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What does marriage mean to you? The polyamorous couple

By Kim Huynh - 17 October 2017 12

Michael and Angel define love in all its forms.

With the same-sex marriage survey results imminent, Kim Huynh asks some notable Canberrans for their insights and experiences on marriage. This week he speaks to Angel and Michael, a polyamorous couple whose love, trust and understanding for one another has been strengthened by partnering with others.

Kim:  How did you meet?

Michael: We were high school sweethearts. I was her safety date to the formal.

Angel: He was the person I went with because I didn’t have anyone else to go with. He was the backup.

Kim: When did you decide that the polyamorous path was right for you?

Angel: It was three or four years in. We knew that it was going to be a long-term relationship, but we were each other’s first serious partners, and we both wanted to have relationships and experiences with other people. At the same time, we didn’t want to break up, because we were still madly in love with one another. First, we decided to have a physically open relationship. We were like that for about four years, and then we decided that we both had the capacity to feel romantically for other people without it negatively affecting our relationship. So, we became poly.

Michael: That was after we moved to Canberra where we encountered more open-minded people than you would find in the buckle of Queensland’s bible belt.

Kim: Why did you get married?

Angel: Legal protection is the main reason. So that I was recognised as Michael’s next of kin, and to make it easier for things like home ownership.

Michael: Also, it was an opportunity to catch up with family and have a good party and holiday!

Kim: I spoke to a marriage celebrant who told me that one of the essential parts of a legal ceremony is the monitum where the celebrant declares that, ‘According to the law in Australia, marriage is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others’. Was that requirement of exclusivity difficult for you to sign up to?

Michael: We had to discuss and decide how that would work for us. What Angel and I share is exclusively ours. I don’t share what I have with Angel with my girlfriends, and she doesn’t share what she has with me with her boyfriends.

Kim: Polyamorous relationships are commonly marked by ‘compersion’. What’s compersion?

Angel: Compersion is the sense of joy that you get when you see someone you love getting joy from someone else’s company. I absolutely feel it when I see Michael and his girlfriend together. They’re the most adorable couple. It makes me happy to see them together and happy.

Michael: If you see your child playing with a puppy and squealing with joy, then you feel joy yourself. That’s essentially what compersion is. I appreciate the intimacy that Angel has with her boyfriend, and I like that. I like seeing people I care about enjoying themselves and feeling pleasure. It’s like the opposite of jealousy or envy.

Angel: There’s this perception that when it comes to romantic relationships, we only have so much love to give. That doesn’t apply to other types of relationships, which I think is limiting. The fact that I love my boyfriend doesn’t in any way lessen my love for my husband. I just get and give double the love, which is beautiful.

Michael: Not only that, it takes the pressure off. There’s this idea in our society that your spouse has to be your lover, your supporter, your friend, your everything, but if Angel and I are having a really bad day or week, one of us doesn’t have to suck it up and look after the other one. Instead, I can say to my girlfriend, ‘Hey, Angel is not feeling so good, I need some support’, and I can get true emotional support – even if it’s just a chat over the phone – without having to overburden my wife.

Angel: Communication is key. It’s especially important for poly couples and it’s something that’s improved in our relationship since we became polyamorous. It forced us to be honest and open about some dark and difficult things, especially early on when there was jealousy. We had to talk about how we felt and why, which brought us closer and improved our understanding of one another. It’s also enhanced the trust in our relationship. I completely trust Michael. I’m not concerned that he’ll ever cheat on me because he’ll just tell me that he wants to see someone else and that’s fine.

Michael: Time management is important. Shared calendars are very useful to tell others when you are available and when you’re not. I must keep an eye on what’s going on in not only Angel and my girlfriend’s lives, but also in Angel’s boyfriend’s life.

Kim: You talk about ‘coming out’ as polyamorous because it’s part of your identity. How do people react when you come out?

Angel: Usually people are supportive. Most people just need to understand what it’s about. I tend to get a lot of questions from people, but in a positive way. They’re just curious.

Michael: I came out to my family at a Christmas dinner. My father said, ‘I’ve got a lot of questions about that.’ My mother said, ‘Who wants dessert?’ But the next year, my mother invited me and my then-girlfriend, and Angel and her then-boyfriend up for Christmas. We made a family trip of it.

Kim: Bigamy, having more than one spouse, is an offence. If it wasn’t, would you be open to the prospect of taking on additional spouses?

Michael: There’s a lot of legal complications involved with having multiple marriages. Monogamy comes with protections and assurances. If I was in a car accident and was in a coma, Angel would decide about my medical care. Those decisions would be more difficult and complicated if I had two wives.

