A poly wedding: My decision to marry my boyfriend while I’m legally married to my husband

Guest post by Angi Becker Stevens
Photo by Megan Finley
Photo by Megan Finley

When my boyfriend first mentioned the possibility of getting married someday, I was taken by surprise.

“Sure, I'd marry you if it was legal,” I told him. And he asked me: “Who cares if it's legal?”

We're polyamorous, and I've been legally married to my other partner for over a decade. But in spite of my longstanding support of same-sex couples who choose to marry even without legal recognition, and my deeply held belief that the state has no real business defining personal relationships in the first place, I had somehow never really considered that we were free to get married, too, regardless of whether or not the law would ever recognize it.

Once I began to seriously entertain the idea, it was a short leap to start daydreaming about the wedding. But as someone who's committed to challenging cultural norms, I was extremely hesitant to simply indulge those fantasies. I wanted to understand why I wanted a wedding, and to know I was doing it — if I did it at all — for the right reasons.

Questioning my motivations

My boyfriend and I were already committed to sharing our lives together, building a family. Did I really need some kind of ceremony to solidify that? Would I just be buying in to social expectations, trying to make my non-traditional relationship appear more “normal” by getting married just like everyone else? Were my wedding fantasies still just a lingering product of all those fairy tales I had thought I'd rejected when I walked away from monogamy?

I thought long and hard about all of these things. But when I decided that I did want to go ahead with planning our wedding, it wasn't because I decided my motivations were somehow free of all social conditioning. It was because I finally realized that didn't really matter.

At the end of the day, I want to have a wedding for the same reasons I imagine most people want to have them, and for the same reasons I wanted my first wedding: to bring the people I care about together to celebrate a love and a commitment that already exist, to stand in front of my friends and family and declare that I love this person and he loves me and we intend to stick together for the long haul.

Wonderfully defiant

And yes, in this world where I constantly feel that this wonderful, healthy, happy relationship is seen as less real and less meaningful than monogamous ones, there is a part of me that wants the cultural validation of marriage, of declaring that this love is as real as any other. I used to worry that this part of my motivation was somehow inauthentic, as if I would be using my wedding to prove something. But I've since realized that this desire for validation is actually very human, something I should let myself off the hook for.

Instead of thinking of it as a kind of “giving in” to social constructs, I've come to feel that there's something wonderfully defiant about standing up and saying that neither the state or society can dictate whether or not we are fully committed to one another.

Of course, we're not naïve to the fact that many people will refuse to see our wedding (and our relationship) as “real” no matter what we do. And no matter how much we dislike that reality, we accept it. Ultimately, we're doing this for ourselves, not for anyone else. But if there's a little part of both of us who want to make some kind of statement, I'm okay with that. And if there's a little part of me that is still a little girl who wants to believe in fairy tales, I'm okay with that too.

Fighting for an expanded definition of love and commitment

Some people think that non-monogamy itself is unromantic, but I think my happily ever after just looks a little different than most. In fighting for relationships like mine to be recognized and accepted, I don't have any interest in un-romanticizing anything. I'm all for believing in true love, making commitments, declaring that love and commitment before the world. Rather than asking people to abandon old notions of love and commitment and family and romance, I'm far more interested in fighting for an expanded definition of what those things mean. I believe that we can take the old traditions and infuse them with whatever meaning we choose, as long as we are conscious and intentional about doing so.

Next summer, I'm going to marry an amazing man, who I am absolutely certain I want to spend my life with. I'm not sure how many people we can expect to show up, but I know that we will be surrounded by the friends and family who truly support us. And that, to me, is what weddings are really about.


UPDATE

Here's the perspective from Angi's husband, Korwin. He commented below, but we think it's worth including here:

Hi! So… I am Angi's husband. Since there seems to be a lot of questions regarding where I fit into the picture, maybe I can explain a bit. I want this day to be THEIR celebration. Angi and I did that already (11 years ago!!), so I've already been there with her for this stuff.

I'm also the one who gets more of the recognition both legally and socially, so yeah, I really want them to have the focus for once that they don't normally get.

