No one is born thinking they’ll one day grow up to engage in multiple relationships at once, but, says Mim Chapman over tea at Pyramid Café, “What I always wanted was a family of more than two.”
Chapman, a relationship coach and sex educator in Santa Fe who has a PhD in educational leadership, has been polyamorous—that is, at least in its simplest definition of someone who engages in multiple relationships at a time—since before it had a name. Chapman’s first husband sadly died before they could achieve their dream of meeting another couple to form a communal marriage, but these days, Chapman has a primary partner (a husband they met at a poly conference), and a long-term lover out of state, who has a primary partner as well. Both men are co-executors of Chapman’s trust and both share medical and financial power of attorney. They are a family, the educator, counselor and author tells me, and a solid one at that.
Annie Liu, a former Santa Fe resident who now lives in Seattle with their husband, partner and pets, tells a similar story about polyamory.
“I didn’t really realize there was a word for it,” they say, “that it was really a thing that I was allowed to identify as or identify with.”
When Liu met their now-husband in Santa Fe some years ago, he quickly divulged his poly propensities. As he explained how being able to love multiple people at once is fundamentally no different than loving multiple family members or friends, Liu says, it hit them how the newfound language summed up exactly what they had been feeling, been searching for. In the past, Liu had experienced guilt over partner-hopping; today, Liu’s husband remains their most ardent cheerleader when it comes to dating other people. Additionally, like Chapman, their husband and partner are great friends—“homies,” Liu says—but do not have a romantic relationship with each other. That’s one stereotype they’d like to see put out to pasture.
Of course, within the world of romantic relationships, poly is relatively new, at least for Americans. According to joint research conducted by Chapman University (no relation to Mim) and the Kinsey Institute in 2021, roughly 4 to 5% of Americans are engaged in some form of polyamory, but both Chapman and Liu believe most people have experimented with non-monogamy in some way.
At their upcoming March class titled Ethical, Consensual, Non-Monogamy at the Renesan Institute for Lifelong Learning, for example, Chapman will discuss how “85% of the world’s population live in cultures that accept non-monogamy.”
Why, then, has polyamory become a sticking point for Americans?
Chapman chalks up monogamy’s accepted role as “the standard” to misguided belief in American exceptionalism. Liu agrees.
“To me, it’s almost like polyamory is the norm,” Liu says, “and you can choose to be monogamous within that.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to embrace a poly lifestyle, particularly within a society like ours, where the concept of “the one” is so commonplace in media. According to Chapman, phasing into or even experimenting with polyamory is all about consent, communication and agreements—there are no half measures, at least for those hoping to find success.
“You can fumble your way through monogamy,” Chapman explains, “but you cannot even begin to stumble your way through polyamory.”
In their private practice, Chapman says, the key for poly folks, including those still only talking about opening their relationships, boils down to reaching agreements and navigating them. These agreements can be about money, time spent together, time spent with other people; they are always subject to change, Chapman says, but a few include prefixes such as safer sex. They’re also often on the lookout for “compersion,” a term coined by the poly community to describe the radical joy associated with the romantic and/or sexual fulfillment a partner has with another person. Jealousy, however, can also come up, but Chapman advises regarding those feelings like a reminder to take your temperature and find out what’s at the root of what you’re feeling. Is it abandonment? Needing more time with your partner? Comparing yourself to other partners? Learning to embrace compersion seems to be a helpful antidote for jealousy, according to Chapman, and whether you can reach it might also be a meaningful way to measure if poly is for you.
The road to that discovery is long and personal, though, Liu advises, “Polyamory and polyamorous relationships can look all kinds of different ways and no one is more or less valid than another.”
Take the biggest misconception—that being poly is all about sex.
“It’s almost like how when homophobic people think that queerness is all about sex, monogamous people think that polyamory is all about sex, when it’s, y’know, about love.” says Liu.
Albuquerque resident Matt Sanchez, for example, says poly people are “not -orgy-seeking weirdos.”
“We are normal people having fulfilling real relationships with people other than our partners,” Sanchez tells SFR. “For a lot of us, this isn’t just about sex.”
Chapman agrees, noting how sex is a bonus when it comes to otherwise fulfilling relationships. And it makes sense. One person can’t be all things to another; one person can’t consistently be a shining beacon of love and understanding. On some level, it would be akin to having one friend and turning to them for every emotional need, a ludicrous conceit to say the least. Some people have a lot of love to give—too much for just one person, even.
“Polyamory is the fullest expression of love for yourself and love for another person,”
Poly Meetup: 5 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. Free. Bourbon Grill, 104 Old Las Vegas Highway, meetup.com/Loving-More-Chapter-Santa-Fe
Layla Asher is a local sex worker on a mission to spread radical self love to her community and the world. She writes SFR’s Naked Truth sex column.