This Spring my partner’s wife Guin found a new job in Windsor, Ontario, and the whole family is moving there this summer. Lance, her boyfriend, has already decided that he would move with them to Windsor. Art and I spent the entirety of our year long relationship long distance where we traveled 600 miles each way to see each other. The question then became, should I move in with them too? The reasons to do so were certainly compelling:
- My marriage was dissolving. We experimented with separation a year before, and after a year of trying to work things out we still felt out of sync and dissatisfied. While we had been very much in love when we got married, the truth is we have different values, interests, and lifestyles, not the least of which was my desire to be polyamorous. Our cultural differences made it difficult for us to communicate with each other, which made our venture into polyamory very rocky. We didn’t have children and had been married four years, so the logistics of divorce are simpler than it is for many couples.
- My relationship with Art was blooming, and put into stark contrast what I was missing in my marriage. We had incredible chemistry, deep emotional connection, common interests and similar intellectual background, all of the things that I craved and did not have with my husband. We love each other and want to be with each other much more than the once a month that distance and our schedules allowed.
- Long distance relationships are really hard. The distance (7 hours driving) makes it hard to make frequent visits, but even connecting virtually was difficult. Monogamous partners only have each other to attend to. My partner also had to attend to his wife, children, and other obligations. I had long given up the hope of talking on the phone in the mornings or evenings after 5pm because during both times family took priority. Instead we tried to talk during the day or late in the afternoon before dinner. Most long distance relationships either end up with one partner moving to the other, or ending all together. It’s just very difficult to sustain for the long term.
- The fourth reason is that Art and I work together. We are both deeply involved in the environmental and social justice movements, and we do various writing projects together (like this blog) and travel to conferences together. We are always discussing ideas and really enjoy spending not only our leisure time together but also working together.
- We also want to live in community. Art spent his entire adult life studying and living in intentional communities. For him, finding ways to live with a community of unrelated people brings incredible joy and growth. I’ve always wanted a family with multiple adults instead of myself and one partner. Living with each other would not only allow us to spend more time together, but also provide us with the experience of living in community with our other partners, an adventure that we are interested in in itself.
So with no real job or partner to tie me down, the decision to move to Windsor should be an easy one, right?
Wrong. Not only was thinking about how to get together logistically daunting, but it brought up intense emotions that I had not confronted so far in our relationship. The biggest problems were legal, financial, physical, and relational.
They live in another country: Having a partner who lives in another country is ok when you are a visitor, but it’s an entirely different thing to move to another country. Most importantly, it means that I cannot legally work in Canada. My partner was able to get permanent residency status because his wife is Canadian, but obviously he can’t marry me. Their status as a married couple brought crucial benefits that support their being together which do not apply to me.
Finances: How will I support myself financially? While my expenses would be very low living in a group house, I would still be expected to pay my share of the rent, food, and utilities. While I would like to pay my fair share, I had a feeling that I shouldn’t be expected to pay. When my husband came from China to be with me, I paid everything for him for a year until he started working, including his immigration expenses. I had no expectations otherwise as he wasn’t legally allowed to work in the country. I took my question to the Polyamory Facebook page and most of the responders agreed that they would support their partner who moved from another country until they could find work. I understand I was not offered this support because they are both struggling financially. It’s one thing to ask your partner to support you, but another thing to ask your partner’s partner to finance her husband’s girlfriend’s living expenses when she has hardly enough money to pay for her kid’s summer camps. To increase the rub, Guin’s boyfriend had lots of money and had no problem paying his expenses to live with them as long as he liked.
Career: The bigger question was how would our relationship impact my career in the long run? As I made my plans to move to Windsor, a fantastic job in my field opened up only an hour and a half away from home. The job description was virtually written for me, and it presented a huge advancement in terms of income and influence. I interviewed for the job and didn’t hear from them for so long that I thought they picked someone else. Then they invited me for a second interview and told me that I was one of two finalists.
Normally in such a situation, the partner who makes less money would move with the partner for whom there is a better opportunity for advancement and income. Art made less money, his work could be done from anywhere, and he was well established in his career. But he had to support Guin because her job was constrained by location. They are married and have kids. It was out of the question for them to move to support me. I seriously doubt whether that would ever be different. I could only see myself in a support role, scaling back on my career, while either Guin or Art pursued their career opportunities. This might not be a big problem if I was 54, like Guin’s boyfriend, but at 33, it would have a big impact on my future opportunities and earning potential. I am an ambitious and practical person. If I don’t set myself up for success now, I would pay for it in retirement with reduced income and benefits. Relationships are important, but economic survival is imperative.
