My sister is in a three-person relationship; what should I do?

polyamorous

Dear John,

First, I want to thank you for doing what you do. I’ve been reading your books, blogs, facebook, etc. for a while now. I’ve had friends who just don’t think God wants them the way they are, and I point them to your writings many many times. I know that your encouragement has helped thousands of people find God’s acceptance.

Now, I’m finding myself in a crisis.

It seems that when it’s all just theology and talk, I am quite open minded. I believe in LGBT rights in the church, and I have repeated it countless times to many people. But now it has hit home, and I find myself acting quite differently—the very picture of the bigotry and hate I have come to condemn from the churches in which I grew up.

Here’s the situation. My sister has come to me and told me that she has decided to be in a three-person relationship. My husband and I met the guy in the relationship last week (at the time she just told us he was her boyfriend). But now she has told us the truth, and is asking us to meet the woman this week. We are supposed to keep this a secret from our parents.

I don’t want to meet her. My husband doesn’t want to meet her. I don’t think this is right for my sister, and I want to find a way to tell her. The back-story on this is that my sister has just come out of an awful divorce. She got married too young (she was 21, and had never lived as an adult on her own). Since her divorce, she has not taken any time to be alone. She has searched out sexual experiences of all spectrums. So although this is different—it seems to be a loving committed relationship—to me it just feels like an extension of her sexual freedom spree.

I hate the way that I feel about this. I feel like I am spewing out the very same sort of hate and bigotry that I condemn. Yet on the same time I feel on a gut level that this is wrong. Mostly just wrong for her, but also wrong. And I can’t sort out my feelings; I can’t tell if they’re a remnant from my upbringing, or if it’s my conscience telling me to take responsibility for my kid sister (which I can’t, of course; she’s an adult). I’ve been praying for God to guide me in this and help me be loving toward my sister in any way that I need to. If that includes accepting this relationship in her life, then I seriously need God’s help to change my attitude. But so far I just have a big ball of anxiety in my stomach, because all I feel is the need to tell her to get out of this relationship. Please help me understand how I should react. Thank you so much.

Thank you for the kind words about my work. I appreciate that.

The first thing I’d recommend is to read this interview, which I did with a woman in a polyamorous (meaning more than two people) relationship: 1 Man, 2 Women in a Polyamorous Relationship. I can’t imagine you not finding it helpful.

Secondly, it’s touching that you care so much about your younger sister’s well-being. Sometimes, though, older siblings tend to take a little more responsibility for the feelings of their younger siblings than is altogether healthy or helpful; in that sense they sort of assume the role of a proxy parent. It feels to me maybe you’re doing a little of that here. Which is certainly understandable; clearly, you love your sister. But the bottom line is that she’s going to do what she’s going to do. You can and should, of course, gently share with her your own thoughts and concerns. Just remember, for your own peace of mind if nothing else, that her feelings are not your responsibility.

I don’t understand why you and your husband are so against meeting the other woman. What do you have to lose? Meeting her means having a lot more information about what your sister’s getting involved in. How could that be bad? At any rate, by refusing to meet her you pretty much forfeit your right to have an opinion about your sister’s relationship with her. You wouldn’t care what someone who’s never met him thinks about your husband—much less your relationship to him—would you? Go meet the woman. Be honest with her about your concerns. There’s no way she doesn’t know how weird most people find the idea of a polyamorous relationship. So talk to her about that. See what she says. For all you know, she’s freaked out to find herself loving the way she now is. You never know. So go. Find out. Learn.

Here’s the thing: Your sister is either going through a phase that will pass, or she’s really in love with these two people, and they really love her, and the three of them are going to live happily ever after. Either way, your job remains the same: to love and support your sister. You can’t change your sister; you can’t make your sister see truths you wish she would; it’s unlikely that you can influence your sister at all. All you can do is make sure that she knows you love her, that you’ll always listen to her, and that if she needs you for anything, you’re there. That’s the best. That’s all anyone wants to know about anyone they love.

Let her drive for a while. Take a back seat. Trust her a little. That’s really all you can do. If you shun your sister now, or constantly make clear how wrong you think what she’s doing is, she’ll only recoil from you. And if her love-love-love affair doesn’t end up working out, she’ll be a lot less likely to come to you for solace than she would if you’d been there for her all along. And if it does work out, then it would have done so in spite of you. No good. You just cannot win by condemning it now. And neither can she.

