For polyamorous families, three hearts are better than two
Reggie Alexander is a good-natured guy. It's a trait that serves him well.
Sitting on the couch in his Denver home, he's holding hands on his right with his wife, Eeza Alexander, who is dark-eyed, playful and eager to let Reggie know when he's made a bad joke. His left hand, meanwhile, is intertwined with that of Cassidy Browning, who is thoughtful and confident.
Reggie and Eeza and Cassidy, all in their mid- to late forties, are a couple. Well, not a couple. They are a polyamorous triad — a group of three committed partners living together in a relationship under one roof. In their case, Reggie explains, he acts as the "hinge partner. It's a relationship where the person at the center of the V is fully involved with both of the people at the ends of the V, but they are not as fully involved with each other as they are with the person at the center."
And after six years of living in this group, Reggie is used to being in the middle of everything — including their California king-sized bed. "It's hard to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom," he laughs. "It's an athletic accomplishment."
The literal definition of polyamory is "many loves." But in practice, the term usually applies to non-monogamous but ethical relationships where the people involved believe in honesty, consent, open communication and trust. In fact, the general principles of polyamory are similar to those of monogamy; you just have to do the same things more often, and with more partners.
For the most part, mainstream culture has associated polyamory with swinging, hippie love-festing, cheating and, of course, certain religious groups, either current or historic. The Mormons, the most well-known of these, no longer officially embrace polygamy, but some splinter groups still practice it.
But the image of polyamory is changing, especially with reality-TV shows like Sister Wives and Polyamory: Married and Dating. And, anecdotally, many monogamous couples are changing their relationships to be what sex-advice columnist Dan Savage calls "monogamish."
In fact, Reggie, Eeza and Cassidy believe that having a long-term relationship with more than one person is a significant accomplishment at a time when divorce rates in the U.S. continue to increase, nasty breakups seem to be the norm, and everyone knows someone who isn't getting their needs met in a monogamous relationship.
"Our society...is looking for alternative dynamics that work," says Reggie. "The days of the traditional nuclear family being the only model are giving way to other options."
That tradition is how Reggie and Eeza got their start. The two fell in love in high school in Edmond, Oklahoma, and got married in 1984, before Reggie graduated. They moved to Colorado shortly thereafter, and Reggie worked in the public sector while Eeza took a job as a certified nurse's assistant. They also had two children.
Over the next decade, however, Reggie and Eeza watched many of their friends go through messy divorces, and when the couple's best friends decided to split, they decided to try something different with their own marriage. "I have always believed in the idea of a poly lifestyle, even when I didn't know it had an official name," says Reggie. "I always felt I had more than enough love to give to more than just one woman, but I never acted on it."
"We were curious about the kink lifestyle but hadn't done anything before the polyamory," Eeza adds.
After spending three years discussing what they wanted out of a new relationship dynamic, they tried Polymatchmaker.com, an online dating site with a specific theme — and found Cassidy.
Cassidy was born in Michigan and lived in New York and Arizona before moving to Denver, where she has worked at various colleges and nonprofits. She had been married twice (once for six years and once for ten) and was coming out of her second divorce when she decided to explore polyamory. She had been interested in alternative sex scenes, but polyamory was something entirely different.
"I had always been intrigued by the idea of being polyamorous," says Cassidy. "I experimented briefly with it during my second marriage, but it wasn't successful. After that divorce — not caused by the poly experiment — I consciously went out to find a polyamorous situation."
After trading e-mails, the three met in person in 2006, at a Christmas party being held by the local polyamorous community, and they hit it off right away. "We dated for a short time and then convinced her to move in with us," says Reggie. "We haven't let her escape yet."
But making the relationship work, physically and emotionally, wasn't easy — and it took time.
"I got jealous big-time in the beginning," Eeza says. "It's just something you have to work through. I still get jealous every once in a while, but I've learned to deal with it. Reggie does his best to make us feel special."
"Disagreements are dealt with by ranting, raving and pouting until the ladies realize I was right all along," says Reggie. "Just kidding. They are dealt with like any other relationship, except there are more people involved. I tend to be the kind of person who holds a lot of frustrations inside until it all boils over, and then we sit down, maybe yell a bit, and finally discuss and negotiate like adults until the issue has been resolved."