Healthcare: Without legal resident status and without a job, I would have no access to healthcare coverage. I am in general in excellent health. I do require prescription medication for birth control and migraines. What would I do in the case of an emergency? Out of pocket healthcare costs are outrageous, we know, and in our precarious financial situations, it would be devastating.
Metamours: Will I get along with them? Even though Art and Guin have been polyamorous for 25 years, all of Art’s lovers have been long distance on another continent. I am not sure how she would handle a serious relationship that close. Also with two teenage children and starting a new job in Windsor, I knew that she relied a lot on Art, physically and emotionally. I am concerned about how she would handle another woman’s demands on his time, affections, and their space. In normal group living situations, conflicts inevitably arise even with the most cordial relationships, and in our case, those conflicts could be magnified by the perceived threat one is to the other. I’d like to believe that we could truly support each other, but it would require that we have a genuine relationship, not just a tangential one.
Relationship: Where is it going? What is the potential for our relationship when the role of the primary has already been taken? Here is where I cried and cried and felt terrified of the possibilities. People talk about polyamory as stepping off the relationship escalator, and for some people, a primary/secondary arrangement can be sustained a long time. In my case, it definitely feels like there is a drive to be closer and more intimately entwined. Even early in our relationship, he actively sought to integrate me into his family. It was clear that we were not casual lovers there to satisfy an unfulfilled need, but someone who could fill the role of a primary partner, if that role was not already taken.
But what if it is taken? Could one truly have two primaries? I can imagine that living together, partners can equally share their time, household responsibilities, and finances equally. But there are situations where a choice has to be made between one partner and the other. For example, what if in a couple of years Guin found a great job in British Columbia and wanted to move the family there? Am I supposed to give up whatever I’m doing to move with them? What if I had a great career opportunity in the United States, would they move with me? What if she didn’t want to move? Who then would he live with? In terms of the big decisions, are my needs and desires always to be trumped by ‘the family’?
Age difference: While for the most part we are emotionally and intellectually in sync, our 19 year age difference means that we are not in sync in some ways that are entirely unavoidable. For example, I cannot help but bemourn the fact that I was not around when he was 30-50, and missed all the wonderful experiences of traveling, making career advances, and having a family. Art and Guin decided years ago that they didn’t want any more children. But what if I want children? I’m 33 years old, an only child, and an immigrant. If I don’t have children I literally have no family (no brothers or sisters, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces…anyone). Would he be willing to have children with me? Would she be willing to help me raise them? In 20 years, I’ll be 53 and he’ll be 73. I’d probably look and feel about 43 at that age, but 73 seems an ailing age to me. And what about when I’m 73 and he’s 93? Would he even be around then?
Opportunity cost: Am I giving up the opportunity to find someone who is solely devoted to me, to establish our own household, have our own family, and pursue our own careers? All my friends my age are settling down with their partners, their careers, and having children. Am I passing a critical window where I may miss the chance to do that altogether? In this day and age you are lucky if you can find one person who can be in sync, optimize careers, and be close to friends and family, the chances of coordinating three or more people’s lives so that all their needs are met are exponentially harder. Most likely someone has to accommodate more than the others, and in a polycule where two people have been together much longer than the others and have things like children in common, invariably their needs will trump that of their additional partners.
This analysis leads me to the conclusion that what is needed for nonhiearchical cohabiting polyamory are the following conditions:
- Financial security and opportunity for everyone involved.
- Private space for every person.
- A firm commitment by everyone to look after every person’s interests.
- Willingness to compromise and do all things necessary to maintain a household.
- Respect, compassion, and kindness from everyone.
- Skillful and regular communication.
- Genuine relationships between metamours.
- Awareness of and desire to eradicate couple privilege.
- A community of supportive friends.
Once lovers move in, they can no longer be regarded as secondaries whose interests are their own business or solely their partner’s. Everyone has a stake in everyone’s welfare in such a situation. All parties must regard each other as equal family members, making decisions together and being willing to compromise. If there is one person who sees their needs as being more important than that of others, that can mess up the entire dynamic of the household.
More people do make things more complex, but as LustyGuy from Poly Weekly pointed out, more people also bring more solutions. With respect, kindness, and compassion, a poly household of four adults can get along beautifully. Without respect, kindness and compassion, a monogamous couple can live miserably together. It’s not the number that matters but the qualities manifested by the people involved. A well organized household where everyone contributes and embraces efficient conflict resolution may well reap all the benefits of polyamory: more love, intimacy, friendship, community, financial resources, childcare, and an environment that maximizes everyone’s growth and happiness.