Bottom line: You can, and should, share with your sister your concerns, thoughts, fears, prejudices—all of it. You get to talk about you. But you don’t get to talk about her: you don’t get to tell her who she is, or who she should be. You can share with her, for instance, that you genuinely can’t understand how a person can love two people in the way that most people love one. But you can’t say that no one can love two people in the way most people love one. The former is about you, which is fine. The latter is about her and everyone else, which is beyond your rightful purview.

Bottom line redux: Love is a strange, wild animal. I tend to think people were designed to love, mate-for-life wise, only one other person. But who am I to say what romantic/committed love should or must look like? The woman I interviewed above seems perfectly content in her polyamorouos relationship; if anything, she seems more sane than most people. Since publishing that interview I’ve received a great many emails from people in polyamorous relationships, and to a person they’ve seemed sane, kind and … rather disappointingly normal. They’re not freaks. They’re not immoral. They don’t have subpar values. They don’t seem any less dedicated to either of their mates than I am to my wife. They’re just …. in love with two people.

Who am I to say that such a love indicates the presence of … faulty wiring, or whatever? As long as no one’s getting hurt in such a relationship, who am I to say it’s inherently wrong or harmful? For all I know polyamorous relationships are better than the regular kind. I mean, it’s not like any of us are surrounded by nothing but happy normal marriages.

I don’t know about polyamorous relationships. I also don’t care about them. Again: if no one’s getting hurt, I can’t find a hook to hang my caring hat on. I’ve got my own life to worry about, my own relationship to tend to. Of all the problems in the world, I can’t see getting upset over the fact that someone is loving two people instead of one.

So I say relax. If your sister’s polyamorous relationship is real, you’ll know it. If it’s not, she’ll know it—and then you’ll know it. Either way, you’ll still be sisters. And that’s a love that should never change at all.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Michael

    Dear John,

    I find your words very helpful. My cousin is in a polyamorous relationship. While I’m troubled by some things (in her M-F-F relationship she is not the mother of his children, and I wonder if she will be provided for in her old age), I also admit that they seem to be happy in their situation. If I can live with Jacob and his two wives and two concubines and honor him as a man of faith, can’t I also honor my cousin?

    Michael

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      Yes! Yes, you can. :)

      For the record, as a single lady who has never married and has no kids, I continually plan for my own care in my old age. :) Perhaps that is something you could mention sometime to your cousin. It’s just prudent thinking for those of us with no kids.

      • Jen Henley

        Nicole, it’s prudent thinking even for those of us WITH kids! There are no guarantees that your children WILL take care of you as you age. Nor necessarily that they should. Our culture has changed.

        Excellent response, John.

        • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

          So true, Jen! I hadn’t thought about it that way.

        • Allie

          As someone facing decisions about my parents’ care, I can tell you that a couple of years in a nursing home would wipe our savings out completely. It’s terrifying. I’m not sure there is such a thing as enough money for elder care.

          • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

            Scary but true. :(

  • Alma Almodovar

    Very sound advice, John. Wouldn’t add or substract one word.

  • http://www.patsediting.com Patricia Brush

    This may be a little sideways to the topic at hand, but this is the sentence that stood out for me: “Since her divorce, she has not taken any time to be alone.” It may be that the writer would need time alone after a divorce, but that the sister doesn’t. It may also be that the sister had plenty of alone time during her previous marriage and is grateful to be in a supportive relationship. The latter was my experience.

    Another sentence that rang my bell was: “She has searched out sexual experiences of all spectrums.” That sounds to me like someone who did the socially-expected thing and got married at the appropriate age, which for her may have been before she knew herself well or before she had the courage to say, even to herself, I am not strictly heterosexual. The experimentation she engaged in after her divorce would be the experimentation that all people go through as they come to understand their sexuality. For those who have a socially-approved sexuality, that experimentation happens in the teens and early adulthood. For those who come to an understanding of themselves later in life, that’s when the experimentation happens.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

      Everyone goes through the stages of life uniquely. For some the ending of a relationship means taking a long time being single before embarking on a new relationship, for others the time between partners is quite short. There are pros and cons to both, but are limited to what is pro or con to that individual.

      The same is true with sexual experimentation. Some people go through a gamut of experiences, others just don’t. We are again unique in what works for us in that.

      As for the kind of relationship being discussed here, my biggest concern is equality and respect by all parties involved in that relationship. Time will tell on that, so I am with John on this. It’s her life, her choice, let’s hope she is happy and remains so.

      • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

        “The same is true with sexual experimentation. Some people go through a gamut of experiences, others just don’t. We are again unique in what works for us in that.”

