Look, I'm Only Gonna Say This Once: Here's What Polyamory Looks Like

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

For those of you not paying attention, I had a heart attack followed by a triple bypass a few weeks back.  That’s condensed my living down to bare basics.
This sort of thing traumatizes your wife, if you have one, because ZOMG YOU ALMOST DIED.  (I technically should have; as a 43-year-old man, most of us with cardiac problems pop out because “heart attack” is not yet on the list of problems we could have, and so we pop a Tums and hit the club and then our heart explodes.)
So Gini and I have been reassessing and rebuilding and reassuring our life-long bond.  For me, the most traumatic thing about this whole “having my ribs cracked open like a crabshell” thing is NOT the reminder of my mortality, NOT the life changes I will now have to have to ensure my arteries don’t clog again, but the fact that when I first woke, paralyzed and alone and choked and in darkness, my wife was not there.
I had always known that Gini could be taken from me.  What I did not realize what that I could be taken from her.  And in my darkest hour, due to circumstances that were utterly not her fault, I woke alone and terrified and lacking the love of my life.
Whereas Gini?  Spent a week not knowing whether she’d get to keep the love of hers.
That’s our life.  We’re poly.  Yet at the core of our many loves is this deep and unique tangle of affections, this tight bond that links me to Gini in something far beyond marital bliss.  We are central.  We are essential.  And it’s not that we do not love our other partners dearly, for we do – Gini called her boyfriend Steve for support through this, and I had a few panics when I couldn’t talk to my girlfriend A.  We don’t treat our secondaries as disposables, to be jettisoned during times of crisis.  That shit is awful.
But my lovers understand: as much as I do love you deeply, if there’s some crisis where I have to choose, my wife will always come first.  (And considering most of our partners have been married, we understand the reverse as well.)  We’ve organized our lives in a way such as to avoid such senseless conflicts, clearing a space just for us so that when we date it can be “us” time…. but I always remember what Gini told me when I moved in with her and her daughters.
“You know I love you,” she told me.  “But if the house catches on fire, and I can only carry out one of you, it’s gonna be my kids.  You’re okay with that, right?”
And I was.  Because, well, the agreement I had with her is that the kids came first.  And anyone who dates us knows that Gini and I are married, and we’re doing everything we can to avoid any errant flames… but should there be a Sophie’s Choice, Gini’s well-being will sadly come first.
In other words, we’re the “classic” poly model: an absolute love at the center of it, with many spokes around the edges.  It’s the model the media likes to report upon.   Because it’s basically, you know, monogamy+.
And this is what I will say to you:
WE ARE NOT THE FACE OF POLYAMORY.
We have a central relationship that takes priority; many have perfectly functioning relationships that don’t need a “primary” of any sort.  We have plenty of rules; many loving people get by without them.  We have a marriage at the core to protect; many don’t.
There was an article recently about how the mainstream media, when it discusses poly, focused upon people like Gini and me.  (Well, more attractive people, but still.)  And that presents a misleading picture to the world, as polyamory is NOT “a core of two and some folks on the fringe.”  (Which is not how we’d describe ourselves anyway.)
Polyamory takes many forms.  It is the opposite of monogamy.  It is a wholly new relationship structure, where a single diatomic bond can be replaced by hundreds of strange configurations, many of which can only be expressed in complex diagrams, assuming everyone involved even feels a need to map that out.
I frequently write about what it takes to do polyamory well, and in that sense I’m trying to cover some basics that work for most people: have few illusions about who you’re dating, don’t lie, don’t think that NRE is an actual functioning model for a long-term relationship, communicate effectively.  But somewhere, there’s a person out there who puts all of my suggestions to the lie as they work just fine without doing a damn thing I said.
I believe Huey Lewis called that “The Power of Love.”
In short: speaking as one of those media-friendly power couples, don’t believe the hype.  Poly takes on many shapes, and many good strong relationships don’t require a “primary” to function.  Hell, many don’t need a hierarchy of sweeties.  Many don’t need rules beyond “play it safe, kids.”
When you try to fit polyamory into a box that will make the world comfortable, you’re probably doing it wrong.  Poly is messy, gloriously so.  We’ve got what works for us, but that doesn’t mean it should work for you.
Find your own path.  Preferably one that doesn’t involve a triple bypass.

3 Comments

  1. Kitty
    Feb 14, 2013

    Thank you very much for the post! I’ve been following your livejournal/blog/FL posts on and off for several years now, and more recently have had a little bit of a “mrr” reaction in the back of my mind to a few of your polyamory posts, because you only portray one variation of many and I worry sometimes that people don’t realize how many other forms polyamory can take (I didn’t, not really, early on).
    I really appreciate your acknowledgement of this. 🙂 Thank you again!

  2. Carlos
    Feb 14, 2013

    Eloquent. Perfect. Honest.

  3. Kurt Boyer
    Jul 29, 2013

    Honestly, I’ve wanted to say this to someone of your ilk for a while. The fact that you put a hierarchy on so-called loved ones is sickening. If you’re married and poly, your other partners are family to you. Closer than most families, since you chose them. I wouldn’t call a girlfriend my “secondary” any more than I would tell one of my kids they come second to another one. Your complete rejection of being a model for others comes with its own arrogance — this is your way, what you feel comfortable with, and it involves loving one person who loves and depends on you only slightly, only slightly less than another, and you don’t have to answer to it because personal compensatory bandages don’t need to be called out in the age of moral relativism. And btw, yes, truth and logic do exist, and your insecurities or bullshit quantifying of human beings you get to get laid with do not count as substitutes for them. Your whole angle is just another version of traditional materialist patriarchy. Fuck you.

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