Monday, June 26, 2017

Polyamory and Marriage

A lot of you seeing this know me and have met me in person, especially if you've followed this link from my Facebook post. In case not, or if you've forgotten, hi. My name's Andrew. As of posting this I'm 25 years old. I'm from Asheville, North Carolina, and I live with my partner of five years, Tracey, in Charlotte, where we've lived for about three. This past weekend, we announced our engagement to our friends through Facebook, although we had made the decision earlier in the week. (Don't worry, boomers, we called our relatives before social media posts.)

But I want to make a few things clear about the way I -- and I should stress, I specifically -- view relationships and marriage and a little about how that view has come to be. Tracey may agree in principle with a few of these ideas but I'm not asking her to review this before I post it, so it's all me. Bear in mind, if you have a negative reaction to anything you're reading here...just stop reading, and keep it to yourself. I've kept my mouth shut through plenty of weddings, maybe even your own, so you can try to do me the same courtesy. 

Tracey and I have what is called a polyamorous relationship. You may understand this as an "open" relationship, although I usually prefer polyamorous or "poly" for short (it's fancier sounding). If you're still lost, this means that, although we love and have commitment for one other, we have agreed that our relationship will not be exclusive. We go on dates and have sex with other people outside our own relationship at our own individual discretion. I have said for a long time that as long as she comes home eventually, I don't mind where she goes. In truth our few rules that we apply to each other are: 
  1. Always communicate. If you have a problem, talk about it. even if you're just uncomfortable with a situation. If you are jealous, that is a normal but unhealthy reaction, like a sore throat, and needs to be dealt with by talking through it (soothing the emotion that is really at the root of the jealousy, like anger or anxiety) or, if deemed necessary, ending the behavior that is causing the problem.
  2. Always communicate about generally where you're going to be and who you'll be with, so I know you are safe. I want to meet your partners and know that they are not dangerous people. (I have asked for, in theory, the right to "veto" partners that I am not comfortable with, but I've never used it and don't think I will ever need to. Really, this just points back to 1.)
  3. Use barrier methods with partners that you'll have penetrative sex with.
 This will remain true through our marriage, as you will see. 

I was raised as a Christian, but I have not believed for a long time - I finally decided I was an atheist when I was 15 and have examined and reexamined that mindset carefully ever since. Now, I really think that monogamy probably isn't an idea that just comes from Abrahamic tradition but something a little older. All the same, losing my belief was probably the most important step on the road to where I am today. What we are taught in the church influences a lot of monogamist thought, and though I was spared that dreaded Southern institution - the Baptist Church (shudder!) - for most of my upbringing, it's hard to not be in that orbit. There are many conservative churches today that still teach that a man should protect a woman and a woman should serve a man, and god forbid you want to shack up with someone who has the same genitals as you or fail to get permission from a priest before you simulate the procreative act! Needless to say despite my environment I became quite liberal, drenched chiefly in the idea that a person's body is their own, and no god or preacher should dictate the decisions of another person. And if god should not tell you what to do with your body, I would be damned if I would do the same.

I also have a lot of personal experience with witnessing failed relationships; without going too into it because she'll probably message me about it and whine that I brought it up, my mother and father went through a pair of nasty separations when I was a kid, and I'm also the product of a second marriage. I also want to note that I have personally witnessed four marriages, all of them traditional Christian marriages, and three of them ended in divorce mere years later (the fourth and most recent was my brother's, so knock on wood I guess). I don't mean any offense if I did happen to witness your wedding and then it fell apart, but...y'know. It's so strange to me how we set these kinds of relationships up that they are supposed to be so permanent and yet that very thing seems so impossible. All these things mean that I have long been very skeptical of marriage as an institution, legal and religious both. 

So with all those things together, why the hell am I getting married? Well.