I'm 150% supportive of them — they're my family! Any excuse to party in their honor is fine by me.

I will, however, distract some attention from them with my culinary expertise. I am looking forward to cooking for a larger group of people. I've never done anything quite like that before. 🙂

UPDATE 2:

Here's the wedding!

WANT MORE POLY WEDDINGS?

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Comments on A poly wedding: My decision to marry my boyfriend while I’m legally married to my husband

  1. To the author: what about your other husband? You don’t really mention him at all. Will he be part of the ceremony, or is it completely separate from him?

    • Hi Jamie! My husband won’t be participating in the ceremony in any way, though I would certainly include him in some way if he had a desire for that, and that was something we discussed very early on. He did, however, volunteer to prepare the food for the reception, which is wonderful 🙂

      • yes. I wanted to see what the husband of 10 years thought about this?

        [NOTE FROM EDITORS: Click here for the husband’s perspective]

        If its truly polyamory I thought, ONE, you wouldn’t need to get married to an additional person you would just be closely connected to another couple who may be married or another individual who agree with things together while you are with someone or married to another individual. SECOND, I always thought if one person was to marry more than one it is called POLYGAMY no matter what. Yes people believe in their own things. How do you know your husband is agreeing with this decision? He may say it but is it a truthful honest answer? AND ARE YOU doing what you TRULY believe in yourself or confused? I enjoy the company with my fiance’s friends and my own friends that are married, in a relationship and together. We dont need to be married to each other but we can share the love for one another even thought it may be a much different kind of love than our spouses. We help each other, talk to each other when they’d like to, spend quality time with each other. We don’t need to be married to feel the love.

        • Does anyone really NEED to get married? Legal status aside (health insurance, immigration, tax, etc.), all marriages are about expressing your love for another person in front of all your friends and family.

          I was raised in a traditional Catholic household, believing stereotypical “normal” conventions. As an adult, it was a shock to realize there is a large population of people outside these norms. After the initial mind bend of realizing I was thinking about love the wrong way all these years, I’ve worked hard to open my mind and come to accept that love and happiness come in all shapes and sizes. Best wishes to you in this endeavor. I think it sounds wonderful.

        • Rosie1985, you are right that “polygamy” generally means more than two people who are married, but in the US at least, we usually reserve the word for people who are “legally married” to one another. Even more than that, polygamy usually refers (again, in the US) to religiously-based plural marriages, such as those of splinter Mormon sects. Technically, polygamy means multiple *mates*, (poly + gamy) and polyamory means multiple *loves* (poly + amory.) In practice, polyamory is a broader term than polygamy, because there are more ways to practice polyamory than polygamy. You might be interested to look at this quick reference table that I created that compares and contrasts polygamy and polyamory as currently practiced and understood in the US: http://blog.unchartedlove.com/about-love-outside-the-box/polyamory-vs-polygamy/

          Also, I’m sure you didn’t mean to call the OP’s husband of 10 years a liar, did you? He’s done a great job of answering the question of his involvement farther down the thread which should put your mind at ease as to whether he’s truly on board with this plan.

          Please keep in mind that just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean that the people who are doing it are confused. As far as I can tell, they’re not confused about a thing, and have spent quite a lot of time thinking this through. This is a thoughtful, deliberate, and joyous act for them, and I wish them well.

          I’m glad you have close friendships with other couples, with whom you don’t feel the need to get married. It’s great when people don’t need to be married to feel the love, as you say! It’s also great when people choose to demonstrate their love in front of their friends and family, and show the depth of commitment that they feel towards one another in a more tangible way. Yay for diversity (which is what Offbeat Bride is about, right?)

        • Polyamory simply means having the desire and capacity to engage in loving relationships with more than one partner simultaneously. There are a multitude of different ways that people form poly families and relationships, and none is any more “truly poly” than another. Some people have one live-in committed partner and other more casual relationships, some people have committed triads or quads who all live together, and plenty like me have two (or more) long-term, equally committed partners who they share a home and a life with. Technically, yes, “polygamy” means “multiple marriage.” We choose not to use that term because of its associations with patriarchal, religious polygamy.

