Love, Love, Love, Love Is All You Need: Non-Traditional Asheville Relationships

“I’ve been in about every situation [in the realm of polyamorous relationships],” says the Asheville resident known as Hawker. He believes that people are either wired for poly relationships or not. And he definitely is.

Hawker is one of the moderators for the WNC Poly group, which was formed in the 1990s and currently has about 450 members. As the group says on its site, “WNC-Poly is a chat group and monthly meeting resource for like minded individuals to discuss and network with the mindset of creating an area poly community.”

Asheville's Non-Traditional Relationships
One of the misconceptions that Hawker says is commonly held about polyamory is that it is just about sex. “That’s definitely not true,” he says. “There is no one way or style of going about it or one type of person who participates in it. Certainly one could argue about its implementation. The bottom line is that you are OK with a relationship with more than one person.” states that “polyamory means ‘loving more than one.’ This love may be sexual, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof, according to the desires and agreements of the individuals involved.” The site goes on to state that “‘Polyamorous’ is also used as a descriptive term by people who are open to more than one relationship even if they are not currently involved in more than one.”

All successful relationships require communication. Hawker says that, like every other kind of relationship, communication is key in poly relationships. “With three people you have three connections, or more connections with multiples,” he says. “So that means communication is especially important. Everyone has to be clear about what is happening and no one should feel that they can’t say what’s on their mind.”

Setting boundaries is also important. It’s a bit tricky, though. “Everyone should know what’s expected,” Hawker says, “but at the same time it’s difficult to make rules and to have specific boundaries. One of the mistakes is to overanalyze and make lots of rules. Sometimes people just don’t know about some aspect of the relationship until it hits them. Relationships are always evolving. Rules change. We have to be flexible.”

“This love may be sexual, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof, according to the desires and agreements of the individuals involved.”

Another issue surrounding poly relationships is public perception. While poly and other nonmonogamous relationships are gaining acceptance in our society, in some circles the stigma associated with such arrangements is strong. Hawker says that he had one partner who slowly lost most of her friends as she came out to them about her lifestyle. And he said that he’s had jobs where some people simply don’t understand it. “I’ve always been pretty blunt about it, though,” he says. “I guess I have more of a ‘fuck you’ attitude. Respect it or I don’t care.”

Jenny and Ben (not their real names) share a nontraditional relationship in Asheville that Jenny describes as an open relationship with the two of them being the primary couple and other people come and go, sometimes dating only one of them and sometimes dating both of them. Jenny acknowledges that impressions and repercussions from friends, coworkers, and especially family can weigh on her lifestyle choice.

“As a teenager, I became disillusioned with my family’s religion, specifically because of the traditional Christian view of sex as a sacred, secret act that is wicked outside of the commitment of marriage,” she says. “I couldn’t wrap my mind around a God who wouldn’t want us to be happy. When I threw away that religious view of sex, it was easy to dismiss many of mainstream society’s views on dating along with it.”

Today Jenny says that she and Ben “avoid societal conflicts by not sharing such personal information with co-workers and family. Who or how we date isn’t their business. Our close friends know. Some support us, but some can’t really understand us. It’s hard when a close friend thinks we can’t really love each other and live this way.”

As opposed to Hawker, who has a long history of a poly lifestyle, Jenny says that her relationship with Ben is her first to be open. She also calls it her first real relationship, stating that previous ones were “childish and short-lived.” She agrees with the veteran about the keys to success, though. “Successful nonmonogamy, what many in the lifestyle call ‘happy poly,’ is based on practicing open, honest communication with everyone involved and living by the golden rule,” Jenny says. “Just like for monogamy, as soon as power struggles, habitual deceit, or passive-aggressive behaviors enter the relationship, it’s doomed. In practice, it’s just talking through what’s going on in our lives, being upfront if I’m uncomfortable with something, and being willing to make compromises if what I’m doing is hurting someone else.”

“This [open] relationship has given me a confidence and security I didn’t think was possible.”

Jenny says that she and Ben essentially “face the same challenges as every couple—that struggle between being selfless because we want to and being selfish because it’s human nature. At the same time, Jenny says it offers so many positives. “This relationship has given me a confidence and security I didn’t think was possible,” she says “Ben could have any girl he wants, but he makes a decision to be with me almost every day. I’m not worried about someone stealing him away from me. I’m not worried about him lying to me about who he was with when he didn’t answer his phone. I’m not worried about what he might say or do if I flirt with the cute bartender.”

Spycey Spyce, a well-known erotic edutainer in Asheville, says that polyamory is as diverse as the people in it. “To put it in a box defeats the purpose of the relationship style,” Spyce says. “You just have to know yourself and know that you can be fluid and take life as it comes.” She adds that people often feel pressured to be monogamous. “Oftentimes the options we’re given in society to relate romantically don’t work for many of us,” she says. “People have to be willing to look deeply at themselves. Being poly isn’t necessarily the answer. It’s more about a way that you feel. I could never look at anyone and say I will never be interested in another person.”

Spyce adds that no one person on the planet is enough to fulfill all the needs of another person. She says that it’s important to be honest about that from the very beginning of a relationship. It’s important to let the other person—or people—know where you stand and what you’re about. “Being poly is more of a personal style,” she says. “I’ve always felt this way. To have a relationship and think I would never meet someone else, that never felt realistic. I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket before I even know what the basket is.”

She added that the dating structure in our society is set up to get to know each other briefly and then decide whether or not to commit. “How can anyone know in a short time, or maybe ever, if they will be happy with just that one person. That’s certainly one reason why divorce rates are so high. For the rest of my life I will never have a feeling for anyone else? How can anyone know?”

Jenny addresses that issue as she compares her relationship with Ben to others. “Traditional relationships are about sacrifice,” Jenny says. “It’s right there in the marriage vows: ‘forsaking all others.’ Those vows assume that you will want others and that you will deny yourself for the sake of the commitment. But what happens when you do want someone else? You have a few choices: 1. Cheat—fulfill those desires secretly; 2. Get bitter—your commitment is keeping you from having what you really want; or 3. Go with it—be honest, discuss it, and fulfill those desires without compromising your commitment. My open relationship is about fulfillment, the ‘go with it’ option. Sacrifice is a part of every relationship, but I would never want to sacrifice deep personal happiness on the altar of a relationship.”

Hawker, Spyce, and Jenny all say that they appreciate people who try to understand them and who can recognize that loving relationships come in lots of shapes and sizes. “If you meet someone who is nonmonogamous, poly, or open, ask what that means for them,” Jenny says. “They’ll probably be glad to tell you about the kind of relationship that works for them.”