which makes racism seem all the more fringe. In truth, racism is everywhere, deeply embedded in the social structures and institutions of the US.

How can you avoid being one of those white people who argue as if they know POC’s experience better than the POC do? How can you be an ally instead of part of the problem? Try these five not so simple steps, and keep practicing because it can be challenging....

Set your defensiveness aside — Discussion of race and white privilege do not have to be about white people and our egos. Evidence that you are becoming defensive includes a desire to rebut your conversation partner so strong that it distracts you from hearing what they are saying. If you are searching for flaws in your opponent’s argument, it means you are not truly open to what they are saying because you are not listening. You can be an ally even if you have been an “inactive beneficiary”* of the white privilege surrounding you, as long as you can set aside your need to “win the conversation.”*

Listen — This means more than just keeping your own mouth shut. This means really listening to and thinking about what the other person is saying, rather than formulating your rebuttal. If you are not sure what to say or how to say it, listen for a while and clarify your thoughts. If you are tempted to interrupt... take a deep breath and keep your mouth closed. This can be difficult for white folks who have always been very verbal and used to people listening to them.

Educate Yourself — Do not expect people of color to educate you about racism — that is exhausting for them and inappropriate for you. There are books, websites, podcasts, and You Tube presentations on white privilege.... Take some self-responsibility for your education and start expanding your envelope. Tim Wise is a great place to start. If you are in Atlanta, come to the Sex Down South Conference and see my presentation on Thursday October 13....

Acknowledge White Privilege — Out loud, every time you can, with your family, friends, grocers, neighbors, and strangers on the street. To successfully acknowledge the (very blatant, once you start looking for it) evidence of white privilege in your social environment, you have to recognize it yourself.

[And my favorite,] Learn to Tolerate Racial Discomfort — Race is uncomfortable in the US, and white people have been able to shift that discomfort on to people of color for far too long. It is going to be profoundly uncomfortable for white people to talk about race — and that is OK, we should still do it with open hearts and open minds. People of color have been beyond uncomfortable with the effects of racism, and is past time for white people to share that load of social discomfort and change. Take a deep breath and use your relationship skills to work on your relationship with race.


Her whole post (September 12, 2016).

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September 15, 2016

On Canada's top TV news program: "Canadian polyamorists face unique legal challenges"

"The National" on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is Canada's leading nightly news show. Last night it aired a three-minute segment "Strange Bedfellows: Polyamorous Relationships and Family Law in Canada," about a recent legal research report.

Watch here; jump ahead to where the segment starts at 14:25.



(If that embed doesn't work, here's the link.)

The report is entirely straightforward and normal, even sympathetic, in a way I don't think we'll see commonly in the U.S. for another five or ten years.

A more in-depth article is on the CBC's website. As of the this morning it was the site's most-viewed page. Excerpts:


Canadian polyamorists face unique legal challenges, research reveals

'There is a choice, other than cheating or serial monogamy and multiple divorces or failed relationships'

Shannon Ouellette, of Saint Lina, Alta. is in a polyamorous relationship. She lives with her husband and his girlfriend, while her boyfriend lives in England. (CBC)

By Alison Crawford, CBC News

Canadian family laws, which adapted for common-law and same-sex couples, as well as multiple parents of children conceived using reproductive technologies, may have to adapt once again, according to new research on polyamory.

This summer John-Paul Boyd, executive director of the Canadian National Research Institute for Law and the Family, conducted the first national survey of polyamorous families. Polyamorists are people who choose to commit themselves to more than one committed intimate partner at the same time.

"It's not a huge number of people, but it's still significant and I believe the population is growing," said Boyd.

More than 550 people responded to the survey, which found most of Canada's polyamorists live in B.C. and Ontario, followed by Alberta.

Polyamorists hope for future legal recognition

While half of respondents reported having relationships that involved three people, most choose to live in two households. Twenty-three per cent of those surveyed said at least one child lives full-time in their house.

    Related Stories:
    Polyamorists hope for future legal recognition
    B.C. Supreme Court upholds Canada's polygamy laws

Respondents also reported higher levels of education and income than most Canadians. Yet only one-third of those polyamorists said they had taken legal steps to formalize the rights and responsibilities of everyone in the family.

Polyamory is not polygamy

Unlike polygamist families, which are typically faith-based, patriarchal arrangements where one man marries two or more women, polyamory is legal because no one is married to more than one person at the same time.

Polyamorists further distinguish themselves from polygamists by highlighting that their relationships are consensual and egalitarian.

"Nothing in the Criminal Code stops three or more consenting, informed adults from living together and engaging in a family relationship how and as they please," said Boyd.

As for why he chose this line of research, Boyd says he grew curious after a number of polyamorous clients approached him for legal help.

"Most people who are involved in polyamorous relationships have executed emergency authorizations to deal with health-care issues. Following that, most people had done school authorizations so other adults could deal with the school on behalf of the kids, followed by legal and medical powers of attorney and things like this," he said.

