Love Multiplied: Polyamory Explained

Maya and her family-01

One of the happier aspects of the internet is meeting people. (No, not stalkers and such.) I mean people you’d probably never meet otherwise, people you like and become friends with. You might share an interest in restoring old Buicks, meet on a Buick enthusiast forum, enjoy each other’s clever remarks, and develop a friendship from there. I happened to meet Juliette Siegfried online because we had mutual friends and because we both love cats. Juliette was the first person I ever heard the terms polyamory from, about which I knew zilch.

I had heard of polygamy and polyandry and associated them with negative/weird cult stuff, but Juliette didn’t seem like that sort of person. She impressed me because she was an American living in Spain (at the time), which seemed terribly exotic by itself. But otherwise, she seemed …normal!

Chicago-born Juliette now lives in the Netherlands and runs a translation business with her British husband Roland. Both are 50 and have been together since 1995. They live with 51-year-old writer/editor Laurel Avery and eight-year-old Maya, who is the daughter of Roland and Laurel, as well as live-in family friend 72-year old Florida native Barry Wright (who is not involved on a romantic basis). Roland, Juliette, and Laurel are all heterosexual so Juliette and Laurel are not involved with each other except as a family unit.

Polyamorous /extended family may sound unusual, but it works well for them. Juliette was kind enough to answer a few questions about their chosen life. She also recommended More Than Two Polyamory FAQ for spelling out the basics of polyamory.

Please explain what polyamory is, and what it isn’t.

Polyamory is the belief in or practice of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time, with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It differs from polygamy, which is multiple marriage, which is illegal in most places and carries a sort of religious connotation (e.g. Mormonism). Polygamy or polygyny is multiple women marrying one man, and the women are subjugated to the man and cannot have other partners, and are usually expected to stay home as sister wives and raise the children. In polyamory, both the women and the men can have other partners as they wish, can work, don’t have to have kids, and there may or may not be legal marriage involved.

It also differs from “don’t ask, don’t tell”, in which people have relationships on the side with the consent of their partner, but do not meet the other partners or know anything about them. That is not full knowledge and consent.

However, our form of polyamory, living together, seems fairly rare. Many poly people live alone and have open, honest relationships with multiple people. This is known as “solo poly”, when you don’t have a particular primary partner or nesting partner with whom you live.

Some people, particularly couples, do “hierarchical poly”, in which they are primary and everyone else they date is considered secondary. To us, this is a fear-based approach designed to protect the primary couple – however trying to legislate love is impossible. We have always been open to the idea that perhaps our “primary” status would change, especially as Laurel and Maya came into our lives. But for us, it worked out that we all became primary with each other – and we are still open to other people coming into our lives and becoming more or less important over time than the others. We let each relationship find its “natural resting point.”

Can you describe your journey into poly? When did you become interested in exploring it? Was Roland always on board with poly, or was this something he gradually came to embrace?

It was Roland’s idea, although I was the one to carry it out for the first few years.

Before meeting him, I was lousy at monogamy, because every few years, I would meet someone special and want a deeper relationship with them than just friendship – even if I already had a partner (or in one case, was married already). This was every few years, not a random sex thing but a love thing. These men were my friends and then over time, occasionally something deeper started to develop – even without sex, I fell for them emotionally, and sometimes I had sex with them (and sometimes not, but it didn’t matter, I was still cheating emotionally and I knew it).

So when my first marriage ended due to my cheating (I was 28 then), I told Roland (with whom I had cheated on my husband) that I clearly had a cheating problem. He was the one to suggest that maybe there was another way, maybe we could be open with each other about our interest in other people. He believed you could love more than one person at a time. We didn’t know anything about polyamory and when I first learned of it, I thought that wasn’t me – those people were weird sex fiends, right? That’s how I saw polyamory at first. We knew a few poly people, and we just didn’t resonate with them or their propositions.

It took several years together to figure out that what we wanted actually WAS polyamory, and that everyone does polyamory differently. Our preferred way was as extended family rather than as external people on the side. That was in about 2003 at age 36. We have had a polyamorous relationship ever since, which is about 14 years now. Roland dated very little, and I dated a lot – but few relationships really panned out until we met Laurel.

Even when I don’t have any other partners (which has been most of the time), I am *so much happier* just being able to be myself and not have to hide it when someone interesting comes along that I might want to get to know better.

How did you out yourselves to your families and friends? What were their reactions?