          Regardless of whether we had decided to have this wedding, we would still be sharing our lives together in this way. The wedding isn’t a need, it’s a celebration of our love and commitment that we’re choosing to have. Our lives and our future would look the same with or without it, and we’re all quite certain of what we want.

          • All the best <3 (was going to try to put the infinity sign but it comes out as a question mark)

  2. YESS! Thanks for sharing, Angi! It’s a question I’ve turned over in my mind many times in reference to my two partners as well, and I’m so glad that you shared your perspective. Congratulations on finding a plan that sounds so right for your family!

    (I do hope to see the wedding porn on Offbeat Bride next year!)

    Also great to see more posts about poly – I’ve recently written two for Offbeat Home. Keep it up!

    • Thank you! I will definitely have to check out your posts on Offbeat Home. And I will certainly submit my wedding to Offbeat Bride after it happens 🙂

  3. Good for you for looking at this in both a personal and socially-realistic way. I’m 31, also intelligent, and a female, and have never seen a problem with polyamory and polygamy as long as all parties are aware of the situation and are consenting adults. …also as long as it’s not a controlling thing as some craptastic people have been known to do.

    Then again, some people use a single marriage to control a person, so there’s that.

    While some rules/laws about insurance policies and state/federal benefits might need to be ironed out regarding a person having more than one spouse, even if it means charging a slightly higher premium for covering more than 1-2 adults or having the primary insured pick one spouse (ugh) for coverage, this is something that can be a THING. Don’t worry about what others say about your relationships, and just continue putting the conversation out there. It’s mostly awkward for people to consider only because this country has heard mostly the crappy, cult-type stories of polygamy, not the ones like yours about people who actually love each other.

  4. I am admittedly not very knowledgeable about poly-amorous relationships, so I had a question, or two. I was wondering if your current husband would also be a part of the ceremony, and what he thinks about the wedding. I’m sure he must be for it since ya’ll live together, I just wondered about the dynamics. This sounds fantastic and I wish you all the luck in the world 🙂

    • Thanks! 🙂 I answered your question on another comment above, but my husband won’t be participating in the ceremony, but he will be preparing the food for the reception. He is totally supportive 🙂

  5. I hesitate to ask this, mostly because I don’t know how to ask it without sounding judgemental or offensive when I really don’t mean to be, so I’ll just ask throw it out there and accept any lumps that come my way.

    I’ve been reading about polyamorous relationships on here for a while. In fact, other than the occasional talk show topic on “two gays and a girl” having a baby together, this is probably the place I’ve learned the most about what the lifestyle is. This is definitely the place that I learned the term for it. Even with all the open talk and thoughtful blog posts, I am wondering how polyamorous relationships actual work over time. I’m not asking about the actual mechanics of the situation, of course, but the longevity and the workability of it. How many of these marriages survive the idea into reality? Is the survival rate of such unions higher than the average of a “legal” marriage? Lower?

    Other than religiously-bound — such as offshoot Mormon sects, etc. — is there any data that such a family unit survives over the long haul? For definition purposes, let’s say fifteen years. How many polyamorous relationships last beyond what one might generally consider a “success”? Are such family units followed/studied?

    I have no doubt whatsoever that love and commitment begin such relationships. I mean, I assume for everyone, regardless of one’s relationship definition, no one enters a marriage with idea that it will dissolve. I have to believe that everyone has faith in the sanctity or their own relationship and lifelong potential of their family units. In our (read: USA) society, legal relationship definitions have statistical data that follows. Is that true of polys, also? Are there any polys who read this blog who have been involved in 15+-year relationships? How about with children?

    It’s none of my business, really. I’m just curious.

    • I have a friend who has been married to her husband and wife for… hmm. Must be at least 13 or 14 years, since I’ve known all of them around 11 years, and they’ve always been married. They have two children, some secondary partners, and are all, as far as I can tell, still quite in love with one another.

