by Olga Khazan
hen I met Jonica Hunter, Sarah Taub, and Michael Rios on a typical weekday afternoon in their tidy duplex in Northern Virginia, a very small part of me worried they might try to convert me.
All three live there together, but they aren’t roommates—they’re lovers.
Or rather, Jonica and Michael are. And Sarah and Michael are. And so are Sarah and whomever she happens to bring home some weekends. And Michael and whomever he might be courting. They’re polyamorous.
Michael is 65, and he has a chinstrap beard that makes him look like he just walked off an Amish homestead. Jonica is 27, with close-cropped hair, a pointed chin, and a quiet air. Sarah is 46 and has an Earth Motherly demeanor that put me at relative ease.
Together, they form a polyamorous “triad”— one of the many formations that’s possible in this jellyfish of a sexual preference. “There’s no one way to do polyamory” is a common refrain in “the community.” Polyamory—which literally means “many loves”—can involve any number of people, either cohabiting or not, sometimes all having sex with each other, and sometimes just in couples within the larger group.
Sarah and Michael met 15 years ago when they were both folk singers and active in the polyamorous community. Both of them say they knew from a young age that there was something different about their sexuality. “Growing up, I never understood why loving someone meant putting restrictions on relationships,” Michael said.
“What I love about polyamory is that everything is up for modification,” Sarah says. “There are no ‘shoulds.’ You don’t have to draw a line between who is a lover and who is a friend. It’s about what is the path of my heart in this moment.”
They’ve been “nesting partners” for 12 years, but they’ve both had other relationships throughout that time. Jonica moved in three years ago after meeting Michael on OkCupid. She describes the arrangement’s appeal as “more intimacy, less rules. I don’t have to limit my relationship with other partners.”
The house is, as they describe, an “intentional community”—a type of resource-sharing collectivist household. They each have their own room and own bed. Sarah is a night owl, so she and Michael spend time together alone late at night. Jonica sees him alone in the early morning. They all hang out together throughout the day. The house occasionally plays host to a rotating cast of outside characters, as well—be they friends of the triad or potential love interests.
The triad works together, too, running a consulting nonprofit that puts on events “that teach skills for living together peacefully, such as clear communication, boundaries, what to do when you get upset,” Sarah said. An added bonus of the living arrangement is that it cuts down on commuting time.
I initially expected the polyamorous people I met to tell me that there were times their relationships made them sick with envy. After all, how could someone listen to his significant other’s stories of tragedy and conquest in the dating world, as Michael regularly does for Sarah, and not feel possessive? But it became clear to me that for “polys,” as they’re sometimes known, jealousy is more of an internal, negligible feeling than a partner-induced, important one. To them, it’s more like a passing head cold than a tumor spreading through the relationship.
Of the three people living in the Northern Virginia duplex, Sarah volunteers that she’s the one most prone to jealousy. “It can be about feeling like you’re not special, or feeling like this thing belonged to me and now someone’s taken it.”
She said it was rough for her when Jonica first moved in. Sarah had been accustomed to seeing Michael whenever she wanted, but she started to feel a pang when he spent time with Jonica.
“At first I thought, ‘Is something bad happening, something I don’t want to support?” she said. “No, I want to support Michael and Jonica in being together. From there, I look at my own reaction. I can be an anxious person, so maybe I was feeling anxious. I find other ways of getting grounded. I might go for a walk or play guitar.
“It’s part of learning a healthy self-awareness and the ability to self-soothe,” she added. “I notice what I’m feeling, and do a dive inward.” ...
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