Polyamory, which allows for multiple partners, seems to be becoming more apparent with the rise of ‘Athens Poly’ group.
Jasper Wirtshafter had only ever known monogamy — just two people in one relationship.
He was in a four-year monogamous relationship in high school that ended, but in the second week of his freshman year at Ohio University, he attended a discussion with the LGBT Center.
That’s when he first heard the word “polyamory,” which is the physical state of being romantically involved with multiple people and having the consent of all parties involved. Someone suggested he read a book about the topic: The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy.
“I read it thinking, ‘Man, I could never do that,’ ” Wirtshafter, now a senior studying economics, said. “But by the time I got to the end of the book, I (thought) it was interesting. But I didn’t have the willingness to say to a person, ‘I like you, but I don’t want to be monogamous with you.’ ”
During his freshman year, he said it was a perfect coincidence that he started dating a man who brought up the idea of polyamory first. Wirtshafter began dating polyamorously throughout college, and after attending Beyond the Love, a polyamory convention in Columbus in November 2013, he was inspired to start a chapter — Athens Poly.
Formerly known as the Community of Alternative Relationships, Athens Poly welcomes non-monogamous relationships. The group of about 15 people usually meets at least three times a month on Saturdays and is open to all people — whether they are polyamorous or not.
In the United States, it is against federal law to be married to multiple people at the same time.
But some people, like Athens Poly public relations director Pop Peterson, find a way around it.
Peterson is in a “triad,” which is a form of polyamory in which all three members involved are considered equals. He calls them his “partners” because they are financially bound in some way — but at the same time, he and his partners both have an ever-changing flux of boyfriends and girlfriends. The key to pulling off this relationship, Peterson said, is constant communication.
“The only reason I’d say polyamorous people are more apt for communication is because we don’t have a playbook to go by. In monogamy, everyone has assumptions about the way things are supposed to work,” the 26-year-old Athens resident said. “In polyamory, you don’t have a blueprint given to you from fairy tales, from parents. You’re pretty much starting with a blank slate.”
According to the American Psychological Association, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples end in divorce. And according to a study by the Institute for Divorce and Financial Analysts, the leading cause of divorce is “basic incompatibility” (43 percent) with infidelity being the second cause (28 percent).
“Monogamy is outdated. People can excuse cheating because I think, at the heart of it, people understand that occasionally … it’s ‘boys will be boys’ and ever so occasionally you’ll hear ‘a girl’s got needs,’ ” Peterson said. “That’s not to say that monogamy doesn’t exist, but I think the form of pure, natural, perfect monogamy that people strive for is unattainable and unreasonable.”
One of the biggest misconceptions about polyamory is that it’s an excuse to be unfaithful or have an affair, Delfin Bautista, director of the LGBT Center, said. Sarah Jenkins, program coordinator for the Women’s Center, added that many people automatically think of the polygyny-based TLC show Sister Wives.
Polygamy is an umbrella term for having multiple spouses. Polygyny is specifically when a man has multiple wives. Polyandry is specifically when a woman has multiple husbands according to the website More Than Two.
Polyamory focuses more on equality, rather than control, in the multiple relationships, Jenkins said.
“In the case of Sister Wives, it’s really this husband in control, making decisions. And whether or not he’s communicating with his partners on those decisions, he ultimately has the final say,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think monogamy or polyamory are more or less legitimate than each other. Both are super-legitimate viable ways to live your life and be happy.”
Wirtshafter said when he talks about Athens Poly with people, particularly straight, cisgender men, some say they’d be polyamorous, if only they could “get away with it.”
“You’re welcome at our meetings to date all those (women), but you better be ready to have those three-hour conversations about your feelings because that’s way more of what you do in polyamory,” Wirtshafter said. “Pretty much the only thing I think all polyamorists can agree on is the main thing we do is communicate, all the time.”
Although many of the people that come to Athens Poly events also identify as LGBT, Wirtshafter said the majority of the people at Beyond the Love were couples or triples, middle-aged, and mostly heterosexual.
Polyamory in practice
Sara Burrows, former contributor for Carolina Journal Online and founder of the blog Polyamory Diaries, has become polyamorous with her partner, Brad, over the past year. In her blog, she tells stories and struggles about how she and Brad deal with the day-to-day life of polyamory while also parenting their 3-year-old daughter, Nora.
“(After I brought up the idea of polyamory), Brad admitted that he had felt this ball and chain on him ever since he found out that I was pregnant,” Burrows, who lives in North Carolina, said. “He had been afraid to tell me because he really did actually love me… It was these desires he had totally kept pushed down inside...because he didn’t want to lose his family.”
The two are more in love than ever, Burrows said. They live together, and sometimes when Burrows wants to bring over someone she’s been dating, Brad will take their daughter to the movies. Because of Nora’s young age, Burrows said she doesn’t complicate an explanation and tells Nora they are just friends coming over to the house.
Burrows doesn’t see the future conversation with Nora detailing the polyamorous lifestyle as a barrier. Because Burrows and Brad are beginning polyamory when Nora is so young, Burrows said, it’s already the “regular” for their family.
“(In monogamy) you’re expected to fill all these different roles. It’s kind of like putting all your eggs in one basket,” Burrows said. “Everybody thinks that friends should just fill every other need besides sexual… like Brad is supposed to be my primary person, the person I spend the most time with, and I don’t think it’s very natural to put restrictions like that.”
As far as how many people are currently polyamorous, the statistic is hard to pinpoint. It’s almost impossible, Bautista said, because one can’t be sure if polyamorous relationships are actually happening more, or if people have historically been polyamorous and are just now feeling comfortable enough to share their stories.
“I very much comfortably see me and my current partners growing old and dying together, but I’m also realistic enough to know that may not happen,” Peterson said. “In monogamy, you expect one person to be your everything. … In polyamory, you’re more allowed to bring what you have to the table and if that’s not enough, your partner isn’t going to expect you to do without. Your partner can find that missing piece elsewhere, and I appreciate that.”