      I also know a childfree, married poly couple who have been married 20 years, and together close to 25. I’m pretty sure that’s a success by anyone’s definition. 🙂

    • I’m not sure if any studies have been done about the longevity of relationships, though I do know plenty of poly families who have been together for many years. There have been some studies done in recent years about children in poly families, though, with very positive results. I don’t have any links handy right this second, but google Elizabeth Sheff if you’re interested, she’s been the primary person behind those studies.

      • Her book should be coming out in November, I believe. The Polyamorist Next Door is the working title if I remember correctly.

    • Given that polygamy is illegal in most places, and polyamory is fairly rare, and largely misunderstood or unknown, there’s not going to be much or any data about longevity (a lot of folks have come to the conclusion that poly relationships don’t last without any data at all, of course). That said, I’d make a couple of points.

      (1) I think that most people who decide to get married are doing it because they’re in it for the long haul. Divorce statistics are just that – statistics. The only way that the statistic is relevant to deciding to get married is how to seat my divorced parents at the ceremony/reception. If the lifelong likelihood of a two person marriage ending in divorce is 50%, should I look at my marriage as a coin toss for ’till death do us part? So even if the length of a poly relationship is shorter, on average, than the general population, should that matter to an individual making the decision that’s best to them and their partner(s)?

      (2) It has been my experience that conversations about any aspect of poly life tend to lead to the sort of question that you have presented. I absolutely take your curiosity in good faith, but as you recognized, it’s easy for the question to sound offensive or judgmental. I’d respectfully offer a couple of things to keep in mind as to why the question might lead to offense, divorced (pun intended) from the actual stereotype itself:

      (A) It’s not the job of every poly (or genderqueer, or pagan, or [insert nontraditional choice here]) individual to be an expert on their group, or to constantly make themselves available for questioning. A lot of the times people are cool to answer questions. Other times, we stay in the closet because it can be exhausting to be expected to be a walking dictionary on all things [poly/queer/pagan/etc]. Even if you don’t face outright hostility, you often end up in a position where you have to defend not just your choice, but your entire group, its history, and anyone who has ever been associate with your group. It’s like the XKCD comic where the guy does the math problem and someone says “you’re bad at math,” and the girl does the same problem and someone says “girls are bad at math.”

      And (B), the topic of the post wasn’t “I’m afraid to get married because [lots of people believe that] poly relationships don’t last as long as traditional pairings.” The topic was “I’ve decided to get married even though I have mixed feelings about conforming/nonconforming to traditions.” (I hope the OP forgives any error in paraphrasing there). And that’s a fascinating topic that deserves to be discussed on its own merits.

      • I ran out of time on editing while I was debating leaving up the second half of that comment, so I’ll leave it up to the mods as to whether it meets the “no-drama” policy. But as I said, I took your question in good faith, and meant my response to be in good faith also.

        • We seemed to have crossed comments. Thank you for following up. I appreciate it very much.

      • Thank you for your … um, whatever it was you tried to achieve there. I thought I was clear that my questions were not meant to be judgemental or offensive. To be fair to your comments, I may have opened myself up to the “us vs them” response you delivered by even suggesting that I struggled with how to ask my questions, but I still don’t believe any of my questions were offensive or inappropriate, even after rereading them. The post itself was written rather open-endedly and a comments section is available below it, so I expect feedback was meant to be open also. Not just a place to praise, but also a place to learn. The point of a forum, I think, is to be an open space where one is free to ask. Generally speaking, knowledge quells bias. Plus, such limits as fear-based self-censorship sort of kills the idea of a freely-conversing comments section.

        My whole point of asking my questions is that people (many people) wonder about polyamorous relationships. I thought by asking what is on my mind (and I assume minds of many curious people who read this blog), the topic could be openly discussed as a fully accepting lifestyle precisely so people WON’T make rash judgments and assign expectations based on their own “moral code”. Otherwise, the post becomes just titillating and titillation assigns subjective judgments in and of itself.

