Steve clears his throat, bringing conversation to a quick halt.
Long, wavy gray hair grazes the pillow he holds in his lap as
he looks around the room. Since there are a few newcomers in attendance
this evening, he starts the Pali Paths meeting with more background
He smiles at the various people wedged tightly into the available
space in this small room, the ministers library of a local church
off the Pali Highway. Hello everyone, he says, nodding his head.
My name is Steve. I initiated Pali Paths three-and-a-half years
ago after a lifelong experience of not being able to imagine wrapping
all of my love into one person.
Theres been nights since I
started these meetings where theres been no one else here but
me, but happily thats not the case tonight.
He throws the pillow across the room to Mary (all the names
used in this story have been changed), who giggles elfishly and
brushes the straight blonde hair from her face.
Well, Im Mary, and I am polyamorous, she begins. Ive
been coming to these meetings since they started. Right now Im
living with James, who doesnt care to come to our meetings, but
Im involved in a nonsexual relationship with Frank, she says,
smiling across the room at Frank, who nods his head in acknowledgment.
Mary looks around the room and hoists the pillow at John,
who is sitting on the floor rubbing Pattys feet. He gives a warm,
bearded smile, eyes twinkling, and launches into a typically analytical
A lot of the things society accepts as the law of nature
bewilder me, such as: You can only have one person to love. Or,
if you like cats then you cant like dogs. This black and white,
platonic or lovers, view is implicit in so much of how society
sees the world! With that, John tosses the pillow across the
room to Zack.
You forgot to say your name! Patty chides John.
My name is John, he says, addressing the new people.
Zack, blond hair mottled with sweat, finishes chewing a bite
from the dinner he grabbed after rushing from his running group
to the meeting.
My name is Zack, he offers. Ive been coming to these
meetings for almost six months now.
Jane and I, he says, motioning toward a petite woman with
long, wavy dark hair sitting beside him, have been married for
over six years. Until recently, our relationship was monogamous.
But now were interested in having more love in our lives.
He hands the pillow to Jane. She is similarly clad in running
clothes and sneakers, and is also damp from jogging. Her voice
is quiet, but clear. Zack and I moved here recently from the
East Coast. Weve been lucky to make some great friends here in
Pali Paths, and our goal in coming here is to find other people
we can add to our family. She smiles shyly, and girlishly throws
the pillow over to Patty, who looks as if she is enjoying Johns
As usual, Patty starts by voicing her misgivings about polyamory.
Im Patty, and Ive been coming to these meetings for over a
year. Although Ive been dating this guy, she says, giving John
a kick, who is married, for about nine months now, Im still
not sure if polyamory is for me. There are times when I think
its really crazy, but Im still coming.
With a laugh, she flings the pillow at Frank, who is taken
by surprise when the pillow bounces off the Harley-Davidson T-shirt
stretched across his ample stomach. But Frank only laughs his
deep laugh, a smile spreading across his bearded face.
OK .... well, Im Frank. I am polyamorous, but my wife is
not, which is why shes not here. Ive been involved in a relationship
with Mary for several years, but in the interests of keeping my
marriage together, I am currently monogamous. He squints around
the room. Is there anyone who hasnt gone yet? he asks.
We are all polyamorous, or poly, if you define the word literally:
poly, meaning many, and amorous, relating to love. Though everyone
is capable of loving more than one person in their lifetime, polyamory
as a social movement focuses upon having more than one intimate
partner at one time.
It is certainly not a new concept: Forms of polyamory were
practiced within ancient Hawaiian culture. The Mormon Church ritualized
one form polygamy allowing men to marry multiple wives, until
the 1890s. Its most recent incarnation in American society arose
in the shadow of the free-love movement of the 60s, with the
swingers of the 70s couples who swapped sex partners with
Only during this last decade of the 20th century has polyamory
begun to emerge as a social movement, with its own magazine, Loving
More, an annual poly convention and a growing body of literature
and home pages on the World Wide Web.
Most polyamorists argue that the capacity to have intimate
relations with more than one person is an intrinsic part of their
character, though many people lack a framework with which to conceptualize
I think I identified the qualities within myself a long
time before I knew the word [polyamory], says Steve. Janine,
another group regular, agrees. Ive been married two times and
divorced two times. I finally realized that Im just not a monogamous
person. I used to think there was something wrong with me, like
I was lacking a crucial gene. I tried to be monogamous through
willpower, but it never worked.
But even Steve, who cannot recall any point in his life when
he identified himself as monogamous, only stumbled upon polyamory
for the first time four years ago through computer networks.
I found the news group alt.polyamory, and I looked at that
and thought, well, Ive never heard of that word before, but I
think I know what it means, he says. I spent some time at alt.polyamory
and discovered that it was indeed about intentionally nonmonogamous
If the Pali Paths group in Hawaii is at all representative
of polyamorists nationwide, they are predominantly baby boomers
in their 40s and 50s, primed for polyamorous relationships by
the change in social mores brought about by the sexual revolution
of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some stumbled upon the concept
while reading, notably Robert Rimmers 1965 fiction work The Harrod
Experiment and Robert Heinleins 1961 science fiction classic
Stranger In A Strange Land.
