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Love & sex

Lovers leap

Penetrating the polyamory subculture.

Metro Times Photos / Bruce Giffin
PolyNet founder Daniel del Vecchio.
Steve Feinberg, Shaina Shevin & Daniel del Vecchio.
Valerie Hartzer, her husband, Paul Kershaw, and friend.
With its free-love theme, Robert A. Heinlein’s ’60s sci-fi classic Stranger in a Strange Land, has had a big impact on many in the polyamory community.
SEE ALSO
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polyamory.org
Home page for Usenet's polyamory newsgroup.

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Published 2/13/2002

Editor's note: Names appearing in italics are pseudonyms, used at the request of subjects who feared they might lose their jobs if their true identities were disclosed.

Young lovers Steve Feinberg and Shaina Shevin sit in his modest Livonia home discussing their relationship. His two children are with their mother for the weekend, but evidence of their residency is abundant. A jumble of little shoes spills out of the closet near the front door.

Feinberg, 27, is an emergency medical technician. He is slender, with long hair, a moustache and goatee. If he grew his beard out, he’d resemble popular images of Christ. Of course, the pendant he wears — his paean to paganism — would undermine that notion. That, and the impish glint in his eye.

Shevin, 23, is also an EMT, but she’s training to become a paramedic. Her chestnut mane is pulled back, revealing soft, sensitive facial features.

She might be mistaken for an ingenue if she weren’t talking about the time Feinberg was in bed with another woman, and Shevin decided she would have sex with a friend. She walked in on Feinberg to ask if he had an extra condom. He rummaged in vain through his belongings.

“Only in a polyamorous relationship would my boyfriend be looking for a condom so I could fuck somebody else,” Shevin says with a sardonic smile.

Feinberg chuckles, then remembers when his father, who lives in the basement, interrupted a foursome.

“He just stood there with the phone and said it was for me,” Feinberg says. “I’m like, ‘I’m busy here.’ I don’t think he minded seeing all the nakedness. My dad is really cool.”

The word “polyamory,” a hybrid of Greek and Latin, translates to “many loves.” Adherents reject monogamy and traditional marriages in favor of multiple, simultaneous, committed relationships — or the freedom to have them.

Polyamorists view monogamy as a pernicious cultural construct. They contend that homo sapiens is the only primate that practices monogamy, or attempts to. They say humans — and most earthly fauna — are wired to seek many mates. That’s why the national divorce rate hovers around 43 percent. That’s why marriage vows are too often broken by infidelity, leading to shattered lives, damaged children, dysfunctional homes.

Polyamorists practice “radical honesty.” They believe that love can be cumulative, that more lovers beget more love.

Polyamorists have always been around, but they’ve been lumped under other labels, not all of them flattering: free lovers, polygamists, bigamists, swingers, hedonists — perhaps even sex maniacs or perverts. Plenty of so-called respectable people pegged them as sinners.

The term polyamory was coined in California. The Detroit faithful put the date as 1990, though others in the movement say it was before that. The movement was abetted by gay and lesbian activism and the resulting relaxation of sexual mores.

Equally crucial was the advent of the Internet, where chat rooms and informational sites flourish. A search of “polyamory” on Google turns up 51,200 references. Loving More, a glossy national quarterly about polyamory, claims a circulation of 10,000. Books exploring polyamory — The Ethical Slut and Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits — are considered required reading.

Feinberg and Shevin are part of a small but thriving community of polyamorists in the Detroit area. A support group convenes monthly to discuss, promote and celebrate the “lovestyle.” They speak in a nomenclature all their own, using such terms as “polyfidelity,” a group of committed lovers who will not stray farther; or “condom pact,” an agreement to use prophylactics when engaged in sex with outsiders.

They also grapple with the complications that line the path to polyamory and even encroach within — from betrayal, broken hearts and broken homes to social stigmatism, jealousy, exploitation and incurable disease.

“Polyamory is not for wimps. Polyamory is not a panacea,” says Daniel del Vecchio, who founded the discussion group.

Yet he says that he didn’t “start living” until he became polyamorous a few years ago. Del Vecchio is 51.

