Dominion Post – New Zealand
Saturday, 15 March 2008
In a society where monogamy is the norm but adultery all too commonplace, polyamorists - people who have loving relationships with more than one person - say they've got it right.
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 menage 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."
To learn more about polyamory, go to the New Zealand website
or phone 04 9702487.
The polyamory group meets once a month.
Some names have been changed.