By Cascade Spring Cook
Based on an interview
with Chris (who is in relationship with Sally & Dean)
(these are pseudonyms)
The idea of polyamory was a very long ways from Chris’s mind when he was growing up. An extemely sex negative upbringing left him in the dark about sex, completely unaware of the joys of sex that he would discover in later years. He remembers his brother asking his mother what the dirtiest part of the human body was. Her reply – the penis. His mother was certain that his father was having affairs, and he was told in various ways and at various times that women don’t like sex. It was quite a revelation to him later to discover this isn’t true.
Without any actual information, Chris used his own fertile imagination to come up with a concept of how babies are born. He knew sex had something to do with the genitalia, that the sperm came from the penis, and that they were going to fertilize an egg in the woman, but he had no idea how. He thinks he was about 14 or 15 when he invented a story about how it happens. His parents slept in twin beds that were close to each other, but had a gap between them. He knew that babies came from when men and women slept together. So, “presumably what had to happen was that the sperm came out of the man's penis and then crawled across the bed and obviously had the ability to hop, because it could hop from one bed to the next, and then get over to wherever the egg was.” He didn’t learn more until he was 19, and in a fraternity. At that time his veil of ignorance about sex began to be lifted.
Finally learning about sex
Even through college, masturbation was a still mystery to Chris. These days he finds it amazing that he could be in a fraternity which had songs about the wonders of masturbation without learning how to do it, but he didn’t masturbate until he was 21, when an older man showed him how and assured him it was okay to do. He wonders if he might have been celibate his whole life if it hadn’t been for other people showing him the way. Exploring sexually didn’t seem safe at all - he’d seen the crazy rage induced in his mother by the very idea of sex.
Graduate school was definitely a time of sexual exploration. Chris had to learn about social interactions as well as about his own body. Jealousy – what’s that? He didn’t really understand, except that it seemed necessary to be serially monogamous because of the reactions of others. He recalls feeling puzzled when one of his college roommates felt he had to break up with his girlfriend just because she had spent the weekend with another man. Another time he went off and had sex with a woman who approached him at a party, and didn’t understand why everyone was absolutely livid with him. What was the big deal?
Chris was exposed to the Sexual Freedom League, which had what he describes as swinger parties, but that atmosphere didn’t work for him. He appreciated the idea that people could have sex and delight from a variety of partners, but he became incredibly tense in that group situation. Even though they were very accepting of him, he was very afraid of being judged, and also some part of him feared that he wasn’t good enough. Even to this day he is not interested in group sex, explaining that it’s too distracting. He says that for him sex is a very intimate contact with one person, and he needs to have a single focus.
In the seventies, after grad school in physics, Chris spent a number of years living in voluntary poverty, some of it in a commune. He knew from his studies that we’re getting close to the population limit, and wanted to see if people could live lightly on the earth and still be happy. He describes living in poverty as virtuous but difficult. The people in the commune were from the middle class, so they had other options. He recognizes that they still had a safety net, so they didn’t truly experience the desperate poverty from which it’s hard to escape.
That was a period in which Chris had the opportunity to be very active sexually. He was married for a time, in a very open relationship. He says he was never jealous of his wife being with other men, but he did have some fears of abandonment. He found it hard to deal with his feelings of insecurity when she talked about possibly going off with someone else. However, their agreement was to stay together “as long as it’s good.” He did think it was pretty weird when she took off traveling with a friend of his the day after their wedding ceremony, but he accepted it.
During this time Chris was sometimes sexual with men. He likes men and is emotionally connected and affectionate with men, but sex with a man no longer feels safe. He hasn’t been sexual with a man since 1978, when he got wind of the mysterious and deadly disease that later became known as AIDS.
Long term commitment
Having sex with lots of people was fun. Chris estimates that he has had 100 to 150 lovers. However, he stopped having sex with as many people when he and his wife Sally became seriously involved about 25 years ago. When they decided they were committed to each other and wanted to be lifetime partners, they agreed that even though they both believed in open relationships, they would be monogamous until their relationship was solid. It was eight years before they decided they would open the relationship again, and another two before they acted on it.
This relationship brought other changes. Chris gave up voluntary poverty when Sally wanted to own a house and to have health insurance. He says he now knows it’s possible to live lightly on the land, but it’s also a pain in the ass. So when a friend offered him a job as a computer programmer, he accepted and has been doing it ever since. It’s a good job for him. It gives him a lot of flexibility since he mostly works from home, and it accommodates some of his desire to avoid driving, since he only has to drive in to the nearby city once a week for work.
