Love doesn’t just come in pairs. Is it time that marriage laws come to recognise the fact?
By Melissa Hogenboom / Pictures by Olivia Howitt
As a child Franklin Veaux recalls hearing his school teacher read a story about a princess who had a tantalising dilemma. Two male suitors had been wooing her and she had to choose between them. Franklin wondered why she could not choose both.
This early insight was revealing. Franklin has to this day never stuck to one relationship at a time. “I have never been in a monogamous relationship in my life. When I was in high school I took two dates to my senior prom. I lost my virginity as a threesome.”
Today he lives with his long-term girlfriend in a home he shares with her other boyfriend. Occasionally his partner’s teenage daughter also stays over. He is also in four other long-distance relationships, people he sees with varying degrees of frequency.
Franklin and his girlfriends are what’s called polyamorous or “poly” as the community tends to call it. Being poly simply means you can be in more than one relationship, with the full support and trust of however many partners they choose to have.
Polyamory does not feature in any census tick box but anecdotal evidence suggests that it is on the rise. Some are even calling for it to be recognised by law following the legalisation of gay marriage in the UK and the US. All this raises of the question of whether the future of love may be very different from our current conceptions of romance.
But love has always been the same, right? A man falls for a woman, they get married, pop out a few children and stay together in a harmonious and monogamous relationship for life.
Sorry romantics. This wasn’t, and still isn’t, always the picture of love. Polygamy – where more than one spouse is allowed – was the norm for many of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Monogamy started flourishing when our ancestors began to settle down. A preference for it then appears to have arisen, among many other reasons, for economic purposes.
As many as 83% of societies around the world allow polygamy
It made it easier for fathers to divide and share valuable commodities such as land with their children. Monogamy later got hijacked by romantic love by idealistic 19th Century Victorians. “The idea of sexual exclusivity started emerging fairly late in the game,” says professor of law Hadar Aviram at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, US.
Even today monogamy is the minority relationship style around the world. Cultural estimates suggest that as many as 83% of societies around the world allow polygamy.
Now there is a fairly new player in the relationship game, at least as far as the public are concerned. In the last two decades, sociologists, legal scholars and the public have shown great interest towards polyamory and it’s making them reassess the very nature of romance.
The word polyamory was first coined in the 1960s and literally means “many loves” in Latin. That’s exactly what it is, but talking to poly individuals makes it quickly apparent that there is no one way to be poly. There are no immediate rules. Some people, like Franklin have live-in partners with additional liaisons outside the home. Others have a mixture of short and long-term relationships.
Some live in a big group with their partners and their partner’s other partner(s), so called “family style polyamory”. You get the idea. The one thing they all have in common is openness, understanding, trust and acceptance from all involved.
As you might imagine these kinds of relationships take a lot of work to maintain, so being poly is far from an easy option. For starters, to keep more than one relationship going, small logistical matters require a lot of communication. “Our relationships are a lot more challenging,” says Eve Rickert, one of Franklin’s long distance partners and co-author of their polyamory book More than Two. ...
For growing numbers of people, monogamy just doesn't work. So what happens when you throw out the rule book? Tanya Sweeney meets the couples in love with polyamory
Much as its name suggests, polyamory is the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of everyone involved. It's a different entity to 'swinging' (which is simply sex with different partners), or having a bit on the side (most polyamorous people see their partners as equal in terms of love).
Catalina Vieru, a 29-year-old European Voluntary Service worker from Dundalk, first heard the word 'polyamory' six years ago. As it happens, she was already in an open relationship with another man.
"I never felt like I could be monogamous," she explains. "With my ex-partner, we decided that the safest for us would be to have a sexually open relationship, meaning that it was okay for both of us to date or have sex with others, as long as we didn't get involved emotionally.
"During that time, I started wondering about what would happen if I'd allow myself to develop feelings also.
"After we broke up, I started dating a woman and we talked a lot about polyamory and we started dating different people and creating different bonds. What helped a lot (and still does) was a very real, authentic communication.
"We've been together for two years," she adds. "At the moment, I am also involved with three more people and a couple, and I have a different type of connection, all very special, with each of them."
