When my partners got married – to each other – I learned a lot about the people around us.
You’ve read every word of this right.
We’re a polyamorous relationship and have been for more than three years. Recently, two of the three of us decided that the time was right to get married.
I was not one of the two.
It was an easy decision, but not a light one. We all believe marriage is a decision that should not be made lightly. Whatever reasons two people have for committing to one another, it should be done with thought, discussion, and consideration, not because of external pressures or expectations.
We’d long had a half-joking agreement that if they decided to get married, there was only one condition: they tell me where and when so that I could be there. But reality went one better.
I brought the cupcakes.
And we began to tell people; by arrangement, I did most of the telling before the ceremony, we all did afterwards. Friends, co-workers, parents, chosen family. I came away with some insights that frankly, I didn’t expect.
1. There was an automatic assumption by many that the marriage of two meant the ending of three.
This wasn’t a big surprise from more casual acquaintances, although some of the people who questioned the status of our relationship know us very well.
I think this speaks to the general lack of understanding about polyamorous relationships. No big surprise. There’s not much open conversation about them (sensationalistic talk shows and crime dramas notwithstanding), and what there is seems to focused on sex, time-sharing, and validating the feelings of the people who say, “I could never do that.” So the idea that marriage, which is still very much about “two”, could allow for a “three”, is confounding. The relationship between the three of us did not change, only the legal status of two of the people. The questions of, “Are you all still going to live together?” and, “Is someone moving?” and, “Do you and JJ break up?” (to my partners) peppered the announcement conversations. And there was more than a little confusion when the answers were yes, no,
and no, because regardless of the relationship and living arrangement before marriage, the default assumption after marriage is two alone. There may be room in the home for family or a roommate, but that’s all.
2. There was an unexpected amount of concern for the “third”.
And for this we were truly grateful.
On the flip side of number one, which assumed no room for a third, were the questions, “Are you okay with this?”, “Is JJ good with this?”, “How do you feel about this?”. These came immediately, or sometimes after they got over their confusion and realized I wasn’t leaving. There was genuine concern among our friends that the “third” was okay with this decision, that I wasn’t feeling left out or worried that I was being pushed aside, or wondering if I knew about and was part of the decision. The answers are yes, no, no, yes, yes. In fact, being the “first announcer”, I told quite a few people that the three of us had discussed everything with the officiant so she would know this was all on the up-and-up.
People want to be sure that their friends are safe and protected. Nothing wrong when people didn’t ask – I think their assumption was that if I was part of the happening, I must be okay with it – but we were all touched that people wanted to check-in.
3. People are still surprised when you don’t want to get married, even though they knew this, but especially when you fought for marriage equality.
One of the side effects of the right to marry is pressure on gay couples to exercise that right, particularly when someone very close to you is getting married. If you’ve ever been the last unmarried person in a group, you get it.
Imagine being asked to explain why you won’t marry your partner of 11 years now that you can, when someone else will, seemingly suddenly. Let me be very up front. I did not want to get married, and my 11-year-partner knew this when we got together. I have been, and it’s not something I would choose to do again. But I believe anyone who can legally consent and wants to marry should be able to,
regardless of gender, faith, age difference, college football team alliance, whatever. As long as there’s no deception or coercion, it’s their choice. And I don’t believe anyone should have to justify why they do or don’t get married. That said, being on the “justify this” side was uncomfortable. I was grateful that I had permission to speak for my partners about why they were doing this, and chose to focus on that.
4. Parents ask the most unusual questions.
Each of us has one surviving parent.
One parent doesn’t get it and wants to know what “take care of each other” means. We expected a lot of objections and questions, but not, “What do you mean, ‘they’ll take care of you’?”, and “What do you mean ‘build a future’?”, things that seem pretty self-explanatory.
One parent sent congratulations and flowers, two bouquets. He was very happy for his child, their marriage, and thank goodness he loves their spouse.
One parent, the ultra-religious one, asked if we were still all going to live in the house, if we were changing bedrooms (what parent asks about bedroom anything!), if there was a name-change or if they were hyphenating, and then got them a lovely card, handwriting a sentiment that showed she got it.
5. Congratulations (and parties) come from very unexpected places.
Like co-workers you get on with, but you aren’t sure if they get the “poly” thing.
They’ve always been nice, but we’re in the South, and for many Southern Politeness goes bone deep. So it’s all the sweeter when suddenly, unexpectedly, your partner tell you that his coworkers threw him a “Congratulations! You got married!” party…and tried to work out a time that the wife and the “third” could be there (that didn’t happen, but nice thought). I know a lot of workplaces that would not think of throwing a party like that for a guy, much less anything other than a traditional wedding. Allies are everywhere, sometimes in unexpected forms, if you give them a chance.
6. Cupcakes make everything better.
Want to make a potentially uncomfortable situation better? Bring cupcakes.
All the better if they are in John Deere green for him, capital-P-Purple for her, and there are cookie-and-frosting sandwiches, too. We did not know how the ceremony would go. It was among a small group of friends, so that was in our favor, but you never know. Seeing it in action, with 1/3 of the relationship on the outside for the majority of the ceremony (I handed them their rings and we had a few minutes hugged together), you don’t know how people will react. When the “third” comes loaded down with frosted treats he made, it’s pretty clear he’s good with this.
Plus it was at a bar. Well, not so much a bar as the side room at a bar where our knitting group meets every week. So, cupcakes.
And yes, you read that right, too. They got married, and we started out new future, among a groups of people who were, literally, playing with string.
Photo courtesy of the author, who now gets to go home to someone else’s husband…and someone else’s wife.