It was tough at first, and we lost a few friends along the way. I think it was tough because a) at first we were unsure, which made everyone else unsure and b) polyamory is extremely threatening to the status quo. Women used to fear I would steal their boyfriends somehow, because what I was doing must be what their boyfriends really wanted, right? Now I just don’t have any friends who aren’t ok with polyamory. There are plenty who are, whether or not they themselves are polyamorous. No need to bother with any naysayers anymore.

Once we were sure of what we were doing, all the naysayers fell away, and a whole new set of friends, both poly and poly-friendly, emerged. We’ve never looked back.

My dad will probably never be on board, although he’s softened a bit. My two older sisters were great about it. A couple years ago, my mother had Laurel, Maya and I along with my two sisters to her house for a few days. It was wonderful. Laurel’s mom is ok with it and Roland’s parents and siblings don’t love the idea but they do love Maya as their granddaughter/niece, and they have been very welcoming.

How long have you, Roland, and Laurel been in a poly family? Do you see your family evolving and growing?

We met Laurel in Barcelona in 2007. Our house is pretty full, and we are not actively looking to add anyone else to the house. However I have a boyfriend, and he is seen as family. His daughters play with my daughter and we all get along great. That is our goal with relationships, to have them as extended family rather than separate things on the side.

How has having Maya changed your family?

I’m not sure it’s any different from any couple that has a child. We’re just three (and a friend) who have a child. I guess she’s changed us just as anyone would be changed by becoming a parent. It’s a huge challenge and a huge blast at the same time. In terms of parenting, we are all equal, although in some ways I have turned out to be the “primary mom,” which is interesting. Laurel never wanted kids so is slightly less maternal than I am, but we all enjoy the process. I am “Mama” and she is “Mummy” and Roland is “Daddy”. Barry is just Barry.

And having 3 or 4 parents instead of 2 is simply luxurious, for us and for Maya. More love for her, more time for ourselves, more resources, more income.

Do poly families have legal issues that traditional family units don’t? 

I have no legal right to Maya and Laurel is not legally married to Roland in any way. Some people are very concerned about these issues, but we aren’t so much. If things change and Laurel can marry Roland, it is fine with me. So far it is not possible to have more than two legal parents of a child either here or in Spain, which seems odd to me considering the current climate of blended families, divorce and remarriages, all poly issues aside.

Could it all fall apart? Of course. But we have a lot of faith in each other and in our nature, and we know we will be ok in the end. Roland and I nearly split up at one point, and that was when I realized I’d never go far from this family. I could move out if it came to the point where I felt I couldn’t be Roland’s wife anymore, but I’d just move down the street or somewhere close by. This family has strong and yet elastic bonds, which I believe will never completely break. And since that rough patch 7 years ago, everything has been great.

Do you have any advice for people who are interested in exploring polyamory?

Yes – don’t treat it like trying on a hat in a store or a dish in a restaurant. It  is extremely difficult to go against the social pressures and conditioning to default to monogamy. You have to really believe another way of living and loving is possible, and really want it for yourself, with or without actually having multiple partners. It’s a way of life and a way of thinking about love as an unlimited resource, unlike the dollars in your wallet. It is not just about having multiple sex partners.

I suggest Googling polyamory and your town and seeing if there is a discussion group near you – there are tons of them. Meet other poly people, ask questions online or in person, and see how you feel. Check out the book and website www.morethantwo.com.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Not at the moment! 🙂  Feel free to ask for clarification on anything.

Barbara Rice
Barbara Rice is anewscafe.com's administrative assistant. She grew up in Igo listening to the devil's music, hearing tales of WWII, and reading James Thurber and Mad Magazine while dreaming of traveling to exotic lands. She graduated from the old Igo School, Shasta High School, Shasta College, and San Francisco State University. She's been told she's a bad influence and that makes her very happy. She tweets, travels, and spoils cats. There's a dance in the old dame yet.
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24 Responses

  1. cheyenne says:

    I had to do it.  I googled polyamory and Cheyenne and low and behold someone had already asked that question and someone answered yes.

  2. Beverly Stafford says:

    Thank you, Barbara.  Live and learn.

  3. A. Jacoby says:

    Well . . . my day is not wasted. I have learned something . . . several somethings, actually . . . . today. Thank you for  very interesting and informative interview.

    I sincerely believe that LOVE, like human beings and like snowflakes, exists in a dimension where there are no two exactly alike.

  4. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    My doctorate is in evolutionary ecology, and mating systems are familiar territory.  More than 80% of human societies are polygynous, about 15% to 20% are monogamous, and less than 1% are polyandrous. (That’s percent of societies, not people. A lot of those polyandrous societies don’t have a lot of members.)  Even the monogamous groups tend to be at least in part be genetically polygynous. Extra-pair paternity runs up to about 20% in many socially monogamous and polygynous human societies.  