..."The social service benefits such as health-care arrangements, Canadian Pension Plan, Old Age Security and other benefits, such as employment insurance, that are indexed to the number of people in the household — those laws are also predicated that a relationship consists of two adults plus children," Boyd said. "I imagine at some point we're going to have a charter challenge much like we saw in 2003 with same-sex marriage."

That's unlikely as long as polyamorists remain quiet about their relationships.

"I think more and more people would challenge the charter, ask for more rights and look for more legal protection but the challenge there is that would involve them being out," says Michelle Desrosiers, a married mother of two who is out to her friends, family and work colleagues about being polyamorous.

"My husband has a girlfriend and I am also seeing two other men and they also are married with families as well. So, one big awesome community."

In her experience, Desrosiers says the greatest concerns people have before coming out as polyamorous centre around their children. As many Canadians cannot yet distinguish between polygamy and polyamory, Desrosiers says many in her community fear losing custody of their children.

"A lot of these families have children and they are concerned about being outed and what that means and as long as that fear is in place, there's not going to be a fast push for those legal rights to be changed," she says.

...Ouellette and her family have talked about drawing up legal documents for worst-case scenarios, such as illness, death or someone leaving the relationships, but Ouellette remains concerned they would remain unprotected.

"It's those moments when we're at our most vulnerable, when somebody is ill or that we're going to struggle the most and at that time we have no rights. The two, three, five years and all the intentions we had to have a life partnership are meaningless."


The whole article (Sept. 14, 2016).

Boyd's full paper, titled "Strange Bedfellows: Polyamorous Relationships and Family Law in Canada," is a 70-page single-spaced PDF. It was completed in July and is scheduled for formal publication in December. Canadian polyfolks who have seen its current version warn of several problems with it:

– It conflates settled, long-term polyfidelitous households with polyamory in general, although such households are just a small part of the poly world (though they do have the most pressing legal issues). This will mislead the public about the scope of polyamory. "That would also explain why he claims that a polyamorous relationship (single, whole polycule) is indistinguishable from consensual polygamy except for marriage."

– The paper's brief history of monogamy and nonmonogamy in Western civilization is is inaccurate and naive.


● Here is a different, shorter paper by Boyd based on the survey's collected data so far: Polyamorous Families in Canada: Early Results of New Research from CRILF (Aug. 24, 2016).

● Published by Boyd in Slaw, "Canada's online legal magazine": The Rise of the Polyamorous Family: New Research Has Implications for Family Law in Canada (Sept. 2, 2016).


Update next day: The Ottawa Metro paper follows on: 'It’s complicated': Ottawa's polyamorous families face tough legal hurdles (Sept. 15):


...“It’s about time people are talking about this,” says the woman who spoke to Metro. But she added fear and stigma still hold people who are in poly relationships from fighting for their rights.

She said the whole system of tax benefits, parental rights and even hospital visitations are set up around couples made up of two people, and there isn’t anything set up for people who live and love in poly relationships.

“It’s going to take time to change things,” she said. “And it’s going to be hard.”

For now, she’ll continue to live in her loving poly home, despite its complications because, she says, “It’s worth it.”


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September 14, 2016

Seventeen years later, the Esquire Nan Wise story is revisited

The October Elle devotes many pages to two long feature articles on polyamory. One looks at female "thirds" of open couples. It eventually gets around to explaining that this is not always the model, and closes with profiles of two solo polys.

The other article I found arresting. If you were in the East Coast poly scene a decade or more ago, you remember Nan Wise: a fireball of poly activism, a brilliant and passionate presenter at Loving More conferences, a person who swam in relationship tumult. The May 1999 issue of Esquire published an 8,000-word rollercoaster of an article, Scenes from a (Group) Marriage, following Nan, her husband John, their quad, and their friends through gales of joy and drama that made the poly world sound absolutely exhausting. It was a story to scare the timid away forever.

Several years later Nan suddenly vanished from the poly scene. Now the Esquire author, John H. Richardson, re-interviews Nan and John about those times and how it all turned out. Spoiler: They shed the whole megillah, and for the last nine years they've been in a nice, settled, low-drama quad with a new couple, aging pleasantly. Their careers have advanced, and their kids have turned out great.

● First, some excerpts from Elle's unicorn piece:


My Boyfriend's Married, and His Wife's On Board

Open marriage reportedly invigorates some relationships. But what's in it for the women who are so-called secondary partners?

By Whitney Joiner

...Then she moved to San Francisco. There she met a man at a conference who was "super polyamorous," she says. Her new partner's version of "super polyamory" was different from the secretive multiple-partner dating she'd been doing back in New York: this was all out in the open, with lots of discussions about boundaries and agreements; what was okay between them, and what was not. She became his polyamory protégé, and has since had four open relationships.