        I did not mean to imply–nor do I think I did– that I thought one single polyamorous voice would speak for all. But I hoped to hear from a variety of experienced voices. Just as I feel qualified to offer up my experiences as a single mom, or a talk show guest, or any number of other cottage corners that describe my life. I certainly wouldn’t be speaking for everyone, but if I wrote a blog post about being a single mom, I would expect the comments section to be a discussion and would welcome any questions posted as follow-up. And in answering the curious, it is highly unlikely that anyone would expect my answers to be the final word or even representative of the majority. I’d just be another voice that represents the subject of being a single mom.

        Look, sometimes people become so sensitive to the questions that they forget about the opportunity it represents to spread knowledge and acceptance. That is all I was doing. As I said, I’ve been reading about this topic for a long, long time on here and I still am just trying to understand. Understanding breeds familiarity which breeds acceptance.

        • I’m glad the follow-up helped. What I was trying to accomplish was to point out (respectfully, as I said and will repeat) why questions like this can lead to offense. I did not mean to say that your question was offensive, but was speaking generally in an attempt to spread understanding about why minority populations can sometimes (SOMETIMES – not speaking for the OP at all) get frustrated at questions about their lifestyle. And yes, I was a little annoyed that at the time I looked at the comments there were more “please teach me” comments than ones actually engaging the article.

          I was really just trying to point out what seemed to be a lack of information, one that you alluded to when you recognized that the question could be taken wrongly. Lots of times people understand vaguely that their question might be taken the wrong way, but they don’t understand WHY. I was trying to point out why. I respect that your experience as a single mother has not lead to this reaction, but that does not mean that my experience has been the same as yours. I’ve got many years of being the token queer/poly/pagan/_, and I thought my perspective might offer a perspective that you had not previously been exposed to. It is frustrating that my trying to point this out is labeled as “sensitivity,” and not “a legitimate individual perspective of someone in a minority community to which I do not belong.”

          Again, hope I’m sticking to the no-drama policy, but am perfectly happy if the mods want to cut this. I recognize the irony of derailing a conversation by pointing out a possible derailment.

          • Sorry to stick my nose in 🙂 Just wanted to say I understand both your points. I’m rather interested in how a poly relationship works ect as Kirsten was asking (and looked at the comments for that very reason I suppose) my view on these matters is ‘the more you know, the more you understand and the more chance its accepted by the general public’ (not that I don’t accept it.

            But on the other hand I am in an open relationship with my fiancee and as all my friends and anyone I meet finds this either repulsive or just interesting I am bombarded with questions (Does it make the relationship stronger? what sort of rules do you have? will you tell your child? to name a few) and it can sometimes get frustrating.

            Hope you didn’t mind me sticking my nose in, I thought it would be good to get a post from someone with both view points 🙂

          • For whatever it’s worth, I don’t at all mind respectful questions in this kind of forum. I do a poly Q & A on my blog, because I think that creating safe spaces for people to ask (again, respectful) questions is an important part of spreading understanding. But I do totally appreciate the concerns about putting someone on the spot as the “token” member of an identity, and it’s something I’m more frequently frustrated by in social spaces where I’m just trying to go about my business.

          • Thanks Angi, and apologies for misjudging the conversation – I’ve been feeling bad about this thread all afternoon and really didn’t mean to detract from a great post.

          • No need to apologize, Megs! I do truly appreciate the concern, and think the points you raised are absolutely worthwhile things for people to consider in conversations like these. I just wanted to interject and clarify that I’m personally comfortable answering questions in this kind of forum; that doesn’t mean people should assume everyone feels the same! 🙂

    • Longevity-of-relationship studies are one of the things that we poly folk would love to see more of, Kirsten. They’re just not easy to do on a relatively new population that is still in the closet a lot of the time. I don’t recall if that particular statistic was in the report, but one place that a little data was recently published was over on the Loving More Nonprofit site. I’ve got a link to it here in my own blog: http://blog.unchartedlove.com/poly-people-and-marriage-loving-more-2012-survey-results/