Certainly, Catalina could be onto something: it's not likely that one lover will fulfill all needs (romantic, intellectual, sexual, emotional), and having different lovers to fulfil different needs sounds like a good way of getting most needs met. And, contrary to popular belief, a poly relationship can be every bit as loving, honest and committed as a monogamous one.
Part of the power of polyamory, say its practitioners, is that honesty, respect and communication are paramount to keeping the wheels of the relationships greased. Polyamorous people aren't oversexed or promiscuous, and no one is cheating or coercing a partner into a relationship they don't want. There is no need for clandestine encounters or affairs, because everyone in a poly relationship is on the same page.
Monogamous relationships aren't without their complications, certainly, but the fact that three or more people are involved in a poly relationship means that the interpersonal combinations are plentiful.
There is a 'V' (one person is the 'hinge', and has two lovers who aren't romantically involved with each other), a 'triad' or 'quad' (a relationship between three or four people). A 'W' denotes a fivesome in which two lovers have their own separate lovers.
"I do believe they all have the same potential of being as honest or dishonest as the monogamous relationships," says Catalina.
"If you nurture a safe space for all the people involved to feel supported, listened to, respected and valued, then you will have a committed and honest relationship, regardless of its type."
IT engineer Balazs Balogh, 31, originally from Hungary but living in Galway, became aware of the concept through a web-comic, and found his mind sufficiently 'blown'.
"Up until that point I believed I came up with the whole thing, then I discovered there's a worldwide community with more or less the same idea," he explains.
"My first tries were far from perfect; in hindsight they were rather set up to fail as my partners weren't explicitly poly themselves while being okay with the general concept.
"That's how we learn I guess.
"I'm married and have two kids, so that forms a foundation to build on," he adds. "I usually meet my other partners separately, and have time dedicated just for them.
"We've had a partner living in with us full time for a few weeks once, and I still hold that time dear. If people would've seen it they would be surprised how 'ordinary' it all was.
"One thing that particularly stuck with me was when they were cooking together while having a chat, it was so heartwarming I could've watched them for hours. There's this saying that gets thrown around a lot by poly people that by loving more, love doesn't run out, but multiplies. I felt exactly that."
That's not to say that complications don't arise: "Some poly people say they just don't feel jealous and never did - God, I wish I was like that, because feeling envious or jealous is really not fun," Catalina reflects.
"I think most of my current partners feel the same way. Once we get emotionally involved with someone, we start feeling envious when that person is seeing other people and spends time with them. I deal with it by being very self-aware and knowing that envy appears because of my fears and it has nothing to do with my partner or their partner." ...
e first time you heard the word “Oneida,” it was probably in the context of silverware. Perhaps it was before a Christmas dinner, when your mom or grandmother instructed you get out the “good silver” made by Oneida Limited. Even though it was only silverplate rather than sterling, your family probably stored it in a velvet-lined wooden case. Or maybe you saw an ad depicting an elegant table set with Oneida flatware while flipping through the pages of “Good Housekeeping” or “Better Homes and Gardens.” You might also have encountered Oneida while watching “The Price Is Right,” enthralled by the model wowing a studio audience when she opened a chest of gleaming Oneida cutlery for the contestants to bid on.
In fact, Oneida is the name of a First Nations tribe that occupied much of upstate New York long before it was called upstate New York. Given those deep roots, along with its later symbolism as the brand of flatware most associated with American middle-class aspirationalism and traditional gender roles, it’s doubly ironic that Oneida Limited actually emerged from a 19th-century polyamorous communist Christian utopia known as the Oneida Community.
Founded in 1848, and in operation for just over three decades, the Oneida Community was profoundly revolutionary for its time, paving the way for advances in women’s and workers’ rights. At the commune headquartered on the Oneida River in upstate New York, women cut their hair short, ditched the corset, and did the same work as the men. Everyone worked four to six hours a day, and no one accumulated any material possessions—not furniture, not fine clothing, and certainly not silverware.
