Details magazine profiles MFM poly families
I asked several people profiled in the article what they think of how it treats them. Some cited misquotes, and one said the writer has lamented to her about the way the article was edited and cut. But first:
Plural relationships have gotten a bad name, thanks to lascivious cult leaders like Warren Jeffs. But there's a whole other type of multi-partner love gaining popularity: polyandry, in which a woman settles down with two or more men. It's more common than you might think.
BY ALEX FRENCH
On an unseasonably cool August Sunday morning in Topanga Canyon, just north of Malibu, a family of four arrives at the Inn of the Seventh Ray, an all-cage-free, everything-local restaurant that's typical of the neighborhood. This brunch is a welcome respite from the errands and worries that increasingly fill their days. Jaiya Ma, the center of the clan, is a 34-year-old with dark, wavy hair and caramel skin. Her life is wide open; she falls in love easily, suffers willingly. Next to her is Ian Ferguson, a thin 44-year-old with a shaved head and a goatee, feeding bits of eggs Benedict to their energetic 2-year-old son, Eamon. Ian and Jaiya have been lovers for four years. Sitting across from Jaiya is Jon Hanauer, an extremely fit 48-year-old wearing wire-rimmed glasses, who serves as Eamon's primary caretaker. He and Jaiya have been in a committed relationship for almost a decade.
They all live together just a few minutes up the hill, in an airy modern house with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of downtown Los Angeles....
...The three of them live a lifestyle that — much of the time — isn't that different from a conventional marriage. They're one of an estimated 500,000 polyamorous families in the United States. Polyamory, which literally means "many loves," usually isn't about having sex with whomever you want, whenever you want, as nonpractitioners often assume. It can also describe relationship configurations like Jon, Jaiya, and Ian's — governed by rules, responsibilities, and expectations — which add up to a kind of de facto polygamy. The more specific term for their arrangement is polyandry, in which multiple men are with the same woman....
Plural love is having a moment right now. That's thanks in no small part to the increasing acceptance of gay marriage: If two men or two women can get married, why can't two men get married to one woman?...
...If plural marriage is ever to gain broad acceptance, it won't be because of Mormon fundamentalists. It will be because of people like Ian, Jon, and Jaiya — affluent, educated city dwellers in mutually respectful relationships. And, indeed, some in plural relationships are adopting an activist mind-set. "We're going through right now what homosexuals went through 30 or 40 years ago," says Matt Bullen, a 42-year-old writer and married dad in Seattle who is part of a polyamorist cluster that encompasses five people and two legal marriages. "We need to start putting photos on the desk of ourselves and our partners together. When I'm out in public with my wife and my girlfriend, I need to say, 'These are my partners.'"
Matt's girlfriend, a 43-year-old filmmaker and actress named Terisa Greenan, goes further, expressing the virtues of her lifestyle in stark terms. "Polyamorous people are just smarter," she says—
"I was quoted out of context and I do not think that poly people are smarter than non-poly people," Terisa tells us.
She dates Matt but has lived with Scott Campbell, a 54-year-old classical-music dealer, for 14 years, and Larry Golding, a 54-year-old Microsoft software developer (to whom she's married for insurance and accounting purposes), for 12 years. (Matt's wife, Vee, also dates Larry.) "You've got to have a certain type of brain that's really analytical," Terisa explains. "There are more people, so you have to be able to look at each problem from many more points of view and communicate for that many hours longer."
Whatever you think of Terisa's theory, it's obvious that those in plural relationships are comfortable flouting convention. Many explained to me that humans aren't hardwired to have just one partner.
...The trick, Matt Bullen explains, is being able to ask yourself, "'Why am I happy when my partner is satisfied in any other aspect of life, but then suddenly when it comes to sex it's got to be awful feelings of mistrust?' Can you isolate it so much that it becomes like a little trapped rodent in a cage where you can say, 'See, it wasn't that scary at all'?" He claims it doesn't upset him when his wife uses their marital bed to fuck her boyfriend (and Terisa's husband) Larry. "It's just a bed," he says....
...Mary, a 26-year-old Ph.D. candidate in economics at Boston University (who asked that her real name not be used), says she's known since she was 14 that monogamy was anathema to her. "That's when I realized that maybe it didn't make sense for me to suppress these feelings just because of a societal norm," she says. Hardly an insatiable minx, Mary claims she's "not a sexual person at all" and still lives — in a polyandrous triad — with her first boyfriend.
...Most who take part in plural relationships claim not to feel sexual jealousy. Dean, a 26-year-old software engineer in Boston, recalls being disturbed at the start of his relationship with Mary and her long-term boyfriend, Max (all three names have been changed), a 28-year-old intellectual-property lawyer, when he overheard them having sex in the next room. In time, he decided this was a selfish reaction. "Just realizing that there are times when she wants to have sex with one of us specifically makes things a lot easier," he explains. "Knowing that it balances out over time makes it easier too."
Comments Mary: "The reporter was quite friendly, seemed really bro-y (like a bro, or pretty typical guy-like), and seemed to pick up really quickly on cracks in the relationships and the dynamics of people in general, while also missing things that didn't fit with his picture if they weren't staring him in the face."
