Three’s a Crowd Even if Those Involved Say It’s What They Want
Polyamory. It’s not a term that’s familiar to most people. It means loving more than one person at the same time . . . and doing so openly. And it can have explosive fallout.
Just more than a year ago, April and Shane Divilbiss, a married Tennessee couple, appeared on an MTV documentary, “Sex in the ‘90s: It’s a Group Thing,” to discuss their lives as polyamorists. The man to whom April referred to as her “other husband,” Chris Littrell, appeared too.
The threesome, each member of which was in their 20s, lived together after Chris, a mutual friend, and April fell in love. The trio decided they’d try living as man, wife and man. Also living under the same roof was April’s 3-year-old daughter from another relationship. When the little girl’s paternal grandparents saw the MTV documentary, they didn’t just shake their heads in wonder at the bizarre arrangement.
They sued for emergency custody, citing the mother’s “depravity” and “immoral lifestyle.” And they won.
At least for now.
Littrell has since moved out. According to her lawyer, April is taking court-ordered parenting classes, and the case is on appeal.
No one knows how widespread polyamory is. The underground movement has grown with the help of the Internet, where support groups, gatherings, conferences and general information about “poly” life are found.
“Polyamory is about honesty and responsibility,” said Ryam Nearing, founder of Loving More magazine (circulation 10,000) and Web site (https://www.lovemore.com) in 1995. “Spending the rest of your life with someone is a myth. In traditional marriage, if one person was attracted to another, you either divorce or . . . have an affair.”
Obviously, “poly” life has its pitfalls.
“Polyamorists devote an enormous amount of time in their lives to jealousy,” said Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and author of “Anatomy of Love” (Ballantine, 1992). “We are capable of loving more than one person at a time, but most of us don’t because we know it’ll mess up our marriage.
“Polyamorists want to maintain their long-term attachment to their spouse, and they want to maintain that incredible attraction to someone else and be honest about it.”
It may be honest, but it’s not very practical.
One 48-year-old Colorado man, his wife and another woman tried being three, but frequent spats sent the wife packing and ended the 19-year marriage.
“All three of us still feel that it’s how we want to live our lives,” the man said. “But I don’t recommend [polyamory] unless you really feel in your heart that’s what you want.”
Others claim it’s one big happy family.
“My wife found a lover first,” said a 58-year-old Seattle artists’ manager, who has been married since 1966. When she delivered the news, he said, “I just felt this tremendous weight lifted off me.”
You might say it was permission granted. The new lover brought his girlfriend, and it was, well, polytopia.
“We were all lovers for several years,” he said. “We remain married and remain friends with our ex-lovers.”
A 46-year-old Simi Valley woman said she and her engineer husband of 16 years had an understanding that they would explore other relationships.
“For us, it was almost natural. . . . We knew we couldn’t be everything to one another. His love of dancing involved a lot of ladies. I don’t like to go dancing. . . . We also understand lust and infatuation and [that] sex is just sex.”
Anita Wagner, a 47-year-old Virginia legal secretary who found polyamory after two marriages ended, conceded that jealousy is constant.
“I had gotten involved with this fellow, and he met someone who was going to be his primary relationship,” she said. “I was happy for him, but I worried I would become irrelevant. Sounds weird, but if one of the relationships falls apart, there’s someone else you can turn to.”
Birds & Bees is a weekly column on relationships and sexuality. Kathleen Kelleher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.