In her second open relationship, her boyfriend already had a serious girlfriend. Ivy was, for all intents and purposes, the "secondary." ... "It was very clear what the hierarchy was, but he called us both his 'girlfriends,'" she says. The expiration date on this experiment was crucial: "I didn't want to be obsessing every day whether it worked for me, because that's a recipe for unhappiness." At the end of the six months, she'd assess.

The threesome eventually split up — the duo wanted to return to a monogamous arrangement — but she's still close with them both, and she's still nonmonogamous. But she's not out about it. "I'm planning on coming out of the poly closet," she says. "I just haven't yet."

    Related Stories
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    My Husband and I Are in a Four-Way Relationship
    How Does a Polyamorous Marriage Go the Distance?

...The recent media glut notwithstanding, an important voice has gone missing: that of the extracurricular partner, the lover, the girlfriend or boyfriend — people like Ivy. The focus is always on the couple — how their adventures in nonmonogamy fuel their partnership and heighten their sex lives; how they're able to navigate sleeping with others without breaking their sacred union. Maybe Ivy isn't "out of the poly closet" not because she's ashamed or embarrassed to be part of a poly arrangement, but because of her particular position within that arrangement.

In the open-relationship world, there's a term for this: "couple privilege."... While "couple privilege" is a concept meant to be resisted by people trying to ethically navigate nonmonogamy, I also saw it as the larger macro lens through which the media reports on these relationships: always through the eyes of the couple, with a tinge of titillation (ethical cheating, sexy!) as well as anxiety (but what about the dying institution of marriage?). It's an angle that only serves to reaffirm the preeminence of coupledom in American culture, not disrupt it.

So who are the mysterious people these nonmonogamous couples are sleeping with?...

...Most of the women I interviewed — 10 around the country, but mostly in the Bay Area, where it seems like practically everyone is at least a little nonmonogamous — raved about dating polyamorously married men. They were excellent communicators, the women said, because to negotiate the inevitable minefields of nonmonogamy, they had to be. The women attested to feeling loved, adored, cared for: lots of dinners, weekends away, vacations. But they didn't have to play the classic mistress role, either. Since transparency was required — and they were involved, in some way, with the wife or primary partner — they could be out in public as the "girlfriend."

"I loved her like a sister," says Ivy, of her ex-boyfriend's primary girlfriend. "I don't know any woman who isn't occasionally like, God, I just wish someone else would handle my husband tonight. Just make sure he's okay and give him a blow job. I [gave her] that. And I got weeks off, but still got to feel the love of these two people."...

-----------------------------------

...Ivy and Beth both want children, and they don't think they have to become monogamists to do it. Ivy hopes to raise any kids she has in a communal setting; as for Beth, she says, "I'm actively looking for a partner, a coparent, or a sperm donor. This is my primary goal for the next year."

[Another] flavor of polyamory, dubbed "solo poly," involves multiple partners, including men in open marriages, but no plans to ever move in with someone, or put him or her above all others. "I see myself in the long term having a solid network around me — not just in terms of my romantic relationships but also my friendships," she says. ... Her goal, she says, is to live "off the relationship escalator" — referring to the prevailing model of intimacy that starts with flirting and ascends to legally sanctioned, monogamous marriage.

Wendy Shines
Wendy, a 38-year-old in San Francisco who runs a Facebook group called Support for Solo Living with 234 members, shares Mel's desire to remain a "free agent." (There's another solo poly Facebook group, with 4,600 members.) She's in a long-term open relationship, four years and counting, in which she and her man live separately and see each other once a week, once every two weeks. "It's a very deep relationship," she says. "We're just not doing the other stuff together."

When I called Wendy, she was ready with a list of the reasons she loves her situation. "One: I like my own company," she says. "Two: Not needing anyone's permission or agreement for day-to-day decisions. Avoiding the enmeshment or control sometimes present in relationships. Life stability: When breakups happen, there's less life disruption." She goes on, "You have more personal time to contribute to your community, to interests or hobbies. This is the last one, and really important: With solo poly, I continue to choose my partner, and my partner chooses me," versus being caught on that escalator....


Read the whole article (October 2016 print issue; the online version appeared Sept. 13, 2016).


● Next, the Nan and John Wise followup:


How Does a Polyamorous Marriage Go the Distance?



By John H. Richardson

...Seventeen years ago, I wrote a story for Esquire called "Scenes From a (Group) Marriage." The main characters were John and Nan, a married pair of well-educated professionals living in the suburbs of New Jersey. John was tall and handsome, with an athlete's body and the serene intensity of a military officer. Nan was a sexy Jewish earth mother, welcoming and open-hearted. They had good jobs, happy kids, a nice house, and a Volvo in the driveway. Influenced by an idea called "radical honesty," they admitted that they weren't satisfied by monogamy but also didn't want to end up as ordinary philanderers. Instead, they were going to move a pair of young lovers into their house and try polyamory — which means "many loves," and also "expanded marriage" or "complex marriage." They were going to risk everything for a dream.

