By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Both Taylor and Lisa discovered the concept of polyamory like many polys did: from science-fiction books by American author Robert Heinlein. Like many in the community, including some of the Ravenhearts, they credit Heinlein's 1960s novels Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love for making them realize there can be alternatives to a two-person marriage. Heinlein's novels describe a world on other planets where these alternatives exist and thrive. Alternatives such as a line marriage, where an immortal marriage is created by adding partners as others die off. Or making "water-brother nests" of multiple adult partners who are happy sharing each other. To Taylor and Lisa and other polyamorists, that planetary system makes sense. Who really thinks monogamous marriage works anymore, anyway?
"It's kind of an "ask anybody' kind of thing," says Taylor. "How many people do you know who have been in a traditional monogamous relationship for 20 years even, much less a lifetime, and are just loving it? This is about being realistic." Taylor talks about being honest and breaking society's mandate. It seems so obvious. "Really, we're human beings," he says, "not monogamous robots."
John and Brianna Bishop's love story began when John strolled into a classroom at an ITT Tech campus and decided just by looking at her that he was going to marry Brianna. She had a cheerful smile and a bouncy way about her. And the short miniskirt didn't hurt, he adds, with a heh-heh kind of laugh.
"He started talking to me, and he was the most horrendous guy I had ever seen," remembers 27-year-old Brianna. "I was like, "Go away.' I didn't even want to be seen talking to him."
But the next day he showed up again. This time he had cleaned up so well that Brianna had to do a double take. They started out talking, and then they began hanging out just as friends. When Brianna had trouble with her boyfriend, she went to John. Pretty soon she figured John might as well be the one she should be dating. A year and eight months after they met, they married. That was eight years ago.
It wasn't John's first wedding. At 18, growing up on the tough west side of Chicago, he entered into a marriage that lasted "on and off" for about two years. Brianna likes to pretend it never happened. Charlotte refers to the ex-wife as "she who shall not be named." John says it was just hell.
"During it, I got to know a lot of my friends closer," says the 31-year-old, pausing to prepare for the punch line. "And so did she." This marriage, John says, cured him of most of his jealousy. Or rather, it made him give it up. It was a useless emotion. A waste.
"Don't get me wrong, I do get jealous at times," he admits. "But not to the point where I can't flip it off and go, "You're full of it.' "
In the early years of their marriage, John and Brianna opened up their relationship to another woman for a brief three-month period. It's something they don't like to talk about, and questions surrounding the relationship are answered with vague, quick replies. Brianna was depressed, she says, and wondered if opening the marriage would help her "get things on track with my own self." But there were lies, and deception, and the other woman wouldn't share, says Brianna. They either can't remember or won't say whose idea it was to try the relationship. All they know for certain is it ended badly, with the woman throwing dishes at the walls and at John's head. Well, Brianna figured, we won't be doing that again.
But then there came Charlotte.
Charlotte is soft-spoken, with big eyes and a relaxed demeanor. She is almost a mirror opposite of the chatty, bubbly brunette Brianna, both in looks and personality. Before meeting the couple, the 23-year-old had been in "one and a half" relationships. The half was a long-distance thing that doesn't really count. The one was a man she lived with briefly. He is referred to as "the troll." A friend even gave her a plaque after she broke up with him. "Thou shalt not date trolls," it says.
Brianna met Charlotte in the spring of 1999, when they were doing data processing for the same company. It was kismet immediately, says Brianna. Charlotte was a kindred spirit. After just a couple of days of their knowing each other, Brianna started hauling Charlotte home with her. Sometimes they'd watch movies, but mostly they just talked. John would disappear into the bedroom and watch television, but the two women would gab until all hours of the morning.
"We talked about just about everything!" spouts Brianna, nearly breathless. "Philosophy and religion and politics and kids and the meaning of life!"
The late-night talks soon became daytime chats, and before long Charlotte was spending a lot of time with the Bishops. And not just with Brianna. Over the following year, John started venturing out of the bedroom to hang around Charlotte, too. And Alex and Andy were equally smitten. Shy Charlotte would come over and be almost dizzy from the attention. There were four people talking to her at once, "and the three boys were just flirting up a storm," she remembers.