Art shares his experience becoming polyamorous as a married couple in this interview.
What were your beliefs and expectations about monogamy growing up?
My father was always a “searcher.” In the ‘70s, he wanted an open marriage (which didn’t last long), in the 80s he put the family through personal growth workshops called “est” (which later became The Forum), and in the 90s he became a Jew for Jesus (he prefers the term “Messianic Jew”). Growing up, I was secretly aware of my father’s extramarital relationships and hated how they hurt my mother, but I also honored his quest for greater meaning and love. So, while his “experiments in life” were often awkward and painful to others, I think they inspired within me a deep belief that there had to be a better way — a utopian idealism — that has been at the core of my professional and personal life ever since.
Tell me about your wedding and what marriage means to you both.
Guin and I were married in 1991 by a Brahman priest in a Hindu ceremony by a lake with Canada geese amongst our guests. We fed each other yoghurt as a promise to nourish each other as we symbolically tied ourselves together with a pink sari. We said our vows while walking around a fire:
For all the days of our lives
We will uphold our marriage as our spiritual path.
We will love and honor each other and
Nurture each other’s growth and freedom.
We will quiet our minds, listen with our hearts,
and create a gentle and peaceful home.
Together, we will share our tears of joy and
our tears of sadness.
Together, we will devote ourselves to serving
each other, the world, and God.
Together, we will reach ever higher in love and
After the wedding, we all canoed to the reception at a friend’s house where we ate Vietnamese mock duck and a mint chocolate cake in the shape of a globe while dancing to the music of a Russian Klezmer band. It was a glorious day.
I felt immense love for my beautiful and inspiring wife, pride that we created a meaningful ceremony for ourselves, our friends and family; awe for the depth of the commitment we made, and–to be perfectly honest–relief that my primary relationship was now “handled” and I didn’t have to date anymore. The love, pride, and awe have continued to this day. The relief lasted a year.
For me, marriage was a place of safety and comfort. I would describe myself as a Type Nine (the Mediator) on the Enneagram, a Sufi model of human personalities. Nines tend to be trusting, optimistic and stable. We easily take on others’ perspectives, but sometimes forget our own, so we tend to get into ruts. Guin is well described as an “Enthusiast” or “Epicurist”, which is Type Seven of the Enneagram. Sevens are extroverted, thrill-seekers whose worst fear is feeling trapped. Even though she was happy in our relationship, Guin felt that marriage required her to put “blinders” on all other relationships, which was limiting her ability to enjoy life to the fullest. After a year of marriage, she was beginning to feel like a caged songbird.
When did the subject of polyamory first come up in your relationship?
On our one-year anniversary, we moved to Findhorn, a new age community with over three hundred residents in northern Scotland. A few days after we moved there, Guin felt attraction for a community member who I will call Waynebeau. To her credit, she came to me right away, not sure what do. She shared her desire to pursue this romantic interest while we took a long walk by the North Sea.
My first reaction was, “What about our wedding vows?!”, but when I pulled them out, I realized they said nothing about fidelity! I thought, “Hmmm… Had she been planning this all along? How could I have missed that?” I vaguely remember her bringing up polyamory while we were dating, but I’m sure I brushed it off as idle speculation.
Afraid to give her carte blanc, but also not wanting her to be unhappy, I gave her the “yellow light” and asked that she “proceed with caution.”
As you opened your relationship to an extramarital encounter, what were your feelings as it progressed?
I was scared at first. Would she love him more than me? Was I somehow inadequate? Would she leave me? What would our friends and family think? Part of me wanted to escape, to leave her first or to find a lover of my own. Another (wiser) part of me knew, however, that it was important to sit tight and to really be with my feelings. Every day, I would ask myself two questions: “How am I feeling?” and then, “Okay, how am I really feeling?” I was astonished to learn how deeply our cultural narratives defined how I thought and felt. It was very difficult to separate how I was actually feeling from how I was supposed to feel. It’s like a movie was playing in my head and I knew how everyone’s role in the drama was supposed to play out (not a happy ending in this case).
I began to recognize that so much of who I thought I was and how I felt about things was actually just “stories” told to me by TV, movies and other mainstream media from the time I was born. I began to become conscious of this subtle prison of indoctrination that most of us live in and was surprised to learn that they were just stories — that we can change. I had a dream one night of floating downstream with many other people in a “river of culture” and I struggled to swim to the shore so I could stand on the river bank and find my own truths.
For example, I realized that loving one person doesn’t preclude loving another. In fact, it often increases it! I don’t remember learning that in any Disney movie! Before I allowed myself to really feel my feelings, I just assumed I would be jealous because … well, it’s in the script. But I discovered that I’m not a very jealous person. Maybe it was the four years of relationship and one year of marriage under our belt, but I actually trusted Guin’s commitment to me and didn’t feel threatened by her other lovers.