My story ended with their new twenty-first-century tribe assembled in their rec room, a recently installed hot tub bubbling away in the backyard. Eventually, however, the original lovers drifted away and were replaced by others. So much drama and pain went down that Nan coined the term polyagony.

...With four decades of marriage behind them, they finally feel so secure in their lives and marriage they're even willing to let me reveal their last names — meet John Wise, Esq., and Nan Wise, PhD, bold explorers in the wilderness of the heart.

John and Nan at their prom in 1975; expecting in 1985; all grown up in 2011. (Elle)

So here we are, old friends, sitting around a patio table piled with healthy snacks from Trader Joe's. Because interviewing John and Nan is always a group experience, I've brought along my wife, Kathy, an artist and graphic designer with a very open mind. The night is balmy, the air is soft, the birds are singing, the bong is circulating. Dense thickets of bamboo make the patio cozy. Nan is laughing about what a long, strange trip it's been. "What the fuck were we thinking?" she says. "That was fucking crazy."

Moving their young lovers into the house, she means. I actually helped move Jen, John's 32-year-old girlfriend, down from Boston in a driving snowstorm. That was in the fall of 1998, three or four years after they'd started their poly experiment. Nan's young lover was named Tom. There was another young guy named Malcolm living in the house, too, though I was never clear about his role.

"I think it bothered the kids at times," Nan says. "At the end of the day, I probably would have chosen to be more protective of my house and not have people live here."

[John] takes a moment to consider. "We were embracing the idea of community as a primary unit," he finally says. "You were no longer a member of a nuclear family, solely; you were a member of a family of choice, a member of a tribe. ...

Did I mention he's a lawyer? His specialty is bankruptcy, which he loves for the opportunity to plunge into chaos and find order.

..So what happened to Tom and Jen? They lasted about 18 months, Nan says, but it wasn't "sustainable" because Tom wanted Nan to himself. Jen never actually moved in, just settled nearby, and moved on around the same time Tom did because she wanted John to herself — the first taste of the polyagony to come.

And how many polyamorants were there altogether?

After Jen, they say, John hooked up with another woman he doesn't want to name. The relationship lasted more than seven years. Nan marked time with a guy named Steve and then a handsome party boy named Julio....

And how did it work, exactly? Did they all do it in the same room?

"Initially we were all together," Nan says, "and gradually we got into going into separate rooms and sometimes separate houses and sometimes separate zip codes."

She laughs. "Wait," she adds. "I remember the most important thing — Julio was a placeholder for me, because I think it was easier for John to get satisfactory relationships."

"Ah, that's very honest," John says.

Neither wants to go into too much detail about all this. I can't tell whether they think it's old news or if they're just afraid to rip off the scabs. Both of them tend to be a bit cerebral anyway, forever drawing lessons from their experiences. Of course, you're going to get "ramped up in spontaneous desire for your new partner," she says. "Sometimes I definitely took my eye off the ball and bankrupted my marriage because of that.… Sometimes it hurt when I saw him taking his attention off me.… You learn not to identify that as love."

Later, when I text Nan a follow-up question about the mystery woman, she gives me another glimpse into her pain. "She ended up being such a disappointment. Traitor and cowgirl. Oh, well."

A moment later, another text arrives bearing what is, for Nan, perhaps the harshest judgment of all: "She was a monogamist."

But these days, she'd really rather discuss all this on a scientific level. "As a cognitive neuroscientist, I've learned that it's like the way the brain reacts to drugs; the newness and unpredictability intensifies emotions and creates a sense of reward. It's like chess on three levels. It's like going to a new country where everything is new. Everything's brighter, louder, bigger. It can be scary."

Then she shrugs it off: "The lows were low; the highs were high."

...Refusing to take the easy answer is poly in itself, John believes, an effort to push for a deeper connection, so he forces himself to meet the challenge — with a hint of an exhausted marathoner rallying himself at the twenty-fifth mile. "I had a hard time saying no to the one not named Nan. And I hurt Nan, I hurt the other one; I should have been more courageous. I should have been a man."

...But here's the good news. In the worst part of this polyagony, a spiritual teacher taught them how to "breathe up" the chaos energy instead of trying to control it. Then Margie the therapist suggested that Nan try breathing the energy into her career for a while, and Nan went to Rutgers to get her PhD with Barry Komisaruk, the first scientist to study the brain during orgasm. ... This week, Nan's finishing up revisions for a paper on brain activity unique to orgasm in women for the field's leading academic publication, The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

---------------------------

Which raises the question: Are the prudes right? Is it a mistake to have sex with other people? Isn't it greedy? Selfish? Isn't your spouse enough for you?

"That's the biggest crock of shit I've ever heard," Nan says. "That's the downfall of marriage, that we expect people to meet all our needs. Take sex off the plate. We don't fuck you and Kathy, but we like to be with you. We can choose the relationship styles we want."

