My Polyamory Journey

Polyamory 1By William Albert Baldwin

A few weeks ago, a woman invited me to her apartment, then proceeded to interview me for the role of her boyfriend/
lover/escort.

Since I write about polyamorous relationships and since I list myself as “in an open relationship” on Facebook, she figured I must be “available.”

Besides, I’m a guy; aren’t guys always ready for a willing woman?

In short: No.

Polyamory is an understudied phenomenon. Most people aren’t familiar with it. After I explain what it is, people ask how I came to be poly. They think that at some point I decided to do this. That’s not really true, but difficult to explain.

Some people define polyamory as the philosophy and practice of openly and honestly relating intimately to several people at one time; with emphasis on free and responsible choice, mutual consent of all involved, and sincere adherence to personal philosophical values.

I suspect that polyamory can also be an orientation—simply the way some people are. I could decide monogamy is better, then try to force myself to be monogamous; but I suspect I could never be happy that way. I didn’t decide to be polyamorous. I am now sixty-three years old; I feel I have been polyamorous since at least my early twenties.

My parents were married to each other for over forty years. Neither was ever married to anyone else. Same thing for my two sisters. The members of my family married for life.

I always expected I would too—and I have. My wife and I have been married for thirty-five years. I grew up with a prejudice against divorce, mainly from reading the Christian gospels. For me, “faithfulness” and “fidelity” have always meant “for the long term.”

But Christianity also taught me not to be selfish; to share.

I didn’t date in high school; I began as a sophomore in college. I discovered I was attracted to many people; I fell in love rather easily, in fact. But although I became attached to particular people, I never lost interest in others.

Polyamory defined

Polyamory defined

I don’t know whether this was “nature” or “nurture”—I just know that it happened.

Another factor may have been my family’s mobility.

My father worked thirty years for the American Red Cross, the section that supports the U.S. military. I grew up with the Air Force and Army. When I graduated from college, I had never lived anywhere more than five years. Between the ages of twelve and twenty-six (when I left graduate school), I lived in six cities. I attended three high schools, two colleges, and one graduate school.

I made and lost a lot of friends. I had my first girlfriend while in college in Germany; after a few months, she returned to the U.S. while I remained in Munich. I started seeing another woman, and mentioned this to the woman back in the States. She assumed I was writing a “Dear John” letter. I wasn’t; I just wanted her to know about the other person. I didn’t understand her reaction. Why couldn’t I be interested in them both?

Later, in Virginia, I became engaged to another woman I’d met in Germany. She was now in graduate school in Canada. For several years I saw her once every six months. Naturally, I was attracted to people in Virginia. I fought these attractions. But my fiancée could not accept the fact that I did sometimes see other people, and she ended our engagement. I “understood”—after all, I knew how society felt about non-monogamy—but…I didn’t understand, really.

I eventually married someone else and the two of us, together, explored our feelings around monogamy, love, and sexuality. She finally realized she felt happier in just one relationship. Meanwhile I realized that I could not be happy restricted to only one.

We developed a marriage that could accommodate other relationships for me; not superficial sexual “flings,” but long-term significant relationships with other people, some of whom were married. In these cases, their partners and I had to be comfortable with one another—just as these people and my wife had to feel comfortable.

I feel polyamory is my orientation. If a choice is involved, it is in my decision to acknowledge my own nature.

William Albert Baldwin is a longtime activist with Amnesty International, credentialed clergy for Covenant of the Goddess, national board member of Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness. He resides in northern California with his wife and daughter.

The Good Men Project reposted this.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 20, 2014, in psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. This is such a deep and complex topic and details. My mother is a doctor and she was reading over your blogs and posts and intensive topics. You have a higher standard and deserve to share your articles. I may be at a local station in California!

  2. So interesting! Such a unique point of view.

  3. Another interesting personal journey shared on your blog. Although polyamory is not for me- I am beginning to notice that it is becoming less taboo and more acceptable– at least in some of the coastal states, I know of people who are part of polyamorous circles. I agree that just because we become involved w/someone we don’t just shut off our capacity to be interested in others. I think w/ monogamy it’s more about making the choice not to open to those possibilities.

  4. Never heard of it. Polyamory! Thanks for sharing this article.

  5. I have always viewed this “poly” thingy with great skepticism. I think at its core is sex. If you were to remove sex from this lifestyle, you most certainly would end up with a helluva lot less “love.” It appears rather hedonistic.

    I do not think we can say the same thing for monogamous marriages between man and woman. As a man who was once married, I can attest to the fact that you certainly do not get married for sex! As Esther Perel has noted, if anything marriage or “captivity” kills sex.

    No one denies the human capacity to love, lust after, and admire others. However, the poly advocates say it is OK. While, those such as myself shun such.

