By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
I recently chatted with five individuals (two couples and one single) about their experiences with polyamory (also known as non-monogamy or open relationships) for a feature in the December 2012 issue of PQ Monthly. While I could only fit so much in print, the interview subjects had plenty to say about everything from the perks of being poly to common misconceptions as well as stickier stuff such as boundaries and coming out.
Below are the responses from one couple, Rachael and Devon. Though I interviewed them separately, I thought it would be interesting to see their responses side by side.
You can read the profile here.
PQ Monthly: What is your age, pronoun(s), and identity word(s)?
Rachael Palmer: 32, she/her/they/them, fat queer femme slut.
Devon Chase: I’m 30 years old and use she, them, they. I would say I identify as fat, butch, poly, queer.
PQ: Are you currently in any relationships? How would you describe them?
Palmer: I am in a primary partnership with my wife, Devon Chase, of seven years and have some very casual secondary relationships right now.
Chase: I would currently consider myself as part of two relationships. One is with my primary partner Rachael Palmer. We are domestically partnered and have been together for about 7 years. I’m also dating someone and have been for about 5 months. This is much more of a casual relationship (more of a steady date). She has a family and is also in a primary relationship.
PQ: What does polyamory/non-monogamy mean to you?
Palmer: It means being able to love/fuck multiple people ethically.
Chase: To me… Polyamory means having the opportunity to maintain and enjoy multiple, honest, and respectful relationships at one time.
PQ: When and why did you become interested in polyamory?
Palmer: When I was living in Eugene a fellow student was in a three-way marriage. I have never been very good at monogamy and the idea of being able to have more than one partner without disrespecting the boundaries of a primary relationship sounded pretty dreamy.
Chase: I’d have to say I’ve been interested/practicing polyamory since high school. I obviously didn’t understand what “polyamory” meant at the time, but at about the age of 18 I realized that having monogamous relationships was difficult for me and often lead to hurt feelings and misunderstandings. I just never understood why I was supposed to be with only one person. I then began starting most of my relationships with a kind of warning sentence: ”I really like you, but I hope you understand I’m continuing to date other people” even if I wasn’t or “Just a warning, monogamy isn’t my strong suit” (I used this one on Rachael) obviously leading to more of a conversation of exactly what that meant at the time… I mostly kept people at bay not really allowing myself to be involved in serious committed relationships until I was about 21.
PQ: Do you think you could be in a monogamous relationship? Is polyamory a necessity for you or just something that works for you right now?
Palmer: I don’t think I could be in a monogamous relationship again. Polyamory is part of my identity. My primary partner and I have had periods where we intentionally didn’t date other people but it was always with the end goal of opening our relationship back up after we had done some much needed work on our selves.
Chase: Polyamory has become a very important part of my life and my identity. Rachael and I have had bouts of monogamy in our relationship but I don’t think I can ever be in a relationship where 100 percent monogamy is the expectation.
PQ: What are your personal boundaries around polyamory?
Palmer: First off safety is most important. We have physical boundaries in the interest of not contracting or spreading STDs.
I think my boundaries are always kind of morphing and changing to what my primary partner and I need at the time. The nature of our polyamory has changed a lot since we first got together. We used to only date people together and that came with it’s own set of rules that changed with who we were dating and again what made us both feel safe. For example, originally we would only date/sleep with people together and we wouldn’t interact romantically with said date without the other person around but as we got more comfortable that changed too. Now we date people together and separately.
One of our biggest boundaries is not communicating about poly stuff via text message and definitely not when either one of us is at work.
Since we live together we don’t allow dates at the house unless it is a shared date. We often date our friends so secondary partners are invited to social gatherings in our home but no romantic or physical intimacy are allowed. If we are out on a date together then I am with them only. If one of my other dates are there I don’t interact romantically with them or hit on other people unless we are doing it together. My primary and I have specific days that we try not to plan secondary dates on so that we make time for each other every week. Nurturing the solid foundation of our relationship is always number one. I never want our problems to leak into our secondary relationships, it’s not fair to anyone.
Chase: Boundaries… That’s a tough one. Boundaries for me have a lot to do [with] making sure you and your partners feel safe within the relationship. The relationship they are having with you and the relationship they in turn have with your other partners. (It’s all based on love, intention, communication, and treating everyone in the situation with tenderness.) It’s hard to give specifics because every relationship has a different set of boundaries.
A few that don’t budge for me are:
Our Home: Rachael and I live together and for me our home and bed need to be just ours Unless it’s a shared partner.
Social space: When I’m out with a date I’m spending intentional time with that person and I expect the same in return. Dates can be at a social event but just to keep things from getting too “grey,” when “we’re out together we’re out together” – keep the flirting to a minimum (especially if there is another partner there) and I’ll do the same.