        Thanks for saying that. I’ve had people tell me that there’s something wrong with me and I need counseling because I’ve not had sex. That annoys me. My life is mine to choose how I want to live…and it’s a full and good life.

  • Hannah Grace

    Great response, John.

  • Zach

    As usual, John, your answer was thoughtful, insightful, and compassionate. I have been in two 3way relationships. There is much I can say on the subject, but the lessons I learned come down to this: The only people that can define “love” are those that are in it!

    If we look at history, even the “orthodox” arrangement of “love” and “marriage” has severe cracks in as much as about 50% end in divorce. I’m often mystified by the aversion people have to polygamous relationships when the bible and many current cultures speak of them in quite casual terms. When did something that was once blessed by God, become such an icon of evil and lax morals? It is person(s) that create evil, not the relationship “style”

    • Sarah

      Does the Bible have any examples of polyamorous relationships? I have been searching…. If you know of any, I’d be really grateful if you could point them out for me. (not polygamy, but polyamorous in this same way, as in all parties equally in love)

      • Don Rappe

        It may not be so simple to distinguish polygamy and polyamory. I am reasonably sure that there are no old testament prohibitions of two women loving each other. Most of the rules seem to be designed to keep the system of inheritance orderly.

  • Sarah

    Thanks so much, John, for your words of wisdom. I’ll be back to write more later after I’ve thought a bit about what you’ve said. As you know it’s been some time since I originally wrote this to you. As a small update – I don’t regularly see her bf/gf, but I have met the gf briefly, and we have sent messages back and forth on facebook. But, when we hang out once a week, we do talk about everything including their relationship. The main struggle at this point is my husband. He does not want me to see them (the bf/gf), and he will not even see my sister at all.

    What you said about proxy parenting is probably true. In so many ways I just want to be her sister, but I find myself being a proxy parent. My parents are missionaries halfway across the world. It’s just me and her here. So yeah I guess I feel a little bit more responsibility for her than a lot of sisters might. But I think she does the same for me.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Sarah! Good to hear from you. Sorry it took me so long to answer this; just got insanely busy.

      Why’s your husband being so unhelpfully difficult? That seems …well, obnoxious. You’re working on keeping your relationship with your sister good and healthy. Why is he working against that effort of yours? Tell him to stop acting like a child, and start acting nice to your sister; that’s his job now, as both your husband and her brother-and-law. It’s not about him.

      • Mindy

        Thank you so much for saying this part, John! That last sentence is needs to be in all caps.

      • Sarah

        Hi John, no it’s no problem, I know your life has been insane. Thank you for your response. I did read that interview you had with the polyamorous woman before I wrote to you. In fact, after my sister first told me this, I specifically searched your blog, thinking “I’m *sure* John Shore has talked to someone about this” LOL.

        But my sister’s situation seemed different than hers. Of course every situation is different. I see some people commenting that perhaps she didn’t need time after her divorce. I’m sure some people don’t need time. But how I really meant that is that, since she married so young, she has never had time alone as an adult without another person defining her. She hasn’t really had time to figure out who she is as a person. Now she’s taking this broken heart, unhealed, and trying to share the broken pieces with two more people. I guess the biggest part I’m trying to fathom is how that kind of situation can help her heal. But I know it’s not my place.

        As for my husband… yes, he’s being difficult, and that’s part of what’s making this so much harder. He’s stubborn, but it’s also part of his weird way of caring. He’s from a different country, a different culture than me, and his parents way of showing “guidance” is if you don’t do what they like, you are cut off. But then a month later they call you up and ask why haven’t you come over for dinner. I’m hoping that’s his outlook. That one of these days (and soon) he’ll just be like “OK, I’m over it.” Because I have tried talking to him about it and for him right now it’s not even up for discussion.

        A key phrase you said… “as long as no one’s getting hurt.” And I think that’s what my whole thing hinges on. She is getting hurt, and that’s not my subjective opinion. I can see her tears and I can tell that she’s uncomfortable with it. And by trying to convince me she seems to be trying to convince herself.

        I don’t think I’m deluding myself to see what I want to see. I hadn’t known this before I wrote to you. But since then I have seen her several times, and I remain even more convinced that this relationship is wrong for her, maybe not even because of the polyamory aspect. Maybe it’s just this specific relationship.

        Here I am rambling again, but I really just want to thank you. I know the important part – love my sister and be there for her regardless of what her decisions are, and let them remain her decisions.

