Poly Stories

Dreaming of family

By Cascade Spring Cook

Based on an interview with Emma and Andrew
(These are pseudonyms)
(My comments are in italics)

While some polys are very couple focused and some prefer to be single, others want to be part of a larger communal group. Some have realized their dreams and now live in a triad, quad, or larger group, but others are still seeking. Emma, 46, and Andrew, 51 are among the seekers. Part of what drew them together was their common dream of an expanded family. Emma would love to have four to six adults living together in the same house or on the same property. They wouldn’t all need to be sexual together, but she would like everyone to be open to being sensual together, and for the sexual possibilities to be there.

A dream of a community of equals

Andrew’s vision is to have six to eight adults who create a healing community together, and perhaps have some kids. He’d like to have a learning workshop space, and a place where people could practice different modalities of healing. The adults wouldn’t have to all sleep together, but they would be family. Andrew’s vision is partly inspired by his concern about people becoming isolated as they grow older. He sees that they tend to get thrown away in this culture, and thinks that a group of people living together, supporting each other, and being intimate with each other would help a lot in the later years of life. I certainly resonate with that desire to grow older in a loving and supportive like-minded community, though in my vision people would be living close to each other and not necessarily in the same house. Many people I know have a similar dream.

A hierarchical structure for relationships? No way. That’s a concept that both Emma and Andrew are clear that they dislike. Emma comments that the primary/secondary terminology makes her envision levels of importance. That’s not what she wants. She’s looking for “a circle of people rather than the king and queen on their throne and then their secondary relationships sitting at their feet.” She wants a circle of adults who are equally committed to each other, equally loving and taking equal responsibility for the relationships.

Andrew describes their idea that other people are either family members or they are not family members, so they wouldn’t impose a hierarchy on their close relationships. A community of family members living together on the same land could eat together and give each other support and share resources. However, Andrew and Emma’s attempts at adding other people to their eight year relationship have not yet been successful.


Andrew and Emma haven’t had kids, because they got together too late in life. However, they’d be glad to bring someone with kids into their family. Andrew thinks the expanded family structure is good for kids. He says that “most of the kids I’ve met tend to grow up to be a lot more stable and less neurotic because there are a lot more adults around to pay attention to them and be models for them.” A poly family is more like a tribal structure where the kids always have other adults to take care of them when someone is gone. Emma thinks it would be fun to grow up in a polyamorous family, but acknowledges that the need for stability isn’t always met in that situation. She thinks it’s really important for people to be clear about their commitment to the relationship in poly families who have children.

Andrew’s background

Andrew’s desire for polyamory has both philosophical and practical roots. As a young man, Andrew observed that monogamy didn’t seem to work very well. He grew up in a dysfunctional family and saw a lot of harmful dynamics. He tried dating serially, but while he wanted to establish a strong bond with someone, he found he was still attracted to other women and wanted to be able to interact with them as well. He saw friends who got divorced, single parents raising kids, old people who were dying alone. These seemed to be signs of a society that wasn’t functioning very well. He also thought that more than two people could be more secure financially.

When he was in his late twenties, Andrew started exploring polyamory. By the time he met Emma, he’d been married for 13 years and then divorced – his first wife had initially agreed to polyamory, but then she became fairly reclusive, and he found himself mostly engaging in his social life alone. This wasn’t what he wanted at all, so he finally recognized the marriage wasn’t working and got divorced. He says he interviewed Emma very carefully as they were getting together – he’d been hit by the bait and switch routine, women who said they were polyamorous, but as soon as they got closer they wanted monogamy. He wanted to avoid going through that again. One of the hazards of going against the dominant paradigm is that some potential partners don’t realize how deeply engrained monogamy is in them. Theoretically they think they can handle polyamory, but they haven’t updated their assumptions about relationships enough to make it work. Other people may not take the stated intention to be polyamorous seriously. Andrew is clear that monogamy is not his preferred state, and lets prospective partners know that. It’s not easy for him to find women to date, because “90% of anybody I talk to about it runs screaming in the other direction, and it never goes any further than that.” Many people he talks with have a hard time understanding that he’s not cheating on his wife, but in fact wants them to meet her.

