By Karelys Davis
I was invited to a very chic cocktail party at Cinque Terre in Seattle. I only knew the hosts, who I love dearly. Everyone else was new to me. The food was orgasmic and there was this wonderful couple with a British accent across the table. They were automatically charming because a British accent makes everything better right away. As I am not one to handle superficial chit chat for prolonged periods of time. I was ready to walk away and to more substantial conversation when one of the Americans turned the conversation to polyamory and open relationships. “Apparently it’s what’s in now. So says the New York Times. Bellevue is polyamory central.”
“Oh is it?” I asked, trying to seem interested and giving them an opportunity to look knowledgeable and worldly. Truth is, this is a common thing among my friends. Somehow I happened upon the pocket of people in a conservative small town that prefer open relationships, deal with the hard questions of existential purpose, jealousy, evolution, societal expectations, and gender roles.
I have too many friends who don’t quite fit the “white picket fence, house, dog, and two kids” cookie cutter life. Even though they may not be fully comfortable with the challenges of what is considered an alternative lifestyle; what makes these people infinitely interesting is their willingness to buck convention, question the norm, be the outsiders, and stick to their values and their preference for life structures.
My friends wrestle with the same questions we all do, on top of learning interdependent and emotional skills that require extensive self-awareness and examination to agree to a lifestyle that is downright condemned in some circles and poorly understood, at best, in others. For this same reason, I wanted to interview a few of them to shed light on a topic that is rarely available to most, unless you have the friends to go with it.
Denizen will be rolling out a series of articles until the end of the year, interviewing men and women in polyamorous or open relationships. I am a huge fan of Doctor Ester Perel, author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence and The State of Affairs, as well as the podcast Where Shall We Begin (free with your Amazon Prime membership). Perel is a master at helping us cut through the bullshit and get to the gold nuggets of wisdom buried deep under years of socialization, trauma, shame, and neglect, in monogamous or poly relationships.
Our hope, here at Denizen, is to chip away at the “otherness” that exists to perpetuate the fear, the discomfort, the judgement, and the isolation between all of us. We want so bad to be special that we latch on to the wrong markings of uniqueness. Humans share so much DNA, we are more alike than we are different, and people are unique in their expression of life. See yourself in your neighbor; that is the reason for all these articles, profiles, thought pieces, all this work.
Big thank you to Melissa Rainwater, a Pacific Northwest babe, for kicking off the series. She was kind enough to answer my questions with utmost vulnerability and a humble heart. She is passionate about people expressing themselves faithfully and without shame. She is the founder of a rapidly growing women’s group, What Do You Mean Bi That?!, where women feel free to ask questions and pass tips on safe sex without a patronizing tone. There is the typical girl energy and avalanche of compliments for each other about hair and style, with an equal dose of flirting, venting, and advice.
Melissa has played the bad cards life has dealt her and come up on top. I am convinced this is the crux of her love and empathy. She is shy, sweet, and loving. It took a lot of convincing to do this interview. I hope you welcome her warmly.
Tell me how you ended up choosing polyamory and why?
My ex-husband was the jealous type, and since I am bisexual, he wasn’t comfortable with me having friends of any gender, just in case. After we were divorced, I swore I would never be in a monogamous relationship again. Because even though sometimes I’m happy with one person, I like to keep my options open and I NEVER want to be accused of cheating. I also feel very secure knowing that if my husband wants to sleep with another woman, he will just tell me and go do it safely.
Many people think polyamory inoculates you against cheating, but it’s not true. How do you guide people through such questions?
I remind them that polyamory is one style of ethical non-monogamy, and that a huge part of that is communication. There are a ton of ways you can cheat in a poly relationship, most of them consist of not telling your existing partners, not using protection with people you aren’t fluid bonded with, lying, and being dishonest.
How do you handle the conflicts of time?
I keep a calendar, have a group chat in Facebook messenger with me and all my partners. I try not to plan things with more than one person on the same day unless I know for sure they won’t overlap. Like yesterday, I had a date with my girlfriend in the morning and she had to be home by 3 pm to get her kid from school, and then my boyfriend came over after. He doesn’t get off work until 3 pm so I knew they wouldn’t be here at the same time. It’s a little complicated and I’m not the best at it, but I work hard and always apologize sincerely when I mess up.