..."If I can talk about us for a minute?" Kathy says.

"Please," John says.

When our daughters were well past 21, she says, she told them that we had "loosened the rules" of our marriage a bit (because Kathy is the secret-garden type and doesn't care to share the details with outsiders, that's as much as I can say). Being honest with the kids "felt so good," she adds. "Nobody should go into a marriage thinking these archaic— "

"The Disney idea of monogamy," Nan says.

"Whereas the expanded marriage is really, if you look at it in a certain way, tremendously romantic."

"It is!" Nan says. "It's a romance that you can stay with the person through all sorts of things."

For many people, this may be the strangest concept of all. But it is the heart of this story. Imagine you confront the Great Forbidden and it turns out to be just another fat little man behind a curtain. All your fears and doubts melt away in a blast of freedom. You and your spouse become partners in crime, collaborating instead of negotiating, glowing with a universal energy that really does seem larger than yourself; Nan calls this blissful state "polyhead."

--------------------------

...So here's the final joke, the last twist of all this screwing — just when Nan and John decided to quit poly forever and become ordinary swingers, saying good-bye to the endless complexities of complex relationships, they met a pair of swingers who'd had their fill of new bodies and were ready for a deeper commitment. Within a year, the four of them were exclusive partners in what you might call a group marriage (Nan prefers to call it "an exclusive relationship") that has lasted for nine years and counting. They spend three nights a week as a foursome, pairing off at bedtime, John with the other wife and Nan with the other husband. According to all reports, their sexual pleasure has only increased with time.

...The whole thing is more ordinary and natural than outsiders could possibly imagine — as John said, a "less perverted way to live."

Have we arrived at a happy ending? ... Nan says they've had to learn to balance the chaos and control energy in their individual selves instead of relying on the other to supply it ("Google imago therapy," she tells me). It does seem significant that both couples are at a later stage in their lives and all of them are about the same age. It also seems safe to say that in the doorway of their lives, John and Nan will always be facing out.

But this much is certain: Their friends and family all approve of the other couple. "They're so stable, it's perfect," one says. "It's a very giving, supportive relationship," says another. One reason they're so accepting is because they all hang out together in that same old rec room, friends and lovers all together in the same tribe, so there's no mystery or fear casting shadows on the wall. That seems significant to me, and that's the lesson I take away. Humanity can't even decide if history is circular or linear, much less judge the inner lives of others. The best answer is to be honest, breathe it up, embrace the chaos, and try to love one another as much as we can. "Fun first," Dr. Wise prescribes. "There's an infinite game we can play."


Read the whole article (October 2016 print issue; the online version appeared Sept. 13, 2016).

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September 13, 2016

"Why polyamorous people fear ‘coming out’ "


A long, thoughtful article on a perennial issue popped up this afternoon in the online magazine Fusion. I really suspect that the next big advance for the poly movement will be the dam bursting on coming out.


Why polyamorous people fear ‘coming out’

Another hackneyed polygamy wedding cake for an illustration. Stock photographers, you can do better!

By Lux Alptraum

Not long ago, I found myself chatting with a friend about the logistics of coming out to one’s coworkers. ... The coming out in question involved my friend opening up to coworkers about being one-third of a polyamorous triad.

Though my friend had long been quiet about his relationship status, a recent decision to share an apartment with the rest of the triad had put things in a new light. Was it possible to have people over without that awkward conversation — or was coming out going to be necessary if he wanted to include coworkers in his life outside the office?

...While some non-monogamous people do fall into the “what happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom” camp, others see being public about their relationship status as a personal, and potentially political, imperative.

But first, it’s important to recognize that “non-monogamy” isn’t one specific, discrete thing. In the same way that “non-Christians” practice a wide and varied array of religions, people who eschew monogamy do so in a number of different ways. Some people opt for “swinger” style setups, where they emotionally and socially commit to just one person, but engage in no strings attached sexual relationships with others (sometimes, but not always, in the context of structured sex parties). For other people — in particular, those who identify as polyamorous — sex with strangers takes a back seat to forming committed, loving relationships with many people, a relationship style which itself can take many, many forms. Some poly people find two people who they commit to exclusively, forming a sort of “monogamy + 1” arrangement known as a closed triad. Others form loose networks of casual to semi-serious partners, who may or may not know one another. ...

Yet even though non-monogamous people are a complex and diverse group, the public perception of what non-monogamy means is comprised of a few limited notions. Non-monogamy is assumed to be primarily about sex — in particular, the wild, crazy, kinky, group variety. Non-monogamous women are too often assumed to be sluts who’ll give it up to any man who asks; non-monogamous men, Lotharios itching to bed every woman who crosses their path....

It’s these very stereotypes that make it difficult for non-monogamous people —particularly ones whose extracurricular relationships rarely make it past the casual stage — to fathom being public about their relationship status. Yet it’s also these stereotypes that makes coming out as non-monogamous — and, in the process, normalizing the idea of relationship structures other than two people exclusively bonded for life — feel so important to many who’ve chosen to reject monogamy.

