The photographer assured me they would be photos showing the beauty of our open relationship. He was sympathetic, Swedish and professional.
‘Thank God,’ I thought. ‘No smut.’
But for my partner, it was more important that the shots be natural. Capturing the magic and mundanity of polyamory in a way that didn’t showcase us as three in a bed… since we never sleep that way. That neither boyfriend be obliged to kiss me at the same time on each cheek like so many of the cliched open relationship photos which get featured accompanying my column in Huffington Post. Family photos of the three of us. Me, my partner and my boyfriend. Three individuals, in an all-inclusive group.
But people see what they expect to see. And that included the photographer. So they positioned my boyfriend with his back to us. Then they made him change into nondescript unflattering shirt, standing apart from us. The couple, and the boyfriend. An appendage. Because for the outside world, and more importantly the magazine which seeks to show through photos… he is secondary. He is the ‘other’ boyfriend. The man who has been part of our lives for almost a year and a half. The man who makes our children light up with pleasure when we mention his name. The man I hope will be part of our futures. And the worst part was I didn’t even notice. I was too preoccupied with the animation of my smile which had frozen on my face after the first three shots. The rolls of fat I felt bulging through the newly bought shirt. The profile shots which must have caught my bumpy nose and saggy jowls. Yes, pictures show a multitude of sins. Mainly for me, the fact I look more pregnant now than I did in my second trimester with my son (which is saying something).
We’d discussed at length how to include the children. We didn’t want their faces pixelated, as if how we conduct our life is somehow shameful and that they are not included. Nor did we want their privacy to be compromised even if we have little idea how featuring them in a print magazine in a different country is more harmful to our publicly available albums on Facebook. In the end we concluded the backs of their heads were neutral enough even if my daughter’s hair was blonder and curlier than it usually is… since for the first time in her life we’d used a hairdryer on it. But we hadn’t discussed the image we wanted to portray our relationship.
“It would be more normal,” I said, after 30 minutes or so of rigidly posed pictures “If we all three of us had our iPhones out and were sitting in separate chairs.”
Because truth to be told, our evenings together are spent sitting in a triangle formation discussing 3D modelling, relationship dynamics or – if the children are there – how my daughter’s version of the new and improved Wonder Woman has powers which can override her brother’s Spiderman, no matter how much web he shoots at us. One configuration we are never in, is the one which excludes someone else. Sitting on the sofa together – when it happens – means side by side with linked hands… and never sees the boyfriend-who-is-not-the-father balancing precariously on the arm rest in solitary contemplation next to the ‘proper’ couple nestled beside him.
When I looked through them, the photos they showed the relationship the world thinks we are, in with the hierarchy they find easier to understand. Two plus one. And that means even though they are beautiful photos, they do not show the way we see the beauty of our relationship.