For one, our government and legal system is set up to encourage marriage. I've come to realize that Tracey and I aren't separating any time soon; I would be very surprised if circumstances came up that would cause us to separate in even the next ten or fifteen years. We have a very stable and happy relationship, and that means that probably sooner rather than later something is bound to happen to one of us that remaining unmarried will make needlessly complicated. Whether that's a bad hospital visit, a death, financial trouble, or unintended pregnancy (unlikely, but, well...) we will want to be legally prepared for these things and currently in U.S. law there are very few widely recognized ways of getting all those rights sorted out besides being married. I know there are a few people in my family that are kind of down on the whole marriage as a legal institution thing, but if you want to put a stop to that, encourage lawmakers to create a different legal recourse or at least slap a different name on it. The government calls that marriage, and you can respect that or not at your own discretion. Really this is not the most important bit, but we are considering having a legal marriage done well in advance of any celebration or ceremony so that we do not have to have an officiant present. We're also more than aware of the possibility of divorce, but we're also very aware that any divorce would likely be the result of growing apart rather than one of us...I don't know, suddenly becoming abusive or something shocking like that.

Honestly, the second reason was my brother's marriage, or at least that was a factor that, much like a couple glasses of champagne, really started the conversation between us. We'd spoken of marriage before, but witnessing it had us (me) speaking enthusiastically about what we would like to do in contrast to what they did on the car ride home. "And we're not having it outdoors, and we're not going to have the bridal and groom's party separate because that's a silly superstition, and we'll say stuff about our non-monogamy, and and and..." It made me realize that we could have a celebration of our relationship that reflected our values well. I very much want to have the kind of celebration that flies in the face of tradition in the way that our relationship has done and will continue to do. I'm not much of a punk, but when I can, I do the punk thing: do it yourself and embrace the unconventional.  

So, in what ways will our marriage be different from that Christian / monogamous ideal?

I think a lot of monogamous relationships, even non-Christian ones, have a basis in control. The central thesis of that kind of relationship is to reflexively and without prior discussion prevent a partner from doing anything outside of a relationship. It really bothers me how bad it can get; I have an employee at work who is struggling with his girlfriend because she's so jealous, she doesn't like him talking to our female co-workers. But this is so close to normal that he's okay with putting up with it, at least for now. Isn't that completely screwed up? She can't be happy that his co-workers like him, so much that she's had bad dreams about him cheating. 

This idea of automatic control of a partner is especially true of men towards women, and that's not really a new idea, but I have a story that relates. This past weekend, we bought our rings, and I didn't even realize that the man doesn't traditionally have a ring through the engagement until Tracey reminded me I'm going to have to explain to my co-workers that I'm not married. That is bonkers to me. So the woman is supposed to wear a visible symbol of exclusive commitment up until she gets a different one, but the man doesn't have to? In fact, traditionally would avoid doing so? Ah, but of course, she is already his property. I'm trying to avoid swearing here, but here's one for flavor: fuck that shit.  Tracey and I chose our rings and are proud to wear them. We are probably going to struggle with navigating with the assumptions that will be made with the symbolism we have chosen, but I am not for one minute considering not wearing the ring or otherwise hiding my relationship just because society says I can get away with it. It's our (minor) struggle to share as equals. Tracey has noted she may switch hands on her ring if she's out on dates and I may adopt this as well, but I would never hide my engagement or marriage from another person. 

We aren't sure of all the details of the party itself, but we do know that we dislike how somber and boring large parts of traditional weddings are. We don't want long stretches away from the people that came to see us and may have traveled long distances to do so; we will shun the tradition of separating bridal and groom's parties so that we can all be together when guests arrive. We are not rich people, so we will probably have our wedding at home and play our own music or, if I can get a band together, I may perform music that I want to play. Every wedding I have been to has left guests hungry until the reception; trust me that the party starts when people show up and we'll just be asking for a few minutes of focused attention when we are ready to have our piece of ritual. We want to have a handfasting instead of an exchange of rings, since we already did that part; this is an old Scottish tradition that's been taken up by a lot of Neopagan sects and erroneously termed "pre-Christian" but I am hoping we can put our own spin on it, since I like it too much not to do it. Essentially, a cloth is tied around the clasped hands for a certain time and vows are exchanged. I think the imagery of that is much stronger than simply putting rings on fingers. We've already got the rings we'll wear until our relationship comes to an end, whatever that entails. 

What I think will set our marriage apart is that, really, our relationship isn't changing, except for two pieces of jewelry and a label. I have lived as if I had an open marriage with Tracey for almost five years. The important thing to us now is the declaration, the acceptance, the celebration. 

I hope that many of you reading this are understanding and happy for us, even if you're not necessarily approving of the style of relationship we have. If I haven't spoken to you in a while but you'd like to drop me a line (and aren't going to try to preach to me) please reach out to me through Facebook's messenger app.

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