An Introduction to Social Polyamory – By Nancy & Darrell CaseyCopy Right 2005 -Reprinted from Loving More Magazine Issue #35 Summer 2005
“When it’s time to cum, you have to go,” was the humorous comment I’d often make as newcomers were introduced to “Rainbow”, which was an off premise Lifestyle Swing club. “Off premise” meant that dance activity was limited to making sensual and social connections; overt sexuality was not allowed. At this point in our lives, Darrell and I had not heard of polyamory. In fact, the term didn’t exist. We did know that we were uncomfortable with the idea of meeting a couple and heading for “recreational sex” within minutes of our introduction. This meant “on premise clubs” didn’t fi t for us.
We placed a personal ad, “In search of long term special relationship with another couple, must be willing to be friends first.” Within a week, we’d been contacted by a lovely black couple who agreed with our desire to share friendship before exploring recreational sex. Within a year, “Rainbow” was born as they sought to expand their social network. We met bimonthly at a central hotel which provided light snacks and a large dance floor. Within an atmosphere of sexy attire and sensual music couples were able to talk together and get to know others at their table. Dancing with a man (or woman) helped me to discover whether or not that elusive characteristic I called “good chemistry”, was present. I realized most of the folks we were connecting with were seeking casual friendships. This meant sharing an occasional dinner or movie (usually as a prelude to lovemaking) and light conversation.
Darrell and I knew we wanted to share at a deeper emotional level but still enjoyed this opportunity to enjoy recreational lovemaking with folks as we got to know them better. Many couples rented a room for the night, which meant they could go directly from the dance floor to a bedroom. Darrell and I tended to invite prospective couples to our home so we’d have a chance to get to know them in a less sexually charged atmosphere. We cherished the ideal of developing friendships which had the potential of becoming sexually intimate. We were still seeking that “special couple” with whom we could share four-way chemistry and an in-depth emotional relationship.
It took a year, but we found that special couple. We also discovered that experiencing the potential for intense emotionally connected loving can lead to developing the capacity to do in depth grieving when/if that relationship collapses. We were “exclusively fluid bonded” with Dan and Iris for about 4 years. During this time, we saw each other most weekends. Since I had allergies to their cat, they most often came to stay with us.
During the week, we’d talk on the phone, sharing each other’s joys and successes. I thought we knew each other well, but we managed to miss whatever danger signals they exuded. When Iris ran away from Dan, we were devastated and shocked. Despite our attempts to remain friends, they divorced both us and each other. As we cried and soul searched, we found ourselves asking the question, “Do we want to seek another totally committed, emotionally and physically exclusive relationship with anyone else? Do we really want to risk going through this level of pain again?” For us, Lifestyle Swinging felt too casual and impersonal. However, total sharing of lives and resources felt too risky in light of our current emotional and financial disaster. Wasn’t there any other choice? We tabled that question by running away together to relax at a nudist resort in Florida.
On a cool, gray last day of that vacation, we shared the hot tub with one other couple. They introduced themselves as “swingers” and asked us to get to know them a lot better. We replied we didn’t think we were swingers, but we weren’t exactly sure what category we did fi t into. Since we were on our way to the airport, I didn’t expect to hear from them again despite exchanging our phone and addresses. Later that week, they called us and described a special Lifestyle convention called, “In Touch.”
Gene mentioned that it was different from most conventions in that attendees were encouraged to form “intimate friendships” with each other. I was skeptical and wondered aloud if forming “intimate friendships” was just a fancy word for “having good sex.” Gene laughed as he assured me that plenty of “good sex” happened, but the primary focus would be to continue the friendship connection after the sex was over. His wife chimed in, explaining that they’d had friends they’d been swinging with for over 15 years. These persons were like “family” in that they supported each other in friendship and caring.
“We helped her get through her divorce,” Gene continued, ‘We sure were glad when she found a young man into Lifestyle. We didn’t want to lose her.”
