Secret Polyamory: A Single Girl’s Response

I have noticed a new trend in my on-line dating life: being approached by a guy in an open marriage.

It’s supposed to be different from cheating because his wife knows that he’s dating, approves of it, supports it, and is dating other partners herself.

How nice for them!

Here is the series of questions I ask Open Marriage Guy when I am approached to become part of his wonderfully free, polyamorous* lifestyle:

1. Do you think there is any difference in social status between you, Married Man, and me, Single Girl? In other words, have you considered all the social benefits that are conferred upon you by virtue of the fact that you have a ring on your finger?

If you haven’t considered this, let me prompt you. Marriage is regarded by our society to be a marker of maturity, stability, faithfulness and good citizenship. Single adults are regarded by our society to be sad,  incomplete, yearning, relationship failures, or rejects.

Do you therefore intend to make up for this status differential by informing your family, friends, professional colleagues and neighbors that you’re polyamorous? If not, why not?

Because it benefits you to look like a stable, monogamous married and family guy, right?

2.  You tell me that you have real love and commitment to offer in the event that we get intimately involved. You tell me that I seem like an amazing woman and that both you and your wife would cherish having me as part of your circle of intimacy.

Thank you for the compliment, but I have more questions:

First of all, you don’t know me. You do understand that you’ve basically gone shopping for someone to introduce into your romantic life, right? And propositioned me to enter into an arrangement that benefits you but has no long term prospects for me, right? I haven’t identified as poly and you’re trying to sell me on this?

That’s not love. That’s commerce.

How does this love and commitment work, exactly? You two share a familial home with children and a separate circle of friends and family. Will I be welcome to come hang out, share meals, watch movies, and sleep over? If not, are you them presuming that I will be hosting all of our sexy get-togethers at my home?

Of course you are.

If not, then how will you explain my presence to the children? ”Auntie Victoria is going to spend the night tonight! She and Daddy are special friends so they’ll be sharing a bedroom.” Really? Oh, you would just lie to your children to preserve the status quo, to raise them in a deceitful environment? What a great parenting strategy.

No, you weren’t going to ever introduce me to the kids at all, of course. Because what you’re looking for is an opportunity to treat me like a consumer item — a marital aid to generate more love, care, sex, fun and intensity for you while not at all being there for me in any substantive way.

3. About that “love and commitment” stuff, I was wondering:

When your mother-in-law needs to be picked up from the airport on a day for which we have made plans (tr: you and your wife have worked your playmates into your schedule), who’s going to get canceled on?

And canceled on, and canceled on, and canceled on.

When my birthday party falls on the night of your kid’s play, will I be assuaged by a late night visit when you come over bearing a cupcake with a candle in it? That’s cute. You must have mistaken me for someone with no self-regard.

I hear your invitation as “Hey, you seem awesome! My wife and I would like to sign you on for a relationship in which your needs will never, ever come first!”

I was wondering about STDs: if you and your wife are sexually active with other partners, do I get to meet all of her partners so that we can all discuss what we are all doing to mutually protect ourselves from the spread of infectious disease? Or was I just supposed to trust you when you tell me what’s up in that regard? That’s really fascinating, how you think my self-esteem is that damaged.

As an accomplished woman in a leadership position, when do I get to introduce you — my loving and committed lover — to my community? Will you be by my side when I receive an honor? Probably not, huh? And where will you be while I’m doing the hard work required to receive that recognition? Bringing me tea, taking out the garbage, rubbing my shoulders, holding me night after night through the difficult months of sustained effort, and leaving me supportive messages through the day?

Naw. You’ll be at work, and going home to your wife and kids night after night — which you should be doing. I’ll get the leftovers, the incessant apologies, and the residual energy of the narcissistic drama addiction that you have confused for love.

You’re beginning to get the idea that this arrangement isn’t particularly appealing to me — or any self-respecting woman — aren’t you?

Oh, hey, listen. When I was younger, this kind of arrangement would have really tempted me. Back then, I didn’t know my worth. I didn’t know who I was and what I deserved. I thought it might even be convenient to be an acknowledged mistress — romantic dates, passionate kisses, adoration and none of the messy, daily challenge of co-habitation and marriage. I considered the merits of the deal as not interfering with my real marriage to the Church.

But I’m a much older now and I have stood up with dozens of couples and officiated at the covenanting ceremony by which they declare that they shall be faithful to each other unto death. I have been the one to sign the marriage certificate bestowing upon them the full rights and privileges of state-sanctioned holy matrimony. When I stand at that ceremony, I am fully aware that by this rite of passage, these two people will henceforth have conferred upon them the status of Grown-Up by society. They will be given legal privileges, tax benefits, and big time social approval.

