Clockwise from top left: the author, Geoff, Jack and Justin. Photo by Daniela Dusak.

When Your Partner Is Getting Married—to Somebody Who Isn’t You

Helping my boyfriend and his fiancé plan their wedding has been one of the more bizarre aspects of polyamorous living

When I was growing up, my family was the recipient of an annual neighborhood tradition: Mrs. Koenig’s holiday newsletters. The Koenigs lived across the street from me, and Mrs. Koenig maintained a close friendship with my mother. My sister and I adored her boisterous energy and whip-smart humor and were frequently envious of her relaxed, no-bullshit approach to parenting. If there was one thing you could count on come December, it was receiving a crisp white envelope in your mailbox enclosing a feisty summary of the year’s events. Refreshingly devoid of religious themes, Mrs. Koenig’s newsletters included the usual family snapshots and stories, but always in a way that had you grinning foolishly when you finished reading them.

Since I’d long regarded Mrs. Koenig as the woman I wanted to be, those newsletters represented the epitome of established adulthood.

When last Christmas rolled around, I was determined to finally make the newsletter magic happen for myself. I hired a photographer to take professional holiday photos, waxed poetic about the challenges and opportunities that the past year had presented, and mailed off more than 70 envelopes. In contrast to Mrs. Koenig’s newsletters, however, mine also served as a coming-out announcement. See, my adult “family” consists of a non-monogamous relationship unit, and all four of our adorable faces proudly adorned the front page of my newsletter. Instead of simply introducing my boyfriend or girlfriend to the masses, they got to meet Jack… and Justin… and Geoff, cozily appearing under the headline “2015 in Review: My California Family.”

There are some really awesome things about being in a polyamorous configuration like mine. You always have multiple someones to take care of you when you’re sick; the weed and vibrators are plentiful at each residence; you get to confuse strangers when you’re all interacting together in public, and the potential sexual scenarios are seemingly limitless. There are also some really bizarre things about being in a polyamorous configuration like mine, like helping your boyfriend and his fiancé plan their wedding.

When I first started dating Jack three years ago, it was pretty clear that we had opposing viewpoints on marriage. A lifelong monogamous romantic, he was still recovering from a nasty divorce. I, on the other hand, am one of those women who has never had a “white dress” fantasy. I’ve been practicing ethical non-monogamy since college, and societal expectations of traditional, gendered domesticity make me gag.

Jack’s and my bond began as a sexual one, and as it slowly deepened and evolved into a committed relationship we’d regularly butt heads over the big looming elephant in the room that was the future. He had wanted ceremonies, receptions and children. I prioritized independent financial stability, good health and sexual adventure. We knew we were at an impasse, but we worked too well as a team to give up on the relationship. Who were we to try and predict where things would go? The fact that we had negotiated a polyamorous relationship from the onset opened the situation up to a vast number of potential outcomes, like the possibility that he could still meet someone who wanted the whole suburban white-picket-fence fantasy. I’d long ago eschewed the monogamy myth that a single individual could fulfill each and every one of their partner’s wants, needs and desires for all eternity.

Most of the time, the idea of Jack meeting a more family-oriented partner thrilled me. It meant that the man I loved would get to fulfill his life’s dream despite this incompatibility; he’d get to have his wedding cake and eat it, too. When I was feeling insecure, though, I couldn’t help but panic. The goal was for me and Jack to find a way to continue our relationship despite the odds — not for him to replace me. I sometimes lay awake at night worrying myself into fits of anxiety, imagining him meeting someone who wanted to “settle down” and the two of them dramatically tossing (or passive-aggressively fading) me out. Talking with him about these insecurities and receiving loving reassurance helped. But to be honest, continuously reminding myself of the purely hypothetical nature of my fears helped the most. Which was all well and good until that hypothetical figure materialized.

I started dating my other partner, Justin, six months into my relationship with Jack, and shortly thereafter introduced Jack to my good friend Geoff, a combat veteran who had just moved to California from Washington, D.C. Jack and Geoff immediately hit it off, and no one was more surprised than Jack. Not only was the concept of dating multiple people at the same time still alien to him, but he was generally attracted to feminine women and had never been in a relationship with a man before. Jack is trans, and he already had endured two distinctly different “coming out” periods in his youth: first as a “lesbian,” and then later as a transgender man (who still dated women). Jack’s attraction to Geoff threw a wrench into the confidence and complacency of his firm “straight dude” identity.

There was an adjustment period for me and Justin, too, as Geoff’s presence in our lives became increasingly frequent. I was pleased to learn that Geoff had previous experience in non-monogamous relationships; this wasn’t Geoff’s first rodeo. Our polyamory styles proved to be very similar, which aided the transition enormously; we both naturally sought to cultivate close microcommunities of exes, partners and metamours (the fancy word for “partners of partners”) around us. Geoff was intentional, considerate and genuinely invested in the success of my relationship with Jack. Overall, he prioritized the strength of the “family” and that principle alone contributed to the increasingly intimate bonds among all four of us. I knew that the fact that Geoff was a man — instead of another feminine queer woman such as myself — made the entire adjustment feel a lot less threatening to me. (Thank a lifetime of being socialized female and encouraged to compete with all of the women around me for “resources”—i.e., men—for that.)

Geoff wasn’t as gung-ho about traditional domestic landmarks (marriage, children, etc.) as Jack was, but he wasn’t as opposed to all of it as I was, either. He was a happy medium, and that was just fine. The first year of Jack and Geoff’s relationship was mostly focused on addressing Jack’s sensitivities around dating a man and the sussing out of our group’s dynamic, anyway. We devoted a lot of time to figuring out how all the couples would make time for each other, how we’d implement safe sex practices in a group setting, what physical and emotional boundaries we had around the others in the group, etc.

Once Jack and Geoff celebrated their first anniversary, though, in mid-2015, the relationship began to settle and deepen. When the new year brought the four of us an unexpected wave of financial hardships, pet illnesses and deaths of folks close to us, somewhere along the road of troubleshooting all of that, Jack and Geoff began to talk marriage.

While the idea was first brought up with purely practical motivations, the notion got increasingly romantic, and soon it became a routine conversational topic for the dinner table. It was clear that both men were on board, and Justin and I eagerly gave our blessings. One night, as I sat next to Geoff at a local drag and burlesque show that Jack helped produce, he leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, “I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna propose. And I want everyone — our whole family — involved.”

A month later at that very same show, Geoff, Justin and I surreptitiously pulled on coordinated outfits in the bar’s bathroom. It was May 4th — or, as some of my favorite nerds call it, “May the 4th be with you.” In honor of celebrating geekdom everywhere, the show was Star Wars–themed. Geoff and Jack were both obsessed with Star Wars and were known to occasionally drag Justin and I into their fandom (on Christmas Day, all four of us went to go see The Force Awakens).

On this night, the emcee of the festivities wrangled Jack into a child-sized Chewbacca costume, dragged him on stage before intermission and seated him in a chair — all to the tune of “The Imperial March.” Though confused, Jack was no stranger to being the comic relief, so he played along. The DJ then fired up “Talk Nerdy To Me,” a parody of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty To Me,” and Jack doubled over laughing as I danced up the center aisle clad in a cheap Slave Leia costume, complete with lightsaber in hand. Next came Justin, who wiggled around Jack dressed in a leotard emblazoned with the Millennium Falcon while sporting a blaster. Finally, after we’d both teased and flanked him, Geoff appeared in front of us all as Han Solo. On bended knee, he asked Jack to make him “the happiest scruffy nerf herder in the galaxy,” and Jack said yes.

The crowd went wild as I wiped tears from my eyes. My California family was getting married.