        • Matt

          “…she has never had time alone as an adult without another person defining her. She hasn’t really had time to figure out who she is as a person.”

          This is a genuine concern to have. But every healthy relationship has boundaries. If your sister’s partners care about her, they will encourage her to have time to herself, to develop her hobbies and friends and life outside of them. They don’t have to swallow her up, so to speak. They are going to care about her as a person, not just as their partner.

          Sometimes you just have to let people learn their lessons the hard way. It’s really difficult to watch a person you love make mistakes; you want to shield them from pain. But they won’t have a life worth living if you do it all the time.

        • Allie

          Tears are bad. That’s new information. You’re not required to help her pretend a dysfuncti0nal relationship is a functional one.

          Nevertheless, I think you have to let her make her own mistakes, as much as it hurts, not just because that’s the right thing to do but because it’s the only thing you can do. What will showing your disapproval accomplish? She’s not going to break up with these people because you want her to.

          What are the tears about? Is she being neglected? Is she jealous? The thing about threesomes is that it’s rare to find TWO people who want the same amount of closeness from each other. Making it work with three may not be impossible, but it’s unlikely. If she’s not happy, and she will admit that to you enough to cry in front of you, you can tell her that she has the right to live with people who don’t make her cry. She deserves more.

  • Becky

    John,

    Kudos on a great response from yet another person who would seem disappointingly normal to you. And loving it!

    My only thought here is that the sister has TWO issues with what her sister is getting into. She is concerned about the poly aspect, but she also seems to be concerned that her sister is entering into ANY relationship “too soon” after a bad divorce, after never having any time to herself. That is a very valid concern, and following the “talk about yourself, not about the sister’s actions” could also be a very valid thing to bring up. Poly or mono, that is something that people who love you are concerned about all the time.

    - Becky

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

    John,

    Great response, John. You’re like the love child of Dear Abby and Dan Savage. You know this, right?

    • mike moore

      HAR! I hate you because I sooo wish I’d thought that up … Perfect!

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      So much win!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      The greatest thing anyone’s ever called me!

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

      So enjoying letting my imagination run amok on this little concept.

  • Michael#2

    Dear Letter Writer,

    I love your candor and willingness to challenge yourself, not to mention sharing your own questioning-of and disappointment-with yourself. Kudos!

    For your consideration: first, I think John really hit the nail on the head in every regard. He’s offered up some exceptional advice and thinking, so take advantage of that.

    Also, let me kindly suggest that you and your husband’s distaste at meeting your sister’s female partner sounds like gut-reaction revulsion (example: did you guys immediately picture a scene from bad late night cable soft-porn?) Maybe it’s a reaction to the polyamory, maybe it’s to the lesbianism, maybe some of both. And I don’t say that judgmentally or accusatorially. I feel the same way when someone wants to introduce to a Republican. But in your (and my) cases it’s an unjustified reaction, nonetheless.

    Your sister loves her, and that’s worth an invitation. Invite them over, grit your teeth, have a cocktail or two beforehand, and put on a big welcoming smile. You might have a great evening.

    Also, you mention this “just feels like an extension of her sexual freedom spree.” Maybe you should think of this not as a spree, but as part of her journey forward. Who knows where it will lead ultimately?

    Many years ago, my husband of (now) 20+ years lived in a gay poly relationship for 4 years. It was a stellar period in all of our lives (the only thing the 3 of us fought over was “who’s been wearing my clothes?!”) While we moved past polyamory, we remain exceptionally close to our former partner and his (now) long-time partner.

    You may always believe this is wrong. That’s OK. I still hang out with a few Republicans and have fun with them, even though THEY BE CRAZY.

    Good luck!

    • Barbara Rice

      *I feel the same way when someone wants to introduce to a Republican.*

      That made me laugh out loud.

      • cap

        I’m disappointed. I’m a pro-gay marriage Christian, but because I’m also Republican you think I’m disgusting? For shame, dehumanizing someone for ANY reason, much less how they’re registered on the voter rolls.

        I just found this site, and thought it seems welcoming, but I guess the open-and-tolerance only goes so far.

        Sigh. So tired of political stereotyping and bashing, from and against all quarters.

    • Sarah

      Thanks for this :) The responses here are wonderful.

      Her sexual freedom spree… I was trying to not go into too much detail in the letter, but it was definitely not leading her forward in a journey. Her marriage was an abusive one, and because of that, she had low self-esteem, and because of *that* was searching out very unhealthy bdsm encounters (unsafe… internet strangers… random people that were untrustworthy, and times she’s was afraid for her life). In that way I’ve actually been glad of this relationship that took her out from that.