Emma’s story

Emma came into polyamory through a very different path. When she was young, she didn’t have a lot of self-esteem. She really wanted to be liked, and was afraid that if someone asked her to have sex, and she refused, they wouldn’t like her. So she started by having sex in order to be liked, and then it became a manipulative tool. She’d have sex if someone would give her something or do something for her. That led to becoming a prostitute, though she prefers to call herself a former sex worker. It was a way to make money, though she did get a rush from the fact that it was illegal. During that time she did a lot of drugs as well, including IV (intravenous) drugs. She recognizes that she was cut off from her heart and her spirituality, though she did take pride in doing her job well.

At some point, Emma realized that what she was doing, or at least the way she was doing it, wasn’t healthy for her. She went into a four year period of celibacy so that she could examine what she wanted sexually, to see what that looked like. Once she got clear that she was okay with who she is, regardless of her sexual expression, she was ready to be sexual again. It was during this period of celibacy that she started doing research on polyamory, because

“I had a need to figure out how to accept myself, as not being wrong or broken or defective when I would be loving and in love with one person, and then I would fall in love with someone else at the same time. And in the old monogamous parade, that was a sin, and that was a bad thing, and it was just not done, and evil, evil, and it didn’t feel evil, wrong, or sinful, but it sure didn’t feel comfortable, because I didn’t have a container for it. So I started reading.”

She had to be brave and talk with people she might not normally have talked with, people who were on the fringe of society. Once she found the right groups on the internet, she found that there were lots of people like her, who could love more than one person at once, and not just platonically. They just didn’t live in her state in the Midwest.

Clarity, open-mindedness and integration

After sex work and celibacy came a time of integration. At this stage in Emma’s life, sex is not just an expression of love, but also an expression of connection. Her poly behavior is guided by the energy flow that she feels with other people. However, currently she doesn’t have any other lovers besides Andrew, mostly because of some physical ailments that she’s been dealing with, and the resulting lack of time and energy. She says that since her four year period of celibacy, she’s had a deeper connection with her lovers, and still loves all of her exes.

Emma feels that her period as a sex worker has helped her stay more open-minded about the choices that other people make and the way they do polyamory. Because she’s clear about how she wants to do polyamory, she doesn’t need to demean or degrade anyone else’s path. With this attitude, she can stay out of the arguments about the “right” way to do polyamory that arise in the poly community, or the need to justify polyamory as better than swinging or other forms of alternate sexuality. Emma has also been able to serve as a mentor to some younger women who were or still are sex workers. If they are ashamed of what they are doing, she can help them work on finding out why they are ashamed so they can feel better about themselves, or they can find a way out of that business. She wonders how it would have been for her if she had not been cut off from her heart and her spirit while she was in sex work. Maybe she could have been a happy hooker if she had been connected to her heart at the time. I appreciate Emma’s openness about her past. Her comments serve as a reminder to avoid absolutes about sexual behavior, and to examine whether our actions are serving us. It’s important to make the distinction between feeling bad about what we’re doing simply because of societal judgment, and feeling bad because we’ve lost touch with our inner wisdom, our heart and our spirit.


Emma notes that some poly families have lots of agreements and rules, in writing and with signatures, and others seem to be more fluid and organic. Theirs are more like basic guidelines that they’re not going to hurt each other. She says their rules are mostly to assuage their fears, and that Andrew’s basic fear is having his freedom curtailed. So they keep the number of agreements to a minimum in order to avoid triggering that fear in him, while having enough to help her feel safe. Her main concern is about being blindsided. She knows it’s always possible that he’ll go off with someone else eventually, but she doesn’t want to be caught by surprise, so it’s very important to her that he keep in communication and let her know about his feelings towards someone else. She does report having a veto agreement, which she used when he was dating an “energy vampire,” someone who was taking, taking, taking, and not giving back to him. However, her approach when that occurred was to talk with him about what was happening, and how it was affecting them, and why she didn’t want him to continue dating that person.

Apparently she was very persuasive, because Andrew reports that they don’t have a veto agreement, but that if Emma really doesn’t like someone he’d probably agree to stop seeing her. He respects her opinion, since she picks up on things that he doesn’t. He also mentions an agreement to avoid the energy vampires that suck all the energy out of him and send him home feeling drained.