How do you and your partners work through jealousy?
I like to remind them each of what makes them special. What I see in them that made me choose them. I also show them what it looks like from the other side. Like for example when my husband says “It seems like you get so excited to have sex with Randy. I wish you got that excited about me.” and I say “Yeah I do. He’s new. You get just as excited about Kayla, don’t you? And that’s awesome! I’m so happy for you! I was this excited about you for the first year too. Now we poop with the door open. It’s less exciting. Hahaha,” and he gets it. It’s not that he isn’t special, it’s that he has been special for so long, we have a totally different kind of relationship.
Is it easy to find partners? How many do you have? What are the tiers of commitment?
It is easy for me to find partners because I have gone through a lot of therapy and learned how to find the right people and to open myself up to possibilities. I have four partners right now. Mark is my husband, we are 100% committed forever no matter what. Richard is boyfriend #1, my forever boyfriend, life partner, whatever you want to call it. We are as committed as can be from 2,000 miles apart. Randy and Shauna I’ve been dating (separately) for about 6 weeks now. We like each other a lot and things are going well. I would say we are committed to making the relationships work, but things are still unfolding.
You founded a group to create conversation for bisexual women, so everyone would feel safe to ask questions. Tell me a bit about that. Are men not allowed?
I did! I started What Do You Mean Bi That?! because I had been talking to thousands of women over the last 20 years or so about flirting with other women, and they all said the same things. They feel uncomfortable because they don’t know what it means when women say things like “I like you.” or “That’s a really cute top.” They don’t know what women want. They feel like they’re the only woman in the world who can’t talk to other women. I was talking to my therapist one session about this issue, and I said “If only all these women knew they aren’t alone. That they’re all having the same problems.” So I started the group and made my therapist proud. We have about 370 members right now, and no, men aren’t allowed. Anyone identifying as female, or any non-binary person with a female body. I want to be inclusive, for sure, but still keep up with what the group is about. Men have a million advantages when it comes to communicating with women. They may need help on an individual basis, but WDYMBT is not the group for them.
You mentioned that you’ve slept in the same bed with your husband and boyfriend. I thought it was interesting because your husband is a cis male and normally, men are not alright being that close to other men. Can you tell me a bit of how you guys handle all of that?
For starters, I never choose “alpha males”. My male partners are the kind of guys who are comfortable hugging other men. They cry when they are sad. They don’t make rape jokes or try to compete with other men or any of that nonsense. And don’t get me wrong, they are very manly men- strong and hairy and all that. But they are secure enough in their masculinity that they just aren’t bothered by something as benign as sleeping four feet away from another man with a woman in the middle. I have slept between my husband and boyfriend #1, and between my husband and boyfriend #2. The only thing that made it uncomfortable was boyfriend #1’s snoring, and boyfriend #2’s CPAP machine.
How has polyamory made your life better despite the challenges that it presents?
Oh, let me count the ways! Mark needs a lot of alone time to recover. After a long day at work, he can relax in his man cave because I’m usually busy anyway. He get to recharge and be his best when we are together.
I got spoiled on Valentine’s Day for the first time ever because even though Mark and Richard aren’t Valentine’s Day people, but Randy really is. There were flowers and chocolates and a stuffed hedgehog that said “stuck on you” and everything. It was adorable.
Um…. I like a lot of attention. A lot of communication. More than one person would ever be cool with. So I divide my needs between four people and I get pretty much everything I want. Plus, I can be a lot. I am full of love and affection. So being able to give it to four people makes it so none of them feels smothered or overwhelmed. Also, when Mark and I went from being casual swingers to full-on polyamorous, and he saw how Richard was treating me, he learned a lot and it improved my marriage in huge ways.
Thank you Melissa!
I hope you have enjoyed the interview and welcome her as our first Denizen columnist. She will focus on more questions on polyamory, relationships, communication, navigating life with social anxiety and depression, and raising a transgender child. Please send any and all of your questions in the Contact Us section.