My partner is going to marry his long-term girlfriend, and it bums me out

I just started my first poly relationship with this guy. When we first started talking he told me straight up that he was poly and that he planned on proposing to his girlfriend of two years. It didn't bother me because I was just looking for fun and not anything serious. It's been two months, and I'm not saying I'm in love with him, but I'm kinda sad that I wont get to marry him. He's literally the perfect person and I'm sad I didn't get to him first. What do I do?

Polyamory holds that "love is not a zero-sum game," meaning that if someone gets something, it does not mean that other people can't have that. Like, if I eat a cookie, then you don't get the cookie (zero-sum). But if I am listening to a song, you can also stand near me and hear the same song, and neither of us has a diminished experience of the song.

That's how polyamory works. Including polyamorous marriage and polyamorous weddings. So the framing of "who got to him first" doesn't make sense - he's a song, not a cookie. Who knows whether in two years, you two will feel ready to commit, to live together, to share lives, to blend families, and to hold a big lavish party celebrating that? 

Talk to your partner to get a feel for what engagement and marriage means for him and his other relationships - you're having fears and feelings based on your internal understanding of what relationships look like and what marriage means. You gotta get the real lay of the land rather than relying on your assumptions - that's why polyamory is all about open communication!

How do I handle wanting to marry both of my partners?

how do you handle having two partners and wanting to marry both of them?

If you’re in America, plural marriage is still illegal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t address that desire in other ways.

What is it that you want, specifically? Do you want your union and commitment to be recognized by your friends and family? Do you want to live together, sharing a home and finances and domestic duties? Do you want to throw a big party celebrating your relationship?

Identify what you want, what “wanting to marry” really means to you. Journal. Daydream. Make pinterest boards. Whatever. And then, set about making those dreams come true. It might take some unconventional work, some legal consults, some research, and some creativity - but once you figure out what you want, get out there and get after it!

I want to ask you about transitioning from a poly partner to marriage. We’ve only been dating for 6 months and we’re nowhere near the state of marriage. Especially since she’s moving away soon. But I really want to marry her. I’ve come to terms with our polyamory. I’m very new to it and this is my first healthy polyamorous relationship. My partner’s partner is awesome and respectful and great! And of course deserves love! My partner is fucking amazing and I want to marry her! I guess we need to talk about things. I don’t want to be like, “if we get married then we have to be monogamous.” Cause that’s just toxic! But I just don’t know what a polyamorous marriage would look like. 

It all comes down to what marriage means to you. If you see it as a “next step” of commitment - you go from dating to living together to engaged to married - that’s very different than seeing it as a legal/economic shift. 

It is illegal in all states to marry more than one person; it is illegal in many states to be legally married to someone but “live as if married” with someone else. So if you what you want is a legal document giving you certain rights when it comes to taxes, healthcare, etc. then you’ll need to “choose” someone to marry - but that doesn’t mean the people who are married can’t make it to the emotional commitment level of “married” with anyone else; it just means they can’t legally marry.

So if you’re concerned about the emotional trappings of marriage - new titles, a new level of commitment, vows spoken, a wedding ceremony - talk about that. Do you believe doing that with one person precludes either of you from getting there with someone else? Why or why not? Talk about what marriage means to you, and how you see that in your future. Talk about how you expect that to impact other relationships. Talk about your hopes, dreams, and definitions of marriage.

If you’re concerned about the legal aspect, talk about that. Do you, your partner, or your partner’s partner own property, hold a job, have healthcare needs, or have any other extenuating circumstance that would make a legal marriage an especially good or bad idea? Do you have concerns about child custody, estate planning, taxes, or similar issues? Do you feel that a non-legally-sanctioned “commitment ceremony” is different than an official wedding? Why or why not? 

Figure out what a polyamorous marriage would look like to you, and talk about it with your partner. Carve your own road. Know what you need and advocate for yourself, but be open to hearing other perspectives. Identify what it is that you’re really concerned about - whether it’s what marriage represents to you; or the legal hassle of it all; whether you’re especially concerned about what it will look like to live together or raise children - and focus on that. “Marriage” is too nebulous and vague a concept here, so pin down a definition and figure out what to focus on, then talk it out with yourself and your partners!

I’ve been in a poly relationship for over four years. He’s my only partner(I’m not interested in dating anyone else) and is married, I currently live with them. I’ve recently been experiencing that need/want to get married, but I can’t. It’s selfish, but I find it unfair that she gets a lot of marital benefits that I’ll never get. Any tips?

First off, never say never! This is a perfect example of why we poly folk need to fight for marriage equality. All the benefits that come with marriage - health insurance, child custody, hospital visitation rights, weddings - are denied to polyamorous people, and that sucks.

But as for your current situation, that sounds rough, and I’m sorry. As with all problems in polyamory, my main piece of advice would be open communication. Tell your partner that you’ve been feeling this sadness and desire for marriage. Maybe there are some things you two could do together, or relationship dynamics that can chang, to help you feel better.