  • Valerie

    Sarah, I have a quick question. Would you feel the same way if you had met the gf first and then she came to you and said there is a guy too? I just wondered.

    • Sarah

      Yes, I think I would. Or, rather, mostly the same. I guess it would be a little different, as she has never come out as gay or bi before, but that’s really not the part I am having difficulty with.

      • Valerie

        Ok I was just wondering. Thank you for the answer. We have made some great new friends and it isn’t all about sex. This could be a passing fancy or it could be a new lifestyle for your sister. I love that she is able to come to you with her life choices, it is more than I am able to do with my Southern Baptist family. Please support her no matter what she comes to you with as your love and acceptance will make it easier for her to come to you in the future when or if it turns out she made a mistake. Prayers for you and your family, especially that your husband will become more accepting in the future. Blessings to you.

        • Valerie

          sorry I edited that paragraph and didn’t take out all of the stuff I wanted to delete.

        • Sarah

          Thank you :)

  • Kelly Withee

    Great advice!

  • Lois Markiewicz

    Awesome! Both this article and the one you referenced. I believe quite firmly that love comes in all kinds of varieties. And if its loving for all concerned, then it’s of God. Because God is love.

  • Nancy Inotowok

    Thank you so much for that reasonable and kind response.

  • Jennifer Ann

    John, I need to print this out and slip a copy to my husband’s sister and our girlfriend’s parents!

    Thank you so much for this. Your response was perfect, in every way. You are a wise man.

    Live and let live… love and support… plain and SIMPLE!

    THANK YOU!

  • Pam Mack

    Excellent post. This applies to a lot of situations

  • AC Smith

    Beautiful!

  • http://www.malakhgabriel.net Gabe

    Thank you so much, John, for the response you gave. The polyamorous sister’s story sounds much like my own. Married early, marriage ended, went almost immediately into an open/poly relationship, did anything I could think of to explore my new sexual freedom. I ended up in a relationship with two of the most amazing people I’ve ever known and formed a family I couldn’t have dreamed of years ago. These are the most healthy relationships I’ve ever had. It can work out. Worries are justified, sure. It’s hard, and when it goes wrong it can go spectacularly wrong. But so can mono relationships. And just like mono relationships, if all parties are putting in the effort, communicating well with one another, respecting one another, then the relationships can be absolutely beautiful, nourishing and loving. Best of luck to the letter writer and to her sister.

  • Diana A.

    As usual John, you nailed it!

  • anakin mcfly

    Somewhat detracting from the tone of comments so far – I relate completely to the OP in her stated knee-jerk revulsion to polyamorous relationships, and it particularly bothers me especially given my strong support for the LGBT community of which I am a part. What I find especially hard to rationalize on my part is how I don’t seem to mind if the threesome in question is purely sexual – it would just be something other people do and that I’m not interested in, and I can even see the appeal – but the moment actual love and commitment enters the picture, I get really weirded out, and the aversion kicks in. Which doesn’t make sense, because a loving relationship should be ‘better’ that one with no emotional connection; it’s all the worse when, while I find regular affair-having to be wrong, I don’t have the same freak out reaction to it as I would if I learnt that all parties involved were *okay* with said affair. Which makes no sense at all – why would I be more approving of a harmful relationship than one which everyone enjoys?

    I read the interview John linked, and somehow it made it worse, because so much of it involves the exact same things I tell people in defense of my sexual orientation and gender identity, but somehow they aren’t working for me in this context, and it makes me feel like a hypocrite.

    • Sarah

      Hi, thank you so much for this. I felt like my reaction was somehow weirdly unwarranted. I suppose in part it is.

      The weirdest thing for me too is that I also *don’t* find anything inherently wrong with threesomes either. It’s the loving committed threesome that just weirds me out. And that’s so very hard for me to rationalize, which is why I was wondering if it was some remnant of my fundy upbringing that I just hadn’t subconsciously cleared out like I have with so many other things.

      • Matt

        Anakin–I can see where you’re coming from here. There is a theory among polyamorous folks (which I don’t count myself as one), that there are people just built for it, and those that just aren’t. Maybe it’s just that simple.

        I also think of it like this: We have had it ground into us in our culture that there is never genuine love between three people–it’s always two lovers, and an “other woman” or cuckolded husband. If there is a mix of genders, that also necessitates some gay sex, which you and I both know is still difficult for mainstream straight society to wrap their minds around. There’s also discomfort with bisexuality in there too, I imagine.