Many polyamorists insist that their discipline is dependent upon loving relationships, that it’s not about sex.

Which is a lot like saying that dancing is not about music.

December excerpts

It’s no Saturnalia when the Detroit Polyamorous Network convenes on the first Wednesday evening of every month. Each of the dozen or so attendees is clad.

Affirmations Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Ferndale becomes Poly Pavilion. Many polyamorists are bisexual and many of them are pagans; some belong to the neopagan Church of All Worlds, which endorses polyamory.

Three children play noisily in a corner as ground rules are recited: listen keenly with mutual respect, make no judgments, protect confidentiality.

Introductions are made. One gent describes himself as “straightish.” Another laments, “Life has been other people imposing their chaos on me.”

The evening’s “facilitator” describes herself as a “dyke.”

“I’ve been married a few times, and in the process of those marriages, I discovered I didn’t like men, really,” she explains. “My third husband was gay. Polyamory turns a lot of lesbians off. A lot of people have the monogamy mentality. The concept of polyamory is just too mind-boggling for some people to realize. Maybe they just don’t have the capacity to think they can love more than one person.”

Elaine, a well-dressed woman, calls herself a “polyamory wannabe” eager to learn more about a lifestyle she is determined to embrace. Then, she won’t “feel like a fraud anymore.” She frets that her current lover is married, but she wants lovers she can be seen with in public.

Her husband ran off with her best friend 20 years ago, leaving her alone and pregnant. If only she had known about polyamory then. “If both of us had been in a different place, we could have been a family,” Elaine says.

“In this heavy monogamous culture, sex is secret, it’s special and it’s sacred,” says Paul Kershaw, who attends with his wife. “But so is a really good movie or a really good steak. Why take this one thing and put in on this big, huge pedestal?”

Susan chimes in, “I like sex. Casual sex is fine with me.”

Kershaw marvels at the conceit behind the “reality” TV show “Temptation Island” — attractive singles try to get people from committed relationships to have sex with them.

“We either have long-term, committed, monogamous relationships or you have singles who can screw anything you want,” he says with disgust.

Shevin says, “Steve and I would go on ‘Temptation Island’ and screw everybody there.”

The discussion wends through the dread of “coming out” to relatives. The awkwardness of seeing acquaintances while in the company of a new love interest. The uncertainty of approaching an attractive person uninitiated in the ways of polyamory — and the fear of rejection or the ordeal of attempting to convert them.

Feinberg has been seeing a professional dominatrix who isn’t into polyamory. “If we keep dating and talk more about it, then she might grow,” he says.

“I find out the hard way — by getting my heart broken — that I can’t make everyone polyamorous,” Susan says.

“We’re waiting for people to evolve,” Kershaw says.

Valerie & Paul

Paul Kershaw is a 33-year-old computer developer. He set up the PolyNet listserv where participants share e-mail messages. His wife, Valerie Hartzer, 35, is a clerical assistant for a retailer. They became friends 20 years ago, and have been lovers for nearly that long. Both hold master’s degrees. Both are bisexual. Both are “poly-pagan.”

Hartzer says her father was unfaithful to her mother, who unwittingly taught her the concept of polyamory.

“My mother said, ‘I don’t care if he goes outside the marriage. It’s the lying I can’t stand,’” Hartzer says.

Kershaw says polyamory wasn’t of interest until Hartzer was in graduate school, preparing to go overseas. She asked what he would do if “something happened” during their long separation. Try as he might, Kershaw says, he couldn’t convince himself that such a dalliance should end their relationship.

From that point on, they considered themselves polyamorous.

Hartzer says, “We’ve had a couple of good relationships and we’ve had a couple of duds.”

They dated another couple for a while. There was talk of creating a three-career household, with the fourth adult responsible for tending the home. But the other couple had children, and insurmountable stresses emerged.

Kershaw had a fling with a woman he met at a pagan convention; she came back to Detroit for another weekend, met another man and moved in with him. She claimed to be polyamorous and wanted a four-way relationship, but Kershaw says it soon became apparent that she wanted him to leave Hartzer.