Angel: That’s also where I stand. I’ve had a partner in the past who was for all intents and purposes a life partner, but there would have to be a lot of legislative reform before I would consider marrying another person.

Kim: So your resistance to polygamy is more logistical than moral?

Angel and Michael: Absolutely. Yes.

Kim: How would your relationship be different if you had chosen monogamy? Do you think you would still be together?

Michael: I don’t know about that. Our communication and time management skills have improved a lot, largely from being in a polyamorous relationship. Over the years, thanks to the experiences that we have with other partners, our relationship has grown stronger. We fight and disagree less. We are happier, we put less stress on one another. It works for us.

Angel: I would love to think that Michael and I would still be together, because I love him dearly and can’t imagine life without him. At the same time, I acknowledge that because we got together quite young and were inexperienced, I wonder if I would have resented that. I’m a strong and independent person who likes to have new experiences, so monogamy might have created tension between us and stopped me from exploring who I am.

Kim Huynh is a RiotACT columnist, ANU lecturer, and radio presenter. This interview was originally aired on ABC Radio Canberra Drive.

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12 Responses to
What does marriage mean to you? The polyamorous couple
Garfield 10:52 am 22 Oct 17

dungfungus said :

Garfield said :

dungfungus said :

Garfield said :

dungfungus said :

I had never heard of the word “polyamorous” before.
It appears to be made up to suit the occasion and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe “menage a trois plus one” would have suited better?

Anyhow, in the context of the traditional definition of marriage it would seem that adultery is the outcome even though the parties are “consenting adults”.

To me, a very shallow relationship.

Maybe try googling a word before calling it made up. Your description of it as a menage-a-trois plus one is also questionable as there is no indication in the article that they’re all engaging in group sex. Your characterisation of their relationship as shallow and indication that monogamy is necessary for a deep relationship is projecting your own values onto others. Their relationship appears to have lasted longer than many others and looks set to continue for some time, so I say good on them for finding something that works well for them.

I did check my 1976 La Trobe University endorsed dictionary which had a word “polyandry” which means “the practice of having more than one husband at a time” which is close to the situation described in the OP and as I lived most of my life without Google to influence my decision making I said it “appeared” the word had been made up. Note that qualification – I didn’t say it had unreservedly been made up.
The phrase “menage a trois” literally means “a family of three” and makes no mention of “group sex” and I didn’t allude to that either. You have however made assumption that group sex is part of it.

Nor have I tried to “project my own values on others” as you suggest.
By stating my opinion that the arrangement as described is “a shallow one” would be I believe consistent with 99% of couples in a monogamous relationship.

You say “good on them”. I have no problem with that.

The historical definition of menage a trois is one that is rarely used these days, and I’d suggest not the definition that occurs to the majority of people, but that’s fine. Considering that English is a living language, you may want to invest in a new dictionary if you prefer using a hard copy reference to the internet, also noting that your 1976 publication actually predates the web.

I’m not sure you’re understanding the point I was making in regards to values. Even if 99% of people did think this was a shallow relationship, the only people who can judge it’s actual depth are those that are in it. Even people who might have tried this type of relationship in the past are not competent to cast judgement on this particular relationship as they’re not participants.

Thank you for your advice but I value the “rarely used” versions of most things you don’t.

I, like my dictionary, predate the web and its offspring (Wikepedia, Urban Dictionary etc.). I have the benefit of using both during my lifetime and I think “books were better”.

However, using the definition of something as it stood in 1976 risks misunderstandings when communicating with people in the present day. I also pre date the web and prefer books to reading things online, but recognise the additional light that can be shed on a subject with the passing of time.

For example, histories written while information is still kept secret by government can tell a very different story to those told afterwards. Let’s say there was a discussion about a couple of aspects of WW2 and one person was using information available at the time and another was using information made public at a later date. The first might say that British success in the Battle of Britain was due to the RAF feeding its pilots lots of carrots to improve their eyesight and that Allied intelligence services behind German lines were miraculously good at discovering and transmitting information. The second person might say that radar and breaking the Enigma code were the actual ingredients.

dungfungus 8:12 am 21 Oct 17

Garfield said :

dungfungus said :

Garfield said :

dungfungus said :

I had never heard of the word “polyamorous” before.
It appears to be made up to suit the occasion and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe “menage a trois plus one” would have suited better?

Anyhow, in the context of the traditional definition of marriage it would seem that adultery is the outcome even though the parties are “consenting adults”.