When Eve Rickert, co-author of More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory, first dipped her toes into the waters of non-monogamy, she had no intention of being public about it. ...

...Over the course of writing this article, I was contacted by dozens of non-monogamous people in various relationship configurations and various stages of being out. ... Those on the closeted end of the spectrum offered a number of reasons for keeping quiet. For some, reticence about being openly non-monogamous was tied to a general desire for privacy, period. ... For others, the decision to remain in the closet came out of an urge for self-protection, or a desire to protect one’s partners. Being openly non-monogamous can mean damaging friendships, relationships with family, one’s professional reputation, and just generally running the risk of being perceived as a perpetually horny pervert incapable of respecting boundaries.

Women in particular were anxious about personal and professional fall-out from being viewed as “slutty,” or having their sexual availability automatically assumed. Lean Out editor Elissa Shevinsky, who is openly queer but quietly poly, notes that “You can be gay and still basically be seen as living a stereotypically vanilla, normative American lifestyle. Poly brings with it connotations of promiscuity and kinky sex.” Shevinsky’s thoughts were echoed by a woman in tech who noted that — even without being openly non-monogamous — she’s already dogged by rumors that her success is the result of sleeping around. Being visibly non-monogamous, she fears, would just add fuel to the fire.

But for the openly non-monogamous, all those headaches are worth it. ...

Which isn’t to say that coming out is easy: Even for people in a relative place of privilege, with supportive families, friend groups, and employers, being openly non-monogamous can create social difficulties. Tikva Wolf, author of Ask Me About Polyamory!, has long been open about her relationships (so open, in fact, she pens a comic loosely based on her life); three years ago, she got a taste of what anti-poly discrimination felt like when a neighbor reported her family to social services. “[A social services investigator] showed up at our house unannounced,” she told me. “She was really nice, but it was still a stressful situation just because of the knowledge that somebody had been concerned and reported us.”

Things worked out okay for Wolf, but if she’d been visited by a less understanding investigator or been caught on a bad day, things could easily have ended differently. ...

And that, for many non-monogamy advocates, is the most important reason of all to come out. ... Even if a swell of openly non-monogamous people doesn’t lead to a new round of anti-discrimination acts, or legalized group marriage (which, it should be noted, is not a universal poly goal), greater awareness of what non-monogamy is, and isn’t, would make a world of difference to many people who just want to be able to talk about how they went on a camping trip with their boyfriend and their boyfriend’s other girlfriend. ...


Read the whole article (September 13, 2016).

I plan to post a boatload of coming-out articles soon.

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September 12, 2016

One year later, an update on poly-historical Harbin Hot Springs


An architects' drawing for the new main area at Harbin, posted May 2016.

The modern polyamory movement has some historic roots at the Harbin Hot Springs retreat center in northern California. An incubator of New Age culture and California-style personal growth movements for decades, Harbin hosted and helped to populate Loving More's annual conferences as the poly movement found its feet in the 1990s. Harbin was also the prime venue for the Human Awareness Institute (HAI), an unsung force that brought many polyfolks together and seeded some of the relationship wisdom widely repeated by the movement today.

A year ago tomorrow (September 13), the Harbin resort complex burned to the ground in one of the wildfires that have been sweeping California. The people on site barely had time to get out. Today reconstruction is under way, but it will be at least two or three years to some kind of completion. Greenery is reappearing, most debris has been cleared, and the hot springs should reopen in a few months to day visitors and campers willing to rough it amid construction work.

The loss of the storied retreat, and the stranding of many of its 285 staff and residents, received much news coverage at the time. Today the San Francisco Chronicle posted a report on the current situation:


A year after Valley Fire, visions of Harbin Hot Springs’ new life

Photo: Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle

By Kurtis Alexander

...But amid the charred remains of cabins, massage studios and a wooden temple, the center’s signature springs continued to flow. The water in the pools, the managers said, gave them hope for the future.

Now Harbin, like the rest of the region, is trying to move beyond a fire that, across the region, killed four people while leveling nearly 1,300 homes and 66 businesses.

On the anniversary of California’s third-most-destructive wildfire, the heads of Harbin Hot Springs are among hundreds of Lake County residents working to rebuild. Few, though, are being watched as closely.

Harbin’s comeback from the Valley Fire — and the momentum it may provide a broader, regional recovery — hinges on a multiyear plan being hatched at a small house in Middletown, the group’s temporary base of operations.

Their undertaking involves clearing out wide swaths of dead trees on the mountain property, reclaiming the area’s natural hot springs, and surrounding the soaking pools with a mini-village of rebuilt lodging along with a restaurant, theater and conference center.

The effort, which could cost as much as $60 million, is complicated by estimates that Harbin’s insurance payout will cover only a fraction of the bill.