“That’s when it all blew up,” Hartzer says.

Another potential lover wanted a ménage à trois with Kershaw and another man, but she wanted to exclude Hartzer.

“We seem to be among the least active” in the PolyNet group, Kershaw says lugubriously.

Hartzer: “We really want close relationships.”

Kershaw: “We’ve only had half a dozen relationships in the last decade.”

Hartzer: “We go for quality, not quantity. … We’re monogamous by default right now.”

That condition might gladden the heart of Kershaw’s father, the Rev. John Kershaw, a United Methodist minister in Monroe. But the fact that his son has strayed from the church and its tenets hasn’t doomed their relationship.

“Parents and children don’t always agree,” the father says. “I happen to think he’s wrong. We raised our kids to be free-thinkers and his thinking is just different than mine.

“I am manifestly Christian and actively heterosexual and very committed to my wife. It’s his lifestyle. If I had my absolute druthers I’d have him be Christian, but it’s not something I’ve lost sleep over.”

The pastor opines that fundamentalist denominations that assign subservient roles to women have discouraged many young people from the church and the Christian doctrine of marriage.

Yet his experience as a counselor has taught him that a committed relationship is “essential to healthy living and psychological health.” He decries the “psychological damage” that can accrue in polyamorous relationships.

“It really gives people a distorted view of sex and a distorted view of the other gender and the ways that it’s appropriate to relate to people of the other gender,” he says.

Paul Kershaw says his father was more accepting of his polyamory than of his bisexuality.

The Rev. Kershaw explains, “I have not actively criticized him for either, but I’m not really open to either. I can accept him as a person — that’s unconditional.”

Hey, jealousy

If it’s a natural tendency to seek many mates, an equally potent desire is the acquisition and control of possessions, including lovers.

One colossal obstacle a polyamorist must overcome is jealousy. The fact that it’s a frequent talking point at Network meetings is ample evidence of that.

Experts like Sharon Linzey believe that polyamorous behavior is fraught with peril for this very reason.

“Historically, it doesn’t work. Relationships split apart. Jealousy enters in,” says Linzey, a Ph.D. professor of sociology at George Fox University, a Quaker-affiliated institution in Newberg, Ore.

Linzey teaches sex roles and studies New Ageism and cult movements. She says groups that practice polyamory or polygamy are bound to self-destruct.

“The sex business is usually their undoing,” she says. “They can’t maintain the integrity of the intimate relationships. Somebody falls in love with somebody else, and it gets messy.”

Linzey has interviewed members of groups that engaged in “partner sharing.” One member of a couple is often a reluctant participant, she says.

“Any way you cut it, it doesn’t work. It broke the [reluctant] spouses’ hearts. They are the ones likely to be hurt. They are the ones likely to have a nervous breakdown. They may go along with it for a while, but in the end they will give an ultimatum.”

Deborah Taj Anapol might agree with Linzey up to a point. But the author of the movement’s seminal tract, Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits, says overcoming jealousy and insecurity is a trial by fire, a prerequisite for a successful polyamorous relationship. Yet it can be done. Anapol, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, has also written a book titled Compersion: Using Jealousy as a Path to Unconditional Love.

“We all have jealously,” Anapol says. “At the same time we want our freedom to explore. … The truth is that all of us have a desire for both. We both want the freedom and the sense of security and specialness.

“As soon as another lover comes on the scene, those issues are going to be in their face, and if they can resolve them, the relationship is going to get stronger. But if they’re not able work through it, another lover is eventually going to wreck their relationship.

“It’s difficult these days being in an intimate relationship of any kind if you’re trying to avoid basic issues. I see that in the polyamory movement. Some people haven’t really gotten that it’s learning to let go of control and manipulation, learning to let go of defenses that we have created to protect ourselves, the experiences that have been painful in the past and which at present keep us from true intimacy with ourselves and others.”

She lays the culture of monogamy at the altar of Christianity, whose early philosophers (she cites St. Augustine) thought celibacy was next to godliness. Since celibacy wouldn’t work for everyone — and would lead to extinction — monogamy was promoted as the next best thing, she says.

