Polyamory, Honesty and Pie
A few weeks ago, I drove north on Interstate 15 to a town ranked the most conservative in Southern California, just an hour outside San Diego. As I pulled off the freeway on this early Sunday morning, the parking lot of a local diner was full of pick-ups, and a line out the door was made up of grandmothers and cowboy hat-wearing studs. Kids of all ages were dodging cars.
I was on my way to visit Sherry, Greg and Bill, a polyamorous co-habitating triad. They are an example of why conservatives don’t want gay marriage to be legalized–then “anyone” can marry anyone, and next we’d have polygamists wanting to get married, and then who’s to say you can’t marry a porcupine if you choose to? (I mean, who doesn’t fantasize about porcupine sex?)
I was excited to have the opportunity to interview Sherry, Greg and Bill because they didn’t fit into the clichéd situation of two women and one man. I’m tired of it always being men who claim to want to watch two women getting it on: Strip club dancers, of course, already know this is the way to get the big tips. Last week, The Daily Show–the one TV show I revere–did a spoof on the sanctity of marriage in the guise of reporting on Proposition 8, and the punchline was a married couple in which the husband had a girlfriend. But that just seems so Tiger Woods/David Letterman/Bill Clinton. Why can’t the celebs give us a little more variety? (Seriously, in this day and age, it’s front page news that someone’s having an affair?) Anyway, that’s why I decided to seek out a less tired version of a relationship involving a third person.
Maybe I envied Sherry a bit. She’s got it all. While Greg is a good breadwinner, he’s not so good around the house. That’s where Bill comes in: he likes to make chicken and rice dinners, bake pies and fix things. He calls himself the “housewife.” It beats having to find one man who must be all things all the time. It’s less pressure for Bill and Greg, too. Could I have one husband who makes the bed, and another who does the laundry? And then another who does that thing with his tongue?
We’ll get the basic questions out of the way first: Yes, Bill, Greg, and Sherry are all bisexual. No, they don’t all have sex at the same time, but they will all snuggle in bed together. Bill and Greg are affectionate with one another, but not necessarily sexually attracted to one another. They both have sex with Sherry.
When I first arrived, Bill and Sherry and I settled in the living room. “Greg’s still getting ready,” they told me. He joined us soon after, freshly coifed and showered. “Is there coffee?” he asked. Bill and Sherry looked at one another. “Sherry fixed some and I had a cup too, so it’s all gone,” Bill said. “Oh,” Greg said, heading back toward the kitchen. “I guess I’ll fix my own.”
Bill told me he had tried monogamy for “five awful days back in 1984.” As I expected, all three of them argued that human beings are not naturally monogamous, that–biologically!–we are not structured to have one mate. Even that nice story about swans and ibises mating for life–that’s apparently bunk. I’d heard it all before; my first husband harped on these “facts” for ten years of our marriage. Old boyfriends said it, even therapists say it’s true to some extent. But, in the same way that alternative lifestyle folks often say they’ve known since they were little kids that they [are bisexual], “[like to dress in women's clothing and do 'lady things'],” or that they’re “[asexual and masturbation is just a release],” I have known since I was 12 and had a crush on Skip Hollister that I am monosexual and like to stick to one person at a time. According to Freud and Kinsey, I’m part of a teeny tiny minority, just five percent of the earth’s population. I’m only one in only three hundred fifty million (that’s equivalent to just one of me in the whole United States). There’s hardly enough of us for a rally. I’m not even going to bother with a flag design.
Our world is crawling with lovemakers of all shapes, sizes, and orientations, and Bill, Sherry and Greg weren’t my first encounter with polyamory. But a relationship with one person at a time is hard enough, so I wanted to know how they juggled multitudinous relationships. None of the three are polyfidelitous–while they’re all committed to their intimate triad, that is, they each go out on the town.
But before you start picturing Wife Swapping parties from the 70s, let’s look at the day-to-day. Just as in a pair, functional triads, quadrangles, hexagons and rhombus groupings have all variety of arrangements with one essential element: Honesty. (Start taking notes, Bill Clinton, David Letterman, and Tiger Woods. And, my ex-husband.) My favorite sex writer and podcaster, Dan Savage, insists that this is the essential ingredient for all healthy relationships, no matter their configuration.
My interviewees were forthcoming about the play parties they had in the backyard pool. (Suffice it to say water wings were not the only flotation devices.) They also told me about their “dates”: one or more of them often become interested in another woman or man, but they take pains to be sure make everyone is on the up and up about the arrangement. And they make it clear that they aren’t available to be another person’s serious mate.
Bill, who’s from West Virginia, says that when he’s interested in a married woman, he likes to bake a pie and take it to the couple. Ah, the Southern polyamorous tradition. My Southern mother taught me that you must never return an empty pie pan–you always have to bake another pie and return it to the owner. But in Bill’s case, this sounds like an even trade. Pie/Wife, Wife/Pie. I like to think of one half of the couple heading off on their date with Bill as the other hollers, “Save a piece for me!”
I asked about jealousy, and all three of them shook their heads. “It comes up, on occasion, but then we just think of why it doesn’t matter,” said Bill. Where’s the drama in that? I thought to myself. They’ll never get their own reality show if they keep this up.
But honesty isn’t just a value they share with one another, it’s something each must have with his or herself. Talking to Bill, Greg, and Sherry, I was reminded of a sweet friend of mine whose husband wanted to have a foursome with another couple. She went along with it because she was gung-ho for pretty much anything (one of the things most of us love about her), but she also became sullen and severely depressed. She actually loved the other couple, she explained, but in the end, she had to admit that she had only done it to please her husband, not because she really wanted it herself.
But Bill, Sherry and Greg have been together for more than ten years, and they seem truly happy. Once Greg had made his own cup of coffee, we all sat in the living room chatting about life and love. It was easy to believe that more really was merrier.
When I got home after the interview, I was famished. Luckily, when I walked in the door I could smell burgers grilling. “Oh boy,” I said to my outré, “I’m starving.” Eber looked at me, then at the empty frying pan. “Sorry, you’ll have to fix something else. I ate the last one.”
Just goes to show you, no matter how you slice it, there’s never enough love to go around.
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