Honesty: In my opinion the only way polyamorous relationships work is with complete honesty. This doesn’t mean I want to know every detail of every secondary relationship my partners are in, but if something significant, especially emotionally significant, comes up I hope we can share it. No matter how scary it might be. For me being poly is about me and the people I love having a safe place to explore ourselves and seek happiness, whether it’s with me, a current partner, new partner, or being single. Honesty and full disclosure with all partners will only help.
PQ: Does your practice of/interest in polyamory intersect with BDSM/kink? If so, how?
Palmer: Depends on who I am dating (wink). I guess group sex would be considered a form of kink and we (my primary partner) often engage in group scenarios as well as a variety of BDSM acts.
Chase: Kink and BDSM do play a small role in polyamory for me but it definitely isn’t a driving force or the reason I’m poly. BDSM and kink are very personalized experiences and not always do I feel comfortable sharing my “kinks” with all of my partners. My primary and I do participate in BDSM but at different levels. Being in a poly relationship allows us to full fill our desires without crossing the other one’s boundaries. It’s great! In my opinion, being poly has allowed me and my partners to explore aspects of sex, BDSM, and kink more freely and without judgment.
PQ: Do you experience jealousy and, if so, how do you address it?
Palmer: I do experience jealousy. I think there is a common misconception that if you are practicing nonmanogamy that you don’t. For me it’s all about allowing myself to feel jealousy but taking my time in thinking about how I want to react to it. The end goal being to eventually not experience it but until then I tend to try and work through it on my own. It has really forced me to rationally focus on my emotions and desires which has lead to a lot of personal growth and a strong focus on emotional self care.
Chase: Jealousy is almost impossible to avoid and will happen to the best of us. The difference is I know the feelings I’m having are my own to deal with and not the fault of my partners. There’s nothing sneaky or shady happening. Being poly is like agreeing in advance to really think about your personal boundaries and to only agree to boundaries you feel comfortable operating in. This helps really break down and understand where feeling of jealousy are coming from. “Am I jealous of the time or feelings my partner is sharing with someone else or am I upset because I want that attention”…
PQ: Did you have to come out as poly to friends and family?
Palmer: Yes, I did. It’s part of my identity and I want my family and loved ones to know about the people that are special in my life. Also, I would rather be able to explain our brand of polyamory then have them make assumptions about us based on hearsay. I think for people who don’t know much about polyamory it is easy to assume that my primary and I are having problems and that’s why we are sleeping with other people when in actuality it’s the opposite. We fuck other people because we want to be together for a long time and indulging our fantasies and desires keeps us happy and healthy. When I told my Mom about our polyness she shared that her and my father had actually almost opened their relationship up at one point and they had a whole set of rules they came up with but eventually decided it wasn’t for them. She’s been very supportive. For my birthday this year she sent me an antique tea cup that had two femmes holding hands on the front. When she brought it home and looked at it again she realized that there was a whole group of women standing together on the backside and she thought, “Well, that works for Rachael too.”
Chase: I definitely found it necessary to come out as poly. We have a small community and it became clear that it’s either explain repeatedly that you “swear [I’m] not having an affair” or come out to friends as ploy. I took the cowards way out and let Facebook come out to my family for me. It worked out pretty well minus one really confused/curious aunt.
PQ: Have you ever had a hard time finding poly dates/partners?
Palmer: I feel like it does get harder for me as I get older. I am really comfortable being forward and stating my desires and boundaries and because I am in a committed primary partnership, I don’t really want to play games, mince words or leave things open to interpretation. That sort of confidence tends to freak out the insecure and inexperienced. I really don’t want to date people who are not slut/poly/open identified. There is a certain amount of emotional maturity required in poly relationships that if you haven’t read about it or practiced it there is the potential for unethical behavior and this slut is too old to explain how respect and self control work.
Chase: Finding poly dates and partners can be harder than you think. Not only does someone have to be interested in me but they have to be patient, sensitive, and understanding when it comes to my primary partner too. It can be a lot to ask of someone who isn’t experienced in polyamory. Rachael and I have had more luck with dates as a couple than we’ve had separately – there’s often a little less expectation of time and status when group dating. I feel really lucky in my current situation though. I have an amazing and understanding primary partner and an equally awesome and understanding date who’s in her own relationship.
PQ: In what ways do you think the practice of polyamory strengthens the relationship between two people?
Palmer: Due to the required communication in dating multiple people you really have to have full transparency. I have to be really honest with myself so I can communicate effectively about my needs. My actions don’t just effect me they effect a whole group of people so I have learned to be really intentional. I feel like I am on a whole new level of intimacy with my primary due to the amount of honesty shared. We are so delicate with each other and always try to have the other’s best interest in mind. It makes me feel really loved and supported.
