Saturday, March 13, 2010

Three-Part Harmony

Rose B. Thorny Copyright 2010

Consider the triad. In music, a triad is a three-note chord producing harmony. Two notes in harmony produce a pleasing sound. Three notes and you have the foundation for some of the most beautiful music ever composed.

Not long ago, I related an incident to a colleague, who responded, with a shake of her head and a wry smile, “That is just too funny…going to get your husband to help tow your boyfriend’s car stuck in the snow.”

But in a polyamorous relationship, that’s how it is, or can be. Not funny ha-ha – though it can be that, too – but funny unusual, or at least unusual, by most other people’s standards.

For purposes of this essay, my husband is J and my “other husband” is D.

My good friend, D, who also happens to be my lover, but who I think of as my “other husband,” was driving me back home from our Saturday night sleep over at his place, a house he bought not long after we met, which he thinks of as “our” place, and not too far from the house (J’s and my house, that is), got stuck in the deep snow that drifts across our very long driveway throughout the winter. D was ready to get out and start digging, but I leaped out of the car and said, “Just stay put. I’ll go get J.”

We have a tractor, so within minutes, after I hiked up the driveway and told J that D’s car was stuck, we were sitting at the table sharing a bit of dinner, before D hit the road again to head back to his primary home, which is out of state. I raised my coffee mug and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day to my two favourite men in the whole world.” The three of us clinked our mugs, toasted each other, and thus wound down our Valentine’s Day weekend. D headed home and J and I sat down to watch “60 Minutes.”

Just the evening before, I’d made a yummy dinner for the three of us and we sat around and chatted about all manner of things, before I kissed J good-night, said, “See you tomorrow,” and then headed out with D to his place for our time together.

The relationship between D and me has J’s blessing -- obviously -- and the relationships I have with both of them are two of my greatest blessings. I take mini vacations with D and we enjoy a number of activities that J would not find particularly interesting. J knows, though, that I’m having a good time and enjoying myself doing things I find interesting with someone who cares about me. D is perfectly at ease having a fabulous time and knowing that he isn’t doing something “dishonourable.”

It is my great good fortune that J and D like each other and get along. The three of us dine out occasionally and spend time together simply socializing. They have enough other interests in common that there are never any uncomfortable silences. From my point of view, however, the most notable element they have in common is their love for me.

D is a widower, who was devoted to his wife for 38 years. For the last 16 years of her life, he was her caregiver, as well as her husband. She’d died a year before D and I met. When we met and were attracted to each other, he made it very clear that the one thing he didn’t want was to “come between” my husband and me, and he hasn’t.

However, one thing he did do was help and support both J and me in ways I could not have imagined when, within the same month D and I met, my husband was diagnosed with cancer (in a very early stage, luckily). D knew what I would be going through as caregiver, during the radiation, chemo, and recovery stages and he understood that J would be suffering terribly. He was with us all the way, and came up to look after Ben, our dog, and our cats, when we had to be away overnight so that we could be at the hospital (70 miles away) early in the morning. He even covered the cost of the hotel room because he knew we were cash strapped, due to J’s illness. Above all else, he was our friend.

The three of us are no spring chickens, and I would venture to say it’s entirely possible that is one of the reasons our polyamorous relationship works as well as it does. I believe that security and self-esteem increase with age. The insecurities of youth, the self-doubts of many people who are still “finding themselves,” and peer and societal pressures, make relationships difficult at the best of times. As we grow older and, one hopes, wiser, it becomes clear that not everything is as cut and dried as we were led to believe when we were much younger.

What is taught to us as being “normal” and “right,” with regard to romantic love and relationships, leaves little or no room for alternative lifestyles involving more than two people. The majority of people, from birth, are taught, almost exclusively, that monogamy is the only acceptable intimate relationship. Serial monogamy – commitment to only one romantic/sexual partner at a time – is generally acceptable, too, where socio-cultural and religious restrictions do not frown on unmarried sex. For the most part, however, young people, or people still of marital/childbearing age, essentially, are indoctrinated to believe that once they make the commitment to marry, they must do so with the idea in mind that what they are doing is making a commitment to what could very well be a romantic/sexual relationship to one person only, for as long as 50 or 60 or even 70 years, depending on longevity.