Emma acknowledges that their safer sex rules are a little more risky than those of some people, and explains:

“We use condoms for penetration, but we don’t use barriers for oral sex. Our agreements are about honesty and integrity. We believe in each other’s integrity so our boundaries are fairly simple. We’re not going to share fluid with other people outside of saliva. Things can get passed in saliva, but not very easily, not very readily. We’re also conscious of sores in mouths. If we brush our teeth this morning and our gums are bleeding, well, using common sense, we’re not going to do anything.”

Showing love for another person involves respecting their own health as well as the health of the other person. So far this has worked for them.

When agreements are broken

How well do formal agreements work? For some people they work well, but you can’t force someone to follow an agreement. For Andrew, agreements are a problem. He admits that unless he’s 100% behind them, he tends to break them, since he’s a contrary type of person. In one case in particular, he started seeing someone again whom he had dated before he was involved with Emma. Since he didn’t expect it to be ongoing, he didn’t tell Emma. However, it ended up going on for a few years as an on again, off again type of situation. He says that Emma was really, really upset when she found out, though they did manage to work it through.

Emma got two valuable lessons from that experience. One was that you can’t tell what’s going to be a deal breaker ahead of time, because she had been sure that a secret affair would cause them to break up. The other was that when she considered leaving him, she discovered that she could be okay alone, and that if they ever did need to part ways, they could bless and release each other to go their separate ways without a great deal of hatred or ill will. The process they went through to heal from the breach of trust also helped Andrew see some of the pathology from his family of origin and start working on healing that.

Benefits of polyamory

Getting helpful feedback from others is a commonly mentioned benefit of polyamory. Andrew is no exception:

“I think my lovers are often mirrors for myself. And so I get to see aspects of myself, sometimes aspects that I don’t really want to look at. They are reflected back to me. The interesting thing about a lover is that it’s someone who loves you. So often that reflection back to you is, I won’t say softened, but it’s given back to you in a way that you know the person loves you and they want you to see this part of yourself to help you. Not like a therapist who doesn’t really have any involvement with you and is just reflecting back like a mirror would. So I think that through polyamory I’ve gotten to learn a lot both about myself and about interacting with other people. I think it’s really hard to keep a lot of your neuroses hidden when you’re in multiple relationships. Somebody gets to see them, somebody calls you on that stuff.”

One of the patterns from his family of origin that he had to deal with was a tendency to lie by omission. His family would simply not say certain things. One of his relationships broke up because the woman felt he wasn’t being in integrity. Not having any secrets is very important to Emma, so he’s had to change this pattern. This became particularly clear in the aftermath of the secret affair.

Because of Emma’s illness, their sex life has been less satisfying than they would like. Emma is glad that Andrew has another source of sexual satisfaction, as well as people with whom to play some BDSM games. She has worked through a bad experience she had with BDSM, but doesn’t want to do any more. Having other lovers with whom to experience this is definitely a positive for Andrew. He likes to plan scenes with other lovers that allow them to fulfill their fantasies and that give them the permission to do some things that they wouldn’t normally do.

Commitment and jealousy

At this point in time, they both feel committed to the other. Andrew says they’re life partners, they’re family. At the same time, he acknowledges that if things changed dramatically and it wasn’t working any more, then they wouldn’t stay together. Why would you stay together if you’re hurting each other, he asks. Emma says commitment is “about quality of life, integrity, honesty, willingness, openness, trust, and that’s what I have in my relationship with Andrew.” And the commitment is to help each other be happy, so if there comes a time when they would be happier apart, they would split up.

Andrew claims not to have much jealousy, but he is sensitive to being left out. So he doesn’t want Emma to have an overnight guest when he’s home without anyone else to keep him company. He has therefore avoided having a lover stay with him as well, but she’s encouraging him to get over that, since sometimes it’s easier for a lover to stay with him than for him to visit her. He’s rather philosophical about jealousy, saying, “I think that jealousy is really kind of misspent energy and that you could direct that energy for more constructive purposes and that being jealous isn’t really going to get you anywhere.”

Emma says the closest she’s come to dealing with jealousy was dealing with the energy vampires. For the most part she simply lives in the spirit of abundance.

© 2009 by Elaine Cook

Other Poly Stories
Aphroweb Home Page