I also realized that most of the pain commonly associated with polyamory has more to do with “how” it is done, rather than “what” is done. Around the same time we were opening our relationship, several marital affairs at Findhorn involving key community members came to light and impacted a lot of people with all the emotional turmoil that followed. What I saw in each case was the “cuckold” being so upset at the lack of respect and integrity of their partner that they never felt safe enough to ask deeper questions around what the affair actually meant. It was all about “How dare you lie to me!”, “I was the last to know!”, and “How can I ever trust you again?!” and rarely about “Does your love for him/her change your love for me?”, “Can we truly love more than one person?”, and “Is it possible to love others AND stay in relationship with each other?”
Can you describe an incident during this time in your relationship that was especially difficult for you? How did you two deal with it?
Early on, I felt really out of control, so I set silly boundaries like “You and Waynebeau can’t touch each other where you wear underwear.” Of course, this made those regions the most erogenous zones on the planet! One evening, I was making tofu (coincidentally with Guin’s next lover) and when I came home, I found Guin and Waynebeau in bed and clearly having broken the boundary I had set.
I was devastated. I felt like Guin had pulled the rug out from under me and I would never be able to trust her. We slept apart for the first time that night and I had one of the most profound dreams of my life. I was driving a beautiful red car and all our photo albums were in the back seat. We stopped at an amusement park, and when we came back, I found the car had been broken into and all our photos were stolen. And I knew this happened because Guin — God damnit! — had left her door unlocked!
It dawned on me that the car represented our relationship. We can be in the same car, but we also have our own doors—our own ways of relating to the outside world. In my previous relationships, I always “locked my door.” I allowed myself to roll down my window and relate with my head, even my heart, but I always kept my seatbelt on. My fear was that Guin would carelessly let someone else into our car, and this person would steal that which made us special. And I do think that, for a while, I did feel less special. Guin would say she loved me and I would think, “So what?! You love me, you love him, you love the dog; What’s special about that?”
Over time, I asked new questions about that dream, like, “Why am I driving?”, “Why am I the one responsible for keeping us on straight and narrow road?” And perhaps even more important, “Is there even a road out there?” Over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Maybe we’d do better heading off in our own direction.
I also started to recognize some of the cultural stories we were trapped in. Continuing with the car metaphor, it occurred to me that the first mass-produced car, the Model T Ford, was designed before we were even born. We don’t build our own cars. We go to a lot and say things like “I’ll take the red family sedan with the good safety record.” In a similar way, we don’t really create our relationships. We just accept rules and norms that were created millennia ago. “I’d like a heterosexual, serial monogamous relationship please.” “Ah, very good. Come right this way…”
I started to wonder, if I could really design our relationship, using the metaphor of a car, what would it look like? I knew I didn’t want a car that ran on fossil fuels—a limited and zero-sum resource. That is, the more gas one person has, the less another has.
The mainstream story holds a similar zero-sum view that love is a finite resource we have to hoard. “I can’t let my partner love someone else because that would be like putting a hole in our gas tank. All our love would drain out and there would be nothing left.”
No fun! So, I woke up from that nightmare and created a new story for my marriage — a solar powered car! I came to see how Guin and my “car” is powered by a source of energy so abundant we couldn’t even begin to use it up. Like the sun’s rays, love is limitless!
This new story helped me feel more connected to Guin and also brought back a sense of specialness to our relationship. I realized that what made us unique was not only the “photos in the backseat” or experiences we shared, but who we are in the world together. As a couple, we take this omnipresent love and manifest it in the world in a unique way. Who “Guin and Art” are together is unique. And that uniqueness is not lessened by her sharing love with someone else.
At what point did you feel like you could fully accept polyamory?
It took six months of deep dialogue (and some heated arguments) before I realized this new arrangement could work for us. It helped to bounce my thoughts and feelings off friends, even though many were stuck in the mainstream stories of “poor Art” and “how dare Guin have her cake and eat it too!” Two insights helped me get to a full “yes”.
First, all the painful affairs happening around us made it very clear to me that if we were going to do this, I definitely didn’t want to do THAT and that we would need to strive for impeccability in our communication and holding of each other. We worked out a 10-rule agreement for ethical non-monogamy. 1. Alert each other to “upcoming attractions”; 2. Get permission before acting; 3. Get permission from our love interest’s partner(s), if applicable; 4. Confirm that a love-interest is aligned to spiritual principles; and a bunch of sexual health and safety protocols.
Second, I realized that if it was just me giving Guin permission to have other partners I would always feel an imbalance in our relationship. Even though I had little interest in being poly myself, I knew it had to be a two-way street and that we were opening the marriage for both of us.
It took me a few years to begin exploring. I thought I “locked my door” because I was a “sensitive new-age guy,” but really, when I was honest with myself, I was just scared of rejection. Opening our relationship took away my excuse to hide, which was challenging, but also wonderful! I had a number of short-term lovers and one relationship that lasted four years and ended when she entered into a monogamous relationship with another friend. And now I’m in a relationship with Morgaine! I feel so grateful for all these incredible opportunities to share love and intimacy and I look forward to continuing this journey!