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Hap-poly Ever After

Photo Illustration: The traditional nuclear family has increasingly become a thing of the past, and people are finding contentment in a variety of domestic styles. - Tina Griffith
Photo Illustration: The traditional nuclear family has increasingly become a thing of the past, and people are finding contentment in a variety of domestic styles.
— image credit: Tina Griffith

Love in Victoria Series: Polyamorous trio redefines the term "family"

Taking time off work to sit in on her son’s class during a show-and-tell of what the family did over the summer holidays was no big deal for Pepper. She needed to be there to find out how her nine-year-old, Tim, would portray his rather unconventional family.

So, when Tim stood up in front of his classmates, his best friend at his side holding a poster board illustrating everyone in Tim’s life, the introductions were: “This is my grandmother, my cat, my guinea pig. This is my mom. This is my dad. And this is my best buddy Sam — my roommate.”

“Of course he is!” Pepper exclaims, laughing with relief. “That’s exactly what he is! And that’s it — that’s how they know him in class.”

The new nuclear

With the shifts in the structural dynamics of family life over the last two generations, the traditional nuclear family has increasingly become a thing of the past, and people are finding contentment in a variety of domestic styles: the blended family, the bi-racial family, the family with two moms or two dads, the family with adopted children.

There’s yet another arrangement that’s been growing in popularity that, for a 42-year-old mom, support care worker and part-time burlesque dancer (who goes by the name ‘Pepper Minx’), is a model that has worked quite well for her and her numerous partners.

Living with her husband of 10 years (who we’ll call ‘Bob’), her other male partner (‘Sam’), and her son, ‘Tim’, Pepper couldn’t imagine a better scenario.

“Things are going really well; I don’t think they could be any better at this point,” says Pepper.

“We were missing something in our lives without Sam being in it and I think that he was missing stuff in his life without us in it. And I think Bob feels the same way now. The quality of my relationship with Bob is much better.”

Polyamorous relationships, which can take many forms, are typically based on the belief that one partner cannot meet all the needs of a romantic relationship. Each person is free to pursue intimate relationships with more than one person at a time, with the knowledge and consent of all those involved. With polyamory comes a freedom of self-expression and a type of open communication which is not typically available in monogamous relationships — though this is not always the case.

“It totally works. There’s no other way for me. For some people, it’s having sexual freedom,” Pepper explains. “And, for some people, it’s more related to family and building a community of people who care for one another and follow the same kind of theories around relationships — that it’s OK to love more than one person at a time. And whether that becomes sexual is just part of that. So, for me, that’s what I really needed.”

During her numerous attempts at monogamy, with both male and female partners, Pepper often felt constrained and depressed, and found herself straying. She eventually discovered that polyamory was an option that allowed her the freedom of loving whomever she wanted, without the guilt.

When she met Bob, they both were in monogamous relationships that left them feeling unhappy. When Bob’s relationship ended, he experienced a sense of freedom and the realization that he had suppressed many parts of himself.

Pepper’s relationship with her female partner ended after an unsuccessful attempt to include Bob in the relationship. After a few months apart, Bob and Pepper reconnected and realized that they shared similar relationship ideals and decided to marry.

The couple spent their first five years of marriage being monogamous and focusing on raising their son, but they eventually decided to open things up. They decided to dip their toes in the water by checking out the swing community, but casual sex wasn’t really what the pair was looking for. The deep intimacy of polyamory was what they craved.

More than one way

In the last few years, Pepper and Bob have had numerous other romantic partners. Currently, in addition to Bob and Sam, Pepper is in a serious relationship with a woman whom she considers of equal importance to her other partners. Bob, as well, has multiple partners of both sexes outside the relationship.

“Anyone that comes into my life,” Pepper says, “I don’t see there being a hierarchy between them. Emotionally, I’m connected to all of them, in the same way but different. Of course I’ve invested way more into my relationship with Bob because we own this house together, but, to me, it’s the other stuff in life that counts.”

Unlike Bob and Pepper, Sam is only interested in being with one person at a time. While monogamous and heterosexual, he has his own reasons for gravitating to the scenario. After an 18-year marriage in which he eventually lost the connection with his partner and began an affair, he separated from his wife. He then had numerous casual encounters with women he met on dating sites, and eventually stumbled on Pepper’s profile. He was intrigued.

“Her profile caught my eye,” Sam says. “I had never heard of polyamory before; it was kind of bewildering to me. I couldn’t quite grasp it.”

The two met for coffee, had an instant connection, and quickly fell in love.

“I wouldn’t say it was a choice,” admits Sam. “I was pulled into it, because that’s where Pepper was. I would have followed where Pepper went, within reason. If Pepper and I were not to be together, I would go into another monogamous relationship, because that’s actually where I reside.”

Sam, who describes the arrangement as being “like a family,” also enjoys a friendship with Bob and a strong bond with Pepper and Bob’s son. To Tim, Sam is a roommate and a close friend, and he hasn’t had any problems with Sam’s involvement in their lives, notes Pepper.

While things are running smoothly for the family of four now, that wasn’t always the case. Boundaries were discussed and compromises were made as everyone tried to bridge the gap between their different worlds and needs prior to Sam’s moving in.

“When we moved in together, I sort of took a snapshot of who was in her life,” says Sam. “And I said, ‘I’m good with this.’ I was certainly good with Bob. With husbands, I see it as they’re giving a gift by sharing their partner, but with anyone else new, I see it as they’re taking away.”

All three agree that, while the benefits are great, there is a lot of work involved in making things run smoothly. Jealousy can arise, and the ongoing discussion and negotiation takes a significant amount of effort.

“There’s a reason why people cheat,” says Sam. “It’s easier.”

He explains that not a lot of people can pull it off, and that it’s pretty rare for an existing monogamous couple to open up their relationship and have it last, because “it’s generally one partner wanting to open it up, and the other partner coping.”

Despite the work, the consensus among all three is that it has been worth the effort, and has promoted greater self-awareness and acceptance of other people. A key in their success, Pepper explains, has been shared values of family, community, openness and communication. Negotiating boundaries, especially when a new person enters the picture, is an ongoing part of the process. For Sam, it has been an eye-opening lesson about validating other peoples’ wishes for what they want in their life. For Bob, polyamory is all about moving from black-and-white thinking to seeing the shades of grey.

“It is about flexibility — trying to be open to thinking differently about things and experimenting,” says Bob. “There are so many assumptions around relationships, and that relationships are ‘this way.’ You end up having to kind of chip away at this, and ask, well, is this really the way it is? I think the answer is that there isn’t only one way. Even polyamory isn’t the solution to how you do relationships — it’s one solution of many. Monogamy is just as valid, it just depends on the people.” M

Next Week in Monday's Love in Victoria series:
Second time around; love after 70.

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