Henry & Mary & Janet & ...

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Polies see such experiences as painful but transcendental, and not surprisingly, there's a fair amount of New Age flimflam associated with the movement. But many adherents like Loving More leader Ryam Nearing prefer to dwell on science. "People are biologically poly," she asserts, noting that polyamory occurs even in societies that punish it by death. Polyamorists love the work of Helen Fisher, a Rutgers University anthropologist and author of Anatomy of Love. Fisher has written that only 16% of cultures on record actually prescribe monogamy; in most, polygamy is sought after by men as a sign of power. Fisher also completed a study of divorce in 62 societies, which revealed that people have a remarkable tendency to split up after just four years. The implication that polyamorists take from Fisher's work is that we aren't built for monogamy.

Fisher has a more complex view. She says we have conflicting evolutionary impulses: lust (to ensure progeny), attraction (to conserve mating energy for good catches) and attachment (to allow us to stay with someone at least long enough to raise a child through infancy--about four years). "So these polyamory people are fascinating," Fisher says. "They are trying to be realistic." Still, if "polyamory is extremely mature," she adds, "it is also extremely naive." Jealousy will never fade permanently, she says. Indeed, just about every polyamory website, meeting and publication is obsessed with curing jealousy. It is the polyamorists' worst enemy.

None of which means, necessarily, that practicing polyamory should be reason enough to lose custody of your child. In the Divilbiss case, four sets of independent, court-appointed experts concluded that Alana should be returned to her mother. They have also recommended counseling for everyone involved.

A social worker from New York State probably would be willing to provide it. She and her husband have been in another type of polyamorous relationship--what could also be called an "open marriage"--for 28 years. They have never lived with their other lovers, but they each have long-term relationships outside their marriage, which they say has remained healthy. Many friends still don't understand--"to them it's just adultery with chocolate sprinkles," says the 51-year-old husband. "But it's more." The couple have a son Matthew who's 21 and in college. Matthew thinks that what has happened to April, Chris and Shane is awful. "My experience with having 'extra' parents was quite positive," he wrote in a recent e-mail. As a teenager, he had begun to suspect that his mother was having an affair. "To then find out that she was but that it was an approved activity was entirely a relief... It only seemed natural."

Matthew has had some problems because of his upbringing, however. "Having this kind of heritage makes my life a great deal more confusing" with respect to his own relationships, he wrote. "For most people, the relationship options are fairly constrained. For me, there are all these options that seem perfectly valid. Choosing between them is a task and a half!"

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