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Polyamory for the Practical

What is the purpose of a marriage?

Valid question in this day and age.  Oddly enough, the function of marriage has not really changed all that much.  It is still an economic contract to provide for its members -- especially the children.  However, we've made a serious mistake in family structure in the last fifty years or so.  You see, back when.... shoot, lemme quote a favorite author of mine.  He said it better:

The American core family (father, mother, two or three children) has ceased to be emotionally satisfying -- if it ever was.  It is a creation of our times: mobility, birth control, easy divorce.  Early in this century, the core family was mother, father, four to eight children... and was itself a unit in an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins living near enough (if not in the same house) to be mutually supportive. If a child was ill, Aunt Cora came over to help while Aunt Abby took the other kids into her home.  See Mauve Decade fiction.

With increased mobility and fewer children, this undefined extended-family pattern disappeared almost without its disappearance being noticed.  To the extent to which it was noticed, there was often glee at being free of the nuisance of in-laws and kinfolk.  It took considerably longer to realize that the advantages had disappeared as well.

-- Robert A. Heinlein

There are a lot of solutions to this.  We could return to the extended family pattern.  To some extent, there are people who have re-created the pattern in their own lives.  My parents did this through a combination of having a very large family as a support.  They also had the added benefit of being dedicated church members.  For them, it did work out and as their child, I enjoyed those benefits.

However, I am no churchgoer.  My parents live in the same town, but my only sibling -- a childless brother-- lives 500 miles away.  So, where's the solution?

There are plenty of people who have their various social groups become their support network -- as with my parents and their church.  I do something a little different.  You see, I have more than one spouse.  I have The Prince that I married about nine years ago.  Then I also have a wife and another husband.  Since the state does not recognize a group marriage, we have to set up things on our own that a married couple would take for granted.  We need health insurance for all of us.  We need to make sure that we have our ducks in a row when it comes to legalities.  We have to have up-to-date wills and make sure paper are drawn up to give our spouses acess to us were we to go to the hospital.  We have to provide for support for our children were one of us to pass away and we also need to provide for money for our old age.  All of these things are often state/corporate sponsored in a conventional marriage.  What we had to do was incorporate a family business to be able to enjoy the benefits of being married.  (You can read about another sort of intentional community here ).

There are questions anyone facing a group marriage should ask.  If you think it reads remarkably like the same sort of questions they give you in pre-nuptual counseling, you're right! The basics for making a relationship work are pretty much the same.  Some of these questions are financial in nature, and many are personal.

  • Where shall we live?

  • This is actually a multi-part question, with the deciding factors being income, number of spice (yes, I know people say the plural of spouse is spouses, but I like "spice" better!), and whether or not children are present or wanted.

    Here are some musings on finding housing for a poly family.

  • Will we have children?

  • Will we permit outside relationships and how many?

  • I know this sounds like a strange question in a poly marriage.  After all, it's supposed to be love without limiting.  However, there are polyamorous marriages that have an exclusivity agreement.  The term used among the 'Net community is polyfidelitous , or polyfi .  And even in relationships that aren't there are often agreements about dating.

  • If we permit outside relationships, will there be a provision for adding new spice?

  • How do we handle the money?

  • Do we treat it as a commune and throw all the money into a common pot, or do we feel more comfortable with each person paying a portion of the bills and keeping the finances seperate? My own personal preference, in spite of my general Libertarian leanings, is that in a marriage, throwing everything into a common pot makes more sense.  But, we may be a unique case.  Our marriage is a business as well and we are hungry for capital.

    When my first husband and I married, we did what a lot of married couples do and just pool our money.  When we married our new spice, they did the same thing, so we saw no reason to change a system that worked.  Money earned by spice is family money.  We have a bank account from which we pay our bills, we have a budget and we have a financial plan for the family.  We don't have a large amount of discressionary income, but we do make sure everyone has pocket money for which we do not have to account.

    Now, merging finances like that is taking a big risk with your future.  We are quite aware of this, of course.  I would advise anyone who was considering this as an option to think of several things:

    1. If you have a common bank account -- especially one with a check card or some other easy method of getting at the money -- can you trust everyone on that account to follow the family financial plan? Even if you do know you can trust them with it, are you *comfortable* with that?
    2. Do you have someone who is willing to act as bookkeeper that is going to keep records well enough to be able to explain what's going on with the money at the drop of a hat? (This ties into the trust issue, so that no-one feels left out of the loop).
    3. If there is any great income disparity among spice, is the person who earns the most feeling put upon or feeling like she is carrying a "burden"? On the flip side, are the people who do not earn as much feeling like slackers? If you can't feel in your guts that this is a communal pot with all the rights and responsibilities then maybe combining finances is a bad idea.
    This, of course, raises another question: What are my family's financial goals? Yes, you need them.  Otherwise you're going to find it hard to prioritize a limited resource.  Are you going to pour the family money into living space, travel, education, the children? You need to know what you want to accomplish before you can do anything.

    In sober truth, learning a little about finanical planning, especially if you do not have much in the way of money, is a pretty good idea.  I rather liked Nine Steps to Financial Freedom by Suze Orman.

  • Which families do we visit on holidays?

  • What about children?

  • Do we want them? How do we want to space them? What sort of birth control do we want to use? Do we spank or not? How do we educate them? How many do we want? Will all spice have parental authorities with all children?

  • What side of the bed do we sleep on?

  • How many to a bed?

  • For that matter, what sort of bedroom arrangements make sense? Do you feel comfortable with everyone in the same room or do you prefer a little privacy from time to time? (Our ideal is to have a huge master suite with futons and shoji, which would accomidate whim).

  • Who gets the use of that really neat wallspace that's perfect for the piano, the art collection, bookshelves and entertainment center individually, but not all together? (Okay, this sounds like a wierd question, but I assure you it comes up with us).

  • Who works; who stays home?

  • Who is responsible for what chores?

  • This one actually has been solved for our family in a way that is really working well.  We don't have assigned chores -- the theory being that we're all adults and know stuff needs to be done.  We do have what we call our " Sarah List" .  (Sarah is the invisible maid that never seems to show up for work). We made a master list of chores, some to be done daily, weekly or monthly. Then we used that to print up our daily chore list which gets posted on the fridge. We each have our own color of highlighter that we use to cross off a chore we've done.  If one particular color gets too predominant, it tends to be self-correcting because none of us wants to be unfair with the others.

A portrait of the Goddess of Java rendered by the Goddess of Giggle

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