Most scandalously, commune members engaged in a system of “complex marriage,” believing that loving, open sexual relationships could bring them closer to God. They believed the liquid electricity of Jesus Christ’s spirit flowed through words and touch, and that a chain of sexual intercourse would create a spiritual battery so charged with God’s energy that the community would transcend into immortality, creating heaven on earth.
Ellen Wayland-Smith, a descendant of members of the Oneida commune, delves her into family’s history in her new book, Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table. Oneida’s early enterprises included canning fruits and vegetables and manufacturing animal traps, chain link, and silk sewing thread. It was Wayland-Smith’s great-great-grandfather, Charles Cragin, who in 1877 suggested the community start making spoons at its colony in Wallingford, Connecticut, near the rushing Quinnipiac River. The original polyamorous religious commune broke up in 1880 and reorganized its assets into a corporation. In the 1890s, Oneida Community, Limited, started to drop its other products to focus on the cutlery market. For roughly 100 years, the silverware corporation—which was eventually renamed Oneida Limited—thrived under the leadership of the Community’s descendants. However, the 2000s weren’t kind to Oneida, so its executives had to file for bankruptcy in 2006 and sell the brand, which is owned by a houseware conglomerate now.
Wayland-Smith’s book begins in July 1948, when Oneida Limited flatware manufacturer celebrated the Community’s 100th birthday and the company’s reputation as—forgive the pun—a “sterling” example of American industry. On a grandstand outside the original community’s 93,000-square foot Victorian brick home called the Mansion House in Oneida, New York, the crowd enjoyed a soprano and organist performing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the crowning of a “Silver Queen,” and a string of circus and daredevil acts. At the end of the day, attendees danced to the music of Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra. At the festivities, the company touted its patriotism and contributions to American capitalism, as well as its devotion to social equality and the golden rule. What attendees didn’t know was that a truckload of papers documenting the Oneida Community’s spiritual-sexual experiments had—just a year before—been taken to the Oneida town dump and set on fire.
“The burning of the papers, which happened in 1947, included original members’ diaries, letters, and the community notes and logs in terms of their sexual practices,” Wayland-Smith explains. “All of these sensitive materials were in that collection. The Oneida descendants knew about the burning, obviously. At the time, they had people knocking at their doors, trying to get access to these papers, and they thought, ‘You know what, we’re going to put an end to this for good.’ In some ways, they were intensely private people.”
Fortunately for Wayland-Smith, previous Oneida chronicler Spencer Klaw, and anyone else who wants to dig into the community’s history, it wasn’t all lost. While the large archive accumulated by Oneida descendant, George Wallingford Noyes, was burned, other family members held onto diaries and letters. Those, along with the myriad publications like books and newspapers the Oneida Community put out into the world, are now housed at the Oneida Community Collection at Syracuse University.
Oneida began—as most utopias do—with the vision of one charismatic leader, in this case, a preacher named John Humphrey Noyes. Born to a well-off family in Putney, Vermont, in 1811, Noyes, an awkward and introverted redhead, grew up lamenting his feelings of sexual frustration. When his religiously devout mother sent him to a tent revival in fall of 1831, the 20-year-old virgin discovered he could channel all his erotic energy into Christianity. ...
For kinky people, finding a shrink who knows the difference between ball gags and cock and ball torture can be a godsend.
by Alice Sanders
Finding a therapist can be a major problem for anyone who's into BDSM or fetish. The most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, updated in 2013, is the first version in the 62-year history of psychiatry's diagnostic bible that does not classify BDSM as a marker of mental illness. But surveys show that far more people are into kink than commonly assumed: A 2008 survey from Durex found that 36 percent of people in the US deploy masks, blindfolds, and bondage tools as part of their sexual repertoire.
Kinky people need therapy to deal with the stresses of life just as much as their vanilla peers, but they can run into problems when trying to find a therapist who knows the difference between a dungeon monitor and a domme. Demand for kink-identified therapists has led to websites like LGBTQ-oriented Pink Therapy in the UK and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom in the US. On the NCSF website, therapists are divided into three classifications: kink friendly, kink-aware, and kink-knowledgeable.