As we spoke, it became obvious to me that Gene and Ann shared “intimate friendships” with several couples. I also explained to Gene that we felt as if most Swinging was “too impersonal” but were recovering from an experiment with too much emotional connection. Gene commiserated with us, explaining that most folks who limited their connection to just one other couple ended up having serious problems. He and Ann preferred to have a larger network of close friends, many of whom were also “play partners” or “lovers”.
After this discussion, Darrell and I decided to attend “In Touch,” even if it just meant going to some of the many workshops that were offered. We attended “In Touch” for several years and discovered that many of the folks we met there were genuinely interested in becoming friends as well as lovers. It died out shortly after its founder (George) passed away, but we are still “in touch” with Gene, Ann, and two other couples we met there.
Eventually we discovered Deborah Anapol and her teaching about “responsible non-monogamy,” which later became “polyamory.” In working with her, we realized we fi t into the category of forming a network of friends, some of whom become/are lovers. Deborah evolved into “Taj” and began the exploration of how to create the concept of love as energy, moving and flowing where it will. Through our studying with Taj, we discovered that Tantra was another way we could expand our concept of “love,” whether we were in an open or monogamous relationship.”
As we continued to practice being loving in both the Polyamory and Lifestyle communities, we discovered that they continued to be suspicious of each other. Most Lifestyle couples perceived the Poly community as seeking an in-depth total commitment similar to that of a “group marriage.” The Poly community seemed to believe Lifestyle swinging was mostly “sport fucking” with little or no emotional connection. Darrell and I continued to present workshops in both arenas at conferences, as we joked that we were too committed to be “real swingers” and too casual to be “good” at poly. Although we were at the outer fringes of each community, our programs were well received and we felt connected with both. After moving to Florida, we contacted a Lifestyle group that was run by D, who emphasized the importance of having intimate friendships which were strong enough so that sex was just one part of the total connection. His wife, N, was extremely interested in Tantra and saw Lifestyle as one link in an opportunity to increase spiritual awareness through manifesting loving energy. They were a LONG drive away, but Darrell and I knew we had found a home. D used the term “social polyamory” in his introduction to “our lifestyle group”.
Although another term may not be necessary, it made sense to us to differentiate between the different types of poly agreements; one form that poly takes generally has as its ideal a small group of people committed to loving each other and living together as family, usually in close proximity to each other. This often includes sharing financial resources and raising children together. Another type of poly has as its ideal a looser bonding which includes a larger network of friends, many of whom are lovers, regardless of their geographical location. Usually, these friends and lovers do not share financial resources. Not all members know each other but some especially close loving friends may think of themselves as forming an extended or spiritually connected family.
Darrell and I feel very connected with our poly family. Many mornings we send loving energy to them and our bond is strong whether or not we can see them regularly. We live in FL. for 6 months but travel to NYS, where my biological family resides, for another 6 months. Within this time, we figure ways to spend time with our “family of choice”. In the summer, this usually means spending a month in the Midwest where several poly couples (met at In Touch) reside. Not all of our lovers have met each other since we are geographically diverse. We’ve discovered that a spiritual bonding has been created as several of our lovers have demonstrated they are “naturally tantric” as we make love. The larger numbers in our “family of choice” limits us in that we can’t spend a major amount of time with any one couple. However, we attempt to be supportive, especially in times of crisis, using phone and e-mail.
The numbers of lovers we have is larger than those espoused by most folks who would label themselves as “poly” and considerably fewer than your average “lifestyle swinger”. Perhaps we don’t really need another “label” to describe a preferred way of letting love flow where it will. Maybe using the term “social poly” can be a helpful way to build a bridge between the poly and the lifestyle swing community. We share similar values and could be useful allies to each other.
Nancy and Darrell Casey have been in a committed open poly relationship for over 20 years and are a tantric couple. They’ve presented workshops and are coaches for couples seeking an adventurous relationship which follows an alternative path. She’s a LCSW and he’s a retired teacher. They’re working on a book about “Finding Your Alternative Path” and can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org They’ve written many articles for “Loving More” and are delighted to be able to do so again.