"Personally, I think it's important in poly to have a structure, know who's in charge," Cassidy says, and she and Reggie have worked one out by engaging in what they call a "power exchange." Best described as a BDSM, master/slave dynamic, Cassidy has negotiated a structured submission to Reggie. He takes the responsibility of making major decisions so Cassidy is free to focus her energy on the tasks assigned by him.
It may sound oppressive, but it's what they both want. "It seems to help with conflict resolution as well as decision making," says Cassidy. "It adds a level of responsibility, but it works well as long as the communication is good. Trust and respect are the keys."
A power-exchange relationship is not Eeza's thing, however. She prefers a more loosely based understanding of each person's role in the relationship. "As with many marriages, we tried many things," she points out. "I found out that I was not into the BDSM sex or the submissive side of it. I wanted to be top dog, but you can't have two top dogs."
And although threesomes are a common male fantasy, the reality in poly relationships doesn't always play out that way — as Reggie discovered early on.
"The two women in our group don't have sex with each other, although we do sleep in the same bed," says Cassidy. "It just didn't turn out to be something we wanted. We each have private time with Reggie, and there is no problem with having sex while the other is around."
Reggie adds, "In the beginning of the relationship, we did briefly explore a threesome sexual relationship, but the ladies decided it just wasn't what they wanted. We do all sleep in the same bed every night, although we also have a schedule in place where each of the ladies has one-on-one time with me several times a week. I am fortunate enough that being affectionate or even sexual with one of them in the presence of the other is not usually an issue."
Their living situation did prove to be helpful in many other ways, though, especially when it comes to their family income, responsibilities and goals.
Shortly after getting together, the trio started a small business, Poly's Pleasures Chainmail. Using updated fourteenth-century technology, they hand-create jewelry, halter tops, bikinis, skirts, panties and even kilts out of chain mail. They've sold their pieces to stores and travel to trade shows nationwide.
At the same time they started Poly's Pleasures, Reggie and Cassidy began writing erotic fiction together. "As a part of our power-exchange relationship, we discussed many things, including Cassidy's life goals, one of which was to become a published author," Reggie says. "So I helped her achieve that goal by setting her daily assignments and helping her plot the book, and I wrote the sex scenes for her."
A year and a half later, they finished the manuscript, Becoming Sage, a BDSM coming-out story that is partly based on Cassidy's own experiences; using the pen name Kasi Alexander, she and Reggie wrote a second novel as well, called Saving Sunni. They have also written four other books under different names. "We vended at the very first RomCon in Denver, and we were off to the races," Reggie says. The trio now travels to conventions nationwide to present the books.
Eeza is also working on two manuscripts — paranormal romance stories — but she hasn't been published yet. "I help her when she needs it, but she is very independent," Reggie says. "We are hoping she will be able to get at least one of them out later this year."
In addition to writing, the group also does a lot of talking. In particular, they spend time explaining their lifestyle to family and friends, associates and acquaintances — mostly trying to educate them about what poly isn't (a no-holds-barred, free-for all naked orgy) along with what it is (a committed relationship, like any other).
"Swingers have sex, poly people have conversations — lots and lots of conversations," Reggie says. "To me, they are related but different subsets of the alternative-lifestyle arena."
For Reggie and Eeza, those conversations began with their two grown daughters.
"We have always been very open with our children, answering their questions when they had them and such," says Reggie. "So when we decided to give poly a chance, we sat them down and explained what we were doing so they wouldn't think anything underhanded was going on.
"Our youngest daughter was mostly okay with the situation from the beginning," he continues, "with only a few instances of being upset at me for thinking I was doing something wrong. Our oldest daughter, on the other hand, was not happy about the situation in the beginning. As time went on and she saw that our marriage didn't end and that her mother wasn't being taken advantage of, she came to understand that it was the right thing for us to do, and she usually doesn't resent me for it anymore."
Conversations at work have been less successful, however.
"It has definitely caused issues in the past," says Cassidy. "When I told my boss that I was poly, it changed our work relationship drastically. For five years after that, things deteriorated. When I told her I had written a book about alternative relationships, she started looking for a way to lay me off. She found it."
