Triads. Quads. V's. No, it's not a math lesson, it's the terminology used to describe relationships by polyamorists. Not sure what those are? Lucky you have the February 13 edition of The Washington Post's "Style" section to enlighten you. And if you read far enough into the copy you'll also find a game plan for redefining marriage. More on that in a minute.
In what can only be described as a Valentine to immorality and provocative behavior, the Post ran a 2554-word feature on polyamory that describes a practice most readers - even the liberal fans of the Post - would find disturbing. Sometimes called "swinging" or "wife swapping," polyamory is the practice of openly having several sexual partners, regardless and sometimes in spite of, marital status.
"Polyamory isn't about sex, polys tell you. It is about love. It is about loving your primary partner enough to love that they have a new secondary partner, even when their New Relationship Energy with that person leaves you, briefly, out in the cold. It's about loving yourself enough to acknowledge that your needs cannot be met by one loving person. It's about loving love enough to embrace it in unexpected form -- like maybe in the form of your primary's new secondary! -- in which case you may all form a triad and live happily together."
That is Post reporter Monica Hesse's summation of what polyamory is, and presumably the crux of why she traveled to a Poly Living convention in Pennsylvania to write about it.
While the journalistic ideal of balanced reporting is not generally expected in any paper's Style section, one does also not expect to find public relations material for destructive behavior. That is in effect what Hesse's article "Pairs with Spares" is. She spent a good deal of ink describing the various convoluted relationships she encountered and gave voice to the narcissistic reasoning of the practitioners.
Perhaps unwittingly, she also shed light on what may become a new front in the battle to redefine marriage.
"People in my generation are recognizing that they have more choices when they're deciding what they want their families to look like," says Diana Adams, 28, a polyamorous lawyer who specializes in alternative family law in New York. "This is an important historical moment because of the gay marriage conversation. We're becoming more accepting of gay parents, of single parents." She hopes to soon start a family with her two male partners.
This description of what practitioners of alternative lifestyles hope to achieve culturally was significant. In her story Hesse mentioned that people at the conference were attending seminars like "Kids and Poly Relationships: A Human Relations Primer About Melding All Your Loves" and "HapPoly Ever After: Long-Term Poly Partnership." Rather than just titillate with such provocative statements, Hesse would have done readers a service by seeking comment from social scientists and family experts to discuss the impact of such behavior especially as it relates to children and their overall developmental health. Instead, Hesse followed the statements of the alternative family lawyer with this:
About a dozen poly parents discuss both changing public perception and the daily grind of child-rearing at the "Kids and Poly Relationships" seminar.
"My oldest son is very attached to our current girlfriend," one male participant says. "It's happened before with a relationship that didn't last." He wants to know how to protect his son while still giving him the opportunity to know the girlfriend.
A woman in her mid-30s wants to know how to enter the poly dating scene again. "I've basically been baby-hibernating for the past five years," she says, but now she'd like a partner in addition to her husband.
"My 13-year-old is embarrassed of us," says one concerned dad, with an expression of profound shame.
The session leader, a clinical therapist, laughs. "All 13-year-olds are embarrassed of their parents."
The overall story seemed to be written with a sense of awe and wonder. Hesse ended the piece by focusing on a young couple at the conference. While the man is demonstrating "proper cuddle etiquette" with another woman, his partner looks on "contentedly." Hesse concluded, "They seem ridiculously in love."
What is ridiculous is the amount of column inches and ink the Post gave to the promotion of destructive behavior. The fact that this feature ran in the same section as the KidsPost (the page the Post dedicates to younger readers) was also irresponsible.