Sex “became permitted only when sanctioned by the church for a monogamous marriage for the purpose of reproduction,” she says.

“The rise of patriarchy wanted to control women’s sexuality and women’s reproductive capacity.”

That foundation is eroding, in Anapol’s view. The New Art of Loving More is now 10 years old. The book has sold only about 20,000 copies, but pace of sales is quickening, she says. The 200-person workshops she hosts are turning people away.

Yet she is far from sanguine about the state of the movement. As it burgeons, the urge to impose order grows in correlation. People play politics.

“I would say the movement has almost been too successful. It’s become another box. It’s become another standard to live up to. That was not my intention. … Sometimes I think it would be better not to have a movement.”

Joy

It’s probably no exaggeration to say that Joy, who is bisexual, could have her pick of lovers. If the local polyamory community has a pillar, it is she. Joy is articulate, attractive and confident. She enjoys universal respect. She holds three degrees (but declines to disclose her profession). Her home is the gathering place for the Church of All Worlds. If someone shows an interest in polyamory, she is a persuasive but gentle advocate.

Joy, 32, is “just not wired with the jealousy reflex.” She realized this as a teenager when she learned that her boyfriend was seen kissing another girl.

“I was supposed to get really upset,” she says. “I was trying to get mad. But I was not upset at all. I knew my boyfriend cared about me.”

Her friends thought she was daft.

A couple of years later she met some poly-pagans, people who remain friends to this day.

Joy’s mother was slow to accept her lifestyle. It was surreal when Joy brought two men to Thanksgiving dinner. She did give her mother a copy of Love Without Limits.

“She’s told me, ‘I don’t care as long as you’re happy,’” Joy says.

She estimates she’s had 50 lovers, more men than women. She’s maintained some relationships nearly half her life. She uses condoms when having sex with any man, except the father of her child.

“It’s a lovely way to live, really,” she says. “I feel like I have more intimacy in my life than people usually get. … I’m almost embarrassed by the love and kindness that I’ve experienced in my life.”

Intimate friends come in handy during disputes.

“I’ve been a referee in many a discussion between poly folk,” she says. “Being poly lets you have a loving third person who can mediate as you work through the hard things about being a couple.”

When she decided to have a child, she asked one of her lovers — the smart and stable Phil — to be the father. He initially refused to accommodate her. She eventually got her way. Their child, Tim, is now 3.

Joy didn’t want to put any undue pressure on Phil. He was welcome to be as involved with, or as distant from, Tim as he wished. They agreed to avoid the courts and have trusted friends as arbitrators in case any disagreements arise.

Phil, it turns out, has been intimately involved in Tim’s life.

Joy has no qualms about exposing Tim to friends in the polyamory community. She sees it as a boon for a child.

She recalls a time when she was in bed with a married couple the morning after.

“Their youngest child, 4 at the time, came into the bedroom. He saw the three of us there and knit his brow. He asked, ‘Who’s going to make my pancakes?’ So I got up and made his pancakes.

“Children respond to how they’re treated and they don’t really care what the adults do in bed.”

Indeed, Joy, Tim and Phil share a family bed, sometimes with Joy’s other lovers. But sex in the family bed is verboten. Sleeping only.

“Truly, more loving, caring people in a child’s life is better,” she says.

Phil

Tim makes beguiling toddler sounds as he climbs in and out of a cardboard box. Joy isn’t home. Phil is here, watching his son though adoring eyes.

Joy made a good choice. Phil characterizes himself as an uneducated man. His job might be blue-collar, but his reasoning isn’t.

“I told her, ‘OK, I’ll give you a child, but I can’t guarantee how I will react to the fact of his being born,’” Phil says.

“I love it. I love being a dad.”

He sees Tim three times a week.

“I probably spend more quality time with my son that most men who are married and say they are monogamous.

“I’m grateful to Joy for giving me the opportunity to be a dad in this open situation.”

Phil’s own rejection of the traditional nuclear family grew in part out of his parents’ dysfunction. They divorced when he was 3. He can’t remember ever seeing them speak to one another.