        Basically, it’s the same old formula of “I don’t understand” and “I don’t like” being tangled up with and expressed as: “It’s wrong; it shouldn’t be.” You and I, despite being LGBT, aren’t immune to this. We’re human too; we take time to learn and adjust like everyone else. Our advantage is first-hand experience of people directing their hate and word vomit in our direction, so we can stop ourselves sooner and challenge our knee-jerk assumptions.

        • anakin mcfly

          I don’t think it’s so much the issue of gay sex for me (oddly enough I seem less squicked out at the thought of three men or three women together, but when there’s a gender mix I get uncomfortable), but the question of whether such love can be genuine, as you say. I find it hard to imagine a truly equal love relationship in a threesome, but it’s possible that I’m just projecting. I’m a trans guy like you, and I know that if my hypothetical partner suggested we find a third person to join us, I’d be extremely paranoid that its because I’m not male enough / good enough for him, and if the third person were a woman I’d probably be paranoid that my partner only finds me attractive because he’s attracted to women, and so on; basically I can’t see any scenario in which that would work out well.

          And I realise it might be different for other people, but I find it hard to think of a way that would truly guard against any form of jealousy emerging at some point within the trio, or at one of the three feeling emotionally neglected in favour of another. I mean, we already get that all the time among siblings, even when their parents love them equally.

          and I admit that part of my reaction is also regular jealousy – when I transitioned I resigned myself to the fact that I might never even find *one* person who loves me (I’ve never been in a relationship before; gay guys are rare enough as it is, and gay guys who are okay with dating a trans guy are virtually non-existent in my conservative community), and these people have *two*? >_>

          • Matt

            I completely get all of that. I have been extremely lucky to find a life partner–with a trans woman. Not that partnering with another trans person is inferior, but we have a level of comfort I couldn’t have with a cis person. All of my past boyfriends were pre-transition, when it was assumed I was a girl.

            I think you will find someone, if you keep your heart open. And just know that you are fine the way that you are–we are guys, we are men, no matter what cisgender people say about our bodies. I can get the lonelieness, and the jealousy of others. It can seem so simple for cis people sometimes, right? They want a partner, they get one, they want to get married, they get married. But everyone has their struggles. You’re not alone :).

          • Lymis

            Parental love is very different in some significant ways from the love between partners or spouses, but most people don’t have any trouble accepting that a parent can have genuine and equal love for more than one child.

            People who allow themselves to be can often be far more capable of love than we have been taught to believe we are supposed to be.

          • Elizabeth

            Anakin, everything you were saying resounds with me. Except I am not trans* :-)

            I wasn’t going to comment but I want you to know something – dont give up on love. Not all cis people find your gender status a turnoff. I don’t just mean that there are those who specifically find it a turn on either. There are a lot of us who just love the person for the person.

            Courage and being true to yourself are qualities that are precious in a partner. It kinda makes you more inclined to be like that in a relationship too. You already have those in abundance!!

            I hope you are able to let go of your insecurities and truly live yourself for the gorgeous creation you are. That will open more doors for others to love you too.

  • Alexis

    My parent raised me to the best of my knowledge in a more or less completely monogamous heterosexual marriage. That being said I knew for most of my life that my mom was bisexual, she had girlfriends before I was born, but found my dad and he was the one for her. Since my brother and I have grown up and left the house they have been experimenting with their relationship. They are still 100% committed to each other but they also have girlfriends some times. I never met the first one they told me about and there was a lot of strain in our relationship. I moved out and they started parting and invited someone else into their marriage, and by extension our family. It felt wrong. I am very LGBT friendly and but when it came down to my parents I was felt anxious and kind of angry. A few years have passed since then, I’ve met their current girlfriend. She was nice around my parents age has a 17 year old daughter. I can now see they are all adults and this is not a threat to my family. It is very unusual and it made me worry for their marriage. Unusual isn’t bad it adds variety to life. Give yourself some time and efinately meet her it makes everything better.

    • Sarah

      Thank you. I think time will smooth things out.

  • Patricia Boese

    Really wonderful and well thought out answer! Love is often perplexing to those of us on the outside of a relationship but it isn’t up to us to understand, just to respect and accept if they are adults and harming no one. Relationships and closed ones, have taken many, many forms through the centuries and we can’t discount the true feelings or sacred bond they might have had with one another while some single couple relationships actually have no authenticity to them at all. We have to let them make their own choices.

