It’s not monogamy. But it’s not cheating or polygamy, either. It’s called polyamory, and with hundreds practicing the lifestyle in and around Boston, is liberal Massachusetts ready to accept it?
Jay Sekora isn’t actively looking for an additional relationship, but he admits to occasionally checking a dating site to see who’s out there. Sekora’s girlfriend, Mare, who does not want her last name used here for professional reasons, said she is not pursuing anyone, either, but is “open and welcoming to what might come along.” In the three-plus years they have been together, a few other people have come along, like the woman whom Sekora, a 43-year-old systems administrator from Quincy, met online and dated briefly until she moved away. There was also a male-male couple that Mare and Sekora, who identifies as bisexual, dated for several months as a couple. Other than that, it has been the two of them. Well, sort of.
Through the lens of monogamy, this love connection may appear distorted, but that’s not how Sekora and Mare, who is 45, describe their lifestyle. Adherents call it responsible non-monogamy or polyamory, and the nontraditional practice is creeping out of the closet, making gay marriage feel somewhat last decade here in Massachusetts. What literally translates to “loving many,” polyamory (or poly, for short), a term coined around 1990, refers to consensual, romantic love with more than one person. Framing it in broad terms, Sekora, one of the three founders and acting administrator of the 500-person-strong group Poly Boston, says: “There’s monogamy where two people are exclusive. There’s cheating in which people are lying about being exclusive. And poly is everything else.”
Everything else with guidelines, that is, although those vary according to the agreed-upon needs and desires of the people in the relationships. After all, this isn’t swinging, in which a couple seeks out recreational sex. This isn’t even the free love of the ’60s and ’70s, characterized by psychedelic love-ins. And despite the shared “poly” prefix, this certainly isn’t the patriarchal, man-with-many-wives polygamy that has earned increased public attention with the HBO show Big Love. Polyamory has a decidedly feminist, free-spirited flavor, and these are real relationships with the full array of benefits and complexities -- plus a few more -- as the members of Poly Boston’s hypercommunicative, often erudite, and well-entwined community will explain.
“With affairs, you get sex. With polyamory, you get breakfast,” says Cambridge sex therapist Gina Ogden, citing a well-known poly saying. Ogden is the author of The Return of Desire, in which she dedicates a chapter to affairs and polyamory. “Polyamory isn’t a lifestyle for everybody, any more than monogamy is for everybody,” she says. “Keeping one relationship vital is a lot of work, and if you start adding more relationships, it becomes more work.” Though common descriptors used for monogamy don’t easily apply to polyamory, there is a recognizable spectrum of how open these partnerships may be. On the closed end, you might have a couple in a primary relationship who will then have one or more secondary relationships that are structured to accommodate the primary one. There’s also polyfidelity, in which three or more people are exclusive with one another. On the open end, there might be chains of people where, for example, Sue is dating Bill and Bill is dating Karen and Karen is dating Jack, who is also dating Sue....