Like many in the polyamory community, Robert A. Heinlein’s ’60s sci-fi classic Stranger in a Strange Land, with its free-love theme, had a big impact on Phil.

“I read that when I was a teenager. I thought, what a wonderful way to be.”

He and Joy became lovers five years ago.

“People who were Joy’s lovers, I’ve watched them come and go.

“I would feel pangs of jealousy when she was off on a weekend with someone else. It was difficult at first to get past that. You need to do some personal growth. You can’t continue to be the emotional adolescent that you have been.”

Like several halves of primary couples interviewed for this story, Phil currently has no other lovers.

“It’s very difficult for me now. I don’t have another lover. But to go out and pursue somebody simply for sex isn’t the point. That’s swinging.

“There’s another woman that I would like to be in a relationship with, but I’m reluctant to, because I know how women respond to [polyamory].

“A girl I was in a relationship with several years ago was insanely jealous.”

“It may very well be that I never do find another lover.”

Phil refuses to pass judgment on people who are monogamous.

“Some of my married friends came from stable families, so they’re happy, married and they’re committed to being married, and I respect that. I can’t say that I envy it. And I have to say that they’re an exception.

“I can’t imagine there’s a man alive [in a committed relationship] who didn’t feel he loved another woman.”

He his world view is apocalyptic. He believes “something has to happen” and after it does, everyone will be polyamorous.

While extolling Joy as “a powerful woman,” he does not believe he is under her thumb.

“I’m free to be her friend and lover and co-parent with her. She is in no way dominating me.…”

He used to worry that Joy might take a lover who would be a poor role model for Tim.

“There’s a lot of people who are polyamorous as an excuse to go out and have affairs. There’s a lot of unstable people in the polyamory community.”

Elaine

“Monogamy is a lie!”

This is Elaine’s mantra. After her husband abandoned her 20 years ago, Elaine dabbled in dating for several years. Then she withdrew for an astonishing period of time.

“I was celibate for 14 years. I masturbated for 14 years,” she says. “I raised my family, buried my parents. I had an active social life and lots of friends, but no lovers. Not one kiss in 14 years. I developed skin hunger, because nobody touched me.

“So I went online and met men and became sexually active. I found out something: I like variety. I liked having more than one lover. No one person can be the end-all and be-all. …

“Me being polyamorous now is the result of starvation. It’s been an evolutionary process, a sexual awakening …

“There’s variety and honesty and the freedom to meet my desires.”

Yet Elaine, 52, remains the “polyamory wannabe.” She has yet to find a lover who will accept the discipline. She’s placed ads on polyamory Web sites, without success.

Elaine says her friends are excited about her new persona.

Her younger sister, Judy, calls the transformation of a “very complex person” long overdue. “To see her evolve, so to speak, has been a blessing.”

Growing up, Judy says, Elaine was “excruciatingly private,” prudish and introverted. “I didn’t think it was a normal thing,” Judy says.

So the new Elaine has been a bit of a shock.

“If this will make her happy, then great,” Judy says. “I think she’s exploring and/or using this as an excuse and a form of escape for not having a one-on-one relationship. I think Elaine would have a hard time having a relationship with any man because she’s so peculiar.”

Daniel

When he took a bride in 1971, Daniel del Vecchio thought he was choosing a life of monogamy. But he cheated on his wife and was miserable about it. The two separated several years ago and divorced last year.

His trajectory changed when he met “Joy and her tribe” six years ago.

“My first impression of polyamory was that it was a euphonious word for basically sleeping around,” he says. “I thought they were kidding themselves and everybody else.

“Then I realized that it was something I’d always wanted. I didn’t know there was a way to do it with dignity.”

He was smitten with Joy, and the two became friends and eventually lovers (though they are lovers no more).

Along the way, del Vecchio also discovered he was bisexual.

“I really came out to myself about polyamory first and my sexuality later,” he says.

That admission was memorialized when he and Joy placed a joint ad seeking lovers in Loving More magazine.

“She asked me, ‘Is it OK if we say you’re bi?’ I had to think about that, but I said, ‘Yeah, OK. I’m willing to say so in a national magazine.’ That was a turning point.”

