Out of the Monogamy Closet
Eddie McClellan, his real name, is a 74-year-old Arizona real-estate investor and former Mormon bishop who participates on the Utah Polyamory Society discussion board and jokes that he’s reached a point in life of not caring anymore if his “karma runs over dogma.” Married for 48 years to a woman with “definite monogamous rules and a nonequivalent sexual appetite,” he’s now in a primary relationship with someone who accepts his polyamory. Most of his adult children think he’s “on that slippery slope to you-know-where.”
Polyamory’s pull for McClellan is its recognition that no single person can be all things to another. He opines that “much time, money, effort and emotional trauma is endured by people searching the world for their one-and-only.”
For McClellan, “OAO now means one-among-others,” and he says multipartner loving relationships are “like a couple that welcomes another baby into their lives and discovers there’s quite enough love in their hearts to share.” He further says, “We need to experience variety to avoid boredom.”
McClellan also no longer accepts society’s traditional matrimonial rules, since “more than half of marriages end in divorce and half the remaining ones range from unhappy to downright miserable.”
Not all polyamorists are anti-monogamy, but those like McClellan who felt trapped for years or decades by stifling monogamous relationships often boldly assert that they have no intention of going back.
Some people alternate between monogamous and polyamorous lifestyles. A few become bitter about their experiences on one side and then commit to the other exclusively, but for many, circumstances dictate which works best.
Daniel Newby, also his real name, is a 40-year-old, self-employed construction-materials manufacturer whose philosophy on emotional and sexual attachments mirrors his “leave-people-alone” worldview. Newby states, “How I choose to express myself sexually depends upon where I am in life. For more than five years, I’ve explored non-monogamous relationships. I’ll always care deeply for more than one woman, and I believe my feelings are natural and appropriate. Currently, I’m sexually monogamous but don’t pretend to know if that will change because I don’t know how she or I might change. She’s not my property, and I’m not hers. If we remain monogamous, it will be the very best thing for each of us.”
The philosophical divide and diverse opinions in the gay/lesbian community over non-monogamy are basically the same as those among straights. Charles Lynn Frost, local LGBT leader, activist and actor best known for his Sister Dottie S. Dixon character, is currently monogamous but honors both poly and mono paths. He says, “Gays who insist upon rigid monogamy can get trapped in the same societal dynamic that created marriage: the control of people … and historically, those were women … property, and dowries.
“While I’m a strong believer in commitment,” Frost says, “I don’t think sexual exclusivity is an absolute requirement for successful relationships. Within the LGBT culture, for certain personalities and partnerships with complex compatibilities, monogamy may be counterproductive, as with some long-term heterosexual couples. LGBT combinations and agreements range from openness, honesty and mutual trust to the extreme opposite of cheating and the sad endings it brings.”
For the Young at Heart?
Younger folks experimenting with polyamory approach it with more curiosity and less emotional baggage. While writing a college essay four years ago, Beth, 23, learned about polyamory. The instructor suggested choosing a controversial topic in which she had experience. Having been raised in polygamy, it seemed a natural subject. A therapist once told her that she didn’t need to disown her entire religious past but could take anything good from it. “I knew that there had to be other relationships involving multiple people different than polygamy, so the intent of my research was to look into it.”
She liked the idea of polyamory but had to shed an aversion to sharing partners—a residual effect of her polygamous upbringing. “I find it natural to be involved with multiple people, but I don’t support it being religiously driven.”
Beth later became the third member of a triad with a married couple, Mike, 28, and Jen, 26. Mike had initially been skeptical of polyamory, but, after one monogamous year of marriage, he wanted to understand his wife’s acknowledged bisexual leaning, so they agreed to try a threesome. “We began exploring swinging, met some great people, but ultimately wanted deeper relationships,” Mike says.
They studied polyamory, consulted a relationship counselor, and the idea of seeing other people separately began to feel less threatening. Mike says, “I had to work through a lot of insecurities and fears to get past my jealousy. I grew more as a person in one year of polyamory than I did in the 10 years previous.”
Mike and Jen have developed a list of agreements they review monthly and update as needed. The triad (which leaves everyone open for other relationships, too) is working better than any other relationship they’ve ever had. All are active in the Utah Polyamory Society, and Jen comments, “Having a group to commiserate with and meet new friends is fantastic.”