“He’s not my husband, he’s her husband, but we all really want a loan together”: Life as a long-term polyamorist

Guest post by Elizabeth Weiss
"Threesomes 4 Lyfe," custom polyamory shower art, from Etsy seller UglyBaby
Threesomes 4 Lyfe,” custom polyamory shower art, from Etsy seller UglyBaby

I have been following the recent stories on polyamorous relationships, both on Offbeat Home and elsewhere, and saying a silent “hallelujah.” I’ve been in a polyfidelitous triad (like a marriage but with three people) for thirteen years, but I’ve never found the strength or the venue to start a larger conversation about long-term polyamorist relationships.

But given how long the three of us have been together, I feel like I can offer some useful tidbits of advice and some observations on living a life that exists on the fringes but still in the mainstream.

What does our family look like?

I have a male partner and a female partner; she and I are both bisexual, and he is heterosexual. We have three children, ages 18, 10, and 3. We’ve known each other for longer than we’ve been together romantically, and our relationship turned from friendship into romance at a point where we were all going through massive relationship upheavals. To make a long story incredibly short, we spent a summer flirting and talking (and drinking an awful lot of wine) and decided to give life as a triad a shot. I moved in with them, and we began co-parenting their (then) 5-year-old daughter.

In the beginning, it will be tough

In spite of our happiness and optimism, our larger relationships suffered in the first few years. We endured periods of estrangement and strained relationships with some family members in the beginning.

After a few years, it won’t be as tough

Once people saw that we were serious and were not barreling down the road to Relationship Armageddon, their views changed. It was slow and painful at times, but at this point we have full support, inclusion, and love from our families. We have found schools, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who welcome us and are supportive. We have an excellent group of friends who accept us for who we are.

The poly community may have nothing to offer you

In an effort to meet other families like ours, we spent a brief time meeting with a polyamory group in our city. We found many different relationship configurations but nothing that looked like what we had. There were people looking for recreational sex partners, trying to figure out how to make an affair into something livable, or trying to cope with a spouse’s desire for “fun” outside the relationship. We didn’t meet anyone who seemed like us.

In the end, we decided that we had our friends, and that even if none of them had a family like ours, we were okay with that. Families are different, and we had things in common with our current friends that were much more important than the genders or number of partners in their relationships.

It’s not always good, and it’s not always bad

We’ve had good times and bad times in our relationship, just like people in any relationship do. We disagree sometimes, we feel jealous or hurt sometimes, we have money problems sometimes. Our ups and downs aren’t any greater in number or severity than anyone else’s.

It’s not a porn film

We have three kids. Do I need to say any more about how un-porn-like our relationship is? In all seriousness, I would guess that we have a sex life that is very parallel to most married couples. We don’t get as much as we’d like, but we get by. My female partner has chronic pain issues, and that has definitely been a challenge, but we work with what we have. I can safely say that nobody will be knocking down our door looking for an adult film contract any time soon.

You’ll come out a lot, and you’ll get used to it

Initially, coming out will be an event. Those first conversations with family and friends are high-stakes and anxiety-producing. Once you get past that hump though, coming out can feel iffy, but overall we’ve had great experiences. Most people are inquisitive rather than rude. I generally wait until someone knows me to some degree and has figured out that I’m not a freak of nature or sociopath, and then I tell them. By then, they’ve figured out that I’m a decent person, so they figure it can’t be all bad.

Your kids will be awesome

Our kids have an incredible amount of support. With three parents, there is nearly always someone to attend a school function, drive a kid to a friend’s house, chaperone a field trip, or stay home when a child is sick.

Of course, it also means one more parent to go ask when they don’t like the answer they are given by the others, and they are subjected to 150 percent of the supervision that their friends are. We believe that to be a good thing. Our kids are smart, friendly, personable, and confident.

Legally, things will be weird

When I was pregnant with kid No. 2, we went to a lawyer to try to set things up so that we could all have some legal tie to each of the kids. After many interesting conversations, it was decided that three people cannot legally parent one child. We were able to work things out to a point where we felt reasonably secure, but it took a while. The moral of the story is that you should find a good lawyer, develop a relationship with that person, and put things in writing. It’s not perfect, but writing things down in an official sense is important.

Get used to explaining things to financing companies

We own our home. To be exact, I have the mortgage (this time around) and all of our names are on the title. We have moved and refinanced, so we’ve gone through the home-buying process several times.

Often, I feel like we should make a pamphlet. It could say things like “Yes, his wife knows about me” and “No, they are not getting divorced” or “He’s not my husband, he’s her husband, but we really want a loan together.” Everyone, from the realtor to the closing agent will need a quick explanation. Don’t take offense, just roll with it.

No, I don’t want to sleep with you, and we don’t want a group sex thing

Just because there are three of us does not mean that we are open to sleeping with people outside our relationship, that we are all “allowed” to have affairs, or that we routinely have other people in our bed. But thanks for the flattery!