Loving men is different, though.

“I experience women as more unified than men. When I love a woman, I love everything about her,” del Vecchio says. “When I love a man, it’s more chopped up.”

He sees polyamory in the age of AIDS as a calculated but acceptable risk. He says he assumes everyone is HIV-positive, and takes appropriate precautions.

Any tribulations have been worth it, he says. Polyamory just makes too much sense to ignore, even if it is not for the faint of heart.

“You have to practice radical honesty. You have to be willing to get hurt. It helps me to distinguish between hurt and harm. I get my heart broken a lot.

“It’s not a panacea. It doesn’t solve the problems of relationships.

“But we’re taught that our job is to find a soul mate, our one and only, out of 6.2 billion people on earth. It’s like a needle in a haystack. It seems like such a wasteful process. Then if it doesn’t work out, we have to vilify them.

“Why can’t we have multiple soul mates?”

Jennifer

Jennifer is into soul mates. She must connect with a man on a spiritual level before she makes love with him.

She’s a lovely woman, with jet-black hair and big brown eyes. She speaks well, but haltingly. She’s nervous, but wants to tell her story because she believes it might help others understand themselves.

Jennifer, 37, says she is polyamorous because her parents have an abusive marriage. And she has had her own share of heartbreak. She has an 18-month-old daughter by a man who is no longer in her life.

“My parents are people that are extremely co-dependent,” she says. “I grew up very, very hard, very dysfunctional.

“My dad was an alcoholic, a batterer and a sexual abuser.”

Her parents never divorced, but “They have never been spiritually married. They basically connected by fucking each other. They’ve been mirrors for each other in a bad way. They have no respect, happiness or love for each other.

“They’re both martyrs. It gives them something to live for.”

Jennifer has never been legally married, though there are two men she has seen as husbands. She marries someone when their spirits merge.

She was formally engaged to one of them, but broke up with him — over his objections — because his behavior convinced her that he would eventually leave her. She beat him to the punch.

“He decided to go after one of my best friends to get back at me,” she says. “I got a phone call from her one day that said they were dating, and my belly knotted up and I knew there had been a big, huge betrayal.”

She fell in love with a new guy and moved in with him. But he left the area to go on temporary job, met another woman and moved in with her. She didn’t hear from him for five weeks.

“Had I had a polyamorous relationship at that point, it wouldn’t have mattered, because we had a spiritual bond.”

She sought out the Polyamory Network because she realized that her own experiences had transformed her into one of the polyfolk.

“It wasn’t like I decided. It was a contemplation over many, many years, which has brought me to the man I am currently involved with. He comes from a polygamous country.”

Her current lover lives with another girlfriend, but that woman doesn’t know about her beau’s relationship with Jennifer.

“That’s part of the challenge,” Jennifer says. “When is it appropriate to tell her? She’s young, and I think she’s totally unaware she’s with a polygamous man.

“This is his life. I would be foolish to think I can change this man just because he’s in America.”

She has no lovers but the polygamist. She has had simultaneous relationships before, but she’s been transformed since then.

“Essentially, the difference is that I didn’t have the consciousness that I have now. … My belief is that the loving is the most important, and the sexual comes afterwards.”

She’s a true believer. She says what the polyamory community “is attempting to do and promote is very, very respectable. I think the way it’s promoted is impeccable. The way that it’s promoted means everything. The subject matter is crucial at this time and in this age.

“It’s giving people the opportunity to be free again, to be aligned with their spirit and not aligned with their body.

“I will embrace this for the rest of my life.”

Shaina & Steve

When Shaina Shevin heard about polyamory from pagan friends, she had no desire to participate. That changed after she fell in love with Steve Feinberg, who was practicing with zeal.

“I liked him too much,” she says.

“Someday I may marry and settle down and have kids, and Steve knows that. But I don’t see any reason not to practice polyamory now.

“I wouldn’t say I’m an avid convert. I don’t see monogamy as being wrong — or wrong for me. It could happen someday. I’m 23. I’m not going to worry about it.”

Her parents worry for her.

“My mom thinks I’m crazy. She thinks I’m wrong, and thinks this relationship is a bad one to be in.”

