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Polyamory: What Is Legal, Ethical And Comfortable?

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"Is this normal?" The staff member looked at me, almost as nervous as I was, as she sat before me. I hadn't the foggiest idea what the commotion was about. She continued, "Having more than one partner... I mean is this legal? Are you being safe? If you're being forced to do anything against your will...."

It dawned on me, in that moment, that a conversation that I had had with one of my closest friends, who had asked first about my open relationships, had been overheard. "I'm fine, it's my decision, and I am happy," I said. "It's all consensual, I'm safe and sane, but if you would like me to stop talking about my relationships in here, I can go find somewhere else to hang out during my day." There was a moment of silence, an uneasy shift of the chair, and right above my friend's head, a "safe space" postcard declaring that it was a "safe and welcoming" office for the GLBT community. "We aren't saying you can't come in... I... I don't know what I am saying...." My friend got up, looked at me for answers, and all that came out of my mouth was simply, "Can you please not talk about your marriage in my presence? It's monogamous and I don't get it."

I have often been introduced by name, a mumbling of relations as some distant cousin or niece, or simply in a group with my partner and their others. Open relationships, also known as polyamorous relationships, have existed since biblical times and can be found in 31 relationships in the Christian Bible. These figures include Moses, Solomon and Jacob. Various other relationships may have, by descriptions of their family, consisted of more than one wife. With the Bible being one of the first introductions to unusual lifestyle choices, the acronym FLDS (for "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints") is the most common reference used for open relationships.

The show Big Love, produced by HBO about an FLDS family in a "compound"; Sister Wives, produced by TLC, which is now under scrutiny and a possible lawsuit; and various Lifetime movies have portrayed polygamy as an extremist religious practice.

It's not. Open relationships can exist in many forms, some of which do not include marriage, and all of which -- as long as they are "legal" and ethical -- include consenting adults over the age of 18.

It's a balancing trick. It's something that takes more than one try, usually, to get right.

The definitions are blurry between when this becomes illegal and unethical, which in itself is a balancing trick, and who decides.

"Illegal" can be a valid description. The Defense of Marriage Act states that a marriage is "a legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife." To this extent, any relationship that tries to have more than one marriage certificate, in the eyes of the United States, at least, is illegal, but if the partners are unmarried, there is no law against the relationship. "Unethical" is a horse of a different color and can be changed by each person's perception and upbringing.

The same relationship problems exist in a polyamorous relationship that exist in a monogamous one outside legalities. Whose parents are coming over for the holiday, and why, and is feigning sick an option? Whose turn is it to do the dishes, or the laundry? When do I get attention; when is it "me time"?

There are a few quiet moments in the day in the life of a polyamorous person, which reminds me that it's worth it. I have had special occasions where, because of circumstances, my biological family couldn't be with me and a partner (or partners) stepped up to the plate to help. I know that I am able to reach someone, even if I need to go through one or two before I get to a partner, who is free for consultation. I know I'm loved, I know that I can go talk to a partner about a difficult situation, get advice, and come back and deal with the situation that has been causing me some stress.

Polyamorous lifestyles, in my opinion, are a break from social constructs, which forms the belief that opposite-sex people cannot be friends, and they allow me to have a connection with friends simply because they are friends and have a deep love. I was sitting in a restaurant this past summer with a close guy friend, Mike, who is not a partner in any sense, after finishing a wonderful meal, and we were waiting for our waitress. The waitress went up to a neighboring table, where there was a collection of four females and all of them were pretty much the same middle age as the next, and offered each of them a separate bill. A minute later the waitress came to our table. Mike, who from time to time is known to pay for a meal for me as a "date night" ritual among friends, was offered the check and paid for it. No questions asked by the waitress, who presumed that he and I were together because of general age characteristics. Mike looks much younger than he actually is, and the situation of two opposite sexes sitting at the same table prompted her, I believe, to assume this.

In a different instance, while traveling this summer to see a partner (let's call him Eric), I had to take a train into a larger city for one leg of my journey, the plan being that I would be met by Eric and his partner (let's call her Patricia), and we would continue to their abode. As I met Eric, Patricia stood intently by to also welcome me, and I shared a very intimate hug with Eric and also with Patricia. Because of age differences, Eric being quite older than Mike, and the fact that Eric and Patricia had been waiting together, the perception was that we were three good friends, or that they were possibly meeting a younger relation. This is the perception that society is happy to accept, and we are happy not to correct it, nor do we want to draw attention.