Whether you're single or attached, Valentine's Day can be rough: either you're planning that perfect date, which can't possibly meet your special someone's expectations, or you're lamenting the fact that you don't have a special someone to disappoint. Either way, it's nothing compared to what the polyamorous have to deal with.
In case you don't know, polyamorous (despite sounding like some kind of chemical compound) is a term referring to people who are comfortable having multiple loving relationships in which all parties are aware of what is happening (i.e., Gavin Newsom's arrangement doesn't count). The word was coined by Morning Glory Ravenheart Zell in the late '90s.
"I love the word," says Dossie Easton, coauthor of The Ethical Slut (Greenery Press, 1998), the how-to bible on polyamory. "It's a beautiful word meaning 'loving many.'<0x2009>"
But what does loving many people mean when it comes to Valentine's Day, the holiday set aside to celebrate romantic love?
As you might expect, Valentine's Day is not a simple affair for many members of the nonmonog community. The holiday, like the year-round polyamorous lifestyle, requires patience, tact, and one hell of a good scheduling system.
In fact, nature photographer and polyamorist Joe Decker says many of his peers call PalmPilots "PolyPilots." "You certainly hear a lot of jokes about it," Decker says. (Kind of changes your view of the middle-aged businessperson with a handheld planner, doesn't it?)
L, a polyamorous woman from San Francisco who wishes to remain anonymous, agrees that Valentine's Day can be complicated by time constraints. "Though your capacity for love might be great and unlimited and encompass a great number of people, you still only have 24 hours in your day," L says, noting that in some relationships the primary partner gets Valentine's Day and the secondary gets the day before or after. In another case, one involving one woman and two men, the woman splits Valentine's Day between her partners.
"Time management is definitely an issue," L says. "A day planner is a necessity."
In addition to the difficulties inherent in scheduling, Decker says, the way he chooses to celebrate Valentine's Day can sometimes result in unintended tension between him and people who are unfamiliar with the polyamorous community. For example, one year he ordered flowers for two girlfriends and his wife all at the same time. "There was nervous laughter on the other end of the phone. The teleflorist dealt with it pretty gracefully," Decker says.
But not all polys feel that holidays need to be complicated. According to Easton, who has practiced polyamory since 1969, celebrating Valentine's Day is not that hard. "What you should do for Valentine's Day is have a big party with a very large box of chocolates. Everybody can wear red I love it and practice openheartedness," she says. She points out that in a polyamorous relationship structure, there isn't necessarily a need to choose whom to revel with. "There's no reason why a dozen people can't get together and celebrate Valentine's Day," she says. "There's no reason why you choose. Are we going to tell the kindergartners they can only give one Valentine's Day card because they can only have one friend?"
Others point out that while there may be some extra scheduling and unique circumstances for people with multiple lovers, the basic principle of arranging a good Valentine's Day understanding partners' expectations is the same as for a conventional couple. For example, Decker makes an effort to find out what his lovers expect for Valentine's Day ahead of time. In his case, one particular partner doesn't care for the holiday, so they don't celebrate it.