Mary recalls reading The Harrod Experiment when she was 13
and thinking, This is what I expected relationships to be like.
Harrod chronicles the experiences of four students at a fictional
East Coast college with a radical approach to male-female relationships:
Female and male students share rooms and are expected to become
sexual partners. The students in the novel form a tight-knit group
that eventually evolves into a model of polyamorous living.
Steve found his inspiration in Stranger: I was a science
fiction fan from the time I started reading, and when I was 12
or 13, Heinlein published Stranger, and I read it. At the time,
I was just picking up the newest book by one of my favorite authors,
but I was delighted by its visions about relationships and sexuality.
Stranger in a Strange Land tells the story of Michael Valentine
Smith, an Earthling born on Mars. After returning and acclimating
to life on Earth, Smith eventually constructs a communal, polyamorous
living situation he calls the nest, where members communicate
and connect though sexual communion as well as mental telepathy.
I went through my teen years, explains Steve, reading
those books and thinking, This makes a heck of a lot of sense
to me. And so it was a rude shock when I got to be a young adult
and discovered the world was not really prepared to move in that
Despite his initial disappointment, Steve held on to his
polyamorous attachments. Through college and grad school, I continued
to have a philosophical, psychological attachment to the idea
of nonmonogamous relationships and spent some time in the late
70s trying to organize a nonmonogamous spiritual community, and
I advertised some, but didnt find anybody who wanted to pursue
something like that.
Steve is the most devoted to a vision of creating a tribe
of polyamorists. He was inspired to action after attending his
first polyamory conference a few years ago.
I went [to northern California] and spent the weekend with
over 200 other polyamorists, and it was like a revelation! he
explains. You could actually spend time with large numbers of
other people who were supportive of your point of view. It was
certainly a tremendous sense of release and validation to discover
there was a subculture that shared the ideas that I had all of
After that experience, he took matters into his own hands
by creating Pali Paths in Honolulu. He posted ads in Honolulu
Weekly as well as at the Unitarian Church, where he is a member.
And the phone began to ring.
In some ways, he says, its more than I ever expected.
When I first put that ad in the newspaper, who knew? Pali Paths
has become, slowly over time, something of a community, a social
circle which I enjoy tremendously.
Steve may be interested in building a tribe, but others only wish
to expand their intimate circle by a person or two. Jane and Zack
have been living in Hawaii for over six months, after migrating
from the Northeast. At 29 and 33, they are among the youngest
members attending Pali Paths. Both are college-educated professionals.
Their move to Honolulu gave them the opportunity to reinvent themselves
after six years of marriage: They have new jobs, new friends and
are now open about both their polyamorous and bisexual predilections.
Zack and Jane are seeking an extended family, something they
both lacked while growing up. This has motivated them to search
outside their biological kin for a support network. They also
decided recently not to have any children.
We need a surrogate family, says Zack. And we tend to
find that in the people
The couple wasnt aware that Pali Paths existed when they
decided to move to Honolulu. They stumbled upon an ad in the Weekly
during their first few weeks on Oahu, and, after a few weeks
of hesitation, are now regulars at Pali Paths, attending many
of the poly social gatherings as well.
In their newfound enthusiasm for polyamory, they also rushed
headlong into a group relationship with another couple who attend
the meetings. The relationship ended with some acrimony after
only three weeks.
I think we both learned an awful lot with our experiment,
and we had to get something out of our systems, says Zack. Weve
been able to more clearly define what our goals are with poly.
One of the things weve been going back and forth on, says
Jane, is whether we want to be involved with just one person,
or more than one. We decided we werent interested in having a
relationship with a single guy, and for me I wanted to experience
having a relationship with a woman. It didnt even have to be
sexual, although that would be nice. Wed rather it be a couple
who was stable with one another.
They have yet to find that couple. Zack has posted the following
notice on their Web page:
We are interested in polyfidelity ( a committed, multi-adult
relationship we want to widen our family, to create an intentional
and intimate family. We would like to share a bond of friendship
with one or two soul mates, equal partners in every way, perhaps
someday as spouses.
We are NOT interested in swinging, one-night stands or sex
buddies. We are not promiscuous. We insist on real friendship
first, then perhaps love and intimacy this is not an experiment
or a passing interest. This is the direction in which we have
chosen to take our lives and our love. Making a family is tricky.
Some assembly is required!
Though more a discussion group than a singles scene, Pali Paths
has been a source for new poly relationships. Patty and John met
at the meetings and have had a steady relationship for over a
year. Both in their 40s, they share a joy and enthusiasm for life
that makes them seem like teenagers in love. Patty is recently
divorced from her husband of 25 years.
Despite growing up in the shadow of conformity that characterized
the 1950s and early 1960s, John claims he had an intrinsically
polyamorous nature since ever I can remember. [Growing up,] I
realized that theres so many ways of living
and so many of
them are far more sophisticated than ours.
This whole notion that theres only the one true way and
thats the American way, as it was in the 50s and 60s or 70s
its ludicrous, and it made a real impression on me as a child
that a lot of this stuff I was told was being told to me by
people who just didnt know any better.
