Sophia always dresses in gold and black, her eyes are hazel flecked with green. When she’s feeling curious those flecks fizz at their greenest. And they’re often green because there’s a lot to be curious about in life, in love and in our multicultural, publicly polyamorous family. I can’t quite believe my luck that such a woman has entertained the possibility of coping with us. Choosing to unite with our chosen family is not for the faint-hearted.
Most days, we’re neither awful nor awesome. We’re regular flawed human beings, but we’re a solid unit, made more solid by our children, by how flexible we all are, and by how openly we all communicate. Vile behaviours? Let’s dig into them. Break-Ups? Pour me another. Death? Don’t mind if I do. It’s mildly entertaining until you realise there’s nowhere we won’t go. No topic we will recoil from.
There’s a moment in mono-normative relationships. A moment that you suddenly access the rights of family. Whether it’s simply legally or being privy to your mother in law’s secret fruit cake recipe. It could happen the day you announce your engagement, the day you get married or the day you have a child who now ensures the lineage for (at least) two families. If you’re lucky, it could be acknowledged without any further qualification than mutual desire (that’s certainly less costly, and in the case of childbirth, less painful).
In polyamorous relationships, there is no roadmap for when one ‘becomes’ family. Saying it doesn’t make it so and certainly in my personal experience, especially as I have children, it takes time. Time to trust that those partners who would certainly be within their rights to disappear, are not going to disappear. For my sake. For my partners’ sakes. But above all, for the sake of the children. So for some time, the question hung like the sword of damocles. Silently, but not so invisibly. It has had impacts on how we’ve evolved together and sometimes it looked as if the sword might fall. Was Sophia going to disappear like all the others?
Sophia was faced with well functioning five person configuration. Yet after the loss of a metamour which meant heartbreak for both my partner and I, and a long period of him dating women who would not, could not accept the way we chose to live I had invested enough. I was emotionally drained from support, processing and too much effort to integrate yet another who had doubts. I no longer trusted that anyone would stick around and quite frankly, I wasn’t about to try again. Not with Sophia, not with anyone.
I can take abrupt departure. And theoretically so can my children. But the difference is that they are in their formative years, these years lay the groundwork for how their adult relationships will look. I don’t mind who they love, or how many they love. I do care if they believe that adult relationships are the type of relationship which involve heartbreak and people they care about leaving. I care that they feel secure, safe and loved in their environment. Because polyamorous relationships are more susceptible to outside vilification, they are more likely to have an additional layer of stress; stress that some folk won’t be able to take. Whether that’s the stress of dealing with oppression, the stress of dealing with an unknown relationship style or the stress of dealing with additional intimate relationships some of which may be desired and others which may not be.
So I welcomed Sophia, but as if she were guest. An honoured one, of course. But I treated her, like a guest. I made space for her, like a guest. Washed towels, cooked dinner and chit-chatted with her as I would do, a guest. I did not treat her as family–a comparison which must have been all too clear when we all hung out together. She felt, as we’ve discussed since, excluded. There are few relationships in the world to compare to a new partner who comes into an already established configuration. She had no piece of paper, no recognised validity save what she and my partner felt for one another. She was a guest in my home–the home of a woman she hardly knew–but it was also her boyfriend’s home and she knew him a lot better. My lack of trust was understandable, acceptable even, but that didn’t make it easier for her to handle.
I watched her interaction with the kids. I watched her interaction with my partners and with me. But I did not trust. For Sophia’s part she was also wary. What might I do or say to upset her budding relationship? What kind of future could she expect? She noticed we had private group chats of our own, they were named ‘family’… and she wasn’t in them. Logistically she might have understood such a chat was needed to coordinate our complicated lives, but emotionally it denoted a level of importance she had not yet achieved.
How she could achieve that status for me, was by staying… but that only could be proven over time. She might also achieve that status by bonding with the children. But as a fiercely protective mother, I limited that interaction… it requires my trust too. She might have also achieve that status by opening up. But why would anyone open up to someone who didn’t trust them, to someone who by writing about her life in the public eye, had little that could be deemed secret. I am not invincible, but neither do I make friends like many other people, by sharing secrets. I share mine with the world. My vulnerability is not reserved for family, my skeletons proudly swing from the chandeliers of the crumbling mansion I call my life.
So Sophia and my’s relationship has been carefully paved, like a mosaic. Tiny piece by tiny piece. A compliment here, a drunken camaraderie there. Support for her and my partner’s growing relationship as they took odd weekends abroad to cement their relationship. I have not forced my trust, nor have I forced friendship. I made welcome gestures, they were reciprocated. Around the ten month mark we had an important conversation. One which added heart and hope to our future. We checked the milestone of babysitting. It was a big one for us both. And this weekend, they celebrated their one year anniversary. I raised a glass at the dinner table and said, Congratulations.
I said it to them both. Most of all though I said it to her. Despite everything, she decided to stick around and I’m so glad we’ve become chosen family.