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.