"By stating that you work with kinky clients you're raising the possibility that you're also kinky," says Joanna*, an integrative therapist working in London. "Some clients will make that assumption, especially if you have a high level of kink knowledge." She goes on to say that she's comfortable outing herself as a BDSM practictioner to a client if they have explicitly told her that they are part of the community.
There are good reasons to do this. Clients often come to her having already had a bad experience with a therapist who lacked BDSM understanding. Katie*, a psychodynamic therapist also working in London, tells me that she sees one kinky couple who have been through four previous professionals. "I believe they've been treated poorly by the therapists they've approached."
More than just a simple lack of knowledge of kink, vanilla therapists can sometimes bring their own negative preconceptions of BDSM to sessions. It's something both Joanna's clients and friends have had to deal with in the past. "Therapists have suggested that kink is externalized self-harm; that's it's problematic playing with power, that it's a form of unhealthy risk taking." She explains that some keep bringing up kink as symptomatic of a deeper mental health issue, but kink-positive therapy means that "clients can reveal this information in passing, and it's accepted as a normal healthy part of their relationship."
Kink can sometimes involve behaviors that someone not in the scene may struggle to wrap their head around (toenail fetishes, anyone?) and clients often don't want to waste time educating a kinky therapist on the terminology and dynamics of the scene. When a shrink come out as kinky, it's not just to assure their clients that they won't have a bad experience in therapy, but to show they can have a positive one.
"There's often an assumption that BDSM-ers are attempting to re-enact childhood abuse, whereas no studies have ever found any correlation," Joanna explains of non-kinky therapists. With those who do incorporate S&M into their personal lives, however, "there's a better understanding of the differences between consensual kink and an abusive dynamic, which may be more difficult for therapists who aren't kinky themselves." In fact, a recent Northern Illinois University study showed that those who participated in BDSM are far more likely to understand key issues of consent.
But identifying yourself as a kinky professional can come with its challenges, too. Therapist and client will usually have zero relationship outside of the therapeutic space, but that isn't possible in places with small kink scenes. It brings with it the risk that the client will learn personal details about a therapist. Katie suggests that any extra information revealed to a client can tamper with the therapeutic process. "You can get into a bit of a problem if a client is able to glean so much information they can say, 'That person is like me, that's why I'm going to them.'"
Therapy relies on the client being able to create their own reality around the 'blank screen' of the therapist—the fears and emotions that a client projects onto their shrink can be very useful as insights to work with—and real information about a therapist can ruin the process. It might be harder for a client to open up if they know that they shop for spanking paddles at the same leather hardware store. As Kate puts it: "There's a reason it's easier to pick up the phone and call the Samaritans than a member of your family." ...
By Stefanie Iris Weiss | Photos by Jonathan Alpeyrie
They met on the dance floor at Burning Man.
Michel Madie, a 57-year-old French Jew of Algerian descent, a former veterinarian, and a real estate mogul in New York City. Rasmus Foyer, a 27-year-old Swedish civil engineering student with an open heart and a talent for fire dancing. Their thirty-year age-difference was a minor challenge when compared to all that would stand in the way of their love: geographical distance, sexual orientation, and the vagaries of technology and time.
Michel and Rasmus’ encounter might have been as fleeting as any other in Black Rock City, where the desert sands often act as the pixie dust of love at first sight. Thousands of people fall into instantaneous, erotic rapture with fellow travelers during this annual experimental desert arts festival with radical self-expression at its core, only to go back to their workaday lives alone. But fate’s hand interceded for Michel and Rasmus and it could not be ignored: On December 12th, 2015, sixteen months after they first met, the two men were married by a rabbi in the converted Harlem church that is also their home.
Surrounded by hundreds of friends dressed in faux fur, feathers and LED-lit animal costumes, the couple took their vows and was blessed under Michel’s ancestral tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl. Each of them stomped on a symbolic glass under a chupah threaded with feathers, African masks, tribal chest pieces and dream catchers. The crowd wept and burst into cheers. Then the party went for another 24 hours, starting with a traditional Algerian dinner, and followed by belly and flamenco dancers, acrobats and a rotation of five gifted DJ’s spinning deep house, down-tempo and funk. Glowing antlers and mermaid tails swayed to the beat, sky-high on the thumping love buzz.
