On the evening of their winter solstice party in 2012, Jelly and David appeared to be living the life of a normal married couple. The decorations had been hung throughout their home with care. He was putting the last touches on the food. She had just finished setting napkins out, looking for strategic spots. Their kids were tucked away snugly with grandparents for the evening. She surveyed the work they’d done together, trying to feel satisfied. But inside, she was empty. She stared at her husband and sighed deeply. It might not have been the right time but it suddenly seemed as though it was the only time. She couldn’t wait any longer.
“I want us to be polyamorous.”
David felt the abrupt surprise and stared back silently. For Jelly, this was a discussion long overdue. They had both been introduced to polyamory and the whole concept of ethical non-monogamy years before by a close friend of theirs who openly lived the practice. It’s easy to confuse with other ideas of open relationships, like swinging or polygamy, but polyamory is entirely different. It essentially creates a relationship network where multiple consenting adults can be involved with each other on different levels and have partnerships that extend beyond one person. Ethical non-monogamy allows people to form healthier, more complete relationships in many circumstances. When Jelly first heard the word, she realized that was who she had always needed to be.
“I was the cheater,” she said immediately, when asked about the decision to open their marriage. “The story about women and the need for sexual fulfillment isn’t the one people hear, but that was the situation for me.” Extramarital affairs were an ongoing part of their relationship for the first dozen years, only stopping for the pregnancies and births of their children. But even before her marriage, monogamy was a struggle for Jelly. Her first relationship in her teenage years was with two boys who were best friends.
Things were different after she got married, but the infidelity stayed constant. It started to wear on both of them. She lived in a state of perpetual fear — fear of discovery, fear of pain, fear of something going wrong with the delicate threads that kept their life together. Following a health scare, they had shifted from total silence to a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, so David knew there were things going on. But knowing that it was happening wasn’t the same as supporting it. David had been her best friend for so many years now and they shared everything — except for this. It left a chasm in their hearts. She knew there had to be something better. After a lot of lengthy discussions, they agreed to try a polyamorous lifestyle with separate relationships.
The execution wasn’t easy. They still had all the same feelings and potential pitfalls from their monogamous relationship. When David began another relationship, despite her best intentions, Jelly was consumed with envy. With time, however, they both got more comfortable. They went on more dates and created more bonds. They hosted events and educated other people about the love they’d found in polyamorous life.
Now, Jelly has two partners she sees often — George has joined the family, in more ways than one. Although he doesn’t cohabitate, their relationship isn’t any less significant than the one she has with David. They share their trials and tribulations. He cooks, watches the kids and takes care of things with a similar zeal Jelly and David do. She continues to go on dates and pursue relationships outside both relationships, with everyone’s full support. Although infidelity is certainly possible in polyamorous relationships, her problems with cheating have faded completely. Having an environment of love, openness and communication was essential to creating a healthier life for all of them.
“I want to put our story out there because there just aren’t good models out there for the community. There’s no Ozzie and Harriet and June, you know?” she laughed. And she’s right — the absence of cooperative, adult relationships in our media is noticeable. Infidelity storylines play out repeatedly, but three or more people operating together isn’t commonplace. Her polycule — the network of partners, lovers, metas and caretakers that make up her world — is not only more stable than when she was in a monogamous marriage, but it also lets her lead a richer life.
“It’s a ‘build your own relationship,'” she says, “Like back in the day, when people built their own computers and they looked funky and did different things. That’s what we’re doing with our relationships. We all just want to build something that works for us.”