Loving More: A Portrait of Polyamory

[deck]A polyamorous triad shows that love comes in all sizes.[/deck]

Partners Deborah Benson, Kris Riek, and Pete Benson holds on their living room couch. (Boyd-Batstone/FLUX)

Partners Deborah Benson, Kris Riek, and Pete Benson hold hands in their Springfield, Oregon home. (Keartes/FLUX)

Strolling into the Eugene Mattress Company on an autumn afternoon, Kris Riek, Pete Benson, and Deborah Benson are not discreet that they are buying a king-size bed suitable for three.

“We find that a queen is quite nicely big enough for sex for three, but not for sleeping for three,” Pete says.

Kristin (Kris), Pete, and Deborah are a polyamorous triad. Polyamory (called “poly” for short) describes relationships in which there are more than two partners or participants. Unlike swingers whose lifestyles thrive on casual sexual encounters, and polygamists who marry more than one person for religious or spiritual reasons, polyamorists see their relationships as a nurturing emotional connectedness between people.

After purchasing their new bed, Kris, Pete, and Deborah return to their home in Springfield, Oregon. Surrounded by bookshelves filled with a hodgepodge of books on witchcraft, Russian, and meditation, the triad assembles on a denim couch in their living room, the clanks and slurps from ceramic tea mugs filling the silence.

Kris commands the center, occasionally clasping Pete’s hand or caressing Deborah’s leg. Kris points to Deborah, perched to her side.

“She’s a damn good looking woman,” Kris says. “She doesn’t look her age either.”

Although Kris and Pete met offhandedly on a “poly” chat room seven years ago, the triad’s relationship began in late 2011. A few years prior, Deborah and Kris met during a business trip Kris made to Washington D.C., where Pete and Deborah were living.

At the time, Pete and Deborah, who have been together since 2000, were exploring a relationship with a different woman. But at the triad’s first dinner, Deborah and Kris locked eyes instead.

Reminiscing about the dinner, Deborah turns to Kris. “I started falling in love with you there,” she says.

Pete Benson (left), Deborah Benson (center), and Kris Riek (right) have been a polyamorous triad since 2012. Photo taken in studio. (Boyd-Batstone/FLUX)

Pete Benson (left), Deborah Benson (center), and Kris Riek (right) have been a polyamorous triad since late 2011. Photo taken in studio. (Keartes/FLUX)

While Kris and Pete’s relationship continued to flourish through e-mails, Kris made a trip out to Oregon. Captured by its sandy coastlines and lush scenery, Kris moved to Springfield, Oregon, during the middle of spring 2012. By July, Pete and Deborah had moved in with Kris.

What’s life like for this polygamous triad?

“Can’t say it’s boring,” Deborah says. Kris and Pete laugh in agreement.

The three meditate, debate over movies, cook, cycle, and attend contra-dancing events together–a genderless type of partnered folk dance. They also attend the Eugene Poly Meet-Up, a once-a-month polyamory support group. Held in a dimly-lit sports bar, the meeting serves as a support group for local poly couples. The group converses comfortably about work, politics, child-rearing, sex, and poly relationships–a conversation that few in the group feel safe sharing elsewhere.

Despite the support, their transition hasn’t come without struggle. Before the purchase of the king-size bed, the triad’s nightly conversation about sleeping accommodations involved two words: who and where. “We call it musical beds,” Kris jokes.

Inevitably, someone would be forced to migrate to the bed downstairs to sleep for the rest of the evening. The conversation of “who slept where” unearthed jealousy among the partners. Kris felt twinges of jealousy during one period when Pete and Deborah spent a few nights together without her.

With the introduction of Kris, Deborah often felt replaced. Kris was farther in love with Pete at first, causing tension between the two women as they tried to improve their relationship with each other while sustaining their relationship with Pete.

“There were some times that I was ready to walk because of her feelings,” Kris says. “As much as I was in love with him, I simply would not be able to live with me making her feel like I ousted her.”

