Dear Kitty:

A close friend of mine recently was grilling me about my lifestyle choices. They couldn’t understand why I would involve myself with someone outside of my primary relationship. I know what my reasons are, but in that moment I felt cornered and didn’t know how to respond. They also asked me “Why be married at all if you are going to be in several relationships? Wouldn’t it be easier to just be a free agent? What would be the point of being married?” These are actually questions I get asked often and I often have a hard time articulating all of the things that make this work for me. Perhaps you have some insight that could help me find the language I need to help people understand? Signed

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Dear Can’tFindTheWords:

I am a proud, polyamorous, happily married woman. The first time I was asked the latter question, I admit I bristled and felt a desire arise in me to get a bit defensive. But I also had to admit that it was an honest question. Why DO people in open relationships bother to get married? AND why have multiple relationships at all if you already have a great relationship with your main partner (possibly a nesting partner meaning someone that you live with)? This is also something to deeply consider during these strange times that we find ourselves in, with stay-at-home orders, social distancing in effect, and real fears about our physical safety. It sure can make “dating” a challenging and even scary prospect. 

So, why have additional relationships outside of your main, presumably happy relationship? Here are some of the talking points that I use when speaking to “vanilla folk” or “muggles” for the Harry Potter fans (in this context, meaning folks in monogamous, traditional relationships who are not 100% accepting or understanding YET about ENM)…

I literally orient towards polyamory

I literally orient towards polyamory – that’s who I am inside and out. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that monogamy simply does not work for me. I tried it for well over a decade, back when I drank the kool-aid of compulsory monogamy that I was being fed. I failed miserably, cheating on every partner I had, creating chaos and self-hatred, thinking back then that there was something seriously wrong with me. Turns out, I’m simply not a monogamous person. And that’s OK. I went through therapy to help reclaim my identity and get to a place of radical self-acceptance around many things (including involuntary childlessness). On the other side of it, I can now proudly state: I am polyamorous. And proud of it. I love who I am. I think most people know that trying to “pray the gay away” does not work, and completely invalidates someone’s experience of who they are. For me, the same applies. Thus, having more than one relationship is my desire today and for the rest of my days on this earth. I believe in the right to choose how to run my life, who to love, and how to love them. Boom

No one person can satisfy ALL of my needs.

That is true for everyone, whether they practice monogamy or polyamory or some other style of a relationship structure. I would venture to guess that most of us have more than one friend. We may enjoy Activity A (Renaissance Festivals for example) with Friend A, and Activity B (running half marathons) with Friend B. Both of those lovely humans bring something wonderful to my life. I love, cherish, and appreciate them both. So why not in intimate or loving relationships as well? Why can’t one partner I cherish live across the country, and one of them I share my bed with (most nights)? In fact, expecting one person to meet ALL of our needs is not realistic, and often leads at worst to a dysfunctional or codependent relationship, OR at best to one or both people feeling disappointed (after they set themselves up for failure with their lofty expectations). Another metaphor (thanks to Cliff Rees of Empowered Pleasure): “No matter how much you enjoy a particular food, you’re probably going to get bored if you can only eat that one thing, day after day, year after year.” Amen to that! I love variety! (that’s partly why I identify as polyamorous! IT ME! – not a typo  ). 

As far as the question of why bother getting married at all, if one prefers ENM…

I wanted to get married for love but only to the right man…

Even during my monogamous life, I always knew that I wanted to get married for love, but only to the right man. That’s partly why I did not get married before age 37. I “tried on” monogamous men and that type of life for size and it never felt right to me. I needed to find an open-minded man that would grow in the same direction I did. And I very much enjoy married life, having my “penguin” (in this case, my “primary” by law since we are legally bound to each other, share financial obligations, etc), and I like knowing that I have someone who has promised to grow old with me. It’s comforting. Call me silly… But I like it.

There are many legal benefits to getting married.

We share resources, decision making, mortgages responsibilities, etc. We know that if either one of us became incapacitated, we trust each other to both legally and ethically look out for the other. We each have Power Of Attorney to make decisions for our lives and well-being. And if one of us passes, it is legally efficient that the survivor easily and without question, maintains control over any collective property, etc. Also, life insurance policies are easy to understand and uphold with a married couple. Is this couples privilege? Yes, yes it is. Yet that’s how our laws are currently set up – to benefit legally married folks. 

I am on my husband’s health insurance policy.

Even though we are married, just to get me on his plan, my husband had to show proof that we were legally bound with our marriage certificate (maybe they wanted extra proof since I did not take my husband’s last name. I never really cared for that outdated tradition, as I am not my husband’s property. And well, I like my own last name! It’s from my daddy whom I adore!).

People UNDERSTAND husband / wife relationships.

We are easily recognized in society as a “couple”. People get it. Maybe it’s one way that I conform to society. Just about all of my friends ALSO know that we are a polyamorous couple as well. Yet they tend to treat us as a “regular” married couple, partly because they understand and are comfortable with that. I can only control me and my reactions, not theirs. I accept where they are. 

The wedding ceremony was a helluva good time.

Hey, what can I say, I love a party. Ha! And party we did, for an entire week at the beach. Then we had a two week honeymoon in Italy that was nothing short of amazing. Good times! 

Where some of this becomes difficult in being a polyamorous married woman is that it is awkward trying to get others to recognize my relationship with my other nesting partner as equally important to me. For lack of a better term, “secondary” relationships are not understood easily by the average person in society. “What the heck is that? I don’t know what to ‘do‘ with that?” Even people that I have “come out” as polyamorous to, most of the time, they act as if my other partner does not exist. I think it makes them more comfortable. Some do on occasion ask me how he’s doing, but they often have a difficult time hiding the “we’re-just-asking-because-we-think-we-are-supposed-to-but-we-just-think-of-him-as-this-friend-that-you-live-with-because-that-makes-it-easier-for-us” type of look on their face. And you know what? That’s OK. They are trying. They are still my friends. And we are happy within our household, so we run with it. I also simply like that we can talk out loud about it (before the beginning of my open / poly life where I was “in the closet” as it were.)

Some introspection questions: 

So what about you? What are your reasons for having multiple partners (while possibly being married)? What came first? The desire for an open relationship or the main partner that you have now? Why? Why did you perhaps choose to NOT get married? Do you think you have it in your heart to continue to expand your polycule (your intimate network), live a truly authentic life, and also be able to practice the emotional labor it often takes to educate your friends, family, or co-workers? 

Either way, I applaud you for living life on your terms, doing the inner work, being courageous each day, even when it is not easy. You got this! Keep going!

With love and gratitude,

Coach Kitty
Dear Kitty
Kitty Chambliss, PCC, CPC, ELI-MP is a certified relationship coach, keynote speaker, educator, author, and polyamorous + sex positive advocate. Kitty has made it her life’s mission to make thriving relationships – even unconventional ones – attainable to everyone. She is passionate about helping people like you live their most authentic, joyous, and healthy lives, free from shame…. Through this column she offers tips and advice to struggles you may be having. If have a problem and think that Kitty may be able to help solve it, please feel free to ask your question here.
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