Something that various family and friends have asked me about, since I got engaged to timpootle, is how the concept of marriage can possibly be compatible with polyamory.
I paraphrase below (not a direct quote, but it gives an idea) an example of how the question is phrased:
The idea of you getting married puzzles me.
I take marriage vows very seriously.
A marriage is about making a commitment to one person for the rest of your life.
I understand people wondering why I am marrying Tim.
I guess it depends what one regards as the 'core values' of marriage. The English/Christian tradition is monogamy. In some other parts of the world one can have multiple marriages and multiple wives/husbands.
I take the vows seriously, and I do see it as a very important life-time commitment.
But I don't see it as, necessarily, needing to be an exclusive commitment, just with one person - Tim and I won't be promising to love each other 'foresaking all others'.
If, in the future, another partner and I were to feel that we wanted to make a lifetime commitment to one another as well, then I think we could.
Of course, in English law I can only have one marriage certificate, but one can draw up equivalent legal documentation to confer rights on (and financial links with) another partner, and of course one could have some kind of commitment ceremony to go with it.
Considering my relationship with my fiancé, Tim:
Tim and I have been romantically involved for 7 and a half years, and living together for 7 of those years. We have reached the point where we want to commit to our mutual love, for our life-times; and to give one another legal/financial rights too.
So the point of marrying Tim, as far as I am concerned, is for he and I to declare our commitment in front of family and friends, and to strengthen the ties between us in law as well.
By far the best way to accomplish this, in the UK, is to have a non-religious marriage ceremony.
So, where would other partners fit in to this?
There is an inevitable imbalance between my different polyamorous relationships, and I believe that imbalance would exist even if I didn't marry Tim, because my relationships are each very different.
My relationships are at different stages/phases, and/or are conducted differently from one another, in various ways, due to a number of factors:
e.g. - How long the relationship has existed - one is in a very different 'emotional place' with a partner of 30 years then one is perhaps with a partner of 8 years, or with a partner of 2 months.
e.g. - Geography - a long-distance relationship will have a different dynamic from a relationship with a local partner, which is different again from that with a cohabiting partner.
e.g. - My partner's other commitments - is that partner monogamous to me? Or do they have other partners/family to consider as well?
So I don't think of marriage as creating an imbalance; partly because there are plenty of differences between one's relationships already; but also because, as I have suggested above, I think my partners and I could take steps to equalise differences, if I found myself at some time in the future wanting to commit (for life) to another partner as well as Tim.
As I see it, with any new polyamorous relationship, there are several possible outcomes for the future:
- One possibility is that the pair of us come to realise that we don't 'click' romantically, and revert to simply being friends.
- Another possibility is that we continue to be involved romantically long-term, though remain separate financially/geographically and are happy for the relationship to exist pretty much like that forever.
- And a third possibility is that we find ourselves wanting to make a more formal commitment further down the line, and live together, etc. In that event, we might consider having a 'commitment ceremony' akin to a wedding ceremony, and we could draw up some legal paperwork, similar to marriage rights, to link us financially etc - the paperwork gets complex here, but I know of other polyamorous triads/quads/etc who have made it work for them, in the UK.
So, in my head, the point of a marriage within a polyamorous set-up is almost the same as the point of a 'normal' monogamous marriage - it is still a life-time commitment to one I love - for me the only difference is the exclusivity bit, in that I have more than one love.
And for me, that isn't an issue: - further down the line, should another partner and I end up feeling we want to be married, we could construct a similar (though in British law it can't, currently, be identical) ceremony and legal framework for our 'marriage'.
I know of several other poly people who have a wife/husband and make a marriage work alongside other relationships very well. I would be interested to read their thoughts on how they make it work; how it fits for them, within the polyamorous mind-set.