    Another interesting subject with another great response. Always great to stop by here!

  • Ange

    Hey John,

    Just wanted to say that your answer to this woman’s dilema was amazing, beautful, loving and so full of wisdom. I’ve been avoiding christians for a while as I seem to find the judgemental preachy ones. If there were more like you with such a open heart this world would be a better place. Keep spreading the love. Thank you.

  • Samantha

    Recommended reading on Polyamory and open relationships:

    The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton, and Opening Up by Tristan Taormino.

    Both books do a great job talking about the many complexities of non-monogamous relationships and addressing many of the struggles outlined by the letter writer. The Ethical Slut in particular does a great job at explaining the perspective of someone who is in a poly relationship.

    • http://www.malakhgabriel.net Gabe

      I’m poly, and would not recommend The Ethical Slut, especially as an introductory text for mono folks. I found it to be full of “Oh, we’re so enlightened, not like those jealous, controlling, mono people.” It can be quite ofputting, and justifiably so. I found it wonderful when I first read it, because it was the first thing that ever suggested that there were other people who loved like I did, but it’s got some serious shortcomings. I found Taormino’s book to be much, much better.

      Listening to some Polyamory Weekly could be useful as well.

  • Lymis

    I don’t want to oversimplify the issue, but I see some parallels here to a situation where a family member marries or dates outside the religion.

    At it’s core, isn’t this at least significantly a question of whether it is morally acceptable for her to do this, by the standards of the letter writer’s Christianity? And if so, isn’t this in many ways similar to finding that a sibling has married a non-Christian, especially, say someone like a Hindu, with a pantheon of gods rather than a single God?

    (I am not comparing polytheism directly with polyamory.) But how would you react, socially, as a Christian, so someone becoming a member of your family by marriage whose views on religion were significantly different from your own?

    Does disagreement, even on something so fundamental, require condemnation? Or can you meet them on their own terms, as people and as fellow children of God and let God be the one responsible for judging their choices and conduct. Unless they’re inviting you over for an orgy, it’s largely a matter of being nice to guests in your home, even if their customs are different.

    Or, maybe another example – if you were Catholic, and your sister divorced and remarried, you’d be theologically bound to feel that she was still married to the first husband and committing adultery with the second. Would you say so to their faces at family gatherings? Or could you be open to getting to know the new man as your brother-in-law even if you couldn’t “support” the marriage? And what if she stayed friends with her ex-husband and the new couple continued to socialize with him?

    You might need to have a conversation with your sister where you explicitly say that you are open to knowing these people as people who are important to her, but that for now, you’d prefer not to be put on the spot by being asked bluntly for an opinion or a blessing on the details of the relationship.

    • Sarah

      It’s funny you mention that because when I first started dating my (now) husband, he was not a Christian. He is Asian and his family have no religion persay, but what small religious things they do follow are more Buddhist. He became a Christian during our time dating, but there are still a lot of things ingrained in his mindset that come from that background, little superstitions, views on luck, spirits. It’s a learning experience for us, him being somewhat a baby Christian, and we both have little things that we take as default truth, but are completely the opposite to what we believe. And… I don’t seem to have a problem integrating with the in-laws or finding common ground.

      It’s weird, because coming from an interracial marriage, I *should* have MORE experience dealing with different worldviews. And in general, like I mentioned in the letter to John, I DO view things with a much more open mind than how I was raised. That’s why it bothers me that this bothers me.

      Another thing that happened since I wrote the letter, was that I asked her to simply pray and listen and see what God is telling her about this relationship. She confided to me that she has not prayed in years…something that I had not known. I guess she has kept up appearances for my parents, who come back on furlough from the mission field.

      I really wouldn’t mind seeing them at this point, it’s just a matter of convincing my husband.

      The other part that makes me uncomfortable is her displays of affection. Even the first night when we were meeting the boyfriend and didn’t know any of this, it was literally kissyface every 30 seconds to the point where it was uncomfortable. I wrote it off as newbie love, cute and twitterpated, but I don’t think I could deal with that with both of them there.

      • mike moore

        I think it’s simplest to just to tell her she’s thrown a lot at you … a poly relationship, her introducing the bf without explaining the situation, asking you to keep this secret from your parents … and you don’t feel it’s too much to ask to keep the PDA out of sight for now.

        If that fails, don’t forget the classic, “GET A ROOM!”

