MY OLD FRIEND, whose name isn’t really Amy, had never even heard the word “polyamory” until her husband of 15 years brought it up one night, between dessert and indigestion.
“I love you, I love you, so completely,” the man not named Josh began, then protested too much for several more minutes. (“I should have known another shoe was about to drop,” she told me glumly a day later.) “So what I want to talk about is not a commentary on my satisfaction with us,” he continued. “I love us. It’s that I’ve recently learned about this practice called polyamory and I’m wondering if we might…you know, as a couple…think about…considering it.”
As she sat piecing together Greek and Latin roots—many? loves?—he elaborated, with all the enthusiasm of a toddler clutching a shiny trinket. Not superficial swinging, nor Big Love–style polygyny, he explained, polyamory is the umbrella term for the practice of loving more than one person at a time. He wanted her to consider the kind that would free each of them to openly pursue romantic interests in addition to the primary one at home.
“So…cheating,” Amy summarized crisply, her strawberry pound cake thudding to the bottom of her gut.
“No!” Josh corrected. “That’s just it! It’s openly loving more than one person, within a context of honest disclosure and loving agreement. It’s actually the opposite of cheating.”
“Hmm,” I mused over coffee with her the next morning. “I guess I thought fidelity was the opposite of cheating.” She smiled weakly and I took her hand. “Josh is a good man, Ames. The only guy in the world who would ask his wife’s permission to play around. He loves you to the point of adoration, you know he does.”
Gratitude shone from her weary eyes. “I know he does. The irony is, this ‘open love’ thing appeals to him precisely because of the qualities I love best about him.”
I knew what she meant. I’ve known Amy through the long chain of cads we all dated before we were surprised by fine men, and Josh is among the finest. Kind, smart, and grounded, he is made of a nonjudgmental spirit, a large heart for people, and an integrity so genuine he would never submit blindly to any convention for its own sake. Josh is a flower child, born 10 years too late.
So it makes sense that when he heard about polyamory—from a friend who turned out to be a practitioner—it stirred something deep in him. Deeper, he insisted to his wife, than mere sexual variety—though to the woman who knows him best he wouldn’t deny the attraction of that. Deeper, he explained, than the rigid mind sets about monogamy and romantic possession we accepted wholesale from the era before the sexual revolution changed everything. “If ours is the generation willing to validate gay marriage—to redefine marriage away from gender!—can we really continue to insist that it requires a specific number?” he asked Amy. “Ours is the generation that has finally named the one defining characteristic of marriage: consensual love.”
But Josh isn’t asking a generation to consider opening its marriage. He is asking his wife to do it—a flesh and blood woman who feels a pang if he gets too animated with the grocery clerk.