When 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. 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. 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.
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. Jonica moved in three years ago after meeting Michael on OkCupid.
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. 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. 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.
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. Two-person marriage, be it gay or straight, is still such the norm that even the most progressive among us do a double-take when someone says they like their relationships a little more populous. This stigma is also why, with the exception of the Northern Virginia triad, all of the other polyamorous sources in this article asked to go either by their first names or pseudonyms.
Increasingly, polyamorous people—not to be confused with the prairie-dress-clad fundamentalist polygamists—are all around us. By some estimates, there are now roughly a half-million polyamorous relationships in the U. Some sex researchers put the even higherat 4 to 5 percent of all adults, or 10 to 12 million people.
Elisabeth Sheff, a sociologist who interviewed 40 polyamorous people over the course of several years for her recent book, The Polyamorists Next Doorsays that polyamorous configurations with more than three people tend to be rarer and have more turnover.
Polys differentiate themselves from swingers because they are emotionally, not just sexually, involved with the other partners they date. Polyamory overlaps somewhat with geek culture, such as cosplay, or the kink world, such as BDSM. Many couples who become interested in polyamory start by looking for a single, bisexual woman to add to the relationship. She was not that into that, either.
She loved the theater, but she stopped going as much because he thought it was boring and stupid and expensive.
She ended up hooking up with her old high school friend she found on Facebook, and they enjoyed the theater together. And she ended up enjoying time with her husband but not feeling so much pressure about the kinky sex. When I went to visit polyamorists in Baltimore, I brought my 6-foot-3 boyfriend with me. I feel the need to clarify that, as did the scientists I spoke with who study polyamory. One such professor told me that when she describes her research to her peers at academic conferences, they often ask her if she herself is in an open relationship.
One of the Baltimore couples, Josh and Cassie, represents a typical approach to polyamory: They met a decade ago through a mutual friend, and they dated monogamously for several years before Cassie, who is bisexual, raised the idea of adding another woman to the relationship. Expanding the group beyond three people hasn't been an option so far, Josh says. I have a very demanding job.
Another Baltimore couple, Erin and Bill, has so far mostly had shorter-term triad arrangements.
When Erin and Bill met in the summer ofBill confessed that he had always fantasized about having sex with a woman and another man at the same time. When Erin and Bill meet a man they like, all three go out together, with the two men sitting on either side of Erin and holding one of each of her hands. Bill says watching his wife have sex with another man is anything but unsettling.
Though some ancient civilizations permitted polygamy, or multiple wives, the idea of monogamous marriage has been deeply rooted in Western society since the time of the Ancient Greeks. Although monogamous Hellenic men were free to have their way with their male and female slaves.
Monogamy quickly became the norm—and social norms influence our psychology.
The process of adhering to social rules and punishing rule violators tickles the reward circuits of our brains. Some studies suggest that each time you think to yourself that polyamory is icky, an oxytocin molecule gets its wings.
In its history, America saw only a handful of collective dalliances away from two-person marriage model. By some sthe Oneida way of life was far more feminist than traditional marriage was at the time: The women only had sex when they wanted to, for example, and some of the female members relished having multiple sex partners. But this was no erotic utopia. Members were publicly chastised if they were discovered carrying on exclusive relationships. InNoyes, fearing arrest for statutory rape, fled the country and wrote to his to his followers that they should abandon complex marriage.
The 70 remaining commune members entered traditional marriages with whomever they happened to be living with at the time. Group marriage saw a limited rebirth in the communes of the s, and open relationships, too, had a heyday in the permissive s.
There was no one you could talk to about it. I felt like I was crazy or that there was something wrong with me. In her youth, she entered a sexless monogamous relationship that puttered along for a few years before she discovered the poly world. Eros is, after all, the primary force that binds the universe together.
To be sure, the sanctity of two-person marriage still looms large: For decades now, most Americans— 90 percent, give or take —have told Gallup that having an affair is unacceptable. In a survey conducted in free love community Atlantic Midwestern town, only 7 percent of the residents said they would ever participate in mate-swapping. Only 2 percent said they ever had.
However, an April study asked 1, heterosexuals how willing they would be, on a scale from one to seven, to commit various non-monogamous acts, such as swinging or adding a third party to the relationship.
Polyamory might seem like the bailiwick of the young and carefree, but many of its practitioners have children. One day, the couple was watching the television show Sister Wiveswhich documents a polygamous family in Utah, when the daughter remarked that it was an interesting system.
Sheff said that most polyamorous parents date outside the home, much like divorced parents do.
Wilcox also assumes that polyamorous people must struggle to devote enough time and attention to each partner and child. There are limits to time and space.
By easing the competition to scoop up as many wives as possible, monogamy allows men to instead focus on things like child-rearing, long-term planning, and saving money. It also increases the age at first marriage and lowers fertility rates, Henrich found.
The nascent research that does exist suggests these modern polyamorous relationships can be just as functional—and sometimes even more so—than traditional monogamous pairings. Apparently, sneaking around is already so morally torturous that a stop at Walgreens for Trojans would simply be too much to handle. Bjarne Holmes, a psychologist at Champlain College in Vermont has found that polyamorous people tend to experience less overall jealousy, even in situations that would drive monogamous couples to Othello -levels of suspicion.
Sheff agreed. Polyamorous people also seemed to trust each other more. But if they hold up, it could mean that at least in some ways, polyamory is a more humane way to love.