      • Lymis

        When I came out, one of the people who stayed friends and actually became closer in time told me that he was uncomfortable with me being gay, but that he knew it was his issue rather than mine and that he wanted me not to censor myself around him and to forgive him in advance for any stupid or offensive questions he asked – and then proceeded to feel free to ask them, including asking whether or not I actually felt the question was offensive.

        His willingness to be uncomfortable and not try to put the responsibility for that discomfort onto me was a huge gift to me – much more valuable than the people who tried (and failed) to hide their discomfort and just drifted away.

      • LN

        Just a word from our experience of a large mostly-ex-fundy family adjusting to one family member’s coming out – Even if your husband doesn’t want to meet the other person, maybe you could still meet the person by yourself. He might just need more time or assurance it wasn’t too embarrassing. And also, it doesn’t hurt to say, “I need more time to process this before I’m ready.” Your being upfront about your feelings, but making clear that you love your sister and are not judging her, will only help her confront her own feelings, whatever they may be. I could not agree more with John on this post, from our own experience. However it turns out for her, she will need her sister! You will never regret being on the side of love.

  • http://practicingresurrection.wordpress.com Bill

    I find both Sarah’s letter and John’s response touching. Great comments too.

    I appreciate Sarah’s sincerity, and it has caused me to reflect on how my own views on this topic might be challenged under similar circumstances. Intellectually I know how I should respond, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t have a struggle like Sarah’s.

    Having said that, what struck me most was John’s comment that as long as no one is getting hurt, then the sexuality of other persons should be of no concern. That’s my bottom line and it has helped me discard a lot of harmful cultural baggage.

    Thanks for the great thought-provoking post.

  • Richard Lubbers

    Very touching, John. As always, your words lead to love, acceptance, and a complete trust in the process of growth each person has to go through. One of my favorite authors from my early years, Chaim Potak, wrote stories he described as “core-to-core cultural conflict”. They usually resolved with some of the characters finding the pathway to acceptance and love that took them beyond their differences. I pray your wise counsel will help this woman and her husband. Grace and Peace.

  • Ruby

    Thank you for this well thought out response, John. As a straight polyamorous woman who is happily married to someone I’ve been with 8 years and has been in a serious relationship with a second partner for over 3 years, it’s hard to find a place in this world. Especially when we’re all Christians. I wish more folks could be as accepting as you. We’re largely in the closet because we fear the backlash of more conservative people we know–including my mother. I know that my brother worried about me at first, but he sees how happy I am with my two partners and how good we all are to each other. They get along really well. I’m with the others here–please allow your sister to make her own mistakes if you feel that is what she is doing–but also be there for her, and love her. She needs all the support she can get. Best of luck to everyone involved.

  • Michael C

    I might be on the opposite side of the spectrum on this, but I think it is perfectly acceptable for you to cast judgment on your sister’s chosen relationship…

    …only after you’ve taken the time to understand it.

    I think it is important for you to get to know your sister’s boyfriend and girlfriend, ask your sister a lot of questions, and attempt to see things through her eyes. You don’t seem to be constrained by religious dogma, so your concerns are either based on social norms or you don’t have faith in your sister’s ability to make healthy decisions for herself. Who knows, perhaps your sister is making a horrible mistake! You’ll never know if you refuse to understand.

    While you don’t seem to be in the least bit judgemental, if your sister told you she was dating an ex-con, you’d have major reservations about the relationship. I see this situation as no different. You should be worried about your sister’s choices when they run contrary to the norm (by “norm” I mean what is normal for her). I ask you, though, if she was dating an ex-con, would you flat-out refuse to meet him?

    Good luck!

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.steffenhagen?sk=wall Soulmentor

    Fine response John, as usual. As a gay man I am naturally more open minded because all the social struggles surrounding that force one into more introspection and, as a result, more liberal thinking. Therefore, I can’t find a moral problem with polyamory. But I would give thoughtful consideration to concerns about the seemingly natural human tendency toward jealousy which stems, of course, from the dysfunctional idea that we “own” the person we love and are partnered with. We don’t, of course, and never can.

    Real Love gets past that “ownership” issue to acceptance of the fact that Love really can be more expansive than one to one. Tho seemingly not for most, it does seem to be true for many and the dysfunctional marriages, and divorces rates might be telling us that it could actually be the more natural way to be. But that’s another discussion.

    If the individuals in a polyamorous relationship have resolved that issue among themselves and live in loving and good civic lives, then who are we to suggest they should not? Other than unexamined religious notions, what could possibly be a rationale to tell them NO?


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