There is still a prevailing attitude that if you don’t live up to that commitment, it is a shortcoming, a moral weakness. The generally accepted belief is that once you “fall in love” with someone and grow into a loving relationship with that person, that it shouldn’t happen again, as long as that person is alive, and if it does, you should simply ignore those feelings, and that if you do choose to act upon those feelings, you are an ignoble traitor, a cheater. If it does occur, and you accept your partner’s other love interest, and you’re man, you’re deemed a “cuckold,” and if you’re a woman, you’re considered a “doormat.” Society still tells intimate couples, who are generally in their 20s or early 30s, to give up loving anyone else and expressing that love, in an intimate fashion, for the rest of their life, or the other person’s life. It assumes that both people and relationships remain static, or if they grow, then they must grow in a fashion predetermined by society. It’s an all or nothing proposition. No compromise. Bonsai your love.

That is an extreme attitude that never made much sense to me. Despite being raised in a Christian home and seeing my parents devoted to each other my whole life (they were married for 58 years before my father died), I could never understand why we should be restricted to loving just one person in that manner. How could sharing love be bad, if everyone in the relationship is amenable to sharing?

I simply cannot accept that loving one person precludes loving another, and I include “romantic” and “erotic” loving in that statement. I know what I feel and if I feel it for two people, then how can that be a bad thing? To me, there is no logical reason to “forsake all others,” and one person should never be expected to meet ALL the relationship needs of one other person, for decades, if both parties’ needs are not being met. Of course, it’s wonderful when that happens, and if two people are perfectly content in what they find to be a virtually 100% satisfactory monogamous relationship, then more power to them. I’m not here to knock monogamy for those people who believe it is the right path for them. And I sincerely believe that in a good number of instances, two people only can have a satisfying, lifelong romance and a solid relationship.

But it doesn’t always work that way, and it doesn’t have to. Two people can love each other very much and want to share their lives and their habitat, but their needs can be just disparate enough, in any number of ways, that if those differences are not addressed in a mature fashion, discord, resentment, and hostility can ensue. We cannot “change” others to suit our needs, but we can change ourselves and out attitudes to accommodate our own needs, while still meeting the needs to which we committed when the relationship began. Once you know you aren’t going to lose one love because of another, there is no threat, no insecurity.

I must say that when I’ve revealed my polyamorous lifestyle to female colleagues I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I had originally expected frowns of disapproval and some tut-tutting, but to date, I’ve not encountered a single negative response. Quite the opposite, in fact. The majority of those I’ve told have said words to the effect of, “Way to go.”

Polyamory isn’t for everyone, though, and not all polyamorous relationships are alike. I want to make it perfectly clear that I cannot speak for anyone but myself and the relationship between J, D, and me.

There are a number of reasons why people choose a poly lifestyle and, again, I would emphasize that I speak for myself and the personal relationships with which I am familiar. We do not hang out with other poly groups or seek out people in similar relationships because that element alone is not of any interest to us.

Relative to J, D and me, I’m not talking about threesomes, swinging, one-night stands, or moving from one relationship into a different one every couple of months, or even every couple of years. None of us is interested in striking up relationships with anyone else. I’m talking about me being committed to long-term relationships with two men, and those two men being committed to their respective relationships with me. We’re in it for the long haul. Other poly folk may have similar or different arrangements, but in all cases, if the relationships are working, it’s because all concerned parties have accepted and agreed to certain elements, as most people in monogamous relationships do. Mature, balanced relationships develop and survive based on that same foundation; a mutual interest in maintaining the relationship for whatever reasons the parties wish to maintain it. The number of ways in which it can be maintained is limited only by our attitudes.

J and I have been married for over 35 years. I cannot imagine life without him. We’ve been best friends for about a year longer than we’ve been husband and wife, and the four months prior to that was the “getting to know you” period. We have much in common, including socio-political ideologies and a number of cultural interests, and we met doing something few people do – jumping out of airplanes. We simply enjoy each other’s company.

We are also very different in a number of ways, some of which are challenging. However, the only constant is change and people and circumstances change. In my opinion, if people don’t change, stagnation is a probability. But interests change, too, and new interests develop. We continue to find ourselves and discover new ways to grow and self-actualize. Incorporating individual growth into a permanent, cooperative relationship is not always easy, and those changes can raise contentious issues. In many ways, J and I are as compatible as, or more so, than we were early on, but in other important ways, we’re not the same people we were thirty years ago. Though we still have many of the same common interests, our individual interests have expanded along divergent paths. One thing we don’t have is compatible libidos.