“Harbin was put together over 40 years,” Mahmud said, appearing unfazed by the obstacles. “If you start thinking too far ahead, it’s overwhelming. I think what we’re doing, as they say in the cliche, is taking one day at a time.”

On the scorched hillsides where the rustic resort once stood, the sound of heavy machinery echoed on a recent morning. All of the burned structures were gone, and the frames and foundations of new decks and refurbished pools were emerging, alongside shoots of newborn oak and bay trees.

...The Valley Fire, which burned quickly from the mountain community of Cobb to Middletown 10 miles away, destroyed all but a handful of the dozens of historic buildings at Harbin. Many dated to the early 1900s, a time when the site operated as a high-end resort with Turkish baths and a dance pavilion before it was acquired by the Heart Consciousness Church and its new-age practitioners in the 1970s.

Among the small staff that has returned since the fire is a security team that works out of a trailer, keeping nefarious or merely curious interlopers off the property. On some days, dozens of onetime visitors drive up the dead-end road in the isolated canyon to check on progress.

“They just want to know that we’re coming back soon,” said Nikki Palmer, who was manning the entrance. “One woman recently told me that God sent her. I just got her a chair and let her sit by the sign. She did some yoga and said some prayers. Most people just need a few minutes.”

...Harbin managers say that if all goes well, six rebuilt pools — and two new ones — will open to the public on New Year’s Eve. Few buildings will be in place by then, but guests will be able to soak in the mineral water, eat at food trucks, and camp. Watsu, a type of aquatic massage that started at Harbin, and other bodywork are expected to resume.

...The long-term plans for Harbin are less certain. The managers have drawn up a lengthy to-do list, which includes building a dozen guest cottages and a small market next year, but the timeline beyond that is fuzzy, in part because of finances.

An insurance payout between $10 million and $12 million is expected, well short of the estimated planning and construction costs for the new Harbin. The resort had limited coverage.

Members of the management team, however, hope to come up with enough money through savings, visitor fees, grants and a fundraising drive to pay for the work as they go along.

A few hundred thousand dollars in donations have already come in, but the money went to displaced residents and employees, many of whom are now staying in communal houses that Harbin owns in and around Middletown.

Heather Rogers, a magician in El Cerrito and a longtime Harbin devotee who has been following the retreat’s headway on Facebook, said she’s ready to “come home.”

...“People talk about it being a scene, and it’s true there’s naked people cuddling all over ... but Harbin has this magical power, and it’s the only place on Earth I’ve found it,” she said. “It was like a Disneyland for people who need to shut down and are a little new-agey.”

Interest in the rebuild goes far beyond the guests.

Bringing money and jobs into the county, which was struggling economically even before the Valley Fire, is critical for financing the pipeline of projects planned for burned areas, said Lake County Community Development Director Bob Massarelli.

“Harbin Hot Springs, with the tourist tax and the revenue it generates, is really important,” he said.

Harbin Managing Director Eric Richardson says that if there’s a silver lining for the resort, it’s the unique chance to move forward with a “tabula rasa” — a clean slate. ...


Read the whole article (online Sept. 12, 2016).


● Here's a TV report late last spring on the rebuilding, by San Francisco's KPIX-5 (3 minutes):




● A report in The Guardian around the same time:


'Keep the quirk': Rebuilding a famed New Age resort, clothing still optional

Seven months after Harbin Hot Springs in California burned down, the community is wrestling with the blank slate on which to imagine a new home.

A ceremony at Harbin Hot Springs 

...According to Harbin press representative Eric Richardson, a normal, pre-fire Harbin weekend saw 600 guests, with up to 1,000 on holidays.

...In the middle of the desolation, a colorful mosaic mandala clings to a crumbling wall above a circular labyrinth outlined in river rocks.

...“It’s definitely the juiciest opportunity we’ve ever had,” says the project’s lead design architect David Goldberg, president of Seattle-based firm Mithun.

In January, Harbin’s management team, residents and the Mithun architects held a series of day-long brainstorming sessions.

A Harbin memo called Key Points: Purpose of the Master Plan lists several bullet-point directives such as “respect the earth”, “facilitate connection” and “create a place of beauty and inspiration”.

Another prescription commands, “Keep the quirk”, so I ask Adams what that means.

“It’s the way I do things,” she says, laughing. “I like accidents … and jokes. I love it when you come around a corner and there’s an altar where you don’t expect to find one. Those unusual, unexpected experiences that cause you to stop for just a minute … and look.”

...Adams knows what she doesn’t want at Harbin. “It would be unbearable to me for it to become steel and glass,” she says. “It would be noisy – it has to stay quiet so you can always hear the waters.”

“Wood, stone and some glass,” she says summarily, mentioning a tantalizing vision of the hotel buildings “tucked into the hillsides that’ll kind of look like Mesa Verde does”....


The whole article (May 30, 2016).