We’re really not that interesting

A long-time friend of ours once said, “You know, you meet so many people who look normal from the outside, and then you find out they’re screwed up. With you guys, it’s the opposite — you look weird from the outside, but once I got to know you, I realized you’re just pretty boring.” Thanks, I think…

Comments on “He’s not my husband, he’s her husband, but we all really want a loan together”: Life as a long-term polyamorist

  1. I know this family! I’ve taught 2 of their children. When I was first told of the family. I couldn’t wrap my head around it…yet, I can honestly say, they make it work. They are a great family with wonderful children!

  2. Heh, very much that last one. Our quad has been cohabitating for over a year now and I keep thinking about writing some sort of post. I’m sure people would find it interesting, but it all just seems so dull and normal to me. I’ve considered just offering to do an AMA, but you’ve probably covered most of it πŸ˜‰

    • Someone suggested that I write a blog. My thought was that people don’t really want to read about how our car needs repairs or how the kids’ PTA is doing a fundraiser – lol! However, it would be an interesting window into a world that looks really different but actually isn’t!

  3. YAY! Hi, I am like you! I agree that it starts out hard, then sort of gets easier… Sort of. How do you talk about your family at work? Or do you? I just got a new job, and I’m scared to be honest because I don’t want to be shunned or make people feel awkward, but I also don’t like misrepresenting my family when people ask me questions. It makes me feel icky, and it’s not fair to Other Husband.

    And also, at one point do you come out to new friends? These are my two struggles.

    • I am fortunate to have a very open and supportive work place and great coworkers, but I also have a lot of students, and I try to keep my personal life somewhat separate from that aspect of my work. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at being vague. For example, saying something like “we took the kids up to Michigan last weekend.” People never ask who “we” refers to – they usually assume hetero marriage. If I don’t anticipate a long-term relationship with them, I don’t correct them.

      That said, I often struggle with the idea of “taking a pass” (letting others assume that I am hetero and married instead of taking the opportunity to do some stereotype busting). I suppose the best way to think of my “coming out” policy is that I do it on a need-to-know basis. If your kid is coming to my house to play, you should know. If I have had more than a casual conversation with you, I’ll throw it in there. If I am meeting you in passing or for a one-time professional event, I won’t disclose as much. If I feel like my experiences can help someone get through a rough patch or make a tough decision, then I will absolutely talk about my relationships.

      When do I come out to new friends? Usually once it becomes clear that we are headed toward a genuine friendship and not just a passing acquaintance-ship. I don’t make a big deal of it (Here, sit down. We need to talk.). I just disclose as the conversations allow (recently, it came up as I was discussing cooking dinners on weeknights and the merits of going out vs eating in when you have a lot of people in your family). That tends to take some of the gravity out of the conversation. Over the years, I have noticed that men are most often intrigued. For women, the results are more mixed, but generally fall into the “wow – I don’t know if I could do that” category. Most people are curious. I’ve never had anyone be overtly rude or hostile, but I have had a few people who just never called to hang out again.

      • This is such a rich, wonderful, smart answer! I am going to use it for my own life. My relationship situation (and what I don’t often reveal to most people) is very different, but what you’ve said here really still applies. Thanks.

      • The “getting a pass” feeling is… not a good one. That more than anything is what makes me feel icky. But as it is definitely not appropriate to spew my life story to whosoever meets me, I guess what I have to accept is that other people’s assumptions are not my fault. I don’t mean to hide Other Husband, it’s just usually not the time or place to draw special attention to the complete picture. That makes sense. Thanks!

        There is a part of me that wishes I could talk about who we all are sooner in new friendships (my process is similar to yours–it comes up when I seem to be really, actually making a friend). It sucks to confide in someone you really like and have them stop talking to you, or worse. I know I do not have to justify my relationship decisions to people who are not members of those relationships, and if they walk, well… it wasn’t a good friend-fit for me anyway… but that moment of opening yourself up for rejection feels bad.

        • I know what you mean about the moment when it’s clear that someone isn’t going to call back, or make that date to take the kids to the zoo, or whatever. At some point, you just have to conclude that if they really wanted to do (fill in activity), they would make it happen. I also try to be zen about it. It wouldn’t be a fun friendship, and if they aren’t ready to think about life outside the dyad, then they just aren’t. It does suck, though πŸ˜‰

  4. Thanks for sharing! I’m curious, as far as parenting the kids, how do you have it set up? Two parents+legal guardian? Yay for having all three of you on the mortgage though.

    • Our older daughter is now 18, but when she was younger she had two legal parents and then I had “visitation” with her (on paper only – we lived together, so…). The lawyer’s logic was that if anything happened to her bio parents, there would be an established legal relationship that I could use to argue that she should stay with me. At least where we live, we couldn’t establish a guardianship if both bio parents were still alive. The younger two were easier, since I am their bio mom. Since my partners were married to each other at the time of their births, that made my lady friend their legal step-mother.

