When I first started writing for Chronogram, I succeeded in causing a controversy.
Oh really? you say. And how was that?
Well, I wrote a three-part series on polyamory—that is, on what some call "responsible nonmonogamy" and others call "open relationships." I guess this was around 1997. It seems like so long ago. I started the first of the three articles by coming out of the closet as polyamorous; I thought it was a good idea to get that fact out of the way. I love relationships and the art of relating, and I like to connect with whomever it feels right to relate to, in whatever way is mutually agreeable. (Trust me, those terms and conditions don't leave a lot of room for the anarchy you may think is brewing.)
I described my motivations and a bit about my experiences, and mentioned that there exist a significant number of people who either are polyamorous or want to be, but who don't quite feel comfortable speaking up. Sometimes, though, just learning the word has a way of setting someone free—I've heard that a lot. Other people, though, can get quite defensive, as if the one and only legitimate form of relationship is being compromised. Jason Stern, one of the founders of Chronogram who was then its editor, said that he was hearing about the series from people even five years later. Five years! You know, the usual complaints about how his writer was going to bring down Western civilization and so forth.
Today, the topic has been covered by everyone from Newsweek to Huffington Post and appears as a regular feature on the website of Psychology Today. Polyamory has been discussed on the pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the Independent (UK). There is a very nice blog with archives going back to 2005 that is devoted to keeping up with all the news coverage and analysis polyamory gets. It's called "Polyamory in the News" and it will come up with Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky" option. There are so many news and website references to polyamory that it's both impressive and funny. The archives are brimming with this open secret, and the stories are generally balanced, describing well-adapted adults making choices about the structure of their families.
But before I go on, let me say this.
You read it here first.
If you were reading Chronogram at the time, you read it before the LGBTQ movement had its wings or its many letters; you read it here before it was cool to come out; and you read it nine years before the word polyamory was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006. Here is how those erudite scholars define the word: "The fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, esp. in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned."
In other words, not Tiger Woods. And not King Henry VIII, about whom the term polyamorist was used in 1953 to describe him, in the Illustrated History of English Literature, Volume 1 by A. C. Ward. This may have actually been the first iteration, and in a sense Henry was polyamorous in the eyes of the church. Today, he would be called a "serial monogamist," which I think is an oxymoron; I prefer "serial polyamorist" for those who have their relationships in a long sequence.
While relatively few people openly identify as polyamorous, there are many who are so in practice. Many others are curious. Many are eager to open up their relationships, and not just because they want some sexual variety; they also crave the bonding, growth opportunities, and expanded community that come with doing so. And yes, some grounded sexual freedom feels really good.
Mixers, Potlucks, and Jealousy
There exist many methods and styles of polyamory; I will describe them to the degree necessary to help you check whether you identify with one or more. What I'm really here to do is get some poly action going in the Hudson Valley. So far as I know, if you want to go to a poly mixer or potluck or other event (such as a talk or a workshop) you have to drive down to New York City, which in my opinion is a long way to travel for a date. If I'm mistaken and you're part of a poly network that I haven't heard of, please get in touch.