● Harbin and its 5,000 surrounding acres have been owned and operated since 1975 by Heart Consciousness Church, a nonprofit set up for the purpose. Some longtime residents and staff chafed under what they considered its leaders' autocratic or exploitive management (for instance). There was talk of pushing for a new organizational structure, alongside the physical rebuilding, that would allow voice for more of Harbin's stakeholders. I have no word on followup to this. Anyone?

The fundraising, donated labor, and investments that the Heart Consciousness Church will require to do even half of its planned reconstruction means there will be many more stakeholders now, with even more claims to legitimacy, starting with a requirement for open books. Let's hope for the best.

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September 11, 2016

Seven things, or five things, "you need to know before entering a polyamorous relationship"


As more people hear about polyamory and become interested in trying it, fewer, on average, come equipped with the alternative-culture background that most polyfolks once had. So they're less likely to have examined any number of their default societal assumptions that drive toward compulsory monogamy. Then they wonder why they screw up.

The good news is that mainstream influencers, the kind the poly movement has little control over, often do a surprisingly good job of putting across some of our movement's core messages. Two large women's magazines just provided examples.

● On the website of Marie Claire UK:


7 things you need to know before entering into a polyamorous relationship


By Daniella Scott

Could you handle it?

Our sexual and romantic horizons are always changing, and nowadays we’re opening our minds to relationships of all shapes and size, finding a way of being with our partner (or partners) that really suits us. ...Before you bat the idea away or enter into it, here are a few things to consider...

1. It’s not all about sex.

...'In actuality it's my heart and mind. The most surprising thing is how much I've learned.'...

2. Understand why you’re doing it.

Polyamory involves other people and their emotions, so it’s always crucial that you consider why you’re doing it and whether it’s for the right reasons. ...'It's important to understand polyamory will not fix anything if you don't want to fix yourself. If you don't want to take the time to get to know yourself and love yourself, you will never establish healthy relationships and will end up in twice the amount of trouble you were before.'

3. Be open to changing the way you think.

It’s easy to become stuck in the idea of what a relationship should look like, and as such, to start making up your mind about how being polyamorous would be, when in reality every relationship is totally unique, whether monogamous or polyamorous. ...

4. Get organised.

...Being in a relationship [of] three or more people is going to be pretty taxing to orchestrate. ...

5. Learn to communicate.

Relationships involve being open and trusting people, so it’s wise to think beforehand about whether you’re happy to be so open and so vulnerable to several people. ... 'In an open relationship, the individuals discuss openly, and must create a safe place for all the lovers involved.'

6. Polyamory isn’t a criticism of monogamy.

Because polyamory embraces the idea of safe and consensual relationships taking whatever form they want, people who are polyamorous want others to know that they are not trying to detract from monogamy, or from others’ happy monogamous relationships. ...

7. There is no traditional family

Polyamory is about breaking the idea that the only way to be happy and be a family is with the standard man and wife, 2.5 kids and a golden retriever set-up. For people who are polyamorous, this could be one of the ways, by all means, but it isn’t the only way. ...


Read the whole article (Sept. 9, 2016).


● From a black perspective at xoNecole:


Why One Woman Chose To Embrace Polyamory In Her Marriage


By Sheriden Garrett

...In one of her more recent podcasts, Ev’Yan Whitney confessed to listeners intimate details about her marriage through an open dialogue with her husband aptly titled “Non-Monogamy and My New Marriage.” ...Becoming polyamorous was a decision she and her husband of nine years, Jonathan Mead, did not take lightly and occurred only after they were open and honest about one another’s views on love and marriage. ...

...“We had to unlearn a lot of our beliefs that we learned about love and relationships and marriage and sex and sexuality. That was rocky for us both. I learned I had some really messed up views of who my partner was. I thought I owned him. You don’t own anyone.”

Whitney had no idea the benefits that would come from engaging in a polyamorous marriage, but she says she has maintained her individuality, autonomy and sovereignty even while fully committed for life to another.

“When I know that partner desires someone else, but he chooses me, he chooses to come home to me, he chooses to share his life with me — that is the biggest compliment and the biggest gesture of love there is. It’s also really hot that I can go out and date other people and experiment with queerness and to uphold that and figure that out and my partner supports me. It’s so beautiful to me.”

...“Non-monogamy is not for everyone. Monogamy is also not for everyone. When we take the time to question the way that we are going along with templates, I think it’s important for us to choose how we want our relationships to look and the kinds of relationships we want to have.”

5 Things to Do Before Becoming Polyamorous:

– Ask your partner questions about jealousy, ownership, and independence.

– Have conversations about what healthy love looks like.

– Discuss and discover your true stance on monogamy.

– Read books. Start with Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open by Tristan Taormino and work your way through The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. Read them alone and with your partner.

– Make sure that the foundation of your relationship is strong enough to withstand the dynamics of polyamory and introducing new people inside of your relationship.


Read the whole story (late August 2016). Parts of it were reprinted on Lipstick Alley (September 10).

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