James is married to Jessica. They have two children, both boys. They spend most nights of the week together, except Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, he goes across the hall to Anie’s room. The weekends are a little less scheduled. He might end up in either one of their beds. Unless, of course, he chooses to spend the night with his girlfriend. She has her own place.
James is polyamorous. He is currently involved in what he calls a “cohabitating poly quad.” He and Jessica are coupled with Anie and her husband Andrew, who also have two boys. The four of them have been together for ten years. They’ve been living together for five. “Functionally, none of our children have ever known any other life,” he tells Fatherly.
Things weren’t always this way. James and Jessica were married back in 2003. They were monogamous. But that all changed in 2009 when James got out of the army. “I had some pretty significant PTSD symptoms, and I felt extremely guilty about the idea of sharing those with Jessica or subjecting the boys to them,” he explained. That’s around the same time James decided to revisit an old identity he had closeted while on active duty. You see, James isn’t just a father or a soldier. James is also a vampire.
Ok. He’s not literally a vampire. He’s into live action roleplaying, or LARPing for short. Wired best described the community as one in which “grown men and women don elaborate costumes, adopt assumed identities, and meet up to enact fantastical scenes set in alternate realities.” And that’s how he met Anie.
“She was keenly interested in hearing my experiences and helping me through a recovery process. Things just sort of progressed from there,” he explains. A few months later, he and Jessica decided to meet up with Anie and Andrew at a party. Jessica and Andrew ended up hitting it off, as well. “The two of them have a lot of shared interests, so it really was kind of a natural thing,” he says.
While we don’t know exactly how many polyamorous individuals exist within the United States, the most reliable estimate places it somewhere around 1.2 to 2.4 million. Of course, some argue that number is grossly underreported. Sexual minorities still face some significant risks in outing themselves, ranging from loss of employment to loss of custody. With that in mind, it’s not exactly surprising some opt to underplay the status of their relationships. Fortunately, the tide seems to be turning in their favor.
“Polyamory is becoming a more common trend. People are becoming more open to considering these relationship styles, and are less likely to view it as a threat,” says Michael Salas, a sex and relationship therapist based in Dallas. “Our old assumptions that monogamy is the only, and best option are becoming less relevant, while more and more people report happy lives in polyamorous relationships,” he adds.
Of course, no one is able to entirely dodge the drama, particularly members of blended families.
“There were tensions,” James explains. “People had to learn to live together. The adults had to discover and adjust to the tiny annoyances of a new roommate.”
Jealousy is still somewhat of a problem, too. “I struggle with it pretty hard, but feel like I have no choice but to overcome it. I was raised [monogamous] and had some very unhealthy ideas about romance and sex trained into me. I’m working on overcoming them, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds.”
Introducing the kids to a new set of siblings was also somewhat of a hurdle to climb. They still fight time to time, as kids do. “I’d say the fathers tend to be somewhat closer to their biological children, but still love and parent their non-biological kids,” says James. One of the boys has a friend whose mother isn’t too keen on her husband visiting the house, which is fine by James and the rest of the crew. Their oldest child, who is now 12, has mentioned that he doesn’t exactly know how to answer some of the questions his friends toss his way.
That said, there are some practical perks at play. Chores are divided, bills are split, and babysitting costs are down. The old idiom “many hands make light work” certainly applies to poly families, particularly those with children. And, of course, the family has gotten to enjoy a few other fundamental pleasures. Anie and Andrew gave birth to their second child a year and a half ago. “The birth of the baby really acted like mortar,” James explained. “We were strong before but raising him as one family has really made us topple proof. The boys all love him and enjoy playing with him, and they have all learned to call each other brothers.”
The baby has also brought James’ mother, who has been one of the biggest critics concerning his lifestyle, closer to the family. “She loves the kid like crazy,” he says.
Still, there are those who question the ethics behind poly parenting. In response, James asks us to think critically about the structure of the nuclear family, and where that tradition has really landed us.
“Poly people generally feel like our way of life is no less ‘right’ than monogamous life. If anything, that is the standard that has been forced on our society for eons,” he says. “We don’t encourage or discourage poly life to our kids. As they come of age, we only hope to provide wisdom and accurate education on the many types of relationships that exist.”