I have not fought with other social justice activists for marriage equality so that those so joined could publicly benefit from the institution of marriage while privately turning to individuals like me for added comfort, sex, fun and diversion with no attendant responsibility or accountability.

If all the couples who benefit from a polyamorous lifestyle want to come out of the closet and explain to all those who witnessed their marriage (starting with parents and grandparents) that their intention was to build a domestic arrangement where they would be faithful to one another in love but openly move in and out of other romantic relationships, I would support that. I think it is high time that we had this broader conversation about the sham that is monogamy in our culture and stop pretending that coupled isolation and monogamy is working for most people over three to six decades together. It is not.

I respect that it is not, I see that it is not, and I commend people for trying to figure out how to handle the failure of traditional marriage expectations in a different world.

I respect that married couples may negotiate, in trust, porous boundaries in their relationship that allows for authentically loving relationships to blossom into romance. Then let’s stop keeping those relationships secret and shameful and re-define marriage so that it doesn’t split the world into marrieds and singles, with one group presumed the more mature and stable.

Look at this sucker. His wife has convinced him that sleeping around is about feminist liberation and not about selfish hedonism. She’s using him for domestic comfort and stability while screwing around. That’s not polyamory, that’s exploitation.

And look at all those men who have contacted me in recent years to try to persuade me that I would be getting anything but a raw deal by secretly (they say “discreetly”) entering into a relationship with a married man.

Some of them are just cheaters. Some of them think that I’m going to sympathize with them about their frustrating wives — women who tolerate them day after day and often financially support them! Women who raise their children, who cook their meals, who do their laundry, who wrap their parent’s Christmas presents. Oh honey, you have the wrong woman. Watch me give you precisely zero time of day while you insult other women in my presence.

But nowadays, more married Lotharios and their wives have embraced the new romantic consumerism: scoop up wonderful, emotionally healthy, intelligent, fun, understanding, loving single people and use them for all they have to offer while offering crumbs in exchange, all while comfortably benefiting from the social status of looking Properly Married.

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers. I’m here to reform or dismantle oppressive institutions, not to offer up my body, mind and soul to enable you so you can benefit from them.

* A poly friend of mine pointed out that this is not really polyamory, which is a good point for further consideration. I am using the term “polyamorous” because it is how many of the men in “open marriages” who proposition me identify themselves.  - V.W.







PeaceBang Reviews “In The Heart Of The Sea: The Musical!”



(What is that thing, Jay?)

Okay, it wasn’t a musical. It was a film by Ron Howard, starring Chris Hemsworth as the steely-eyed first mate of the whaling ship Essex that left Nantucket harbor in 1819 and got STOVE BY A WHALE, which is the greatest 19th century phrase I can think of.

I like to use it whenever my car won’t start or I’m late for any reason: I WAS STOVE BY A WHALE, I say. “Where’s your boyfriend?” “Oh, he couldn’t come, he was stove by a whale.” 

I have lived in eastern Massachusetts for seventeen years now, so while I’m a mere newcomer to these parts by New England standards, I’m a huge fan of New England history. Nathaniel Philbrick’s riveting book In The Heart of The Sea: The True Story of The Whaleship Essex was the first one I bought when I moved back to area in 2002, and I sat among my half-unpacked boxes in front of a fan chewing my nails and shivering with terror and suspense as I devoured Philbrick’s tale of the terrible fate of the Essex and its crew. It’s a fantastic book. You should probably just go read the book right now.

Better yet (or certainly just as good), read Moby Dick, Melville’s epic American novel based on the true story of the Essex!

I can’t recommend seeing the movie, though.

It’s just not dramatically good. The biggest problem is that Chris Hemsworth is the most boring actor imaginable. All he does with this role is stand around looking hunky and determined, and when he gets angry, worried, upset, he squints. He gets wet, he stomps around and climbs rigging and yells all the important lines like “Thar she blows!” and “Land! LAND!” and “I guess we should eat that guy because we’re all starving to death in these little rowboats because our ship was STOVE BY A WHALE” and all, but he’s very, very boring. Boring and squinty.

Cillian Murphy would have been way better. He plays a member of the crew and Chris Hemsworth’s best childhood friend. They have a very touching scene where you can see the desperate sadness in Murphy’s eyes as he considers not only the dramatic content of the scene, but how much better the whole movie would have been if he had been cast in Hemsworth’s role. I agreed with him. It brought a true tear to my own eye.