To me, a very shallow relationship.

Maybe try googling a word before calling it made up. Your description of it as a menage-a-trois plus one is also questionable as there is no indication in the article that they’re all engaging in group sex. Your characterisation of their relationship as shallow and indication that monogamy is necessary for a deep relationship is projecting your own values onto others. Their relationship appears to have lasted longer than many others and looks set to continue for some time, so I say good on them for finding something that works well for them.

I did check my 1976 La Trobe University endorsed dictionary which had a word “polyandry” which means “the practice of having more than one husband at a time” which is close to the situation described in the OP and as I lived most of my life without Google to influence my decision making I said it “appeared” the word had been made up. Note that qualification – I didn’t say it had unreservedly been made up.
The phrase “menage a trois” literally means “a family of three” and makes no mention of “group sex” and I didn’t allude to that either. You have however made assumption that group sex is part of it.

Nor have I tried to “project my own values on others” as you suggest.
By stating my opinion that the arrangement as described is “a shallow one” would be I believe consistent with 99% of couples in a monogamous relationship.

You say “good on them”. I have no problem with that.

The historical definition of menage a trois is one that is rarely used these days, and I’d suggest not the definition that occurs to the majority of people, but that’s fine. Considering that English is a living language, you may want to invest in a new dictionary if you prefer using a hard copy reference to the internet, also noting that your 1976 publication actually predates the web.

I’m not sure you’re understanding the point I was making in regards to values. Even if 99% of people did think this was a shallow relationship, the only people who can judge it’s actual depth are those that are in it. Even people who might have tried this type of relationship in the past are not competent to cast judgement on this particular relationship as they’re not participants.

Thank you for your advice but I value the “rarely used” versions of most things you don’t.

I, like my dictionary, predate the web and its offspring (Wikepedia, Urban Dictionary etc.). I have the benefit of using both during my lifetime and I think “books were better”.

dungfungus 6:35 pm 20 Oct 17

Kim Huynh said :

dungfungus said :

Garfield said :

dungfungus said :

I had never heard of the word “polyamorous” before.
It appears to be made up to suit the occasion and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe “menage a trois plus one” would have suited better?

Anyhow, in the context of the traditional definition of marriage it would seem that adultery is the outcome even though the parties are “consenting adults”.

To me, a very shallow relationship.

Maybe try googling a word before calling it made up. Your description of it as a menage-a-trois plus one is also questionable as there is no indication in the article that they’re all engaging in group sex. Your characterisation of their relationship as shallow and indication that monogamy is necessary for a deep relationship is projecting your own values onto others. Their relationship appears to have lasted longer than many others and looks set to continue for some time, so I say good on them for finding something that works well for them.

I did check my 1976 La Trobe University endorsed dictionary which had a word “polyandry” which means “the practice of having more than one husband at a time” which is close to the situation described in the OP and as I lived most of my life without Google to influence my decision making I said it “appeared” the word had been made up. Note that qualification – I didn’t say it had unreservedly been made up.
The phrase “menage a trois” literally means “a family of three” and makes no mention of “group sex” and I didn’t allude to that either. You have however made assumption that group sex is part of it.

Nor have I tried to “project my own values on others” as you suggest.
By stating my opinion that the arrangement as described is “a shallow one” would be I believe consistent with 99% of couples in a monogamous relationship.

You say “good on them”. I have no problem with that.

If we’re going to have a an etymological discussion, I wouldn’t mind knowing more about the origins of ‘compersion’. I had a quick look in my dictionary and on the interwebs and there’s not a great deal about it despite the fact that it seems to be an eminently sensible word that has broad application. I hope you all have a compersional weekend. K

Not unless you agree to keep the discussion cognitively and linguistically appropriate.

Garfield 3:16 pm 20 Oct 17

Kim Huynh said :

dungfungus said :

Garfield said :

dungfungus said :

I had never heard of the word “polyamorous” before.
It appears to be made up to suit the occasion and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe “menage a trois plus one” would have suited better?

Anyhow, in the context of the traditional definition of marriage it would seem that adultery is the outcome even though the parties are “consenting adults”.

To me, a very shallow relationship.

Maybe try googling a word before calling it made up. Your description of it as a menage-a-trois plus one is also questionable as there is no indication in the article that they’re all engaging in group sex. Your characterisation of their relationship as shallow and indication that monogamy is necessary for a deep relationship is projecting your own values onto others. Their relationship appears to have lasted longer than many others and looks set to continue for some time, so I say good on them for finding something that works well for them.

