Love the Ones You’re With
Contact Poly Paths
Pali Paths supports “polyamorous” relationships for people who want intimacy with more than one person — at the same time.

April 29, 1998

polyamorous couples

“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 than usual.
     He smiles at the various people wedged tightly into the available space in this small room, the minister’s 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. … There’s been nights since I started these meetings where there’s been no one else here but me, but happily that’s 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, I’m Mary, and I am polyamorous,” she begins. “I’ve been coming to these meetings since they started. Right now I’m living with James, who doesn’t care to come to our meetings, but I’m 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 Patty’s feet. He gives a warm, bearded smile, eyes twinkling, and launches into a typically analytical introduction:
     “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 can’t 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. “I’ve 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 we’re 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. We’ve 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 John’s foot massage.
     As usual, Patty starts by voicing her misgivings about polyamory. “I’m Patty, and I’ve been coming to these meetings for over a year. Although I’ve been dating this guy,” she says, giving John a kick, “who is married, for about nine months now, I’m still not sure if polyamory is for me. There are times when I think it’s really crazy, but I’m 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, I’m Frank. I am polyamorous, but my wife is not, which is why she’s not here. I’ve 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 hasn’t gone yet?” he asks.
poly handsWe 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 other couples.
     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 that.
     “I think I identified the qualities within myself a long time before I knew the word [polyamory],” says Steve. Janine, another group regular, agrees. “I’ve been married two times and divorced two times. I finally realized that I’m 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, I’ve 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 relationships.”
     If the Pali Paths group in Hawai‘i 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 Rimmer’s 1965 fiction work The Harrod Experiment and Robert Heinlein’s 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 direction.”
     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 didn’t 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 my life.”
     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, “it’s 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.”
Loving More websiteSteve 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 Hawai‘i 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
      around us.”
     The couple wasn’t 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 O‘ahu, 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. “We’ve been able to more clearly define what our goals are with poly. “
     “One of the things we’ve 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 weren’t interested in having a relationship with a single guy, and for me I wanted to experience having a relationship with a woman. It didn’t even have to be sexual, although that would be nice. We’d 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!
group photoThough 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 there’s so many ways of living … and so many of them are far more sophisticated than ours.
     “This whole notion that there’s only the one true way and that’s the American way, as it was in the ’50s and ’60s or ’70s … it’s 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 didn’t 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 weren’t always fearful that our mate would leave us,” John continues. “It sort of reinforced our commitment to each other, in a paradoxical way. We didn’t 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 John’s 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 don’t 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 don’t think she feels the least bit jealous of me; I think she knows that my intentions are certainly not to take John’s 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 you’re 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 what?
     “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. It’s such a change in the paradigm. You’re so accepting that monogamy is the only way that anybody who thinks about the possibility of nonmonogamy … it’s 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 John … and I didn’t even think that through. ‘Patty, this is a married man you’re going out with!’
     “I don’t 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, “It’s not a black and white thing. It’s not a horrible thing … whether it’s for me, I’m still not convinced 100 percent. I like the stimulation; I don’t like the isolation of marriage. Whether I need to be sexual with two or three people at one time … I’m just not sure.
     “Steve in particular seems to embrace the idea that polyamory needs to include sexual relationships,” Patty continues. “I don’t know where I stand on that issue, but obviously I’m sexually sharing a man with another woman and not finding that difficult
     “ I think it was initially more difficult for Liz, because she’s 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 in person.
     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.
     Mary’s husband promptly demanded a divorce. With, as she puts it, “nowhere else to go,” Mary decided to move to Hawai‘i 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 Hawai‘i?”
     Mary’s arrival in Honolulu led to Frank and Elaine’s 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 friendship.”
     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 I’m unwilling to leave my wife, who doesn’t accept that.
     “So I’m kind of between the devil and the deep blue sea. It’s 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 there’s 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, it’s 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, it’s really about freedom of choice, possibilities and alternatives: Some people are up to climbing mountains, and some aren’t.”
     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 doesn’t supersede the opportunity to be truly alive.”
Contact Pali Paths at 239-6824. More information is available at

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