When one lover is not enough

In Too lazy to assign a category on March 16, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Source: The Dominion Post

Honeys, I'm home, calls Zachary as he walks through the door. Three kisses for his partner Mary, sitting curled on the couch – one, two, three. Moving to the other end of the couch, he deposits three kisses on Anna's lips, one, two, three – and then a fourth.

Back to Mary, another kiss to even it up – and then another. And so on. "Sometimes Zachary spends a good 10 minutes going from one to the other," laughs Mary.

Zachary and "his girls" are a ménage a trois.

Zachary and Mary were married for about six years when they met Anna and invited her to move in. They have been together for a year. Both women are bisexual; the relationship is known as a triad.

"You really have to have your shit sorted to do this," says Zachary. "But if it works, the advantages are just incredible, and I'm not just talking about the sex. It's just this is an interesting household."

In a society where monogamy is the norm, but adultery all too common, polyamorists say they have got it right. "Many people are torn between deceptive adultery and unsatisfying monogamous relationships. This is the best of both worlds, I guess," said Carl Turney, a researcher on the subject.

A Durex survey found only 43 per cent of people were satisfied with their sex lives. Another survey found 16 per cent of Kiwis admitting having an extra-marital affair.

Mr Turney says overseas studies suggest the number of cheaters is much higher – as many as one in two men and one in three women cheat at some time during their marriage. The American-born medical analyst has researched the subject around the world, working with support groups in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

He says the poly lifestyle is more common and varied than you might think. Many are discreet about their lifestyles, living as singles or couples, and chances are you wouldn't know. None of the people spoken to by The Dominion Post fit any stereotype.

They are people who believe monogamy is often an impossible ask, that no one person can be everything for another. They say while the rest of us philander and cheat, they are being honest.

Polyamory is very different from swinging. Rather than casual sex with strangers, which they tend to see as impersonal and mechanical, it is based on love. It can take many permutations, the most common being a V or a Zig Zag, where one or both partners have another partner. Sometimes the group is committed and exclusive, other times it is more casual, allowing outside lovers.

Mr Turney advises Polyamory Wellington, a monthly support group where about a dozen people meet to discuss issues and support each other. He says the lifestyle is often run by women.

People take on the lifestyle for many reasons – one or both are bisexual, the couple have a libido mismatch, one has an insatiable appetite for variety, or one falls in love with someone else but still loves their partner.

Aside from the sexual adventure, polyamorists say there are many other advantages – more money, more support, and at least one partner is invigorated, happier, and has more to give back to the relationship.

"When I have had romantic involvements with other women, it has also made me appreciate my wife more," says Wellington IT consultant Hamish, aged in his 30s, who has an open relationship with his wife.

They say it is an ideal arena in which to raise kids. With the growth of step-families, many children have more than two parents, but in this case, they all love each other.

The scope for jealousy is huge. Everyone who spoke to The Dominion Post admitted jealousy or insecurities had to be worked through.

One described the first night his partner went out with another man. "I remember lying in bed, my stomach was tied in a knot. I physically couldn't sleep. But it diminished over time, it becomes less important as you go through the issues."

Mr Turney said polys see jealousy as a symptom that the relationship is under threat and more communication is needed, in pairs and in a group.

Of course, there is no guarantee that your partner will not fall in love with someone else and leave you. Relationships break up, just as they do for other people.

But polys are also aware of what they call NRE, new relationship energy.

Hamish says with any new relationship, "there's a natural release of serotonin and other chemicals, similar to cocaine". In other words, you're high on love.

"Once you understand that, it's just a case of being aware and not doing anything significant," Hamish says. "No changes in your world that involve mortgages, suitcases or airline tickets. A real relationship doesn't start until NRE wears off."

Hamish says polys talk about "compersion", what they say is the opposite of jealousy, where a person gains happiness from their partner's happiness with someone else.

The idea that we can be so selfless, loving, sharing and forgiving might seem a little too optimistic, and indeed, Mr Turney says some come to the group and then decide it's just too hard.

But it seems those who are making it work, even if they've had setbacks, swear by it.

So is this the relationship of the future? The fact that none of those interviewed for this story wanted to be identified speaks volumes for how people think they will be perceived.

