Toronto
6 min

Poly wants a lover

Get out of the way, jealousy, because the polyamorous lesbians are here

DRINK UP LIFE. Muliplying relationships is important for polyamorous lesbians (from back to front) Lisa Foad, Joy Shelton and Ange Holmes. Credit: Jeremy Maude

Some of the bravest ventures into the tumultuous terrain of the heart are made by adventurous hussies, women who dare to disbelieve that lifetime one-on-one relationships are the way to ultimate happiness. Instead, they’re multiplying their relationships in a thing called polyamoury.



To hear a synopsis of the mainstream perspective on the subject, tune into the last five minutes of Jerry Springer. He’s fond of speaking on the salvation of marriage, both gay and straight. In this school of thought, having multiple partners is seen as a failing, not a philosophy.



But queer girls are jumping on the subversive sexual bandwagon anyway. This year The Ethical Slut, a how-to book for the polyamorous woman with morals, was the second best seller at the Queen St sex shop Come As You Are.



The biggest obstacle to polyamoury is often those naysayers who say they’re afraid of commitment or aren’t mature enough for real relationships.



The four women I interviewed all come at polyamoury with their own expectations and baggage. They’re often caught between their principles and how to deal with the very real emotion of jealousy.



But they’ve all been able to see attraction and the possibility of having more than one one-and-only.





SARAH FORBES ROBERTS is 25, a girl-about-town who works at Come As You Are. She lives with her pooch and roommate, Joy Shelton (who we’ll meet later). Right now she’s not in a long-term partnership, but is open to the possibility. She goes on lots of dates.



Sarah often finds herself defending herself against people who equate polyamoury with youth or commitment phobia. She’s become quite good at it – she’s believed in polyamoury since she was 16. Her original motivation was political.



“I was a young, idealistic anarchist and my friends and I believed that people weren’t possessions.” From that point on, although her views grew and changed, she believes polyamoury to be a positive relationship model for her as an adult.



“I’ve had a long-term committed relationship. It wouldn’t have lasted six years if it wasn’t polyamorous.”



In that long term relationship, she and her partner dated another couple. When both couples broke up around the same time, Sarah’s partner got involved with one of the other two. Sarah also found solace in the double split.



“I became very good friends with the other ex,” she says. “It made me happy that they’d found each other, and I’d gained a good friendship.”



Sarah has tried to balance big serious relationships with relationships that aren’t so well defined. She says this has has the worthy goal of letting her explore relationships to the fullest and listening to her partners’ dirty details: “Sharing their experiences is a big part of it for me. I enjoy hearing about their sexual exploits.”



This all sounds well and good, but this is the point where many a poly-curious girl gets stuck: jealousy.



“I appreciate [jealousy] when it comes up,” Sarah says. “It means that the relationship needs work. There’s the same amount of jealousy in a monogamous relationship.”



Sarah has resisted establishing any hard rules in her relationships. But she’s open to them if her partner suggests them. There’s an infinite variety: Don’t date my sister and I won’t flirt with your boss. No sex in our bed with others. Don’t wear the lingerie or dildo or sailor’s outfit I bought you with anyone else. Keep pet-names private. Talk out any jealous feelings.



The other major obstacle is scheduling. There are two sides to it. The first is not getting enough time with your girl, especially if you’ve had a bad day and she’s out on a date. Sarah has the opposite problem. What she most often misses is having time to herself.



“When you’re dating a lot of people, nights alone are very special,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, time and talk. It can be exhausting, but it’s worth it. Stronger relationships come out of that much work.”





LISA FOAD is a savvy 23-year-old blonde and a writer. She is sometimes a York University English student, a burlesque entertainer and a sharp-witted flirt. She dates Ange Holmes, an artist and musician. They don’t live together. After six years in a monogamous relationship, this is Lisa’s first attempt at being polyamorous. The new arrangement has not been supported by some of the people around her.



