It’s not monogamy. But it’s not cheating or polygamy, either. It’s called polyamory, and with hundreds practicing the lifestyle in and around Boston.....
Jay Sekora isn’t actively looking for an additional relationship, but he admits to occasionally checking a dating site to see who’s out there. Sekora’s girlfriend, Mare, who does not want her last name used here for professional reasons, said she is not pursuing anyone, either, but is “open and welcoming to what might come along.” In the three-plus years they have been together, a few other people have come along, like the woman whom Sekora, a 43-year-old systems administrator from Quincy, met online and dated briefly until she moved away. There was also a male-male couple that Mare and Sekora, who identifies as bisexual, dated for several months as a couple. Other than that, it has been the two of them. Well, sort of.
Through the lens of monogamy, this love connection may appear distorted, but that’s not how Sekora and Mare, who is 45, describe their lifestyle. Adherents call it responsible non-monogamy or polyamory, and the nontraditional practice is creeping out of the closet, making gay marriage feel somewhat last decade here in Massachusetts. What literally translates to “loving many,” polyamory (or poly, for short), a term coined around 1990, refers to consensual, romantic love with more than one person. Framing it in broad terms, Sekora, one of the three founders and acting administrator of the 500-person-strong group Poly Boston, says: “There’s monogamy where two people are exclusive. There’s cheating in which people are lying about being exclusive. And poly is everything else.”
Everything else with guidelines, that is, although those vary according to the agreed-upon needs and desires of the people in the relationships. After all, this isn’t swinging, in which a couple seeks out recreational sex. This isn’t even the free love of the ’60s and ’70s, characterized by psychedelic love-ins. And despite the shared “poly” prefix, this certainly isn’t the patriarchal, man-with-many-wives polygamy that has earned increased public attention with the HBO show Big Love. Polyamory has a decidedly feminist, free-spirited flavor, and these are real relationships with the full array of benefits and complexities -- plus a few more -- as the members of Poly Boston’s hypercommunicative, often erudite, and well-entwined community will explain.
“With affairs, you get sex. With polyamory, you get breakfast,” says Cambridge sex therapist Gina Ogden, citing a well-known poly saying. Ogden is the author of The Return of Desire, in which she dedicates a chapter to affairs and polyamory. “Polyamory isn’t a lifestyle for everybody, any more than monogamy is for everybody,” she says. “Keeping one relationship vital is a lot of work, and if you start adding more relationships, it becomes more work.” Though common descriptors used for monogamy don’t easily apply to polyamory, there is a recognizable spectrum of how open these partnerships may be. On the closed end, you might have a couple in a primary relationship who will then have one or more secondary relationships that are structured to accommodate the primary one. There’s also polyfidelity, in which three or more people are exclusive with one another. On the open end, there might be chains of people where, for example, Sue is dating Bill and Bill is dating Karen and Karen is dating Jack, who is also dating Sue.
“The conventional paradigm of monogamy is very much entrenched in our culture,” says Randi Kaufman, a clinical psychologist who has counseled nearly 40 poly people in her Cambridge office. “Practicing polyamory means setting aside the basic principle of monogamy that one person will meet all of another’s needs in an intimate relationship.” Though Kaufman has seen polyamory work well, she also has counseled clients on some poly-specific challenges, such as “new relationship energy,” referring to an intensified focus on a new person that can cause someone to neglect his or her other partners while in the throes of new love. Just as in monogamous relationships, sex can drop off in poly relationships, too, says Kaufman, but poly people can still get their sexual needs met by others without damaging their primary relationships. Then there’s the issue of jealousy.
“A lot of poly people who feel jealous say it’s a warning sign that your needs aren’t getting met,” says Sekora. He says he’s felt insecure about relationships but not necessarily jealous of his partner’s partners. He recalls a time early in his relationship with Mare, however, when she felt threatened by a woman he had started dating. When the three sat down and talked, the women got along well and Mare’s worries dissipated. “Sensible, mature, self-reliant, and stable partners would be a welcome asset” to their relationship, says Mare, who began to identify as poly five years ago when she tapped into the Poly Boston community. Even though she grew up in a more sexually permissive era than her mother did, Mare remembers being in high school and college in the 1980s and envying her mother’s 1950s young adulthood when people dated around. For Mare, who likes the thought of having deep, enduring love with Sekora -- and the possibility of more first kisses with other people -- a polyamorous lifestyle is the answer.
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****ALSO: DON'T BLOCK PEOPLE BECAUSE THEIR COMMENTS DISAGREE WITH YOU, IT JUST MAKES YOU A BIG PUSSY.***
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