      In the hospital when they were born, the social worker made it a point to take Daddy out into the hall and remind him that he didn’t have to claim the child, that he could ask for a paternity test, etc. It was fairly funny, all things considered πŸ™‚

  5. I also wanted to comment on how wonderful it is to see a throuple making it work in the long term. I’ve been with my boyfriend and girlfriend (they are married also) for 7 months without incident and I have a 5 month old son from a previous relationship. We’ve been talking about expanding our family to another wee one when our son is about 2. I was insanely nervous because this is my first time in a relationship like this and my Mother warned against poly relationships before I met them.

    I would LOVE to regularly read a blog you kept. I think I speak for all of us when I say that I’d LOVE to check in on some kind of a q&a for those of us who would love some advice from a successful throuple. You gave me and my girlfriend so much hope.

    • I haven’t been at this nearly as long as Elizabeth (we’re coming up on the third anniversary of our throuple), and in no way claim to know the right way to manage our throuple-tacular challenges and issues, but I do keep a blog that is one-third longterm throuple family stuff! My handle should link you there, if you’re interested!

    • Hmm – I kind of like the idea of an advice/question-type format! I don’t want to commit to a blog because I already have so much going on. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t keep up with it πŸ˜‰ Maybe we should start a facebook group or something? If you’re interested, I can see what I can set up!

  6. This sounds a lot like what my husband and I are looking for. I’m glad to hear that there are people that make it work. We just haven’t found a third that works for both of us. We will just have to keep a eye out.

    • Hang in there, and don’t “look” too hard. The right person will be there when it’s right πŸ™‚ One of the few couples we met during our brief foray into the poly community where we live summed up my view of things pretty well. They said that they wanted someone who could just walk in and make themselves at home, raid the fridge, have a beer, and have it feel like they’ve always been there. That’s what you want to hold out for!

  7. I’m very glad your family life is working out so well, and it makes me happy to see someone with good things to say about polyamory that don’t resort to “really, it’s just SO much more evolved!” (excuse me while I roll my eyes). That said, I am starting to get a little jaded with the fact that nearly every happy, matter-of-fact, stable portrayal of polyamory I see in the media is “closed triad with kids, usually with two bisexual women and a straight man.” I’m a straight woman married to a bisexual man, and ours is an open relationship where we are each able to date other people, either separately or together. We’ve been together for over a dozen years so far (and have always had an open relationship), and have been married for almost two. Not all of our outside relationships have lasted until the present (we do both still have other partners at the moment), but many have lasted for quite a long time, and we’re still friends with most of the people we’ve dated. Still not glamorous, still not a porno, but just a different kind of configuration that works well for us. πŸ™‚

    • I think the reason we see more MFF triads in the media has a lot to do with acceptance. I’m in a MMQ Vee. One husband is openly bisexual, one is quietly bisexual whereas I identify as a non-binary (leaning toward male) transgender who is predominantly gay. I know of other queer polys like myself, but we have good reason for staying in the shadows. Bisexual men, gay men and gender-nonconforming people who are poly face more stigma. When I came out as trans and my husband began referring to me as his husband, he was fired from his job of 10 years. They had no problem with him being poly, but they freaked when he came out as bi. My other husband stays closeted at work even though he works for a company that is solidly on the HRC list. We’re in the process of getting out of a red state and moving to a state with LGBTQ rights.

  8. I can’ believe there’s another polyamorous trio in the world! This article makes me so happy I could cry! My husband, boyfriend/partner, & I are trying to start a family, & this helped give me the reassurance I needed that we an do it. Thank you so much for writing! Please keep writing about your experiences, I would love to hear them.

    • I had the same reaction when I saw the couple of other articles that were going around earlier this year. It feels like we’re the only ones a lot of the time, and the few times we’ve tried seeking out other families like ours, we’ve been disappointed. Buried in the comments above is the link for a facebook group I started with some of the other commenters (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1635813906708340/). We’re hoping to all share our experiences and get to know one another. Come join us!

  9. I grew up with three parents. My mom and dad had been together for about 20 years, my brother was 17, and I was 7 when my mom’s best friend, a single mother of two girls (7 and 6) moved in. I am now 26 and they are all still together. She is a grandmother to my children and something like a step parent to me. It has been great to have the support of a third parent, many times. She has been someone who is there for me over and over. Things haven’t been perfect, but I’d say they are no more imperfect than other blended family relationships. I recently ended up in a polyamorous relationship as well, with my best friend. I know, weird. We didn’t move in together though and it did not last romantically. But, we are still best friends, our kids are still friends, and both of our marriages are intact (I’d consider mine stronger), so all the fears that had us talking to each other and our spouses for a month before doing anything were, thankfully, unfounded.

  10. I just turned 50, been poly most of my life. I’m a transman with 2 husbands (15 and 7 years) and an adult daughter. I usually cringe when I see poly articles, but I loved this one. I’d like to hear more about how you found a good lawyer. I want to hear about how your family solved the dilemma of cars not being made for families like ours. Questions like “Where do you want to eat?” and “What movie should we go to?” can be much harder with 3 or more. Poly groups are so hung up on jealousy issues. What I really want to know is how to find a good financial planner.

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