Eeza adds: "We've run into conflict with hotels where we had to get two rooms instead of one. I had problems at my job because of it. I would be out to family, but never again at work."
"We are fairly open and out with most of the people who know us," says Reggie. "We try not to be obnoxious about it, but we're certainly not afraid to discuss our relationship or answer questions with anyone who is interested. A real pet peeve of mine is when people think I should not hold hands with, kiss, or show any affection to one or the other of my ladies. I refuse to disrespect them by acting embarrassed by them. I don't get carried away, but if the situation calls for a kiss goodbye, for example, I will kiss them both, and if others don't like it, that's too damn bad. I don't tell mono people they can't show their affection to their partner, and will not be told I can't do the same just because I have two instead of one."
A pretty common question for the ladies is what in the world they could possibly get out of two women sharing one man — without hair-pulling and Jerry Springer-like drama.
Cassidy has a ready answer for this. "Once you get past the notion that your man should never be interested in anyone else, you begin to understand the benefits of having more adults in your household. We share cooking, cleaning and errand duties, we each get a little more 'me' time than we would if we were running individual households, and on those nights when one of us is just not 'in the mood,' there's someone there to take care of Reggie."
Eeza agrees. "It's nice having Cassidy around," she says. "We share the chores and spend many companionable nights doing chain mail together on the couch. We do a lot of girly-type stuff together and enjoy each other's company."
"I love being able to be emotionally connected to more than one other person — to be able to combine my energies, talents and desires with those of my partners and accomplish so much more than I would ever be able to do on my own," explains Reggie. "Both of our businesses are a prime example of this. I tried for twenty years to start a side business and to write a novel, with no success. Once Cassidy joined us, the extra push her energy gave when added to ours allowed us to start and grow a chain-mail jewelry business.
"To me, that in and of itself is the proof that poly can be a great thing for those willing to put the effort into it," he adds.
Thanks to television, polyamorous relationships aren't as foreign of a concept as they used to be, which has helped Reggie, Eeza and Cassidy in some situations.
The TLC reality-show Sister Wives, which debuted in 2010, follows the lives of a salesman named Kody Brown, his four "wives" and their seventeen kids. Brown is legally married to just one of the women, but he considers the other three to be his spiritual wives.
Polyamory: Married & Dating is a Showtime reality series that follows various polyamorous groups as they go through some of the same ups and downs as Reggie, Eeza and Cassidy.
On the one hand, these shows bring general awareness and a degree of demystification to polyamory, Reggie says, but, as with all reality shows, there are some questions about what's real.
"We have watched all of the episodes [of Sister Wives], and I think the Brown family did a really good job the first season showing people that a plural marriage could be happy and healthy for all involved," he says. "It showed that not all plural marriages are done by lunatics who force child brides into a life of misery and abuse, but instead can be done responsibly. As the seasons have gone on, I think they have unfortunately lost their focus and are falling apart."
That's something that Reggie, Eeza and Cassidy hope to avoid — and doing so may require bringing other people into their lifestyle. Eeza, for instance, is open to a new male partner in the future, and Cassidy would like another female partner.
"The divorce rate is skyrocketing," Eeza muses. "Monogamy is obviously not working. It's usually the man that's not happy, because he's not getting enough sex. With poly, there's always someone available who's willing to make the other person happy."
"The old adage 'Nothing in life is free' always comes to mind," says Reggie. "Just because it requires more work doesn't mean it isn't worth pursuing. Poly allows us to be a part of something so much bigger than ourselves, and some of us are just hard-wired to want to be connected to more than one person."
Poly isn't for everyone, and veteran polyamorists will say that it is not a solution for a severely damaged monogamous relationship, nor is it the most effective way to solve every problem that monogamous people face, but it does present a different way of having personal relationships, fulfilling needs and wants — and having functional family units.
"Love is an infinite resource," says Reggie. "It is not meant to be limited to only one person. No one is expected to love only one parent or one child, so why should they be expected to only love one partner? I heard a really nice analogy a number of years ago that went something like this: If you light a second candle from one that is already lit, does it diminish the flame of the first candle? No. So why should loving a second or third person diminish the love for the first?"
With that in mind, they may have to buy a bigger bed.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.