My Two Husbands

  • My Two Husbands

    Polyandry around the world is more common than you think

     

    Elle Beau

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    Nov 16 · 7 min read

     

    Photo by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash

    There’s something subversive about the women of America who have the polyamorous equivalent of two husbands. It’s so outre that for the most part it isn’t talked about, even as polyamory becomes more common and out in the open. Some people might be able to understand a married couple having lovers, but what seems less easy to swallow is two men of equal status in a woman’s life.

    Women who have made a long-term commitment to more than one man are shattering the mold about what it means to be a wife as well as what it means to be a modern woman. It completely disrupts the status quo of monogamy, particularly monogamy for women and it also puts challenges to the nuclear family as we know it. And this is precisely why it’s considered so out of bounds by some, even more so than polyamory in general.

    I have two men whom I consider to be my life partners, and although James is my husband in the traditional sense, Nat is the emotional equivalent. He now lives on the other side of the country but James and Nat both hold a very central place in my life and heart. Nat isn’t just my polyamorous lover or boyfriend, in all the ways that matter most to me, he’s my other husband.

    Recently, I’ve started to come across more and more stories of polyandrous women — women who share their lives and sometimes even their homes with two men. Some of these men have other partners as well, and many of them don’t. They are just in a Vee configuration with a woman. I’m also beginning to understand how profoundly disturbing that concept is to a still largely patriarchal society.

    America is still a deeply monogamy-oriented and misogynistic place.

    “In 1992, when Americans were asked if the “father of the family is master of the house,” 42 percent said yes. By 2004 the percentage had risen to 52 percent.” As much as we’ve progressed in accepting different types of families, including same-sex ones, America is still a deeply monogamy-oriented and misogynistic place, meaning that women are expected to fulfill their traditional roles and keep their place and if they don’t they will be policed in some way to encourage coming back into conformity.

    Women are expected to be loyal wives, and devoted mothers first and foremost. They are supposed to put the comfort and pleasure of their men and then their children, ahead of their own. They ought to be demure and not hussies who give any thought to their own personal pleasure. To go so far as to put their own needs and desires on par with or above those of their husbands and families is seen in some quarters as nothing short of heresy! Burn the witch! It doesn’t matter if the men involved are totally on-board.

    What self-respecting man would allow his wife to have another husband? And even though these kinds of arrangements don’t necessarily negatively impact the nuclear family, and quite often enhance it, that isn’t how it’s typically viewed. When philosophy professor and author Carrie Jenkins described her own polyandrous arrangement as a part of her book, What Love Is: And What It Could Be, she immediately began receiving threats and the vilest kinds of hate mail.

    Simply going public with her day-to-day life was threatening to the order of things — monogamy for women, if not for men — and incited violent threats, mostly to control her if she won’t control herself. Underneath the attacks is a teeming, roiling sense of entitlement, a feeling that something sacred has been disturbed or desecrated and must be returned to rights. “Get herpes and die, slut. Sharia law looks more attractive by the day” is how some have expressed it, their anger a good indication that her “wayward” or “disobedient” behavior is in their minds an affront not only to Jenkins’s husband, and all of civilization, but to the commenters themselves.

    Martin, Wednesday. Untrue (p. 237). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

    As Jenkins described it, this stems from the notion of women as the reproductive property of men, and although that notion is only 10 thousand years old, it is still strongly rooted, even in our modern culture. Women are still too often seen as something to be controlled, and if you can’t keep your woman under control, then what kind of man are you?

    What kind of men allow their wives to have another husband? These are not milksops who have been brow-beaten into submission by women who have the power to run amok, although based on some of the comments I’ve gotten about polyamory, this is a common assumption. A man who can’t control his woman, who for whatever reason doesn’t have the power in the relationship, will be cuckolded. It never occurs to them that a couple might agree to this consensually and out of love and respect for each other. They don’t consider a relationship where power is shared and where a strong, confident man who values independence both in and for his wife, willingly embraces such an arrangement.