John entered into marriage with his wife, Liz, with an explicit
agreement to be open to the possibility of having other lovers.
We loved each other and were sufficiently confident in our
relationship that we could allow this to occur and we werent
always fearful that our mate would leave us, John continues.
It sort of reinforced our commitment to each other, in a paradoxical
way. We didnt have other lovers for years and years, but just
the fact that it was permissible and explicitly acceptable for
both of us was wonderful and continues to be.
John and Patty agree that Johns relationship with his wife
is not a threat; in fact, all three of them occasionally spend
a weekend together.
My housemate once asked, What about the jealousy? And
I said, I dont think there is any, in either one of us, Patty
says. I enjoy the relationship with John immensely and feel very
protective of Liz not at all jealous. And I dont think she
feels the least bit jealous of me; I think she knows that my intentions
are certainly not to take Johns love away from her.
Patty is a newcomer to polyamory. Her first exposure to the
concept was at a talk given by Steve. Then she received an invitation
to attend a seminar that discussed polyamory.
I brought the flyer home, and my housemate picked it up
and said, Patty, do you know what youre going to? And I said,
No, what? She read at the bottom: Nonmonogamy! And I thought,
hmm so what? Sounds interesting, sounds a little weird, but
So I went to the seminar, and I thought it was weird.
I thought the whole idea of polyamory was weird. I thought the
people were nuts to think it, actually I really did. Its such
a change in the paradigm. Youre so accepting that monogamy is
the only way that anybody who thinks about the possibility of
its like: What are you? Off your rocker? You people
have got it wrong!
Despite her initial skepticism, Patty continued to visit
the Thursday night meetings. I love small groups. I enjoyed the
conversation, I liked the openness.
It was for that reason that
I kept going, she said. And then at some point, I went out with
and I didnt even think that through. Patty, this is a
married man youre going out with!
I dont know what I was thinking! But after I actually became
intimate with him, I started realizing I had to think about what
I was doing. So then I had to start figuring out, Gosh, is this
even a possibility?
As Patty finally concluded, Its not a black and white thing.
Its not a horrible thing
whether its for me, Im still not
convinced 100 percent. I like the stimulation; I dont like the
isolation of marriage. Whether I need to be sexual with two or
three people at one time
Im just not sure.
Steve in particular seems to embrace the idea that polyamory
needs to include sexual relationships, Patty continues. I dont
know where I stand on that issue, but obviously Im sexually sharing
a man with another woman and not finding that difficult
I think it was initially more difficult for Liz, because
shes always been there, and then to have that new-relationship
energy that was going on between John and I
that must have been
somewhat difficult for her.
Pali Paths has seen its share of relationship wrecks. Frank and
Mary were both married when they met over four years ago, via
the Internet. After conducting an intimate on-line friendship
for several months, Frank traveled to the East Coast to meet Mary
After the first meeting, they agreed it would be a one-time
event and neither mentioned it to their spouses. But when another
irresistible opportunity for them to meet presented itself the
following year, they realized their feelings had become too serious
to deny any longer. They decided to tell their spouses, with the
ultimate hope of forming a polyamorous family.
Marys husband promptly demanded a divorce. With, as she
puts it, nowhere else to go, Mary decided to move to Hawaii
to be closer to Frank. I had been living that Stepford Wife-like
existence, living in suburbia, trying to be like everyone else.
And I just got sick of it. Why not go to Hawaii?
Marys arrival in Honolulu led to Frank and Elaines separation.
Frank and Mary then tried unsuccessfully to live together. When
Frank decided to try to repair his marriage, Mary chose to find
a new polyamorous companion. While both continue to harbor strong
feelings for one another, their relationship has become a platonic
Frank is still committed philosophically to polyamory. I
want an extended family: a number of men and women, all of whom
are compatible and want the same thing. And yet Im unwilling
to leave my wife, who doesnt accept that.
So Im kind of between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Its a nice dream, and I I want to support the idea that polyamory
is OK and that it should be a valid option. I think it has potential
to improve the world we live in. So I support it as much as I
can while keeping my marriage together, and realize that theres
just compromises choices that I have to make, and one of those
choices is to not be with some of the people that I love.
At 9 p.m., the meeting dissipates. People stand and stretch their
legs. Hugs and smiles abound. No one seems to be in any hurry
to leave this little nirvana: For some, its the only place their
lifestyle is validated.
I have no illusions about polyamory being a salvation for
most people, offers Steve. For some people it is, and for some
it is not.
For me, its really about freedom of choice, possibilities
and alternatives: Some people are up to climbing mountains, and
Living a polyamorous lifestyle is not an easy task. It takes
the usual demands of a two-person relationship and makes the situation
even more complex.
To explore polyamory, explains Steve, you have to accept
that relationship pain is actually a part of loving. There are
some people who are willing to be absolutely miserable to avoid
being a little uncomfortable. But, the possibility of being hurt
doesnt supersede the opportunity to be truly alive.
Contact Pali Paths at 239-6824. More information is available