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Opening the Door on Polyamory
Rick Polito
   Marin Independent Journal


   WHEN "Big Love" premieres on HBO tonight and Bill Paxton's character comes
   home to not one but three wives, viewers are going to be tuning into a lot
   more than what they see on the screen.

   Call it polygamy, polyamory or a group marriage, but any step outside the
   two-by-two  tradition  is  a  topic  loaded  with  layers of guilt and

   Deborah  Anapol  has  sifted  through most of those layers in 30 years
   analyzing, living and providing therapy to alternate lifestyles in many
   manifestations. The San Rafael psychologist and author of "Love Without
   Limits" isn't sure "Big Love" is going to get it right but at least the idea
   is creeping out of the closet. Gay characters on TV shows have been hailed
   as fostering acceptance. "Hopefully this show will do something like that
   for polyamory," Anapol says.

   But, she says, it would take a lot more than an HBO series to clear up all
   the misconceptions about romances that go beyond two partners.

   "I'm not sure how realistic the show is going to be," she says.

   Among that biggest misconceptions, Anapol says, is that it's non-stop sex.
   "A lot of people think polyamory and swinging are the same thing," Anapol
   says. "Polyamory means many loves not many sex partners."

   In some ways, polyamory is much like monogamy, Anapol says. Most of the
   relationship happens outside the bedroom. "One of the biggest difficulties
   that people have in polymamorous relationships, once they get past jealousy,
   is time management," Anapol says. Pointing to the "Big Love" story she adds.
   "If you've got three different wives in three different houses, you have
   your hands full."

   Anapol says another major misconception, is that polyamory is strictly a
   man's game. While men with multiple wives has been a model in cultures
   around the world, many women are living the exception, she says. That's not
   the plot line in "Big Love" but it happens. "While women have been more
   thoroughly socialized than men to be monogamous, once woman break out of
   their conditioning, they are equally interested or maybe more interested in
   having more than one partner," Anapol says.

   People outside the polyamory community also believe the relationships are
   inherently unstable. While they can be more complicated, with additional
   personalities stirring the pot, group marriages can also be lasting. "There
   are people who have been in open marriages for 20, 30, 40 years," she says.

   Anapol was drawn to the subject, and later the lifestyle, in her first years
   as a psychotherapist. By the time she was 30, she'd been divorced twice and
   her  practice had exposed her to what she calls "the casualties of the
   nuclear family."

   Nuclear families Anapol claims are not historically the norm. Before World
   War II, most people lived in extended families with multiple generations
   under  one roof. Polyamory could be seen as a variation on that. Where
   nuclear families might be overextended, polyamorous homes have multiple
   adults supporting the family financially and around the home. She counts the
   idea  that  such  situations  are  bad  for children among the biggest
   misconceptions of all. "As long as everybody is getting along reasonably
   well, it is terrific for children," she says. "They don't have the same
   kinds of judgments that older people do."

   In some cases, Anapol says, polyamorism might even save a marriage. The
   spouse who is looking for other partners can be up front about it. It might
   be a difficult topic to approach, Anapol says, "but it's lot harder to have
   that talk of 'guess what I did?'" Still, tension doesn't disappear in an
   open marriage either. Many of the clients she sees in counseling are there
   to unravel polyamorous relationship issues. "People think you can take all
   the things that don't work in a couples relationship, add more people and
   somehow its going to work and it just doesn't."

   Anapol knows these ideas are not well-received everywhere. Polyamory and
   polygamy are deep taboos. In many minds, she notes, it is "the quickest way
   to go to hell."

   "There is still this very strong religious taboo."

   Even people with no particular religious beliefs are molded by the culture.
   "You get it in movies," she says. "Either somebody dies, somebody shoots
   somebody, somebody lives out there life in misery. There is very rarely a
   happy ending when somebody violates a monogamy contract."

   But Anapol believes perceptions are changing. "I've already seen a day when
   its more accepted. It's much more accepted now that it was in the past."

   "Big Love" might be part of that. "You never would have seen a television
   show about polygamy in the past. You might have had a single episode of some
   medical series or legal series," Anapol says. "To have a whole series was

   "Big Love" could force people to think past the misconceptions, she adds.

   "They might even learn a little bit from HBO."


   Richard Polito can be reached at

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