“My ex-therapist said I was being self-destructive and commitment phobic. She said point blank, ‘Non-monogamous relationships don’t work,’ because those involved must have intimacy issues. Total bullshit. Thankfully, she is no longer my therapist.”



Talking about her choice, Lisa is concerned about how it is presented. She doesn’t like labels and coyly challenges any attempt to put her relationships into neat categories.



“I’m resistant to calling my current relationship polyamorous or non-monogamous because they’re loaded terms and mean different things to different people.”



Watching them, the pair do interact like girlfriends. They spend all their spare time together. But Lisa doesn’t like to call Ange her girlfriend except for “practical reasons.”



In keeping with this resistance to pin things down, the couple have agreed that there are no restrictions on the nature of either partner’s interactions with other people.



“I don’t believe in censoring or making rules like, ‘We can fuck but we can’t fall in love,’ because that’s always a possibility. I want to enjoy what we have in the way that we have it – knowing that the nature of that closeness is subject to change.”



In practice, Lisa and Ange are not involved with other people right now. But when Lisa gets jealous, she tries to keep it from interfering with her principles.



“I don’t expect her to fix it. I get mad. I cry. I want to kill. But it passes. I try to be aware of why I’m jealous. And it’s really my insecurities.”



Lisa’s perspectives are shaped by her long monogamous relationship. It left her frustrated with the sense of obligation that comes with monogamy. Negotiating other lovers into that relationship was just one of the reasons the two decided to call it quits.



“There’s expected behaviours,” she explains, “Like, for example, after work, I might’ve contemplated going for coffee with someone, but I felt like I had to go home to see her.”



Does she feel she left something behind when she left the world of one-and-only?



“There’s an illusion of safety,” Lisa says. “It can be wonderfully comfortable when you stop challenging things.”





JOY SHELTON is a 22-year-old Leo. A single girl, Joy lives with two cats, and her roommate Sarah Forbes Roberts.



When she’s not working in retail and making art, Joy has been exploring different types of relationships; right now she’s playing the field. As she lights a cigarette, her eyes brighten talking about how exciting it is to meet all sorts of different people, sexually and otherwise.



“It makes life interesting. Plus, I love drama, if I don’t have it, I create it.”



Like all women who explore polyamoury, she’s been balancing her feelings of jealousy against the need to communicate. She says there has to be enough talk to create a sense of trust, but there can also be too much information.



“I don’t want to know private details about my lovers’ lovers. It’s none of my business,” Joy says. “I want to know who they are, meet them, get a feel for their intentions and let them know that I expect to be respected.”





ANYA is 23 and a blunt babe. She’s technically single, but hesitates to say it.



Anya came out at 18, and has had about six open relationships since. She prefers having a primary partner with other secondary lovers.



There are other issues, though, which leave Anya wondering whether humans were meant to be monogamous. On one hand, she says open relationships don’t have the build-up of resentment of monogamous relationships, resulting in more honesty. On the other….



“I can’t have a very healthy non-monogamous relationship,” she says. “I act like I’m okay with things, but I’m not.”



Anya sees an increase in polyamorous relationships among younger lesbians and compares it to other trends like an increased interest in SM or having kids. Trends where peer pressure – in the form of the politics of visibility – have pushed some people further than they can comfortably go.



“In the het world, monogamy is assumed. With dykes, it’s always a big discussion.”



POLYAMOURY RESOURCES

The Toronto polyamoury support group in Toronto can be reached at (416) 588-0900.



Reading materials include:

• Loving More magazine is published out of Colorado, www.lovemore.com; (303) 543 7540

• The Ethical Slut: A Guide To Infinite Sexual Possibilities, by Dossie Easton and Catherine A Liszt (Greenery Press)

• The Lesbian Polyamory Reader: Open Relationships, Non-monogamy And Casual Sex, edited by Marcia Munson and Judith P Stelboum (Harrington Park Press)

• Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits, by Dr Deborah M Anapol (Intinet Resource Centre).