They say those they have told about their lifestyle were mostly supportive. But few had told everyone they knew.

Zachary says his local library refused to display the support group's leaflets in the library.

He likens it to the attitude toward homosexuals three decades ago.

Hamish thinks it will open up as the lifestyle becomes better known. "There's an opening in society for non-traditional relationships. It's honestly the logical next step."


Lindsay's 10-year-marriage ended after the pair tried polyamory and her husband left her for another woman. But she she says it put her "firmly on the poly path" and she would never again commit to just one man.

When Lindsay's husband first suggested opening their marriage, she thought "it sounded a bit strange".

A few years later, aged in her early 50s, she had another look. "I said: 'I'm not really sure that I'm happy about you going out with other people, but I'd quite like to'. He said that was fine. He had this desire to imagine me with someone else."

Her first attempt was too casual and she got bored. Soon though, she started seeing a married man. They went on dates and weekends away.

The experience was "mind blowing". "I said: 'it's great, I've got one person to talk about this with, and another to talk about that. This is just too good to be true'."

She felt it was unfair on her husband, so she said he could meet others too.

Before she knew it, he was getting serious with another woman. "I was in a bit of a sulk. I wasn't happy about it."

Two months later, he told her he was moving in with his girlfriend. She was devastated. "If you're poly, the last thing you expect is for someone to leave you . . . Why would they leave you, when they can have both?"

She went through months of "bloody hell".

Now, she's settled. "I don't have a partner and I couldn't care less either, but I don't think I could go and commit to one person ever again."

"It seems blatantly obvious that one person will never be everything for me. They can never do everything, or be everything, or fulfil everything."


Hamish and his wife have an open marriage. They both date other people, although he says it is easier for women than men. They have both had to work through jealousy but he says they gain happiness from each other being happy.

Hamish, aged in his 30s, first read about polyamorous relationships in a book when he was 10, but he never thought it was possible.

About eight years ago, his wife of eight years admitted to him, eyes brimming with guilt, that while he was at work, she had been visiting Internet sex chatrooms. "I said 'that's cool', I was fine by that."

The pair, who have a young son, came to an understanding. At first they were limited to Internet contact with others, but no one in the southern hemisphere. Over time, they have progressed, slowly, as his wife has grown more comfortable.

He says his wife was motivated by sex drive. "I'm less sexual than she is. I don't have her level of drive. For me, it's part of a bigger picture."

Her first involvement was hard. "Intellectually I was OK with it, but emotionally I was really tripping out."

He has read extensively on the subject, knows the pitfalls, and has worked through his jealousy.

"Now, I'll come home from work and they've been having sex. Her boyfriend is still there. We sit in the bedroom and have a chat."

The pair have always focused on being fair.

He says it is not a lifestyle for the faint hearted. "If I had to give advice to people getting involved with it, to quote my favourite book: Don't.

"That said, I think the rewards are huge. In our case, I think it's been excellent."

Zachary, Mary and Anna

Mary, Anna and Zachary live in a menage a trois. Mary and Anna are both bisexual and the three of them plan a commitment ceremony later this year.

When people first learn Zachary has two "wives", he can tell what most of them think.

"You can see their brain ticking over – they think it's a total sex fest 24/7".

Zachary, Mary and Anna have lived together for a year, and they say the benefits extend way beyond sex. "It feels weird when we don't have three of us," Anna says.

Their sunny Wellington house has a woman's touch – or women's touch. One of the girls, who snores, sleeps in one room, the other two share the other. But there's a fair bit of bed hopping.

They all agree there were plenty of teething problems.

"It's not smooth sailing by any means," Zachary said. "We had to do lots and lots of talking."

Now, their relationship seems very relaxed. They talk in unison and laugh a lot. They work hard at being egalitarian in their affections. If they hug one, they hug the other.

They plan a commitment ceremony soon and joke about finding a third wife, or second husband.

They rewards, they say, are immense.

"For me, because I'm bisexual, I'd always go from wanting a man to wanting a woman to wanting a man," Anna says. "This situation balances me out."

They say there is extra strength and support in their group. "Every woman needs a wife," Mary jokes.

Zachary adds: "The best thing for me is if Mary wants to go shopping, Anna can take her . . . That really is every man's dream."

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