The CGI effects are so bad! How did that happen, Opie? There’s a very pretty animated backdrop of Nantucket that they use at the beginning of the film that looks like it was painted by Thomas Kincaid, Painter of Light.

The whales are visually awesome, of course, but even they swim around and breach and slam their flukes with no real sense of dramatic intensity. You can feel them thinking, “What’s my MOTIVATION in this scene?”

Brendan Gleeson is corny as the old sailor who was once that young man who survived the shipwreck after the Essex was STOVE BY A WHALE. He has a wife who loves him even though he “committed abominations” by which he means that he ate some guys while adrift on the sea for ninety days being baked alive under the hot sun. It’s very hard to watch Brendan Gleeson spin his “whale of a tale” to a guy playing Herman Melville, because the dialogue is anachronistic and the actor playing Melville, Ben Whishaw, looks like he knows his scenes are pure rubbish. To me he looked a little sore that he hadn’t gotten cast as Kylo Ren, but I could be projecting.

There are precisely two women in this movie. The other one is Chris Hemsworth’s wife, played by Charlotte Riley, who cries when he leaves and Waits Faithfully For Him To Come Home. I wasn’t sure if she was crying because she had a foreboding of the tragedy that awaited his voyage or because of his super, super bad Massachusetts dialect.

I am not exactly sure of this but it feels possible to me that some of Chris Hemsworth’s dialogue was dubbed by Mark Wahlberg using his voice for the character Ted, the foul-mouthed teddy bear.

I also felt that this film really suffered the absence of one my favorite actors, Bruce Davison, who excels at playing stern 19th century men of authority. He would have KILLED as the owner of the Essex.

You do know what I’m hoping for, though, don’t you? It would make my life complete if someone would make a mash-up of video footage from In The Heart of the Whale with this.

It’s a tuner, bro!







Posted in Cultural Commentary, movie reviews, book reviews, advertising & pop culture | 1 Comment

UU Humanists At The Holidays

Oh, this seems like such a throwback.

We have this conversation every year, it seems. In fact, as a colleague wearily pointed out, the president of the UU Humanist Association wrote pretty much this same column two years ago. I didn’t look it up, though, because I’m lazy and tired and going out of town in the morning.  I’m taking a very quick two-night jaunt to New York City not only to see family but to fill my eyes and ears and nose and mind with the fabulousness of Manhattan at the magical Rockettes time of year.  There is nothing like window shopping along the Upper West Side to fill me with the joy of God’s wonder and the coming of the Christ child.

I kid, of course, but did you happen to know that I am perishing of liberal religious over-earnestness just about now? You, too? Lord almighty, we’re a creatively impoverished lot. I’ve been whingeing about this lately (and what could bring PeaceBang back to her main blog but a good UU rant?), but it seems that the mad, bloody crisis of the human and the planetary condition has made us even primmer and more comically unself-aware than we usually are. If I read one more kitchen sink prayer full of cliched pieties, I won’t be able to leave my bedchamber. My kingdom for an original voice or thought!

And so it was with a sense of exhaustion and deja-vu Dr. Gleb Tsipursky’s column on the Call And Response blog, informing us that Humanists find it very hard to tolerate the irrationalities of the religious seasonal observances, saving special digs for “nativity” references. He specifically mentions only Christmas and Hanukah.

Let me switch to sarcasm font and say, who WOULD support the re-telling of a myth that is centered around a persecuted ethnic minority in a military superpower empire? Why would that be relevant to today? Who would find it worthy to tell a story of a refugee family in peril, endangered in one place and finding no welcome in another?

So silly. So irrational. One could never follow that story and manage to simultaneously appreciate the “scientific” winter solstice!

(I admit that I loved that line. I imagined a group of earnest UUs leading a Sunday morning service on the astronomical event, complete with readings about solar longitudes.)

I have been a Unitarian Universalist for fifty years — a minister for almost twenty — and I have rarely known a congregation that did not heartily celebrate the symbolic and planetary significance of the solstice. It’s not a creative stretch. It’s not an either-or proposition, either.  What Dr. Tsipursky suggests as a new, creative alternative (Secular Solstice), is actually an fairly exact description of dozens of solstice services I have led or participated in for years in UU congregations. What is new here is the subtle threat that if UUs do not create this kind of programming, “Humanists will leave the congregation …also makes humanists less inclined to support congregational programs, projects, and priorities.”