Although she considers herself polyamorous, she has had intercourse with only one other person in the two years she has been seeing Feinberg.

He says he has “four or five lovers, if you count Denise. There’s Jane, who I also love and have known for a long, long time. And I have two lovers who live very far away, one in Nova Scotia and one in Chicago.”

“I work every other weekend,” he adds. “And the weekends I’m off are utter insanity.”

He plays bass guitar in a band called Lead Foot Sex Drive whose genre is “kinky hard-rock funk.” The lead singer is a sexy woman and her lyrics are explicit, Feinberg says. “She openly sings about erections and orgasms,” he says.

“Steve’s still perpetually a 14-year-old and has the sex drive to prove it,” Shevin says.

While Feinberg loves Shevin and Jane, he doesn’t always hew to the notion that polyamory is all about love over sex.

“Sometimes people who get brought into the poly world find out it’s OK with them as long as it’s just sex,” he says. “But when it involves love, they freak. I’ve seen that more than once.

“Polyamory can be good or bad. It can be one of the most beautiful things in the world, or it can turn ugly.

“But there are more lessons for me to learn, and that’s the biggest part of it for me, because polyamory is a real learning tool. People learn different things from different types of people and different types of experiences.”

He gazes as Shevin, who is seated on the floor.

“If she ever met somebody that she wanted to be in a monogamous relationship with, I’d be very, very happy for her, because I really do love her,” he says. “It’s not an easy road. It’s been hard for her sometimes.”

February excerpts

The Detroit Polyamorous Networkers gather again at Affirmations. There are several new faces, including a woman who carries a baby in a backpack and a young couple from Ann Arbor who seem absolutely mortified. Someone has brought a pecan pie. Tim is fondling and consuming candy from a tin.

Kevin, a gay man, wanders in, looking for another meeting. When he realizes the other meeting isn’t going to occur, he takes a seat.

Kershaw informs the gathering that a couple of people who have signed up for the e-mail group are swingers. Polyamorists get offended when people confuse them with swingers. Someone suggests that swinging is a form of polyamory.

Del Vecchio, who is moderating, says, “If it’s not open and honest and doesn’t involve multiple simultaneous relationships … “

Shevin: “You can love someone and not be in love with them.”

Elaine: “I care about someone, or I wouldn’t let them into my body. …”

Shevin: “I don’t have any other lovers, but I have the freedom to have one if I’d like.”

Elaine: “I don’t have to be in love to have sex with a man. I’m not in a relationship with these men, they’re just lovers. A relationship to me means you go to concerts. I want somebody to share my life with…If I did fall in love, maybe I would choose to live monogamously.”

Feinberg: “Polyamory doesn’t have to involve sex. I’m involved with a woman and another man, and the guy and I never had sex, but we love each other. …”

Someone brings up the future of the polyamory movement.

Joy: “As people sort of break the Puritan mold, I think it will grow more.”

Elaine: “Sometimes I feel really hopeless because of the Victorian power of the church. I would like people to stop lying and live honestly.”

Kershaw: “If people want to be heterosexual and Christian and monogamous, that’s fine. But I wish they would stop looking at me funny because I’m bisexual and pagan and polyamorous.”

Joy: “We need a catch phrase. How about, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?’”

The subject of jealousy is broached.

Kershaw: “My jealousy much of the time is that they’re having a great time and I’m not. I might be sitting there working on the computer and I’m hearing groans of orgasms coming from the bedroom, and I’m getting pissed off.”

The young man from Ann Arbor speaks up, explaining that he has recently informed his girlfriend that he is bisexual. “I told her that I can’t exist with female sex alone. I have to have male sex.”

Expressions of concern pour forth.

Kevin, the man who arrived at the meeting by accident, wonders if polyamory would ever work for him.

“I think I’m struggling with it,” he says.

Elaine: “Come back and struggle with us.”

Del Vecchio: “We are all struggling.”

The Detroit Polyamory Network can be reached at 313-399-7599.

Jeremy Voas is editor of Metro Times. E-mail jvoas@metrotimes.com.

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