    Humans are interesting.  Mammal and bird species vary between species quite a lot when it comes to mating systems, but for the most part, if you’re species X, your mating system is what it is.  Humans are all over the map, and it gets very wonky reasoning why monogamy seems to be favored in advanced societies.  One hypothesis is that monogamy frees us up to focus on endeavors other than mating competition, so monogamy tends to be encouraged/enforced by higher-ups for the sake of productivity.  

    Don’t let those monogamous birds fool you, though. I long ago published a short paper on extra-pair copulations in American Kestrels (our little falcons). Screwing around among monogamous animal species abounds.  

    Our current POTUS is an example of a serial monogamist—that’s if you choose to believe that he’s been faithful in each of his three marriages, while they last. We have only his own words to dispute his fidelity, and he’s honesty- and reality-challenged, so his bragging falls short of solid proof.  

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      *I mean that al lot of those polygynous societies—the 80% group—don’t have a lot of individual members.  (Nor do polyandrous groups, but since they make up less than 1% of mating systems, that’s pretty much a given.)

      Polygyny — polygamy in which a man has more than one female partner.

      Polyandry — polygamy in which a woman has more than one male partner.

    • cheyenne says:

      Steve, interesting you would chose Trump as a serial monogamist.  Bill Clinton, from Arkansas governor to POTUS was a serial cheater.  You could say that about a lot of the POTUS in the past too.  JFK  trysted with Marylyn Monroe, according to tell alls.   Dwight Eisenhower was famous for calling his wife Kay, which was the name of his mistress.  And Thomas Jefferson sired several offspring with Sally Jennings.

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        I meant serial monogamist in the narrow sense of someone who pair-bonds with one person and does not have sexual relations with others so long as the pair bond lasts—thus, my skepticism that Trump is a serial monogamist.  Bald eagles are serial monogamists—they are faithful to their mates year after year, but if Male B chases off Male A, the female is likely to re-pair with the winner (as occurred with our famous Turtle Bay eagles). A married farmer who lived on the plains of Nebraska in the 19th century and got a mail-order bride after his first wife died was likely a serial monogamist.

        What you’re describing in other presidents isn’t serial monogamy.  It’s social monogamy paired with sexual polygyny.  Depending on the depth and persistence of the extramarital relationships, it’s flat-out polygyny (certainly the case with Tom and Sally).

        You left out Grover Cleveland, Mrs. Halpin, and their illegitimate child, which became a campaign issue during one of his presidential races, with crowds of anti- and pro-Cleveland opponents chanting at each other…

        Anti-Cleveland crowd:  “Ma! Ma! Where’s my Pa?!”

        Pro-Cleveland crowd:   “Gone to the White House! Ha, ha ha!”

        (Or so I was taught as a schoolboy.)

        After being elected, Cleveland married the 21-year-old daughter of his best friend. No idea what the best friend thought about that.

    • Virginia says:

      Your hate is showing against the President.  You DO NOT know what he is or has been.  You surmise, not know.  There is a difference.   So, please stop your bias, now.

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        Virginia, maybe you need to re-read what I wrote.  Trump has famously bragged about his infidelities, including one case where he was tape-recorded conversing about an attempted infidelity.  He apologized, awkwardly, during one of the latter presidential debates.

        What I said above is that it’s possible (though I think unlikely) that Trump’s bragging about his trysts is s*** from a bull.  He has well-established problems with truth-telling and consensus reality, so it’s possible that he’s talking about his bloated and imaginary self image rather his actual sexual successes.

        At any rate, I’m willing to take his word on this matter.  You’re the one calling him a liar.

      • Juliette Siegfried says:

        Donald Trump says if he wasn’t caught cheating on his ‘beautiful wife’ Ivana with girlfriend Marla Maples, life would’ve stayed ‘a bowl of cherries’ in 1994. – http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/trump-cheating-ivana-marla-beautiful-1994-article-1.2822695

        Trump says his own personal ‘indiscretions’ – including cheating on his first wife – are fair game in politics. – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3378905/Trump-says-personal-indiscretions-including-cheating-wife-fair-game-politics.html

        As Steve says, you’re the one calling him a liar.

      • Rod says:

        You’re right Virginia, lost objectivity and bias isn’t what a highly educated person should broadcast.

        Speech restrictions based on the identity of the speaker are all too often simply a means to control content.

        • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

          Okay, folks. Keep it civil without attacks on each other.

        • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

          Rod sez:  “Speech restrictions based on the identity of the speaker are all too often simply a means to control content.”

          Hey Rod, I never once suggested that Virginia or anyone else put a sock in it, nor otherwise try to “control content.”  But here’s what Virginia had to say to me:  “So, please stop your bias, now.”

          Stop.  Now.  Directed at me.

          I’m not by nature a censor.  And I wasn’t being unobjective….Trump’s own pronouncements regarding his infidelities are easily discoverable if you care to look.  I flat out said—twice!!—that his claims regarding his dalliances may not be true.  But if they’re not true, that makes him a liar.  He’s a philanderer or a liar—one or the other. You can’t have it both ways.

          As for my biases about Trump, I admit to that straight away.  I believe Trump is a megalomaniac, a con man, a clownish buffoon, and a mental midget.  And I think he’s as dishonest as a viceroy butterfly’s wings.

  5. Deb says:

    A very informative and interesting article – thank you!  I’m a big believer in, “if no one is getting hurt, love is love and love is good.” 🙂  I know I couldn’t handle a poly-anything relationship but that’s down to my own insecurities, not any moral issue.  But everyone is different (and isn’t the world a better place for it?) so I am glad that this is a possibility – and a reality – that works for those who love differently than I do!

    • Juliette Siegfried says:

      Thanks Deb. Everyone is indeed different and it’s nice when we can acknowledge that and still respect other ways of being – e.g., we are not in any way opposed to monogamy – it just didn’t work for us. Obviously it works quite well for a lot of people!

      I did want to point out one thing.

      I’m a big believer in, “if no one is getting hurt, love is love and love is good.”

      Poly people get hurt, just like monogamous people get hurt. Not every monogamous relationship works out, by far, and not every poly relationship either. In fact, most relationships of any kind end before the death of the people involved. And that hurts.

      The problem with people saying “…as long as no one gets hurt,” is that when a poly relationship ends, the common refrain is, “SEE? Open relationships never work,” while when a monogamous relationship fails, no one says, “SEE? Monogamy never works.”

      Just wanted to make that note – we all get hurt sometimes, and it doesn’t mean our choices, whatever they were, were wrong. It just didn’t work out.

  6. nombre says:

    sounds like it could be a legal quagmire when one of them becomes deceased.  Hopefully they have a good Trust(s) that specifically addresses the non-standard living relationship.  Non-trust assets (life insurance, retirement accounts) should have a specific & definite beneficiary(ies).  Living in a foreign country likely further complicates those issues.

    (even though it is a vague statement, that is not to be construed as legal advice…)

    • Juliette Siegfried says:

      Actually, it’s not that complicated. We all have permanent residency and proper legal wills in place for the Netherlands, specifying those details. Roland has Dutch life insurance with the three of us as beneficiaries. We have no plans to return to the US and we will become Dutch citizens in the next year or two.

      The harder part seems to be giving up our US citizenship – that is a bit of a quagmire, and an expensive one at that.

       

       

  7. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    This was an interesting article. Thanks.

    It sounds like this arrangement works well for these folks. As for me, I’m nearly certain that I lack the organizational skills for such a lifestyle.

    • Virginia says:

      Smiling, Hal!

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      We used to watch the HBO series “Big Love.”  Seems like most of the logistical organizing in the Mormon polygynous families depicted in the series—including the central family with three wives—fell to the ladies.  The husbands were basically idea men who mostly seemed confused by all the details.

      • Juliette Siegfried says:

        A lot of people wonder about the organization of our situation – it’s amazingly uncomplicated. What if we were a mother, father, 2 kids and a grandma/grandpa or aunt/uncle living together? Some time ago I believe these types of households were more common, and they managed somehow.

        There are 2 romantic relationships here instead of just one, but we each have our own bedrooms, so that doesn’t add much complexity. We’re grown-ups, not running around like kids anymore.

        In fact, as I mentioned in the article, we find it pretty luxurious to have so many adults around to help with our daughter. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and we have a built in village right at home!

  8. Carter Slade says:

    It is sad that some folks cant appreciate an informative and interesting article for what it simply is and not try to make it about something that is not even relative. Thanks for the article Barbara. It’s refreshing to read and learn  about something these days that is NOT about politics.. Well…

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      This is an open-discussion format. Open discussions go where they go.  I touched off one political thread my mentioning in an off-handed way that our POTUS is arguably a serial monogamist, and arguably not.  Other people found that comment interesting enough to follow up.

      You are free to avert your gaze, schoolmarm.

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