Two days before I arrive, Morning Glory and Oberon, who are recognized clergy of the Church of All Worlds, presided over Wynter’s formal wedding to Wolf. When I meet Wynter in the family garden where the wedding took place, she seems weary, yet she has the serene glow of the newly betrothed. She has just returned from the house of some of her outside lovers, a male-and-female couple that she sees regularly. With her red hair, pale, lightly freckled skin and long loose dress, she looks like someone you might see at Lilith Fair or coming out of
“I never know who I’m sleeping with on Wednesday night because every other Wednesday Wolfie goes gaming,” Wynter says.
We are soon joined by Liza and Jon, a tall blue-eyed blond with a long ponytail. As a computer specialist, he’s the only Ravenheart who has a job outside the home. Jon met Liza in 1998 and became an official Ravenheart just this past January.
“The first step to becoming a Ravenheart is you have to fall madly in love with someone who already is a Ravenheart and they have to fall madly in love with you,” says Liza, who calls Jon “a very special person” for being able to enter such a large, established group. “Then comes the difficult part. You have to have a relationship with every Ravenheart. In other words, every Ravenheart has to be in harmony with your presence.”
Like Wolf, Jon is a gamer. But it would seem that to become a Ravenheart, you must also meet a need or a taste that no one else is meeting. The idea that different people fulfill different needs, sexually and otherwise, is an almost constant refrain in the household. Wynter, as Wolf describes her, is “catch as catch can.” She likes to get decked out in sexy clothes and seduce him while he’s trying to get some work done. She also likes to do it in the hot tub. “If she says, ‘Let’s take a hot tub,’ it means, ‘Let’s have sex.'” Morning Glory, on the other hand, likes to create a “boudoir,” as Wolf puts it; she likes candles and costumes. “Often Morning Glory and I will dress up and play pirate games,” Wolf says. “We also play a lot of nurse games.”
The fact that Wolf can have spontaneous hot-tub sex with Wynter and pre-planned, imaginative sex with Morning Glory plays right into their central argument for polyamory, which is, essentially, that it takes a village to fill the libido’s every need. “In my monogamous marriage, which was very short-lived, if I didn’t meet every single emotional, physical, sexual, psychological and mental need that person had, that need went unmet,” says Wolf. “Here you don’t have that.”
This is the kind of argument that can elude the non-polyamrous. To most of us, that’s what friends, colleagues, psychiatrists and the Internet are for. I point that out to Wolf. He tries to explain. “I don’t like horses,” he says. “But Wynter and Morning Glory do. Well, they can go horseback riding, and I don’t have to.” I ask Morning Glory why she has to live with someone in order to ride horses with that person, and she says, “Well,
When Morning Glory talks about the polyamorous ideas conveyed in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, her summary goes like this: “He spun a really fascinating possibility. What if you didn’t have to stop dating? You could continue including your lovers as your best friends and their lovers as their best friends. You could build a whole social structure of a family that was bonded on this profound spiritual and sexual level.”
Could it be that having great sex is what some polys do rather than going out for coffee? When Morning Glory estimates the number of lovers she expects to have this year “people who ifI found myself in any kind of proximity to them there’s a high probability that sex would occur” she pauses for several seconds, begins counting on her fingers and arrives at “a number around twenty.” From across the room, Oberon, who minutes earlier declared that “jealousy is an emotion I have never experienced,” raises his eyebrows and lets out a surprised, “Really? That many?”
Oberon’s subtle slip aside, asking a Ravenheart if they get jealous is sort of like asking a tall person how the weather is up there. The question got old a long time ago, and they say it’s irrelevant. Oberon again quotes Heinlein, who wrote, “Love is that condition where another person’s happiness is essential to your own.” In other words, if you love someone, set them up with someone else. “Jealousy is a response to want-ing to get your needs met and clumsily going about doing it,” says Liza. Of the Ravenhearts, she makes the fewest references to pagan mythology and, for that reason, provides what to me is the most concise argument in favor of polyamory. “When people have their needs met,” she says, “they don’t give a damn about what other people are doing.”
Unlike Morning Glory and Oberon, who rejected monogamy as early as elementary school, or Wynter, who was raised by poly parents, Liza grew up idolizing her parent’s monogamous marriage. Like many of us, the first time she fell in love she hoped it would last forever. As is the case for many of us, it didn’t. “Monogamy, in the way that we all fantasize it, is very rare,” Liza says. “I wish that people could view their relationships like a work of art over which they have some measure of creative control, rather than be plugged into a few options that are unlikely to fit their real temperament and character.”
By the end of my visit with the Ravenhearts, it occurs to me that there’s really nothing all that unusual about polyamory. I have little doubt that many people (including a few friends of mine, come to think of it) participate in polyamory in one way or another without their friends and neighbors knowing or really caring.
But when I hear the Ravenhearts talk about a network of friends bonding somewhat interchangably through sex, it sounds to me like even a taller order than monogamy. For most of us, the notion of becoming best friends with your lovers and their lovers and everyone else who comes down the pike would require suppressing our personal tastes to an almost impossible degree. I’m not sure I’m even capable of liking that many people, let alone bonding with them on a profound spiritual and sexual level.
The Ravenhearts do seem genuinely happy to me, and any open-minded person would have to give them credit for having the generosity of spirit and the will to pull it off. And yet, I’m not sure what to take away from their example. The Ravenhearts may be the most public polyamorists in the country but they make for a difficult case study. Because they’re so steeped in their neo-pagan subculture, it’s hard to see where their roles as leaders in the subculture
The Ravenhearts have managed to build an expansive, inclusive model of love, but it depends on a lifestyle that’s paradoxically insular it’s the rare Ravenheart who works or socializes with anyone outside their world, much less sleeps with them. Their love lives feed their religion which feeds their mythic statuary business which feeds their website which promotes their love lives: It’s a closed circuit, and one that leaves little room for confessions of problems, lest it all fall away.
The Ravenhearts are in some ways quite ordinary they stay within their circle when looking for likely emotional connections, as do we all. But I wonder if they’re missing out on a more inviting definition of polyamory that extends beyond many lovers to many kinds of lovers. And that’s because, at least to me, one of the most worthwhile romantic highs is that unexpected elation that comes from falling in love with someone whose bookshelves hold none of the same books as your own.
Meghan Daum and Nerve.com