    One woman, upon learning of my dual partnership, delighted in telling me that I was a cuckold. She meant it as a slur. Although this term has taken on a slightly less pejorative meaning in recent years, as more and more men have embraced the sexual excitement they feel at the thought of their wife/partner with another man, it still implies humiliation and degradation. For some men, that is an enjoyable aspect of this dynamic, but for many, one woman romantically involved with two men is simply a natural extension of their polyamorous inclinations. They don’t feel debased by polyandry at all.

    The strongly held cultural narrative is that only men want other partners because women are geared for monogamy. This isn’t true in the slightest. In fact, women are overwhelmingly the ones initiating the opening of previously monogamous relationships, but it has been what most of us were taught and what serves patriarchal interests.

    That an intelligent, and otherwise respectable woman like Carrie Jenkins should be referred to as a cum-dumpster and a slut for having two life-partners speaks to just how disruptive this dynamic is to the status quo where men are intended to be the heads of two-person nuclear families.

    Polyandry is practiced around the world and has been since the beginning of time.

    People who are in healthy polyamorous relationships, whether they are life-long commitments or more casual connections, understand that partners don’t own each other and they base their relationships on respect and communication. If that level of openness and honesty is being maintained, partners are not being unfaithful, but because women, in particular, are often still expected to be owned by one man, this is tough for some people to swallow.

    Author, Wednesday Martin, tells the story of her friend Tim who is a part of a polyandrous relationship. He and his wife Lily had an open marriage right from the beginning, but for years they tended to have more casual relationships. When Lily eventually met someone else whom she really wanted to settle down with, she and Tim figured out a way to incorporate him into their day to day life and into their family. Lily’s other partner has a bedroom in their home and a kind of uncle relationship with their children. This works well for everyone involved but they still keep as private as they can because their relationship is so confronting to so many people.

    Not all polyandrous people cohabitate, however. Carrie Jenkins splits her time between two homes and I live in a different state than my other partner. As with all polyamorous relationships, the people involved are the ones who create specific parameters to meet their own needs and preferences. My polyandrous relationship works well for my life and I don’t see how it actually affects anyone who is not a part of it. None-the-less, few people in my life know about it for the same reasons that Tim and Lily keep theirs pretty quiet.

    Polyandry is practiced around the world and has been since the beginning of time. In the Indian Himalayas, it still takes place in some areas because polyandry results in less fragmentation of land and also helps to keep the population lower. In certain areas of Tibet, women marry two brothers, as do the Toda people of southern India, for the same reasons. This is called fraternal or adelphic polyandry. The Masaai of Africa have been polyandrous, although this is less commonly practiced today. It was used to help offset high infant and warrior mortality.

    Partible paternity, wherein a child is seen to have more than one father, is practiced in about 20 tribal societies, primarily in South American. In pre-contact Polynesia, high caste women practiced polyandry. More and more anthropologists are embracing the idea that cooperative breeding was most likely the evolutionary strategy that allowed early humans to survive and thrive, not the dyadic one that until recently had been surmised.

    As Saint Louis University associate professor of anthropology Katherine C. MacKinnon told me, “We had predators. And we didn’t have claws or long, sharp teeth. But we had each other. Social cooperation, including cooperative breeding, was a social and reproductive strategy that served us well.”

    Despite our current strong cultural adherence to monogamy (at least in theory, if not in actual practice), and our highly patriarchal culture, polyandry is a lot more common than most people might have previously believed, both around the world and here in the West.

    I do believe that in some respects, the stigma of polyamory is lessening, at least in some quarters, but I also don’t think that mainstream America is ready for women to openly have the autonomy and independence that having two husbands implies. A guy with sister-wives gets a TV show. A woman, like the mild-mannered professor, Carrie Jenkins, who is seen to not be putting her husband first, and who appears to have the most power in her relationships (even though in truth, it is shared) gets violent threats — all for advocating a broader and more expansive kind of love.

    When Monogamists Explain Polyamory To Me

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    WRITTEN BY

    Elle Beau

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    Writing about power, sex, relationships, and society. SensualEnchantment@gmail.com Twitter @ElleBeau