After meeting my girlfriend from high school (long story) she commented that we had history. ‘Good history,’ she said and she had fond memories of that period in our lives. My second girlfriend from college said that if we couldn’t be friends on Facebook we could be ‘friends in spirit.’ Those were simple one-on-one romantic relationships that ended normally. Then a third special woman came along and that relationship has lasted for more than forty-six years.
Normal relationships, yes. Typical, yes - but not for everyone.
In this modern day world of dating, match-ups, hook-ups, swinging, swapping, switching, one-nighters and a dozen or more complicated variations of romantic liaisons, it turns out that not one type of relationship suits all. In fact, there are probably as many different intimate, sexual, personal relationships as can meet the imagination. One of the most prominent of which is called a polyamorous relationship.
A friend who knew I was a playwright brought this to my attention. Never one to say no to a good story idea I looked it up on Google. It opened up a whole new world of alternate lifestyles…to study, that is... just to study. And the more I did, the more I thought my friend was on to something. There had to be a good storyline someplace under the bedsheets here.
A polyamorous relationship is defined as a romantic relationship with more than one person. What distinguishes it from a classic love triangle is that all the partners know about each other and are accepting of those other relationships. It can pertain to men or women or a combination of both.
One form is called polyfidelity which means there is a committed relationship between the people and they are sexually faithful to one another. There can be three or more people in such a relationship.
My curiosity was aroused (sorry for the pun) even further when another friend who works at a medical clinic casually told me about her encounters with swingers. It seems there is a group of swingers who go to her clinic once a month for blood tests to make sure they haven’t contacted any STDs. They meet monthly at a local restaurant to check out new couples and arrange encounters.
My friend was impressed by the casual nature as well as honest and open approach this woman took when describing how her group went about exchanging wives, girlfriends, boyfriends and new arrivals. Who knew such exchanges were taking place in my own community? So how to write a play around such a subject matter without showing it disrespect and yet portraying it as an everyday occurrence, which it is…for some people.
Fortunately over the last two summers, I’ve had two of my plays produced here in Minnesota. The Second Act Players, a part of RAAC, the Rosemount Area Arts Council, produced ‘Riot at Sage Corner’ and ‘Club 210.’
Both plays gave me a great opportunity to watch my scripts being acted out by talented cast members. I was also able to sit among the audiences and watch their reactions. There were parts of the script that shined and other parts that could have used more refinement. But most importantly, it gave me as a playwright an entirely new perspective from the audience’s point of view.
This last season I was fortunate enough to stage-manage two plays at a local venue. This venue (Script2Stage2Screen) is located in Rancho Mirage at the Unitarian Church. Each season they present six staged-readings from original works. Stage managing gave me an opportunity to study both plays in greater detail. The two plays, ‘Pass-Over’ and ‘Mitigating Damages,’ were imaginative, thoughtful performances.
To better understand all the variations and emotional dynamics of a polyamorous relationship, I had to do research. But it would have to be the kind that wouldn’t get me into trouble with my spouse. She’s an understanding sort when I do research but she has her boundaries. So I started with Google.
According to a study published in the ‘Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy’ in 2016, 21 percent of people have had a non-monogamous relationship – one in which ‘all partners agree that each other may have romantic and/or sexual relationships with other partners.’
The notion of multiple-partner relationships is as old as the human race itself. But polyamorists trace the foundation of their movement to the utopian Oneida Christian commune of upstate New York, founded in 1848 by Yale theologian John Humphrey Noyes. But it wasn’t until the late-1960s and 1970s ‘free love’ movement that polyamory truly came into vogue when books like ‘Open Marriage’ topped the best seller lists and groups like the North American Swingers Club began experimenting with the concept.
It’s hard for many people to think outside of the fairy-tale notion of ‘the one’ and imagine that it might be possible to actually romantically love more than one person simultaneously. Jealousy is the main culprit and it’s an issue that polyamorists deal with constantly.
Once I discovered this Achilles heel of jealousy I had my theme and the main point of conflict and contention in my storyline. Yeah, it sounded like the groundwork for a new play.
So that’s what I did. I wrote ‘Poly’s Amorous Adventures.’
My play about a polyamorous relationship was going to be a challenge even though I had a good idea of how the storyline (Polly’s dilemma) was going to unfold right from the start. I wanted to grab the audience’s attention, hold on tight and not let it go. But I also wanted to make my characters real, sympathetic in their relationship challenges and honest in their pursuit of this triangle affair.
My main protagonist, Polly, is in a polyamorous relationship or so she thinks she is. The two men involved aren’t so sure and Polly’s girlfriend, Hazel, is certain that she isn’t. Polly’s mother is a toss-up. She could go either way but wants in on the action anyway.
In ‘Poly’s Amorous Adventures’ I’ve tried to be true to the intent of a polyamorous relationship but to also analyze the complexities of multiple relationships where emotions, raw feelings, confusion and jealousy are all a part of the equation. Then to stir up the pot a little more, I’ve added a handyman who is more than that, a girlfriend who can swing both ways, an on-line sex councilor who just can’t stay in her PC and an unconventional shopping list for insane pleasure.
The play was a joy to write. I fell in love with my characters, was surprised by their reactions to events and rational for their relationships. ‘Poly’s Amorous Adventures’ turned out to be a rollicking, twisted, sometimes torturous pathway through human emotions and ever-elusive true love.
It’s hard enough being in a one-on-one relationship with another person whether it’s a past girlfriend from high school or college or that someone special that you’ve been with forever. Relationships are challenging enough without love and romance blushing up the waters with their complex currents of swirling emotions. Now add to that one-on-one slow dance with yet another person or two and it’s bound to get just a little bit crazy.
And a lot of fun to write about too.