“Dancing is a place of giving free expression, giving in to who you are with movement, being an animal – being your own animal,” says Michel, whose wedding guests embraced his philosophy that night. All four floors of the building vibrated with explosive joy and in some cases, nakedness and sharing of intimate pleasures. Sexual evolution is part of everyday life for this pair, so conscious sexual play was a natural denouement of their wedding ceremony.
In the summer of 2016 they will have a second wedding at Burning Man — one that will surely somehow outdo the first one, whose invitation beseeched guests to:
Be your totem animal: body-paint on your bare skin or body suit, full-on animal costume, or CREATE your own CREATURE. What we want present at our wedding is the beast inside of you. Is it furry, feathery, fuzzy, prickly, clawy, funny, mystical, dark, ethereal, dangerous, charming, sexy, all the above…? Cartoons and fairy-tales, jungle and fantasies, Noah’s Arch and mythology, be invited!
Both men are strikingly handsome, tall, and unflinchingly masculine; disarmingly attractive and seemingly completely free of pretense and affectation. It seems natural that Rasmus and Michel’s lives would change the moment they saw each other – so much raw power colliding – but it would be a few months until either understood exactly how.
Michel and Rasmus were each in relationships with women the night they met, and both had been previously married to women. (Michel also has a 35-year-old son from a previous relationship who lives in Paris, and attended the wedding.) They both made it clear that their blossoming partnership was no ethical breach – their previous relationships had ended before they allowed themselves to consider pursuing each other. ...
PHOENIX (KSAZ) - In the middle of a major spring snowstorm, the streets of Denver seem deserted, but it's a celebration of love, at the National Loving More Convention in the Denver suburbs. Here a wife may be dancing with her boyfriend, and her husband doesn't mind. That's the polyamorous way.
"It is loving more than one in a committed relationship, it's that simple," said Torin Caffrey.
Robyn Trask runs the nonprofit dedicated to promoting polyamory. She is married to Jesus but has had a year-long intimate relationship with Ben.
Photo Exploring polyamorous relationships
"I just came to terms with the fact I wasn't a monogamous person, if that meant I had to be alone then I would rather be alone than cheat or be dishonest," said Robyn Trask.
"For me it just comes naturally, I love seeing Robyn happy, so the thought of her going out and seeing her giddy it actually just warms my heart," said Jesus Garcia.
Robyn met Ben years ago at a conference, and the two have been close ever since.
"Over time anything is going to change, and when people see that there are options they didn't know they had, some of those people are going to be interested," said Ben.
People came from across the country to attend the conference; some say they've been "polys" as long as they can remember, others are just learning about it. Attendance at the event has grown every year, and the organizers say the younger generation tends to be much more accepting of the lifestyle.
"I always knew that our family was a little different from our friends, but I never really paid a lot of attention to it until about age 11 when I noticed some of my mom's friends weren't just friends," said Marina Trask.
Trask has nothing bad to say about her mom's lifestyle. She says she is polyamorous too.
"I feel like my mom being polyamorous made her more honest with me, she used the same honestly, she did with me, and she did with her partners, and any child would want to have that honest with their parents," said Trask.
Seminars at the convention were taught by longtime supporters of the lifestyle; one literally wrote the book on polyamory.
"Love doesn't equal ownership if I'd go to a party and people would say who do you belong to, and I would say didn't slavery go out a long time ago, I really believe love is about giving not about clinging," said Mim Chapman.
Make no mistake we live in a monogamous world; we've all heard about swingers, but polyamory, supporters say, is different. It's more about long term relationships than flings. But with those multiple relationships come a range of emotions, including jealousy.
"With a polyamorous relationship it is important that a person is ready to give time to each of the people they are involved with, give emotional space to each person they are involved with," said Frances. ...
Fargo, ND (WDAY/WDAZ TV) - Love can be felt and described in a number of ways and to many, its often defined as a relationship between two people but an age old practice is seeing a new movement in the Red River Valley that challenges the social norm.
The polyamorous community is now reaching out, showing that they are here, should be accepted and that it's more common than you may think.
Game night with family and friends can bring a lot of laughter and love but for many in this room, love has broader boundaries than many traditionally think.