...Jaiya, who founded a successful sex-education company, is typical of the women in polyandrous triads: intelligent, self-possessed, professionally accomplished. The men, on the other hand, have typically suffered a relationship catastrophe that prompted them to seek radical change. Jon could be speaking for any of them when he recalls, "I knew in my heart that I had to find a different way to love."
Comments Matt Bullen: "I guess my opinion is that the article is interesting; and that it takes a refreshing approach in venturing moderately into seeing poly(andry) from the guys' point of view than from the female perspective. I don't think my own situation fits Alex's comment on the tendency of polyandrous men to gravitate to a certain kind of poly woman on the heels of a relationship catastrophe. I live in my own family unit with my wife and son; we/I have not really experienced any such catastrophe either in our own marriage or prior to that; and my relationship with Terisa -- admittedly a charismatic woman -- fits well with my relationship with Vee and my other family dynamics. Even so, he makes some thought-provoking points."
A potentially bigger problem for long-term polyamorous relationships is a declining libido. On nights when Ian ventures out for affairs with other women, Jaiya and Jon live an almost monastic existence. The three of them have little interaction with the Los Angeles polyamorous community.... And Jaiya and Jon's relationship has turned effectively platonic since she gave birth to Eamon; where once, Jaiya claims, they had 20-hour marathon sessions, now they have sex only for her instructional videos and classes.... They are, Ian admits, like old married people.
...Terisa reports a similar situation. "Our lives are so boring," she says. "I cook dinner. The guys clean up. We go upstairs and watch The Soup, and then we go to bed. Or the three of us go out to the movies. Or all five of us" — meaning the Bullens, too — "sit down to watch TV together. We do things as a family.
"The great thing is that the guys can go have sex with other people."
Most men in polyandrous relationships get into them for one reason: They fall in love with the woman at the center of the triad. Few are looking for male companionship. Fewer still seek intimacy with their "metamour" — their lover's other lover. This isn't Big Love, and male polyandrists aren't sister husbands.
Although they've lived together for more than a decade, Scott describes his relationship with Larry as one of benign neglect. "We wouldn't be close friends in different circumstances," he says. "We're so different. We're perfectly cordial, but it's not common for the two of us to hang out and talk together if Terisa isn't there." Matt, Terisa's boyfriend, agrees. "I don't think I've ever been out for a drink by myself with Larry or Scott," he says. The relative distance among them, he adds, is why the arrangement works.
Max, the young lawyer, describes his relationship with Dean as being like that of stepbrothers. "We're family but not related," he says. Ian and Jon are like that too. They interact almost entirely through Jaiya and Eamon — "I get to love Ian through him," Jon says, pointing at the boy....
One Friday afternoon, Jon takes Eamon to Topanga State Park. He's scooping sand into a mound for the boy to run up and down on. "This is his athletic training," Jon says proudly. "I'd like for him to play baseball." Jon deserves much of the credit for Eamon's sunny disposition — the 2-year-old sings constantly and loves being read to. Ian matter-of-factly describes Jon as the "manny" and pays him a modest salary to look after Eamon. Jaiya says that Eamon occasionally calls Jon his "dada."
...But Jon's demeanor sometimes seems to betray a current of bitterness. When Jaiya caught baby fever soon after turning 30, she begged Jon for a child. He refused, saying he wasn't ready for fatherhood, so she turned to Wyatt (not his real name), her brash young lover at the time. Jaiya miscarried; Wyatt walked out. Later, she and Jon discussed pregnancy again, and again he demurred. "I pushed her into having other relationships," he admits. But seeing Jaiya twice pregnant by other men has stung, and Jon's time with Eamon has made him realize that he desperately wants a child of his own. But after her miscarriage and her difficult pregnancy with Eamon, Jaiya doesn't want any more kids....
Jon has one option left — to go out and find someone else.... "I'd want to move that new person in with us. I'd want to expand our family, enhance what we already have at home."
He picks up Eamon, holds him tight, and walks toward the surf. Together, they enter the water, and Eamon cackles as they take on the breakers.
Read the whole article, with photos (3,200 words; November 2011 issue).
Jaiya says she thinks the article was "pretty good. I love that a major magazine is discussing the idea that there are different types of families out there and that loving more than one person at a time is an option." But, she notes, "There were some misquotes, even things we went over two and three times with a fact checker, that still got printed wrong or sorely out of context." She writes us:
"I talked with author this morning, who is awesome by the way, and he told me that the article was different from what he wrote — as we know, editors also get hold of great stuff and change it — it was great until they edited it down and made me add a bunch of meaningless stuff.
"I did a whole article on my feedback from the Details piece [including a rundown of misquotes].
"FYI, look for us on Anderson Cooper next week — and Inside Edition — We're on a media roll! ...Jon, Ian and I have decided that we should put out our own views, knowledge and lessons we have learned over the years. We are working on a new program teaching other people how to navigate the waters of open relationships and polyamory."
This isn't the first time Details has approached polyamory; it did a much shorter bit last year. Also, three years ago a Details writer supposedly came to Janet and Sasha Lessin's World Polyamory Conference to cover it, but apparently nothing came of this.