Chase: I do believe that being in a polyamorous relationship can and does strengthen the bond between two people. I can only speak based on my own experience, but polyamory has given me the freedom to act as an individual even though I’m in a partnership. This only works because of the open line of communication and trust between Rachael and I. Even though we often act as individuals, we both have one another’s best interest in mind always. This level of ultimate trust has absolutely brought us closer than ever.
PQ: Have you ever encountered “polyscamery”? How can someone new to non-monogamy distinguish between ethical sluttery and shady behavior?
Palmer: Polyscamery? I have never heard that term before. Well, everyone has different boundaries so what’s good for some is not for all. But if something doesn’t feel good in your gut and you’ve taken the time to figure out if it’s a passing jealous feeling or not and it is still leaving a bad taste in your mouth then it’s time to have a chat about it. The Ethical Slut was a great first read for me when we were figuring out how to navigate opening up. I have a really short tolerance for shady behavior and tend to cut things off before the potential of drama. I will just stop engaging before I allow someone else’s drama into my life and other relationships.
Chase: I don’t think I’ve ever encountered polyscamery or been intentionally misled by someone claiming to be poly. It’s hard to figure out boundaries and communication that works for you when you’re new to poly relationships. My best advice to people thinking about being poly or who are new to polyamory is to state your boundaries clearly and hold people to the expectations and boundaries that you think are important. If you’re not comfortable with someone’s “poly” behavior don’t expect them to change, just figure out what’s best for you and your primary partner.
PQ: What misconceptions about polyamory do you commonly encounter? How do you respond?
Palmer: Well, as I said before the idea that I don’t get jealous and that my primary partnership must be flawed if we are sleeping with other people. I think a lot of monogamous identified folks assume that I think everyone should be poly. I think monogamy is great if it works for you. It just doesn’t for me. Also, I have feelings. I do fall for my secondary partners. It’s not always just about sex for me… MOST times it is but I am capable of loving multiple people at the same time and welcome that feeling.
Chase: I think there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to polyamorous relationships. Here are a few I’ve encountered: “Open or poly relationships are on the verge of a break up.” In my experience this couldn’t be farther from the truth. My primary partner and I have been poly since day one and we’re going on 7 years.
“Polyamorous relationships are just an excuse to do whatever you want (a free for all if you will).” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Every move I make in a polyamorous relationship is intentional. Polyamory is not about being selfish, it’s about creating balance and genuinely respecting and loving more than one person.
PQ: Do you think government should grant legal recognition to non-monogamous relationships?
Chase: I think the government should acknowledge any relationship in which things like property, expenses, and bills are shared. It shouldn’t matter how many people are involved. I consider government recognitions of any relationship a contract that has less to do with love and more to do with business.
PQ: What do you think is the biggest perk to being poly?
Palmer: The sex, obviously. Also, the growth that comes along with all of the honesty and communication with a variety of different people.
Chase: Perks to being poly, hmm. Well, sex with multiple partners is a pretty good one.
I also really appreciated the freedom to keep exploring and learning about myself and my partners. Not that self-exploration doesn’t happen in monogamous relationships, but as a polyamorous person, I don’t ever have to wonder if someone or some other situation is going to make me happy. I get a great deal of confidence from knowing my primary partner could be with anyone and is still choosing to be with me.
PQ: Do you think polyamory is more common in the queer community? Why or why not?
Palmer: It’s hard to say since I don’t really hang much outside of the queer community. I do have one group of straight friends who are all mostly poly and I actually confide in them occasionally. But I do think it is a more commonly accepted in our community. Our sex (queer sex) is already fetishized and attacked in mainstream culture so I’d like to think that the queer community is more open minded due to that.
Chase: Although daytime talk shows would lead you to believe differently I do think polyamory is more wide spread in the queer community. Being queer and being poly are both acts still considered taboo by members of our society so maybe that’s the connection. If you’re already being judged on the kind of sex you like to have why not add the number of partners you have at one time to that list.
PQ: Do you feel like you belong to a poly community?
Palmer: I do. I wish it was bigger though! Hi, sluts… let’s be friends (community size queen)! I have managed to build a close-knit family of folks who are slut identified. I love that we all get to share in each other’s experiences and help each other grow through that.
Chase: I do feel part of a poly community. Rachael and I live with another poly couple, which has been really nice and I feel like the understanding of polyamorous relationships has become more accepted and wide spread here in Portland.
PQ: Anything else you’d like to add?
Palmer: I love my wife, life and being a slut. I love talking about it too. There is no road map to non-monogamy and I think sharing our experiences is really important so we can learn from each other. Thank you for writing this article to get the conversations going in our community!