I did check my 1976 La Trobe University endorsed dictionary which had a word “polyandry” which means “the practice of having more than one husband at a time” which is close to the situation described in the OP and as I lived most of my life without Google to influence my decision making I said it “appeared” the word had been made up. Note that qualification – I didn’t say it had unreservedly been made up.
The phrase “menage a trois” literally means “a family of three” and makes no mention of “group sex” and I didn’t allude to that either. You have however made assumption that group sex is part of it.

Nor have I tried to “project my own values on others” as you suggest.
By stating my opinion that the arrangement as described is “a shallow one” would be I believe consistent with 99% of couples in a monogamous relationship.

You say “good on them”. I have no problem with that.

If we’re going to have a an etymological discussion, I wouldn’t mind knowing more about the origins of ‘compersion’. I had a quick look in my dictionary and on the interwebs and there’s not a great deal about it despite the fact that it seems to be an eminently sensible word that has broad application. I hope you all have a compersional weekend. K

I’d never heard of the word prior to reading your article. I just found a blog that said there was no word in the English language that meant the opposite of jealousy, so the polyamorous community created it.

Garfield 3:07 pm 20 Oct 17

dungfungus said :

Garfield said :

dungfungus said :

I had never heard of the word “polyamorous” before.
It appears to be made up to suit the occasion and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe “menage a trois plus one” would have suited better?

Anyhow, in the context of the traditional definition of marriage it would seem that adultery is the outcome even though the parties are “consenting adults”.

To me, a very shallow relationship.

Maybe try googling a word before calling it made up. Your description of it as a menage-a-trois plus one is also questionable as there is no indication in the article that they’re all engaging in group sex. Your characterisation of their relationship as shallow and indication that monogamy is necessary for a deep relationship is projecting your own values onto others. Their relationship appears to have lasted longer than many others and looks set to continue for some time, so I say good on them for finding something that works well for them.

I did check my 1976 La Trobe University endorsed dictionary which had a word “polyandry” which means “the practice of having more than one husband at a time” which is close to the situation described in the OP and as I lived most of my life without Google to influence my decision making I said it “appeared” the word had been made up. Note that qualification – I didn’t say it had unreservedly been made up.
The phrase “menage a trois” literally means “a family of three” and makes no mention of “group sex” and I didn’t allude to that either. You have however made assumption that group sex is part of it.

Nor have I tried to “project my own values on others” as you suggest.
By stating my opinion that the arrangement as described is “a shallow one” would be I believe consistent with 99% of couples in a monogamous relationship.

You say “good on them”. I have no problem with that.

The historical definition of menage a trois is one that is rarely used these days, and I’d suggest not the definition that occurs to the majority of people, but that’s fine. Considering that English is a living language, you may want to invest in a new dictionary if you prefer using a hard copy reference to the internet, also noting that your 1976 publication actually predates the web.

I’m not sure you’re understanding the point I was making in regards to values. Even if 99% of people did think this was a shallow relationship, the only people who can judge it’s actual depth are those that are in it. Even people who might have tried this type of relationship in the past are not competent to cast judgement on this particular relationship as they’re not participants.

Kim Huynh 11:06 am 20 Oct 17

dungfungus said :

Garfield said :

dungfungus said :

I had never heard of the word “polyamorous” before.
It appears to be made up to suit the occasion and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe “menage a trois plus one” would have suited better?

Anyhow, in the context of the traditional definition of marriage it would seem that adultery is the outcome even though the parties are “consenting adults”.

To me, a very shallow relationship.

Maybe try googling a word before calling it made up. Your description of it as a menage-a-trois plus one is also questionable as there is no indication in the article that they’re all engaging in group sex. Your characterisation of their relationship as shallow and indication that monogamy is necessary for a deep relationship is projecting your own values onto others. Their relationship appears to have lasted longer than many others and looks set to continue for some time, so I say good on them for finding something that works well for them.

I did check my 1976 La Trobe University endorsed dictionary which had a word “polyandry” which means “the practice of having more than one husband at a time” which is close to the situation described in the OP and as I lived most of my life without Google to influence my decision making I said it “appeared” the word had been made up. Note that qualification – I didn’t say it had unreservedly been made up.
The phrase “menage a trois” literally means “a family of three” and makes no mention of “group sex” and I didn’t allude to that either. You have however made assumption that group sex is part of it.

Nor have I tried to “project my own values on others” as you suggest.
By stating my opinion that the arrangement as described is “a shallow one” would be I believe consistent with 99% of couples in a monogamous relationship.