A number of issues, including medical ones, resulted in J’s libido growing increasingly tepid as our marriage progressed. Additionally, I’ve often referred to him as a Vulcan, because he is, in many ways, so much like Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame. (As a Trekkie, I can say, with 100% certainty, that such a comment coming from me is totally complimentary.) On the other hand, I’ve had lifelong emotional issues that, in adulthood, can only be addressed and alleviated by LOTS of affection. I’m more emotionally needy than he is and I know it. J is not an over or overtly affectionate type of person, and I am most often the opposite. I need lots of touching and reassuring physical contact that helps me feel safe and loved. I know J loves me, but he is not a demonstratively affectionate person most of the time. What is essential for my well-being, however, leaves J feeling suffocated, and what makes him most at ease has me forcing myself to not do what comes most naturally to me, spontaneously expressing affection in a physical manner. D, on the other hand, is much more like me. I love J too much to issue ultimatums or try to make him into something he is not and that is one of our major similarities. He loves me too much to ignore the fact that he cannot give me what I need to help me maintain my overall balance. J and D provide the balance that is essential in my life.

One thing that few relationships can survive intact is efforts on either party’s part to “change” the other party. You can’t make someone be something he or she isn’t. It’s that simple. Trying to control someone’s behaviour, to conform to your wants and needs, is manipulative, and when you try to do it using the words, “If you really love me, you’ll do…[insert whatever is being demanded here],” that is emotional coercion, and it is my experience that, taken to the extreme, it’s emotional abuse. Neither J nor I was or is interested in emotionally coercing the other, although, to be totally honest, it was more in my nature, or the way I was nurtured, to be believe that emotional coercion was simply SOP (standard operating procedure) in relationships. I grew up exposed to that mindset, to my detriment. As regards love, the “if/then” conditional framework was a constant. Fortunately, as a young adult, I transcended that attitude, though I kept it to myself, prior to meeting J. Peer pressure often stifles individual growth, but mavericks eventually strike out on their own and find a unique path.

J, D and I have grown as individuals and as a unique harmonic unit. I’ve been lucky, and the two men I love are lucky, too.

Balance. Harmony. Consider the triad.

10 comments:

  1. Rose,

    Welcome to the Grip.

    Your post was a fascinating and erudite insight to a lifestyle that most of us would describe as being outside the mainstream.

    As with so many other posts on this topic, you've shown that the main considerations are not external approval but internal harmony. Once we achieve that balance in a relationship, the issue of whether or not something can be labelled 'mainstream' becomes relegated to its deserved position of negligible importance.

    Thanks for sharing the details of this wonderful relationship.

    Best,

    Ashley

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  2. Hello, Rose,

    I've been looking forward to your post all week. It was even more enlightening than I expected.

    My husband and I have been interested in polyamory for a long time, but we've discovered that a deep and committed relationship is not something you can go searching for. However, I do believe we'd both be open to a three-way or even a four-way relationship if we were to meet the right people.

    Certainly, I don't subscribe to the notion that monogamy is the only "right" or "moral" relationship. The only thing that is immoral is deliberately causing someone else pain. Of course, a relationship can run into difficulties if one member is fundamentally monogamous and the other is not. In many cases, though, I think that sexual jealousy has its roots in fear and a sense of inadequacy. And of course we do become more resilient and self-confident as we age.

    As well as less worried about what "the world" thinks about our sexual behavior!

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  3. Hi Rose!

    I've read your post many times during the week. There is something in the concept that intrigues me, though the experience is beyond my reach. I think what makes your lifestyle unusual is that it is the woman in this case who has two men. Its socially acceptable and even expected in some religious cultures for the man to have as many wives as he can pay for. But when its the woman who has many husbands it becomes a big deal. And what also stands out is the fact that these are spontaneous and consensual relationships, not something expected by society.

    As I explore myself through this genre and the people who work in it, I'm always struck by the ways people are wired differently, what different people need in order to be happy. I think yours is a fascinating story. I think in the future, in some other generation it may become perfectly commonplace and people will wonder what all the fuss was about.

    Garce

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  4. Excellent post Rose! I'm curious; how was the relationship between you and D expressed to J and what was his initial response?

    I ask because I've been in a similar situation, but felt pressure to ignore my feelings for the 3rd party, and afraid of repercussions if I chose to follow my feelings.

    I did this, sort of, in college. Dated and engaged to a military man, but continued to date others while he was gone. However, I made it clear to my 'home man' that I would indeed still see my 'military man'. Some accepted it; others did not. It depended on the level of the relationship.

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  5. Very well stated, Rose. I'm a professional copy editor and can easily spot good writing. Your post is definitely in that category. Please, consider adding your experience to the growing canon of published material on polyamory. I shared it with our local poly group, and I hope you give it an even wider audience.

