Via Twitter, I clicked on a link to an article about polyamory at The Atlantic by Olga Khazan, and was struck by just how un-rebellious it seemed. Actually, it seemed pretty damned polygamous, as in Fundamentalist LDS-style polygamous, with a much older man sharing two much younger women. Here’s the lede:
When I met Jonica Hunter, Sarah Taub, and Michael Rios on a typical weekday afternoon in their tidy duplex in Northern Virginia, a very small part of me worried they might try to convert me.
All three live there together, but they aren’t roommates—they’re lovers.
Or rather, Jonica and Michael are. And Sarah and Michael are. And so are Sarah and whomever she happens to bring home some weekends. And Michael and whomever he might be courting. They’re polyamorous.
Michael is 65, and he has a chinstrap beard that makes him look like he just walked off an Amish homestead. Jonica is 27, with close-cropped hair, a pointed chin, and a quiet air. Sarah is 46 and has an Earth Motherly demeanor that put me at relative ease.
My first thought? Eeeew, not because of the polyamory, but because of the serious age differences between gramps and his girlfriends. My second thought: it’s not like FLDS communities in that the women are permitted to date other men and bring them home even. But why is there still some old silverback in charge of the pack?
This question is never asked in the article. It takes for granted that polyamory usually grows out of a heterosexual couple’s search for another woman, and mentions a couple dating men only once: “Many couples who become interested in polyamory start by looking for a single, bisexual woman to add to the relationship. In fact, this quest has become so common (and its object has remained so elusive) that it’s known as ‘hunting the unicorn.'” Where are the poly families featuring women in their sixties, and younger men in their twenties, thirties, and forties? Why isn’t this just as common an arrangement? Why doesn’t Olga Khazan bother asking this question?
The way that these hetero/married couples are described on their “hunting” expeditions, it’s like they’re looking to adopt a pet, and frankly it sounded creepy, even predatory. There’s no analysis of the dynamic here, which I’m guessing usually involves an older couple “hunting” for a younger woman. (We can use the gerund “shopping,” if you prefer, for more of a late-capitalist vibe than the caveman vibe implicit in “hunting”):
One of the Baltimore couples, Josh and Cassie, represents a typical approach to polyamory: They met a decade ago through a mutual friend, and they dated monogamously for several years before Cassie, who is bisexual, raised the idea of adding another woman to the relationship. They’ve since had several committed triad relationships lasting from a few months to several years. The “other woman” becomes a full partner in the relationship, and ideally, she complements them both in some way. Cassie always hopes that it’ll be a fellow horror-movie lover, while Josh keeps his fingers crossed for an anime fanatic.
There is one poly group that consists of a hetero couple who dates/partners with men described in this article (“Bill and Erin”), but it appears that two women and one man is the typical arrangement. The article also offers an interesting (and mostly accurate) rundown of other sexual experiments outside monogamous heterosexuality, like the Oneida community, which also featured “elderly true believers” who “regularly initiated. . . less-experienced teenagers into sex,” but again, the author offers no analysis of the power dynamics related to age in modern polyamorous practices or the Oneida experiment. The article concludes:
Overall, Josh says sharing a life between three adults, rather than two, is not as kinky and complicated as some monogamous people might think. “The stuff in poly that’s difficult is not the sex,” he said. “It’s where the goddamn spoons get put away.”
In that sense, at least, poly and mono relationships are more alike than they are different.
Actually, it seems like they’re more alike than different in pretty much every way that really matters.