    My view (arrogant as it might appear) is deeply rooted in religion. I am well aware that most of the significant men in the Hebrew Bible had multiples wives (sometimes hundreds – King Solomon) as well as multitudes of concubines. However, in the end Jewish Law established monogamy as the the new Law when it came to marriage.

    I have always been curious whether or not poly folks who are married have religion- based marriages? If so, how do they reconcile these marriages with religious principles and Law. Clearly, these are sinful/adulterous relationships. Personally, I am not judging. But, it is quite obvious such marriages violate one of the Ten Commandments.

    Abstracting from any moral/religious arguments, from a practical standpoint, perhaps poly is an alternative to serial dating and serial monogamy that has become so pervasive and widespread.

    • Seems likely to me that the core is sex, since Bill describes it as a sexual orientation, As far as he is concerned.

      I hope he will answer your questions.

      • Yes, but often poly people deny it is about sex. Most often they argue that these relationships involve romantic love (commitment, intimacy, passion), are deep, and even long term in nature. But, I remain very very skeptical.

      • I hope Bill will get back to you on this. I emailed him that there were some questions and he indicated he would take a look at them. But he’s got a day job.

  6. I remember seeing this term for the first time about 5 years ago and then searching the internet for examples of people living a polyamorous lifestyle. I have also seen the term used frequently on Craigslist in tje personal encounters section. I found some people who identified as polyamorous, who were looking for group sex or other swingers.
    I think some people identify as polyamorous who probably mean bi-sexual or pan-sexual and there are others who are simply “playing the field”. I think anyone who has a FWB relationship is practicing a form of polyamory.
    Personally, I don’t find the writers concept of polyamory palatable. The open-marriage concept is not new and I think rarely without someone feeling diminished.
    I just cannot see how an unhealthy form of psychological triangulation is not at play.
    Is everyone in the love triangle obliged to practice safe sex? When two people are living together and having sex, and partner A is stepping out and having sex with another person; then partner B is potentially having sex with the same person in absentia. Yuk!

    • It wouldn’t work for me — it’d driving me nuts — but it seems to work for some people.

      Here’s what wiki says on some of your points:

      Polyamory (from Greek πολύ poly, “many, several”, and Latin amor, “love”) is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It is distinct from swinging (which emphasizes sex with others as merely recreational) and may or may not include polysexuality (attraction towards multiple genders and/or sexes).

      Polyamory, often abbreviated as poly, is often described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy.” The word is sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to sexual or romantic relationships that are not sexually exclusive, though there is disagreement on how broadly it applies; an emphasis on ethics, honesty, and transparency all around is widely regarded as the crucial defining characteristic.

      Maybe Bill will have more to say on this point, and some of your other questions.

  7. You’ve managed to successfully create a mono-poly relationship? I’m trying to do that now. I’m the mono one and it’s just… frying my brain. I spent 5 or so years trying to be poly myself only to decide it didn’t work for me. But obviously there were some aspects of the idea that appealed to me because I ended up with a poly spouse! (Er, long story)

    • Do you mind sharing which aspects of the poly lifestyle you found appealing?

      • I would not call it “the poly lifestyle” for a number of reasons, the main one being there is no “the” – there are LOTS of ways to do poly. But to answer what I think you are asking… the main thing that appeals to me about polyamorous relationships is the idea that relationships are negotiated from the ground up – no blindly following cultural scripts and expectations, two (or more) people get to decide amongst themselves what parts of the script they want to follow and what parts they want to rewrite. I’ve never been good at following cultural scripts just because someone told me it was expected of me.

  8. I’m going to try to reply to folks in order, EXCEPT —

    Georgia, I did say “orientation” — but I didn’t say “sexual orientation.”

    I actually think of it as a “relationship orientation.” And some other people I know also think of it that way. So I would not say the “core is sex.” I’d say the core is a relationship.

    Sometimes I use the term “polyrelationship.” I like to think I invented that one!

  9. btw, I like what diahannreyes says.

  10. Huggy Bear raises a lot of interesting questions!

    For me (and many others), sex is not at “the core” — but there are many flavors of people who call themselves “poly.” For some of them sex may be the thing; not for me.

    I can’t say how this compares with people who claim to be monogamous.

    As for “hedonism” — that also is a topic for possible wide-ranging discussion. Huggy Bear appears to use it with a negative connotation. “Hedonism” in the Classical World held pleasure as a positive thing. Meanwhile, Aristotle held “Happiness” to be the thing we all are striving for. The two may be related.

    Comparing polyamory to monogamous marriages…I wouldn’t want to compare the pleasure or happiness of each. Polyamory *may* be more hedonistic — it certainly allows more room for experimentation.

    I wold be sorry to think that “marriage kills sex” — I think that would be unfortunate.

    The “human capacity to love, lust after, and admire others?” You “shun such,” Huggy Bear? I hope it’s onjly the “lust after” that you shun! And that is your right.

    I’m going to continue this reply in a second response, because I think Huggy Bear’s comments split nicely into two parts.

