A few years ago, my husband, Rob, and I converted our traditional marriage to a polyamorous one. It's been remarkably smooth. We're very happy with our choice. And yet eventually we'll probably divorce. Does this mean that polyamory failed us? Not at all.
Like many of our generation, Rob and I are children of divorce, and so when we got married a dozen years ago, we designed a quasi-Buddhist ceremony that made room for the concept ofanicca, or impermanence. We wrote our own vows and left out the "until death do we part" and "forsaking all others" stuff: Instead, we spoke about the inevitability of change and pledged to support one another as we continued to evolve.
We meant it, but we had no idea what that might look like. We didn't anticipate that our evolution could involve the desire for sex and relationships with other people.
But that's what happened. In our previous relationships and with one another, we'd both been serial monogamists, but after we finished having babies, we looked around and realized that although many things about our marriage were stellar—close friendship, mutual support and admiration, compatible co-parenting—we weren't ideal for one another sexually. We never really had been. Our libidos don't match; I'm more "sex motivated" of the two of us. Our relationship had thrived despite a lack of romantic chemistry.
This is not an unusual revelation, of course, and in most marriages, it results in screaming matches, or swallowed resentment, or affairs conducted amidst lies and betrayals. But Rob and I didn't see our "problem" that way—we didn't even really see it as a problem. We saw it as a reality, and an opportunity for positive change. We became poly.
I look at it like this: Humans go through multiple phases over the course of a lifetime. It makes sense that our relationship needs shift, too. I wanted kinship, drama, and obsession with someone eccentric in my twenties; equality, worldliness, and stability with someone calm in my thirties; intimacy, attention, and adventure with someone exotic in my forties. Each phase has required partners with different personalities, interests, and energies. As I see it, it's unfair to expect one person to evolve over many decades on a precisely parallel path to my own. Which is why I also believe that we should stop thinking about the end of a marriage as a crisis and start thinking about it as a reality.
Maybe longevity isn't the best indicator of a relationship's success. Why not measure marriages by the level of satisfaction reported, or the self-actualization achievable, or how much the people respect one another even after it's over, rather than as an endurance test? In Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the Edge of Normal,the cultural critic Jack Halberstam calls our culture's infatuation with long-term monogamy "the romance of permanence." In a 2012 interview, Halberstam suggested that rather than have weddings to celebrate the beginning of a union, we instead throw parties to honor milestones like getting through a difficult job loss or health crisis together, or to reward surviving the sleepless years of early parenting, or to cheer an amicable and fruitful separation.
HAVING SPENT THE LAST FEW YEARS LIVING POLY WILL ACTUALLY MAKE DISSOLVING THE HUSBAND-AND-WIFE PHASE OF OUR RELATIONSHIP A LOT GENTLER THAN IF WE HADN'T TAKEN THAT LEFT TURN AT SEXYTOWN.