I’ve been a member of the polyamorous community in Chicago for several years and am now starting to make poly friends in New Orleans. Both cities have poly discussion groups. The issues are the same; only the faces are different.
“Poly serves my needs much better than monogamy ever did.”
“I want to move from jealousy to compersion, but it isn’t always easy.”
“I’d like more time with my lover, but it seems he’s always tied up with his wife.”
“All my lovers are on board, but how do we tell our parents?”
Drawing from all the discussions I’ve taken part in over the years, two models of polyamory seem to have emerged. I’ll call them: tribal and traditional.
“Tribal” poly looks a lot like communes in the 1960s. Members aren’t attached to one specific partner but rather love all the members of their tribe in different but equal ways. “Traditional” has at its base a relationship between two people who choose to add on by inviting other lovers into their lives. Choosing between the two models seems to come down to two things: personality (what feels more comfortable) and opportunity (what’s available).
I find tribal polyamory appealing on many different levels, especially the opportunity it affords to love any partner in the moment, unburdened by excessive scheduling. But deep down, I’m a traditional sort of guy to the extent that I love having a best friend—one single person with whom I can share the whole scoop. Not that my other lovers aren’t clued in to the millions of things that go on in my life. They’re just not given the same amount of time and the same degree of attention that I provide my primary partner.
I know I thrive best with a primary partner because I was told so years ago by a Voodoo Queen on Bourbon Street. I’d just come off a divorce and met with the Queen to gather background information for a play I was writing. While I was interviewing her, she kept flipping over Tarot cards, ominously as we talked. I hoped she was divining where to go for lunch, knowing full well she was sizing up me! Finally she turned the tables and said: “Ask me one personal question about yourself.”
I told her I was recently divorced for the second time and wanted to know if I should bother looking for a partner again or simply enjoy all the friends I had. She blew some incense in my direction and said: “You have to be in a relationship and will be again before long. You’re a builder. You have no choice.”
“A builder?” I repeated.
“You build stories. You build houses. You can’t not build relationships.”
I gave her a hug, crushing a string of sculls between our chests and moved on, never forgetting what she said.
What I’ve realized lately is that building is at the core of all my most important relationships. I love my friends and lovers deeply, reveling blissfully in the time we share. But my primary partner and I build things together—a home, a business, and of course our poly family. The love we feel and enjoy with others comes back home to the two of us many times over.
When I was younger, I might have been tribal poly. But as my Voodoo advisor said, I didn’t really have a choice.