    I didn't see much I'd change, but do consider using full names (even if they're bogus) for your spouses. At several points I had to quickly ask myself, "Which one is he?" It would also better personalize your wonderful account.
    Jim Catano
    jimcatano@gmail.com

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  6. Rose,

    As with Lisabet, I have been looking forward to reading your entry. And like your female friends, I say, "Way to go!"

    It's a lot to ask of one person to be your best friend, lover, confidant, emotional match, and share all your interests. And it seems that if a person did fill all those roles, it would be suffocating. Poly relationships make perfect sense to me, and I'm glad the three of you are happy. That's what counts.

    Great post.

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  7. Molly,

    I presented the relationship as a friendship. When it turned romantic, I was nervous. After the romantic element evolved, I hesitated to tell J it was more than a close friendship, even though he expressed, early on, that he was not averse to my having outside relationships

    Fate interceded. My van broke down in D's driveway and he had to drive me home. J was home. There was nothing for it, but to introduce them. They were perfect gentlemen. It was a tad awkward, but neither was interested in a competition.

    I was glad it happened, as were D and J. Deception is a wretched lifestyle. I don't believe that any worthy loving relationship can survive it. We were relieved everything was now above board.

    Later, J and I talked. I didn’t tell him what he didn't already know, but when we discussed it, his main worry was D's intentions. He was most concerned whether this was just a fling, on D's part not mine, and if I was going to end up hurt. J knows my emotional investment in relationships is intense. He didn't want to see me crash. I told him the truth; that D was in it for the long haul, but had no interest in "taking me away" from J. That alleviated any anxiety he had about any possible departure on my part. Once that was clear, J said, "Go for it. Enjoy."

    Once, I asked J, "How do you *really* feel about this?" He replied, "Relieved." I asked, "How do you mean?" He said, "I'm relieved you have somebody who can give you what I can't and shares interests with you that I don't have. I'm glad you aren't going to be alone as much as you have been." (J is away often between May and November, for his summer work, which includes weekends Friday through Monday. I don't have, nor do I want, a bevy of girlfriends to keep me company. I like having a steady companion around. LOL. I like having a husband around, but that’s not possible with just one husband, who is often away.

    J also said he was more comfortable knowing that if anything happened to him, I wouldn’t be left alone.

    I know this is a long answer, but what I'm trying to illustrate is that each relationship is unique. It can’t be assumed that what worked for me, the way *I* expressed the relationship to J, and his initial response, will be the way it would work for others. I *know* J; I know he isn’t a reactionary. I *know* he truly believes that the freedom to be oneself and to do what one believes is right for oneself, are not trite cliches. Before we married, he bought a poster and hung it up: "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was." That was an oft-expressed sentiment in the 70s, but he is one of the few people I've known, who actually *lives* that belief, and doesn't just pay it lip service.

    What I did involved risk, but you reach a point where you just have to take that kind of risk, because knowing is better than not knowing. You can’t know how something is going to turn out, but not taking the risk to live life on your own terms results in a life half lived. The risk was more than worth it: three happy people instead of three people living half-lives.

    Rose

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  8. You're lucky you have an open-minded spouse:) Mine is not so open. We had the 'stay-together-or-do-you-want-a-divorce' chat and decided to stay married.
    Kudos to finding happiness!

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  9. Rose,

    Wonderful post and thank you for being so open about things.

    It's my hope that some day my husband and I can find some of what you have, albiet with another woman. As a bisexual, I find that I have desires that aren't fulfilled by my husband, just as I have likes and needs that don't line with his. And the same goes for him having likes and needs that I don't share, especially given my less affectionate nature. He is the one who required the constant reinforcement and affection, and I struggle to provide it.

    Ideally, we would love to introduce a committed third party to our relationship, a woman who can love us both, and who we can both love.

    Flings just don't hold any appeal for me, and hubby is at an age where they aren't something he would much care for either.

    I just hope that if someday someone comes along, we are both wide-eyed enough to see it, and emotionally-open enough to truly accept the enhancement that such a woman could add to our lives, and the hopefully, we could add to hers.

    Again, wonderful post. Thank you.

    Michelle

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  10. Thanks to "Oh Get A Grip" for inviting me to guest blog on such an interesting site. Thanks, also to everyone who commented on my post.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback, both about the subject matter itself and my still-evolving writing skills.

    I knew about about this site, but haven't visited it as often as I would like. (So many blogs, so little time.) I hope to pop in more often.

    Thank you, again.

    Rose B. Thorny

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