There's more than one way to love.
Pick up one candy heart from the bowl or a Hallmark from the pharmacy and you'll see a string of phrases all relating the same sentiment: Be mine, You're the one, My one and only. However, there are relationships for which these pronouncements not only miss the mark, but reflect the limitations of our culture's monolithic view of romance. That is, one single person loving another one single person. Because love is so much more complicated, dynamic, and expansive than any definition you can fit on a conversation heart, this Valentine's Day I spoke with individuals who identify outside of the realms of mere pair coupling.
Polyamory, Greek for "many" and Latin for "love," is the practice of having more than one intimate and romantic relationship with an individual, with the full consent and knowledge of everyone involved in the relationship. Since some people in the poly community are in a series of partnerships, I wondered how ethical non-monogamists tackle love on a day when the world is so preoccupied with it. As you might expect, the answers were just as diverse and variable as love is.
Sabrina Morgan, a sexuality speaker and sex workers' rights advocate, uses the term solo poly to describe her specific dating style. Involved with multiple partners who are very important to her, she is not part of a live-in primary partnership, though some of her partners are. "I currently have a sweetheart, a girlfriend, and a couple of very close lovers, and I see them in frequencies ranging from communicating almost daily to seeing each other when both our schedules allow," she explains.
Sabrina claims the experience of dating as a solo poly has made Valentine's a different celebration each year. "Most folks tend to assume that if you have a primary partner (or if your partner has a primary partner) that primaries will be spending Valentine's Day together, and so there's sometimes some hesitation among other solo poly people that I date when it comes to determining whether or not the people we're dating are 'supposed to be' celebrating with someone else." Having so many lovers seems like it needs its own social calendar.
Last year, Sabrina said she celebrated Valentine's enjoying tapas and champagne with one lover, but this year her sweetheart and his wife have invited her to a convention, a kind of group outing. "My girlfriend will be spending the weekend with a mutual lover, and I'm spending the day before Valentine's Day with another lover since my sweetheart reserved the entire weekend so far in advance."
Louisa Leontiades, writer at Postmodern Woman, is in what she calls an open triad. Her and her nesting partner, Gösta began as the cross couple of another quad, or two couples in a relationship together. She told me, "that relationship broke down in 2009, which is what prompted my book The Husband Swap. My ex-husband and Gösta’s ex-wife are now married." Currently, Louisa has another boyfriend who spends time with her and her husband. In the poly world, that’s called a "Vee" due to the shape of the relationship. Logistically, her boyfriend sleeps at her house with her and her husband, sometimes in a separate bedroom (her husband doesn't engage in their play). "Gösta has also recently started seeing someone. It’s early days, but she and I get along really well," she explained. This Valentine's Day, Louisa, Gösta, Louisa's boyfriend, and Gösta's girlfriend will have a dinner as a group, with candles and laughter. "Just like any others," Louisa expressed.
Unlike Sabrina, dating in meticulously scheduled shifts isn't right for Louisa's relationship setup. "Part of the beauty of polyamory is that you can and do hang out together. The relationship is built in a group dynamic because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to accommodate a double life, especially if like Gösta and I, you have two young children," Louisa told me. Her favorite Valentine's she can recall was seven years ago, when her husband gifted her a card that said, "Let's dream a life and live the dream." For Louisa, the openness and acceptance of her relationship has given her that.
But does Valentine's Day seem too restrictive, or at least, counterintuitive to the poly mindset? When some of the subjects I approached declined to speak about the topic, I began to question if perhaps polyamorists were tired of questions surrounding February 14th and its frilly fanfare. "It's a very couples-centric holiday in that it focuses strongly on pair bonding, and when not all of your relationships look like that, it can be harder to know what to expect or what's okay to ask for," Sabrina admitted. Mischa Lin, Founding President of Open Love NY believes that for some, the first instinct in the poly community is to downplay Valentine's Day. "By their very nature, poly people tend to eschew society’s rules about love, including when and how to celebrate it. The very concept of Valentine’s Day seems to suggest that we need to be reminded annually to celebrate love in our lives. But for many poly people, love is something that should be celebrated every day of the year," she explained.
Mischa offered me an example of a Kimchi Cuddles web comic drawn to portray the outlook of some poly people when they're asked about Valentine's. It's been circulating around the internet.
The comic describes the distinct individuality of the poly community, which is something both Louisa and Mischa emphasized to me. Mischa indicated that there is no single way polyamorists celebrate Valentine's, because everyone's experience, reactions, and relationships are their own animals. Louisa explained, "There is no one way to ‘do’ polyamory. In other words, I can’t answer [about] V-day because there is no such thing as ‘at large’. They accept or reject in the same distribution as the wider population!" This kind of couples privilege is a palpable problem for some in the poly community. "Some solo polyamorists as well as triads or quads may reject (or feel rejected by) Valentine's Day. Others take the opposite approach and use it as an opportunity to shower love and affection upon their various sweeties," Sabrina reflected.
For poly people who are interested in celebrating Valentine's in a social environment, Mischa said there are plenty of events worldwide for the occasion. "Poly Cocktails, sponsored by Open Love NY, was started seven years ago on Valentine’s Day when a group of poly friends got together so they could celebrate it together. Each February we celebrate with an anniversary version of Poly Cocktails that routinely draws one of the largest crowds of the year, usually between 200 and 500 people in a single night," Mischa informed me. Other events like Poly Potlucks, Tantric Date Nights, and Anti-Valentine's Gaming Parties are just some of the many alternatives out there to celebrate or not celebrate.
Will the "him and her" Valentine's dynamic ever progress to fully welcome the polyamory community? Louisa predicts, "Valentine’s Day language will eventually change, as language changes to accommodate and is driven by how we evolve."
Image via Flickr.