    • William,

      Thanks for your reply.

      What I “shun such” is ACTING on love, lust, and admiring other women in a monogamous marriage. Sorry I was imprecise.

      With respect to marriage being a sex killer, I think this is pretty well established by research. (See Esther Perel, “Mating In Captivity”). Women are found to be far far more adversely impacted sexually by marriage for various reasons relating to the complex nature of female sexuality. There is also a growing body of research that show the higher the number of sexual partners, the greater the difficulty in the ability to form lasting long term bonding relationships…While people think it is all find and dandy to have hordes of sexual partners, such is not without consequences. Obviously, not everyone is impacted.

      My general world view is men and women can do as they please. However, I also believe that it is proper and necessary that men and women disclose in full honesty their sexual history. Why? Because, it does matter as much as people say it does not. We need to be more honest and open with one another. If your preference is poly…so be it. But, disclose it along with other aspects of your sexuality so your partner can make an intelligent and informed decision.

      Yes, I agree with Aristotle that the aim of life is happiness. However, there are no universals on how to attain this elusive happiness. Personally, maintaining a close relationship with God and his Laws is paramount. So, happiness cannot be a relativist thing for me. I choose to live with my chosen religious restraints.

      I have read quite a few pieces on the poly orientation or lifestyle……A lot of these pieces revolved around ways of enjoying sex outside of the marriage without lying and cheating. Supposedly, said marriages were made stronger. So, it seemed to me that it was simply about sex.

      Look. When it comes to trying to make the case for marriage and sex I think it is very weak. Just reality. I see lots of studies/surveys on how married men are happier and have more sex than single men. I am don’t believe these studies. Why? Because, there are also studies showing nearly two thirds of women would rather be shopping or sleeping than having sex with their husbands. Also, some 10% of marriages are sexless! So, just how can things be so great? Obviously, they are not.

  11. As for religion, the Bible, etc. —

    I appreciate the acknowledgement that many of the most significant men in the Hebrew Bible had multiple wives. That would include, I think, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, plus at least Solomon (Who lived well *after* Moses and the arrival of the Ten Commandments).

    My research, several years back, suggested that Monogamy did not become the norm in Judaism until around 1200, under the influence of Maimonides, who himself was influenced by European Christian norms.

    In fact, I also found evidence of Yemeni Jews still practicing polygamy.

    But we’re discussing *polyamory” — which is distinct from “polygamy.”

    I, myself, was baptized as a Lutheran (though never confirmed) and grew up as a generic Protestant in an American military environment. I nearly married a Catholic. As it was, I became a Unitarian Universalist and married a UU woman. Now: Although many people equate religion with sexual puritanism, this is not a universal. I knew a former UU church president (a woman) who once told me, “I’ve been in more orgies than you can imagine.” (That, of course, was back in the Wild and Wonderful(?) 1960s). The current UU sex ed curriculum strives to be “sex positive.” When my wife and I married, the vows said nothing about “forsaking all others.”

  12. Strictly speaking, I should have said “UU congregation president” — she was just the president of a single church.

  13. There are lots of ways to love. I think this can be defined in many ways. Life can be complicated. I fell in madly in love at a very young, age 16. One would think it was first love or high school romance, but not so much. When at age 18, he returned from college, with the news that he “thought he was gay”, my life seemed so impossible. It was the 80s. There was so much concern about AIDS. He and I stayed close for awhile, we never had anger, it was a new reality. New people entered the picture for both of us, but no one ever filled the space for each of us.

    Fast forward, a marriage of mine that didn’t work, three children and a separation of 2,000 miles and this man is my best and closest friend. He is a bi-sexual man who has lived a gay lifestyle since 1983. He has had a tattoo of my face on his arm for 25 years. He lives with two men, one who has been his partner for 10 years. They live as a family. The relationships are now all platonic, I think for his sanity and because it simplifies their life there. Do I consider myself poly? Not really. I choose my life because I unconditionally love this person. We are all close, we travel abroad together and look out for one another. He is thousands of miles away, yet he is fully engaged in my life. I am free to date, and I do, but it’s never very exciting or interesting. If anyone is very interesting to me, I disclose my best friend is a man whom I talk to daily.

    Here is my point. Love is love. There will never be a time when he is not in my life. I have tried it. He is the person who knows me, loves me, pushes me and has made and continues to make an impact on me. I suppose if one day I meet a man here who accepts this, my life will become more complicated for me.

    My friend, a sociology professor, considers himself bisexual and poly. Poly because he can manage the intimacy of the three relationships although it’s not based on sex. Any sex happens outside for them.

    Sometimes you met people and the combination of the two is a love greater than social contructs. As we age, we can see that life is pretty simple and we are all smart enough to create rules that work. You may say without the sex we are all just friends. As noted above, life partners and marriages are not all about sex.

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