For a sliver of America, HBO's "Big Love," a Sunday
night television show about a man "married" to three
women, isn't just a weekly hour of drama. It's the way
They call themselves "poly people" or "polyamorists''
-- people who say they have marriage-like commitments to
more than one person.
The idea conjures up images of group sex, though it's
not always a free for all: Not all of the partners
necessarily sleep with each other, but they do have what
they call deep emotional connections. It's negotiated
non-monogamy where the goal is falling in love. A lot.
In "Big Love," the husband shares three adjacent
houses, alternating nights with his trio of wives. In
real life, the poly life isn't always so neat. Many
report living with their "primary partner'' but spending
lots of time with the "secondary'' partner or partners.
A 36-year-old Oak Park man who calls himself Minx
lives alone. His male partner is married to a woman, and
those two live in Madison, Wis. Minx isn't involved
physically with the woman, but he talks on the phone
with her about once a week, and they text message each
other more than that.
When Minx marked his four years with the male
partner, the woman helped celebrate. Minx, on the
married couple's anniversary, made the two breakfast
"just as you might do for a very good friend."
"It's a lot of work to make all the relationships
work harmoniously, to be sure. But the payoff is in the
depth and breadth of emotional connections that stem
from the communication required,'' said Minx, who hosts
a weekly podcast -- an Internet radio show -- on the
Not driven by
Manelqua Hinton, 61, has two women he calls "wives''
-- Mary, 52, and Kristi, 26 -- though none of the three
is married in the eyes of the law. After being with Mary
for six years, Hinton invited Kristi to join them in
what polys call a "triad.'' About 18 months ago, Kristi
gave birth to a girl; Mary calls the child her
Just outside of French Lick, Ind., the three live on
a 175-acre site dubbed "Our Haven,'' which will be the
site of the Heartland Polyamory Conference scheduled for
May. The four-day meeting will include seminars for
polys on "clarity of communications'' and "poly
The characters in "Big Love" are portrayed as
renegade Mormons. But Hinton, like many polys, isn't
motivated by religious beliefs.
As a 17-year-old married Marine heading off to fight
in Vietnam, he and his wife gave each other permission
to sleep with other people while he was away. And they
did. When he came home, the two split up, but not
because of any hard feelings regarding their
extramarital affairs. "Combat made me a 40-year-old,
[and] she was still a kid,'' explained Hinton.
Ten years ago, he met Mary, who had also previously
lived in poly arrangements. Hinton said his promise with
Mary is "for eternity.'' The promise to Kristi is to
stay with her "as long as love lasts.''
They share one bedroom. He's sometimes asked by the
women to leave them alone together, he said.
The secret, Hinton said, is to "be totally open and
honest. If something bothers you, you have to say it now
and not later. It takes a lot of love and trust.''
Kristi declined an interview. But, said Mary, "I'm
lucky to have two very supportive, good friends.''
Hinton says he is open to adding another man to the
group, should one of the women desire that. Mary doesn't
rule it out, but she has no desire now.
Polys, like Lisa, 46, an Evanston woman with two male
partners, argue that with divorce levels at nearly 50
percent of new marriages and, in some surveys, 15
percent of married people admitting to cheating, their
lives are more honest.
"Lying and hurting people [is] immoral. Everyone I'm
involved with knows about everyone else,'' says Lisa,
who works in publishing.
Critics say polygamy is not "Big Love'' -- it's big
"It's all about 'my wants.' It's radical
individualism,'' said child and family psychologist Bill
Maier, a vice president with Focus on the Family, a
Colorado-based Christian ministry.
Maier said the polys who consider themselves married
are anything but because marriage is about "putting the
other ahead of you.''
"Polyamorist relationships [are] about 'me-me-me.'
And that's why they're bound to fail,'' Maier said.
In poly arrangements "women are objectified --
they're collected like a commodity. Women always lose in
a poly society,'' Maier said.
In HBO's "Big Love," jealousy marks the relationship
among the three wives. For real poly people, that part
of the show rings truest.
'Not a choice
"There's a myth out there that polyamorous people are
beyond jealousy ... I'm not so blessed,'' says Lisa.
With two men, says Lisa, "I manage my emotions, and I
try not to let them influence my behavior too much. But
I do get very jealous at times.''
But, New York poly relationship psychotherapist Nan
Wise argues, "Jealousy is not terminal.''
Wise, 48, and her husband each have a partner. She
confirms that jealousy is common but that it comes from
envy -- one partner feeling left out of the group,
which, she said, is an easily remedied situation.
Instead, she teaches "compersion," a poly-created word
defined as the opposite of jealousy in which partners
learn to enjoy the pleasure a partner has with someone
"You can have your cake and eat it, too,'' said Wise.
Most polys, particularly those raising children, shy
from outside attention. They don't want problems at
work, and they fear child welfare officials may try to
take custody of their kids.
For Maier, polys having children is horrifying.
"Think about it from a child's perspective: 'Who is my
mom? Who is my dad?' The kids need a family tree just to
figure out who's who.''
Wise's children are now 21 and 18, but when they were
younger, one asked her and her legal husband, "Why can't
you just be like other parents and get divorced?''
Today, she says, "largely, they're very accepting of who
Robyn Trask, the publisher of Loving More, a magazine
for poly people with a circulation of about 1,000, has a
husband with female partners, while she has two other
male partners. Her 18-year-old son believes he, too,
will be poly, she said. But her 15-year-old son thinks
poly is "weird" and is angry about it, she said.
Trask, whose car sports a "Got Intimacy'' bumper
sticker, says being poly "is not a choice for me.''
After breaking off seven marriage engagements -- the
promise of monogamy kept derailing her -- she met her
like-minded husband. Today, she says, she can live no