“None of this, I have to have a secret life in my head,”
“Yes, I have played wingman for my husband. It's a thing.”
Kurt Mesford and his wife, who's asked to be called Ashton and have her identity hidden, share a view on love that's not the norm.
“At the moment, I don't think we have,” said Kurt.
“We don't have anyone shared,” said Ashton.
“That would be convenient.”
“Then they could just show up at the house and hang out with whoever's there.”
“I don't share your taste in women.”
“We're attracted to very different types, I guess.”
They're polyamorous, which means many loves.
Each currently has five relationships, a dynamic they're open with in their church where Ashton teaches Sunday school, with their family and friends and with their young daughter Haven.
“She doesn't know anything more about our love life than she would if we were monogamous,” said Ashton.
With the unique family dynamic, Haven has had to explain it to friends.
“I just say one person loves more than one person that's not in the family,” said Haven.
But she loves her parents as well as all of their partners, including one of Ashton's boyfriends, Andrew Tyson.
“If you're married and you're falling in love with a second person, your options are to either cheat or grit your teeth an bare it. Polyamory offers another option,” said Tyson.
As a once monogamous married man, Andrew has made polyamorous activism his passion with the recent creation of a group called PolyAware.
He estimates about 1,000 people in Fargo-Moorhead are polyamorous and he wants others who are interested to know there is a place to learn more and feel accepted.
“Monogamy is so present and engrained in our culture that people never really question it. It's rare that you find someone who questions and wakes up one day and says 'huh, I wonder if I really should be monogamous', because they don't realize they have other choices,” said Tyson. ...
Monogamy has been the standard for relationships, especially ones that are "true" and built upon "love." I grew up internalizing this, seeing this in all the relationships around me, and trying to believe this. As an adult though, I've struggled with the idea that I wouldn't ever be able to love other people because I'd only be allowed to love one person. On the inside, I felt I could love my primary partner while simultaneously having other relationships with people, regardless of whether they were intimate, long-term relationships, or just dating. Even though it wasn't the norm, practicing polyamory has worked for me. But when people judge my sexual identity and my relationships and tell me that love doesn't work that, all of those feelings about what was "right" and "wrong" come rushing back.
These days, after trial and error — and even more trial and error since every person is different — I've learned a lot about what non-monogamy looks like. Monogamy is definitely not for me, and I can also say non-monogamy isn't as glamorous and exciting as its made to look. Believe it or not, non-monogamy, at least in my experience, has been incredibly similar to monogamous relationships, just with multiple people involved. It's something that often confuses my friends. They like to make jokes with me about my "monogamous non-monogamy," and sometimes it's funny, but other times its just annoying. They assume that if I'm looking for relationships outside of my current relationship, it's because there must be a problem. What they don't understand is that, for me, the fact that I could be interested in pursuing relationships other than my primary one because my primary relationship is secure. I feel like they're so quick to label non-monogamy as "cheating" and they forget that cheating is something that stems from what's been broken, damaged, or neglected. Pursuing other people, while practicing ethical polyamory, under those circumstances, are not encouraged. If anything they are discouraged.
I once had a conversation with my mom about polyamory, without letting her know I participated in it. It happened right after my divorce, and while I was actively practicing non-monogamy with my partner, I wasn't ready to deal with what I assumed would be my mom's judgment on the topic, because, knowing her, she'd likely have plenty of it. As we were talking, she said:
Is this what people do when they can't love someone, and they just want something new because they're bored?
I remember laughing because I had that mindset once, and I explained to her that some people feel that their love for their primary partner(s) actually grows the more people they bring into their relationship. I reminded her that we can love people in so many different ways, and that loving looks different for everyone involved. She said she understood, and made a joke about how she wouldn't have enough time. Without realizing it, she said one of the most real things about non-monogamy I've ever heard. Building relationships, and then building other relationships does take time — and sometimes it's time you don't actually have, or want to give to other people. And it's always amusing when people assume that you have a bunch of boyfriends and girlfriends just like, hanging around. I can barely keep up with my one partner, how would I be able to keep up with five?! ...