The Many Ways of Love

Post by Nikki Starcat Shields for the Love for Love series.


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The Many Ways of Love

So, here’s the thing: I have two love partners. One is my husband of 21 years, Matthew. We have two teenage kids. My other partner is Brent, and we own an online business together. We’ve been together six years. Matt also has another love partner, a delightful woman named Ocean. We all live together, except for Ocean, who has her own home about an hour’s drive from us. We’re polyamorous, and it works for us.

I should stop here for a moment and define polyamory. The term usually describes people with more than one long-term love interest. Polyamory, or poly for short, can mean different things depending on who you ask. Wikipedia defines it as “the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” It’s not the same as polygamy, which usually has a top-down hierarchical structure. Generally speaking, people involved in polyamorous relationships value equality, honesty, openness, and respect.

People who are poly can be of any sexual orientation. In our case, we’re heterosexual, and the sexual aspect of our relationships are expressed in private couple time. Matt and I share a bedroom, as we have for years, and two or three nights each week, he goes to visit Ocean or she visits us here, and I spend those nights with Brent in his room.

Our daily life is much like that of any family. The kids are used to having multiple adults around, and it really comes in handy when getting them to their soccer practices, social gatherings, and other events. For the most part, our friends and extended families are used to our unusual setup and take it in stride. People in the local community, like the other soccer Moms, seem to assume that Matt and I are divorced but still friendly, and that Brent is the stepdad. No one really freaks out about it.

That’s not to say that the path leading to where we are now was easy. Far from it.

The first decision that Matt and I made was in college, when we first got together. We had experienced (with our previous partners) the devastating effects of lying and cheating. Instead of adversaries, we wanted to be allies, with a relationship based on mutual love and trust. We decided if we were going to be together, we were going to be honest with one another. This meant acknowledging when one of us was attracted to someone else. Gradually, over a period of years, this led us to an exclusive relationship with another couple.

That relationship, and those that came after, brought us through the process of examining some deeply-held beliefs and old patterns. We carefully worked through and released our feelings of jealousy and fears of abandonment. Polyamory is a lot of work, and involves being respectful of one another’s emotions, even when they don’t seem to make sense. Hours of discussion, heartfelt tears, and ever-evolving rules are par for the course.

Why would we want to complicate the already tricky area of relationships? For me, it’s all about love. I believe that love is the energy that powers the universe. We human beings are brought together in order to teach one another, and to find our way to the love, joy, and compassion that is our birthright. Sometimes we relate as friends, or family, or as teacher and student.

Other times, the chemistry and energy is such that we are attracted to one other and wish to be lovers. If we’re already involved in a relationship at that point, we must either deny those feelings or things go downhill quickly. Our culture has many complex rules surrounding romantic relationships, and often glamorizes adultery while giving lip service to the value of monogamy. We’re taught from childhood on that there’s only one true love for us. But what if you fall in love with someone new, and still love your current partner? What if your partner does? Love in this context is usually frowned upon.

Don’t get me wrong, polyamory isn’t for everyone.

Traditional monogamy works just fine for a lot of people. But what about those of us for whom it feels like a restrictive and outmoded form? When Brent and I first connected, we discovered that we had a lot of amazing soul work to share, and it was bound up in our passionate feelings of love for one another. Yet I wasn’t in any way ready to turn away from the deep love and partnership that Matthew and I have nurtured over the years. Polyamory allows us to explore various expressions of love and relationship, in a way that respects our individual and shared experiences.

Love is the basis of how I wish to be in the world. The song “Love Is My Religion” by Ziggy Marley is kind of a personal anthem for us. Sure, there are days when we argue or get annoyed with one another or have misunderstandings. But for the most part, we approach our relationships from a place of love and respect. It is my intention to approach life with as much trust and kindness as possible, and to let love take shape where and how it will, with the mutual agreement of all the involved partners.

If you’d like to read more about my family’s polyamory journey, click here to access my Rethinking Everything magazine article, “Surrounded by Love: Our Alternative Family.”

Nikki Starcat Shields is a writer, Mom, blogger, Reiki healer, and licensed priestess. She offers her insights, antics, and reverent joy at Starcat’s Corner. Nikki is the author of the forthcoming book “Starcat’s Corner: Essays on Pagan Living.” She shares her calling at her business, Feline Dreamers

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