On a more serious level, there may be some things you two can do to establish your commitment to each other. The laws differ between states, and in some places it is illegal to “live as if married” with more than one person - but you two might want to talk to a lawyer together about what options you have. There’s nothing stopping you two from staging a proposal (side note: I’m a huge sucker for proposals but could do without weddings), having a party to celebrate your love, taking photos together, going on a honeymoon trip, wearing each other’s rings, things like that.

You may also be able to get a joint bank account and share each other’s names without getting legally married. Of course, I am not a lawyer, and it would definitely be best to find an LGTBQ-friendly lawyer to hash some of this out so you can keep yourself safe.

Some Follow-Up for the Triad

Earlier today I advised a triad who was worried about legal marriage and health insurance. I also want to point out that nothing turns apathy into advocacy better than knowing someone affected by an issue. If you do decide to have a marriage ceremony between any two members of your triad, or if you decide to have a non-legally-binding ceremony, you might want to include a little section in your program that explains your situation. It could be cutesy, or educational, or quick and to the point - but explain why you chose to go the route that you did, and perhaps ask your wedding guests to consider donating to the various organizations that helped you out, or any political candidates whose views on healthcare coverage show promise for plural families.

For example, you could have a page called “Why No One’s Getting Married at This Wedding,” explain the situation in a little story, and then finish with “To ensure that in the future, people like us get to say ‘I Do,’ please consider supporting the following organizations and candidates…” Or, if you and your fiance go ahead and get married after finding another way to provide for your girlfriend’s health care, maybe have her say her own vows as part of the ceremony, explaining how much she loves you two, how true love matters more than legal contracts, and the sacrifices you three have had to make. That would do the double-duty of helping your guests understand your unique situation and helping pave the way for future poly families.

Congratulations on your happy, healthy relationship, and good luck navigating all of this.

Been with my fiance for 6 years. My best friend moved in with us and slowly we both realized we were seriously in love with her. She realized she loved us and a polyamorous relationship was born. There was a lot of talking beforehand, figuring out what we’re comfortable with and whatnot and it’s working really well. I am incredibly in love with her and my fiance… here’s the problem… I still want to be able to marry my fiance. But my girlfriend has a ton of health issues and it has kind of been decided whoever gets better insurance (from a full-time job) will marry her. The hard thing for me is my family has been waiting for us to get married for so long and I want that marriage but I want her to have good health insurance. If polygamy was legal there would be no problems but since it’s not… there is… for me anyway. I still want that marriage to him for my family for me, I’ve been planning it for years… maybe I’m being selfish?

This story just breaks my heart. It’s unfortunate that not only has plural marriage not become a human rights issue just like gay marriage, but the fight for gay marriage is actually pushing our cause backwards. I am so sorry to hear that the three of you can’t legally be married the way that works best for you emotionally and financially. You are not being selfish - it’s reasonable to want the wedding you’ve been planning for so long! Don’t beat yourself up over this. The enemy is external - it’s bigotry and legal snarls - not internal. You three have found something beautiful and fulfilling, so hold onto it no matter what the system says.

My advice would be to bring in some professionals on this. Talk to a lawyer who specializes in LGBTQ rights or other “non-traditional” marital and financial arrangements. Find out what your options are and get some paperwork and precedent on your side. Talk to a lawyer or another professional who is an expert in the healthcare field about what your girlfriend’s options may be regarding health insurance. You might not know what all the possibilities are, or you might not have the know-how to make them happen. Who knows - your girlfriend could find a way to get healthcare coverage without needing to be married to either of you. Maybe the three of you could all contribute to a pooled fund to help pay for her coverage. Maybe she is eligible for a plan you haven’t heard of. There’s a lot changing in terms of health insurance over the next few years, and I think it would be best if you three found someone to help you navigate the bureaucratic maze to find your best option. Build yourself a small army of doctors, lawyers, and other people who can help you three stay safe, healthy and sane. Know your rights and your options and document your decisions well. Know what could get you in legal trouble and how to avoid it, and who to call if you need help. It could get a little pricey speaking to all these lawyers and insurance professionals, but consider it an investment in your future together as a safe, healthy triad.

Once you’ve done that, you might find that you have a better array of decisions to make. You could hold a non-legally-binding ceremony for you and your fiance, or with all three of you (you’ll want to know the legal ramifications of this beforehand, though - talk to a lawyer in your state.) You could marry your fiance after finding another way to take care of your girlfriend’s health insurance. You could all move to another country where the marriage and healthcare laws are less frustrating (that’s a little drastic, though.) But no matter what you do, don’t sacrifice your happiness for the sake of money or legalized bigotry. Thousands of couples have come before you - gay couples who jumped through tons of legal hoops in order to adopt, divorced parents who shared custody before that was normalized, partners of people with health issues who must learn to navigate the healthcare system - and there are professionals out there who can help you carve out a place to be happy as well.

I don’t know what state you’re in, so I can’t give any specific resources, but you could start with these directories and organizations:

  • Poly Friendly Professionals this is the number one directory of lawyers, doctors and other professionals who are poly friendly. 
  • Alternatives to Marriage (linked to their healthcare page) This is more of an advocacy organization trying to help solve your problem once and for all, but they can probably connect you with lawyers and other advocates who know their way around the legal and healthcare systems.
  • PolyFamilies suggests that a poly family open a business together to deal with the health insurance issue