The triad also struggles to find alone time. Kris and Pete work from home, and Deborah, who Kris calls their “domestic goddess,” is on disability after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2007, which grounded the “thruple” under one roof.  Says Kris, “The choice always comes down to, every day: do I stay, or do I go?”

In order to tackle these obstacles, Kris, Pete, and Deborah abide by their own fundamental pillars of polyamory­: openness, honesty, and communication. To honor these values, the triad wrote a relationship agreement. Like a contract, the agreement outlines the boundaries and needs of each partner. “It forces you to sit down and think about what it is going to feel like for you and what do you need,” Kris says. “It’s almost like a marriage vow.”

Unlike traditional, monogamous marriage, the triad chose to maintain an open relationship, meaning they’re allowed to have secondary relationships with people outside the three primary partners.

“I have more heart in me than one person can fulfill all of,” Kris says, lightly brushing Deborah’s salt and pepper hair from her shoulder. “It’s unfair to look at one person to fulfill all my needs.”

As of November, Kris has been scheduling romantic dates with outsiders while Deborah is considering taking on another lover. That doesn’t mean she’s abandoning her primary partners, however. “I like the fact it’s open, but my commitment belongs to these two; their needs are important to me,” Deborah says.

In honoring the relationship agreement, Kris confronted Pete and Deborah about feeling excluded from the bedroom. “The way I chose to handle that situation was to share that with them, not to make them feel guilty or control them,” Kris says, “but to simply state my need and say, ‘May I please have a turn soon?’ ”

Neither Kris, Pete, nor Deborah is new to poly. Pete’s long history with polyamory stretches back to his first marriage; he and his first wife met another married couple and, together, formed a polyamorous quad. In 2008, after multiple polyamorous relationships, Pete wrote a book called Polyamory: The User’s Guide to assist others in their own journey through their poly identities.

For ten years, Deborah remained in a monogamous marriage that left her unhappy. The dissolution of her marriage awakened her to her suppressed bisexuality and sparked an inclination toward dating multiple partners. Kris, like Deborah, unearthed her bisexuality after she and her previous husband had a polyamorous relationship with another woman for thirteen years.

The triad encourages each other to pursue potential secondary partners. “I’ll see a good looking guy and I think I’ll go flirt with him,” Deborah says. “Then I’ll think, wait a minute, I’m an introvert, and [Pete and Kris] say, ‘The hell with that, go for it.’ ”

Aside from sexual variety, the triad believes polyamory leads to emotional and individual growth. In Deborah’s previous marriage, her husband discouraged her from becoming an archeologist, asserting that her role was at home with the children. Now, Deborah says, she feels encouraged to explore her passions. “I don’t need to fulfill everything,” Deborah says. “I can be myself without the fear of doing something or being something that would alienate or destroy a relationship.”

On this Sunday afternoon, in the comfort of their living room, Kris, Pete, and Deborah sit hand in hand-in-hand. The room brightens as a rare stream of Oregon sunlight filters through the window. The triad pauses, taking in the spot of sunshine. Kris inhales, then flashes a toothy grin and says, “Ain’t love great?”

The partners are like any couple trying to make their relationship work. Fulfilling the needs of three people is a demanding balancing act. But at least for now, the triad has resolved the issue of “musical beds.”

Unlike a queen-sized mattress,  for this polyamorous relationship, love has no capacity.

Polyamorous partners Deborah Benson (lower left), Kris Riek (center), and Pete Benson (right). (Boyd-Batstone/FLUX)

Polyamorous partners Deborah Benson (lower left), Kris Riek (center), and Pete Benson (right). Photo taken in studio. (Keartes/FLUX)

One thought on “Loving More: A Portrait of Polyamory

  1. Bill Dawson

    Thanks so much for this article. I have been with my partners for 12 years, and it has been both more stable and more fulfilling than any couple relationship that any of us have been in. It is wonderful to see another triad who clearly are so happy.

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