This is institutional blackmail, however mildly expressed as a “concern.” Many Humanist Unitarian Universalists I know would be insulted to be implicated in this kind of veiled fear-mongering among a small religious group already anxious about its survival, let alone growth.  I feel that Unitarian Universalists who refuse to support the congregation’s mission or leave the congregation over holiday program are not in the right community to begin with.  Unitarian Universalists aim to transform souls harmed by the narcissistic consumers culture into covenanted community, with all its attendant demands and expectations to “move beyond our littleness,” as A. Powell Davies so beautifully put it.

As far as Christmas itself goes, I am bone weary of explaining to so-called secular humanists* that even Christian Unitarian Universalists are well aware of the amazing coincidence between the Jesus Christ sacred mythos and that of the sun god, Mithras, whose birthday he shares. I am tired of being embarrassed by the irrationality of “rationalist” rejection of the poetic, the mystical and the metaphorical.

(*Humanists who worship in congregations are not secular humanists. They are by virtue of their involvement with congregational life and religious community, religious humanists. For those who want to argue that Unitarian Universalism is not a religion, I suggest that you start paying taxes to your local and federal government. Feel free.)

Unitarian Universalism is changing, thank the good Lord. It is transforming from a collection of “I better get mine” individuals to a community of people who yearn for unity amid diversity and who actually want to grow spiritually. We are pulling down the circus tent and creating meaningful bonds across theological orientations.

Growing spiritually means that we learn about — and learn to actually appreciate — perspectives that are not our own.  Growing spiritually means taking responsibility for our emotions and not using them as a way to hijack or divert resources from programming in the name of inclusivity.

The high expectations of the winter holiday season crush everyone,  Gleb.  Every minister knows that ’tis the season for a lot of pastoral counseling, as the darkness, the cold (in many regions), the manic consumerism and social forced gaiety, the horrible traffic, the suddenly visible gnarled roots of family trees, the strained bank accounts, fragile new sobrieties and &%*$ tangled lights wear patience, nerves and relationships.

I do understand the pain of feeling estranged from religious holidays, which is why I launched a program at my own congregation called A Peaceful Place, which is an open sanctuary for quiet meditation and supportive conversation during three Sundays in December. But I am a full time minister who has a very supportive professional staff. I am willing to spend my Sunday afternoons in December offering this alternative to traditional holiday observances because my Communications Director was able to design and distribute a flier, we were able to purchase a little Facebook boost, we have a Sexton who will help set up anything that the sanctuary needs, a Music Director who has offered to do some music if we want to, and a full time Director of Faith Development who is on board through the season to carry a share of the burden of ministry.

Most congregations do not have these resources. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect them to develop multiple programs at what is already a demanding time of year. Why not rather create an online resource that Humanists can access and lead themselves in their congregations?

We are in covenanted community as UUs, as I said, and we are all also people who are capable of seeking ways to get our spiritual and emotional needs met outside of our mostly small and mostly very limited congregations. I will be attending sing-along “Messiahs,” concerts of sacred music, Advent services, and reading works of Christian spirituality that feed my soul. I’ll also be attending a reading of “A Christmas Carol,” watching all the Rankin-Bass specials about animatronic reindeer, haunting shopping malls in my guise as elf Winterwynd Scarlettgardenberri (it’s a yearly tradition), putting up a tree in my living room, and singing along with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. On Christmas Day, I will be very tired from leading the Christmas Eve service and pastoring my community through the season. It may be a lonely and difficult day for me, too, as it always is, even though I am a Christian. It will be difficult because I will not be with family and want to be, but I work on Christmas Eve and they’re all far away. It will be tinged with sadness because I miss my father, who died decades ago.

Theological orientation is no guarantor of happiness at the holidays. It is the human condition, not a Humanist condition.

Very  likely, I will spend Christmas Day dinner with atheist friends who do not participate at all in religious community, but some of whom will have attended Christmas Eve services because they appreciate the beauty of the story, the person of Jesus, the music from their childhood, and the warmth of community. They understand that religion’s job is not to worship science, but to help human beings cultivate the necessary sense of reverence, awe, hope and meaning that permits us to not kill ourselves when we consider the profound evil of many of the systems in which we are mired and complicit.

Religion does not need to be science. Science is science.

Perhaps my sermon about “second naivetee” will be of some use to Humanists or anyone who feels put upon by Unitarian Universalist churches doing what Unitarian and Universalist churches have done for hundreds of years at the Christmas season.

As far as secular holidays go, there are a few that are generally given attention in our congregations. I have myself led worship services with New Year’s Day, Columbus (Indigenous People’s) Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Mother’s Day, and United Nations Day themes.

I’d like to thank everyone who sent me the article and asked me to respond. I hope that you, too, will respond in the comments.















Posted in Unitarian Universalism, Worship and Liturgy | 7 Comments