Meeting Ireland's polyamory community: 'If you have the time you can be in love with lots of people'
Barbara McCarthy talks to members of a polyamory group after a reality TV contestant explained why she can't be monogamous
Some years back, I saw a wedding photo on social media of a girl I met at a festival in the Nevada desert. It grabbed my attention because it was of her, her husband and their new wife.
They had married each other in a triad ceremony in Los Angeles. After some snooping, I found out that they were on a US reality TV show about polyamory. It followed the lives of people who enjoyed several loving relationships at the same time, in many cases under one roof.
Since then polyamory has become more talked about in Ireland, and last week, the newest Irish Big Brother contestant, Jade-Martina Lynch, stated that she was polyamorous.
"My soul is just so free I can't be in a monogamous relationship," she said.
You could think that it's just an excuse for people to enjoy libidinous acts with lots of people at the same time, but it's not. Because we live in a society that favours monogamy, most of us can't get our heads around polyamory, which by definition means loving more than one person at a time and all partners knowing each other exists.
In order to find out more, I went along to a monthly meet-up. I found the attendees, who came from all ages and backgrounds, to be warm, eloquent and open. They weren't here to flirt, more to meet with like-minded souls and discuss issues pertinent to them.
"Polyamory is all about love", founder of the group, Californian somatic sexologist Randy Ralston informed me. "It's not about casual sex, swinging or cheating, rather it is about having loving, honest, deeply committed relationships. I formed the group in 2008 for anyone who doesn't feel that monogamy works for them."
The group has over 350 members, but that's not representative of how many 'poly' people live in Ireland.
People in the group presented a mixed bag. Some were currently single and 'poly'; in a relationship with someone who was monogamous; in a relationship with a 'poly' person and a monogamous person; in relationships with several people. "Trying to define polyamory is difficult. It manifests in various relationship forms. Sex is part of it, but it's not the focus," Ralston added.
I had many questions. "How do you meet poly people within a small community in Ireland? How do you find the time and energy? Can you be in love with more than one person at the same time?
"Yes," one erudite, liberated gentleman informed me. "You can be in love with more than one person at a time, I'm in love with two people, a woman I love is deeply in love with three people." He spoke so respectfully and lovingly of his situation, who was I to disagree. Someone likened it to having a second and third child. "You won't love them any less than your first. If you have time and energy you can be in love with many people."
But what about that old chestnut, jealousy? "It happens too. But when my partner is in a new relationship, I find it enhances our relationship," 26-year-old 'Bianca' said.
"Poly relationships aren't about tolerating other people's partners, they are about 'compersion', a term coined to represent the opposite of jealousy, which is rampant in our culture," Ralston added.
So what happens when you want to have children? "I know people in poly families and it works well. In a practical sense it means there is an extra adult in the relationship. For others, polyamory fell by the wayside for a while," says Bianca.
The reactions from monogamous people to poly arrangements are varied.
"My family were afraid of what their neighbours would say. We aren't breaking the rules, just working within a different set of rules," Bianca adds.
"Its funny how cheating and lying are more socially acceptable than polyamory," says Tim Sinnot, a group member. "Your choices are your own, not society's. It's authentic, and because there is no cheating, people don't get hurt."
So what will the upcoming referendum mean for the poly community? "If we wanted to get married in future, the Constitution would need to be changed again, from two to many, but that's not what we're about," Ralston said. "We're not political, we're just about love - as hippyish as that may sound."