Chris has had some secondary relationships since he and Sally opened their relationship. He had to break up with one of the women when it became clear that she wanted a monogamous relationship with him. Sally soon became involved with Dean, whom Chris refers to as his cohusband.
Initially this was difficult. He doesn’t think he was jealous, but Chris did have a reaction when Sally was getting involved with Dean. He was concerned that he and Sally were on a roller coaster, headed straight down. So they talked about it. Chris was involved with another woman at the time as well. Was this what they wanted to do? They decided it was, and that if another relationship seemed to be breaking them up, either one could call a halt to it, and they could go back to being monogamous if that’s what they needed. Their primary commitment is to each other.
When Chris is getting involved with someone new, and is full of New Relationship Energy, he checks in with Sally, and reassures her. Yes, he’s very excited, but she is his foundation and lifemate, and if she’s threatened or disturbed, he’s willing to stop, or to stop and talk until she feels safe.
After several years during which Dean was around a lot but maintained his separate residence, they remodeled the house that Chris and Sally have now lived in for 23 years, and Dean moved in with them. The three of them have lived together for almost a decade. Chris and Dean are reasonably good friends, but Sally is the glue that binds them together.
They’re the Molecule – Chris, with his science background, says that the three of them call themselves the Molecule because they are in some sense a long chain molecule. That is, he usually has a secondary partner, Sally does not have any other lovers, and Dean also generally has a secondary. Their secondaries may also have other partners. So it makes a long chain. He thinks that their wife has not had other lovers because Dean doesn’t want her to.
The three of them bring different strengths to the relationship. Chris is messy and Dean is neat, which has sometimes caused some friction. Chris appreciates not having to deal with the financial aspects of their life, such as paying bills, which are handled by the more methodical Dean. The most technically competent person in the household is Chris, Sally is the most emotionally competent and the best reader of people, and Dean is the most artistically and organizationally competent. Dividing up the household tasks according to their spheres of competence makes their lives easier.
Sally has been helpful to both of the men when they’ve had trouble understanding what other women were trying to tell them. She even helped Dean write emails to one of his girlfriends, helping him understand the feminine perspective on the situation.
They each have their own bedroom. Chris thinks that it may be a standard aging thing (they’re all in their early sixties), but they all sleep better alone. However, he is not sexual with his other lover in his bedroom, but rather in the lower level of the house. Dean usually meets other partners either at their place or at a hotel.
“As far as polyamory goes, I'm married to the birds [two parrots], and Dean is married to the female great dane and Sally is married to the male great dane. That is, the birds are outside my bedroom, the dogs sleep in their masters' beds, and when Sally and Dean are having separate time, I'll babysit the dogs and make sure they aren't eating the house. It might be that we're old enough that sex is a pleasantry but not a priority.”
They also have cats, but perhaps the cats aren’t as attached to any one person.
Till death do us part
Sally’s mother lived with them for 3 ½ years after the death of her husband, until her own death very recently. Sally was preoccupied with taking care of her mother during that time, and her sexual energy was lowered. This was not disturbing to Chris. While one part of him might like to be a priapic superman, the deep connection he has with her is what he values. He explains, “She’s my foundation, she’s my life partner.” Their commitment to each other is very important to him. It’s been a whole lot easier for them since they decided, “We are simply staying together, period. Till death do us part. And let's do whatever it takes to do that.” That has allowed him to release his fears of being abandoned.
Sally and Chris decided not to have children, at least partly because of some potentially hereditary mental illness in their families. They also want to avoid overpopulating the earth. They have nieces and nephews – he says he has enough people in his family. Chris does think, however, that polyamory or multi-adult families are extremely good for kids. He says that having multiple adults around, so that the kids can decide whom they want to spend time with, “gives them a sense of self-knowledge and empowerment and just more recognition of self. The kids that I know of who were raised in communes and multi-adult families seem to be stronger.” He admits that there is some self-selection, in that he avoided the crazier and more drug-oriented communes.
Thoughts on polyamory
For those who think that monogamy is easier than polyamory, Chris agrees, but adds that celibacy is even easier. As long as a group communicates well, there’s strength in a group, as well as delight and power. He believes that “People may get more nurturing love out of open and honest and careful, clear relationships,” but acknowledges that clandestine relationships nonetheless seem to be really hot - humans seems to get excited by the secrecy. Feeling that “I’m the one and only” helps people feel unique, and that’s what drives monogamy. However, he knows "I may not be unique to everyone else, but I'm unique to this one person." Anyone can be left for another person, whether they’re in a monogamous or a polyamorous relationship. “Better you should have open communication and know where you stand than to simply not worry and have it come and hit you like a ton of bricks.”
© 2009 by Elaine CookOther Poly Stories
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