You say “good on them”. I have no problem with that.

If we’re going to have a an etymological discussion, I wouldn’t mind knowing more about the origins of ‘compersion’. I had a quick look in my dictionary and on the interwebs and there’s not a great deal about it despite the fact that it seems to be an eminently sensible word that has broad application. I hope you all have a compersional weekend. K

dungfungus 9:25 pm 19 Oct 17

Garfield said :

dungfungus said :

I had never heard of the word “polyamorous” before.
It appears to be made up to suit the occasion and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe “menage a trois plus one” would have suited better?

Anyhow, in the context of the traditional definition of marriage it would seem that adultery is the outcome even though the parties are “consenting adults”.

To me, a very shallow relationship.

Maybe try googling a word before calling it made up. Your description of it as a menage-a-trois plus one is also questionable as there is no indication in the article that they’re all engaging in group sex. Your characterisation of their relationship as shallow and indication that monogamy is necessary for a deep relationship is projecting your own values onto others. Their relationship appears to have lasted longer than many others and looks set to continue for some time, so I say good on them for finding something that works well for them.

I did check my 1976 La Trobe University endorsed dictionary which had a word “polyandry” which means “the practice of having more than one husband at a time” which is close to the situation described in the OP and as I lived most of my life without Google to influence my decision making I said it “appeared” the word had been made up. Note that qualification – I didn’t say it had unreservedly been made up.
The phrase “menage a trois” literally means “a family of three” and makes no mention of “group sex” and I didn’t allude to that either. You have however made assumption that group sex is part of it.

Nor have I tried to “project my own values on others” as you suggest.
By stating my opinion that the arrangement as described is “a shallow one” would be I believe consistent with 99% of couples in a monogamous relationship.

You say “good on them”. I have no problem with that.

Garfield 1:56 pm 18 Oct 17

dungfungus said :

I had never heard of the word “polyamorous” before.
It appears to be made up to suit the occasion and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe “menage a trois plus one” would have suited better?

Anyhow, in the context of the traditional definition of marriage it would seem that adultery is the outcome even though the parties are “consenting adults”.

To me, a very shallow relationship.

Maybe try googling a word before calling it made up. Your description of it as a menage-a-trois plus one is also questionable as there is no indication in the article that they’re all engaging in group sex. Your characterisation of their relationship as shallow and indication that monogamy is necessary for a deep relationship is projecting your own values onto others. Their relationship appears to have lasted longer than many others and looks set to continue for some time, so I say good on them for finding something that works well for them.

Kim Huynh 10:41 am 18 Oct 17

No_Nose said :

They sound like a lovely couple who are living their lives the way they want (as consenting adults should be able to).

I was particularly impressed with the way they choose to interpret the monitum and relate that back to their circumstances.

Looking forward to seeing some more in this series.

Thanks very much No Nose. For what it’s worth, I thought Angel and Michael were immensely impressive, intelligent and fun. And I’ve found it enriching to think and talk about what makes for a loving relationship. I’m looking forward to doing a couple more interviews before the survey results are out. Next week it’s with Lady Lynne Cosgrove (who’s married to Sir Peter Cosgrove).

chewy14 6:51 pm 17 Oct 17

No_Nose said :

They sound like a lovely couple who are living their lives the way they want (as consenting adults should be able to).

I was particularly impressed with the way they choose to interpret the monitum and relate that back to their circumstances.

Looking forward to seeing some more in this series.

I think it just perfectly outlines the stupidity of the current SSM debate and the claims that a Yes vote will end up with marriage “equality” of any sort.

As you say this couple has conveniently interpreted the monitum to suit their circumstances instead of actually considering how silly the restrictions are and wondering what marriage is actually for and wondering why the government is so heavily involved in regulating people’s personal relationships.

It seems that being recognised as next of kin seems to be the most important thing?

dungfungus 6:08 pm 17 Oct 17

I had never heard of the word “polyamorous” before.
It appears to be made up to suit the occasion and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe “menage a trois plus one” would have suited better?

Anyhow, in the context of the traditional definition of marriage it would seem that adultery is the outcome even though the parties are “consenting adults”.

To me, a very shallow relationship.

No_Nose 1:42 pm 17 Oct 17

They sound like a lovely couple who are living their lives the way they want (as consenting adults should be able to).

I was particularly impressed with the way they choose to interpret the monitum and relate that back to their circumstances.

Looking forward to seeing some more in this series.

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