      And that said, one important thing to keep in mind is that duration of a marriage is by no means the only measure of “success” of that relationship! Sometimes a relationship can change form, and still exist, and still be a “success,” even if it isn’t the same as before. So people who are married can separate, but still be co-parents, for instance. They might still be friends, or live together, or not live together, or share finances or not…. When one stops seeing “length” as the only marker for ‘success,” it’s possible to envision ways in which marriages — or any relationships — can “end” but not “fail,” if you see what I mean. In fact, that’s one of the things I personally love about polyamory, is that it allows for much more freedom for relationships to grow and change, without having to necessarily “end” or “fail.” Change is inevitable, but suffering is optional. 🙂

      Additionally, it’s worth considering that just because a polyamorous relationship ends or “fails,” does not mean that polyamory had anything to do with it! Monogamous relationships end all the time, and very few people say, “oh, you know those monogamous relationships — they’re just unstable and bound to fail!” The *form* of the relationship (whether monogamous, polyamorous, or some other relationship style) is far less important to its success than other factors, such as the compatibility of the people involved, their communication and relationship skills, and other factors.

      Thanks for asking the question, Kirsten!

      • Sometimes a relationship can change form, and still exist, and still be a “success,” even if it isn’t the same as before. So people who are married can separate, but still be co-parents, for instance. They might still be friends, or live together, or not live together, or share finances or not…. When one stops seeing “length” as the only marker for ‘success,” it’s possible to envision ways in which marriages — or any relationships — can “end” but not “fail,”

        As someone who is going through the very beginning stages of seperation and divorce, can I just thank you for this comment? I was feeling very bummed reading an article about love, and this cheered me up a bit! It’s definitely something I want to keep in mind! <3

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been engaged to my fiance for over two years and we (mostly I) decided to put our wedding on hold because we have gotten into a very wonderful polyamorous relationship with another couple that seems to be tending in the direction of non-hierarchical, polyfidelitous territory . I don’t want to continue planning a wedding between my fiance and I if that’s not the best idea for our family, and it doesn’t seem right that I would plan a day to honor one of these relationships but can’t publicly honor the other two (we aren’t out of the closet, yet). We don’t know many poly people, so it’s really nice to see another perspective of a person thinking about getting married in similar circumstances. Thanks again!

  7. I second the request for a little more information regarding the dynamic of your relationship and how your current husband will be involved.

    I love how you’re looking at all of this, and the very obvious soul searching you’ve done, and would love to hear more!

    While I’m capable of saying I would not be able to live a poly lifestyle I appreciate and love that one can seem as happy and beautiful as yours!

    • Thanks Kaitlyn! I answered the question about my husband in brief above, but to elaborate a little further, I did sit down and talk with him very early on about whether he wanted any specific acknowledgment/small involvement with the ceremony, and he felt that he’d rather be more “behind the scenes” than in the spotlight in any way himself that day. Some poly families are composed of 3 or more people who are all in love with and committed to one another, and in those cases it would make a lot more sense to have a ceremony involving everyone. But in our case, while my two partners get along great and consider one another part of a family, the love and commitment is recognized as being separately between me and each of them. So even if my husband had felt it was meaningful to him to participate in the ceremony somehow, it would have been a minimal involvement.

      Of course, we’ll certainly acknowledge our poly-ness in our ceremony in some way. But our focus with the wedding is really on the relationship between the two of us rather than all three of us, if that makes sense.

  8. Beautiful article. Thank you for writing it!

    Here’s hoping that someday the same people who say that marriage shouldn’t be limited to “one man, one woman” will focus on the “one” part as well.

    There’s lots and lots of evidence that humans aren’t naturally monogamous and that it’s wildly unrealistic and unfair to expect lifetime fidelity in an era where people live to be in their 80s and 90s.

    Bravo.

  9. I really feel you on the conflict inherent in joining a traditionally exclusive institution as a non-traditional, excluded person. Part of what I like about the community here is that many people are grappling with that issue on many different levels. For some, it’s just that we define ourselves as nonconformist and don’t want to sell out to the man. For others, we’re legally excluded from some or all of the benefits of the institution. Is it better to try and reform from the inside, or build something new from the outside? I tend to think that’s one of those questions where there isn’t really an answer, but that it’s good to keep asking anyway.

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