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Along Came Poly

A Boise convention brings polyamory out in the open

Boise Weekly

By Harrison Berry

Tyson Downey has fallen in and out of love numerous times during the span of his nearly 20-year marriage to his wife.


“My wife, my longest partner, we’ve been together for 18 years, made a lot of mistakes and made a lot of changes in our relationship to one another since we opened up our relationship to include more than one person,” he said.


Downey is polyamorous—being in more than one significant romantic relationship simultaneously—and polyamory was the focus of RelateCon, the first-ever Boise convention for polyamorous people, which took place March 31-April 2 at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City.


The event, which brought 120 people to Boise from across North America, was a big moment for people who have disavowed monogamy in favor of having their romantic, emotional and physical needs met by multiple partners. RelateCon brought into the open a community that has gained momentum online but, because of Idaho law and misrepresentation in the media and broader society, has been largely secretive.


“I just want people to not feel so alone in what they’re doing,” said Jennifer Hyde, who is president of the Boise Polyamory Network, a mostly online group of approximately 450 people who practice or are interested in polyamory in the Boise area.


The purpose of the convention was for the group to meet openly, expose members to national resources and discuss pressing issues related to what they call “ethical non-monogamy.”


How to Find a Partner


Many of the presentations at RelateCon were lighthearted, with titles like “50 Shades of Real Life,” “The Cuddle Puddle Project” and “Painless Poly Dating 101.” One of two talks Downey hosted was about regaining passion in long-term relationships in the midst of “new relationship energy” from other partners.


“For years, my wife and I would check in every night before we went to bed, but the conversation wasn’t of much substance,” he said. “We made an effort to have extended conversations about our feelings and our passions, and we found a lot of changes had taken place for us over the years that we weren’t aware of.”


Another presenter, Masami Tadehara-Hinkle, offered attendees a “relationship shopping list” for identifying new partners and maintaining healthy relationships with existing partners. More than a checklist to be applied to others, however, Tadehara-Hinkle said it encourages people to be introspective, considering carefully what they want out of their new relationships.


“The idea is that it’s more effective in terms of relationship structure to define the relationship in terms of individual needs, rather than having a set of rules,” she said.


Tadehara-Hinkle’s idea for a checklist came from the website, which she described as “the poly bible.” There, site curator Franklin Veaux has collected tutorials, tips, how-tos and common mistakes by newcomers to the practice. There’s also a “relationship bill of rights” and advice on when and how to be openly polyamorous.


Websites like More Than Two are ways for people to connect online and build a sense of community, but talking about ideas face to face offered Tadehara-Hinkle some satisfaction she couldn’t find online. A frequent self-help conference and workshop attendee, she delivered an address for the first time at RelateCon. When it became clear her audience wouldn’t fit in the room where she was scheduled to talk about the relationship checklist, the group moved to another, larger space. Tadehara-Hinkle was thrilled there was so much interest in what she had to say.


“It was a good experience to get the feedback and see how many people were excited about the idea of using the checklist in their daily lives,” she said.


Conference organizers said socializing was one of RelateCon’s most important functions. Activities included poly bingo; a fancy dinner where polyamorous couples, triples and beyond could mingle; and meet-and-greet events at the hotel bar.


Because polyamorous groups are spread across the state, the informal events were some of the first times people who may have known each other online could meet in person.


Connecting to a National Conversation


The Boise polyamorous community started small. For the past three years, Hyde and the Boise Polyamory Network organized monthly potlucks at members’ homes, sang karaoke and went bowling. Though they typically met in small groups, attendance at some events could reach 30 people. Most of their interactions took place online, but Boise Polyamory Network aimed higher—for a must-attend event that would bring the community together and connect it to the national polyamory movement.


“We’re reaching and we hope to spread,” said RelateCon organizer Heather Franck. “This is a national conference and we want reach across the nation.” …