Meet Mr. and Mrs. and Mrs. Jones

Some Houstonians say monogamy doesn't work for them. They don't cheat. They don't swing. They do have more than one spouse at a time. And the whole family knows about it.

Yes, there was flirting. Charlotte could tell John was attracted to her. And she didn't know what to do about it.

Charlotte had little to worry about. Brianna and John were already talking to each other when Charlotte wasn't around, gradually bringing up the subject of opening up the marriage again. At first they talked about it in abstract terms, although both knew just whom they were referring to. They both surely were thinking about the failed relationship they had tried before, with the dish-throwing woman who wouldn't share. They didn't want that again. But they were both attracted to Charlotte. Brianna felt like she had a person-sized hole inside of her that she hadn't even noticed before. Not until Charlotte came along, at least. They wanted to be more than just friends, because being just friends wasn't enough. They worried about missing out. What if they let the opportunity pass and then spent their whole lives sitting around wondering if they had ever had anything fantastic?

One night in March the couple approached Charlotte. The trio stayed up until five in the morning, talking about what it would mean to welcome a third person into their marriage. Because that's what Brianna and John were talking about. They had known Charlotte for a little over a year. And they wanted her to be their wife.

C.J. prides himself on having helped organize Holly and Patrick's wedding.
Esther Watson
C.J. prides himself on having helped organize Holly and Patrick's wedding.
C.J. prides himself on having helped organize Holly and Patrick's wedding.
Esther Watson
C.J. prides himself on having helped organize Holly and Patrick's wedding.

Charlotte, of course, had questions. Were they serious? Was this some sort of antidote to problems in their own marriage? Would they tell the kids?

Yes, no and yes, answered Brianna and John.

They talked lots more for almost three weeks. Until one day Charlotte decided. She was in.

The first thing to be taken care of was telling the children. They were already used to Charlotte being around all the time, and Andy was too little to really understand anyway. All three adults sat Alex down, and they told him that they loved mama Charlotte, and she loved them, and wouldn't they like it if she were a part of their family?

"He said, "Yeah, that's cool,' " says Brianna. "It kind of took him a while for it to kick in, to settle in and for him to figure it out."

Charlotte backs up Brianna's claims. "He's as happy as a june bug that he's got two mommies!" she says. Sometimes Alex doesn't even want to go to sleep if she isn't there to tuck him in. She talks about the time, at a family gathering with extended relatives, when someone referred to her as John's girlfriend. Alex stood up and hollered at the top of his lungs, "No, it's not, that's my mom!" All of the adults are quite proud of that story.

So how do they work it, exactly? The sleeping and living and eating and decision-making? John and Brianna and Charlotte say it's not that much different from a two-person marriage, except now there are more people to share in the cooking and tidying up and child care. And more people to add to the love. They credit Charlotte for getting them to eat like a real family, around the dinner table. Before Charlotte, lots of times they'd just eat when they wanted to in front of the television. Now they all take turns cooking (John makes great steaks, and Brianna can whip up pancakes and "anything that comes out of a box"). Although they have plans to pool finances and move into one house as soon as their leases are up, Charlotte has her own apartment, and different permutations of adults will end up there at night, depending on everybody's mood. They waited until Charlotte was a part of the family to become physical, they say.

"It's like this," explains John. "If Bri wants to spend time with me on Tuesday, she talks to Charlotte and says, "You know, I'd like to spend Tuesday with him,' and then we'll have that night. And then let's say Charlotte wants to spend the next night with me alone, and we'll do that." Charlotte and Brianna also have "girls nights," when they get to be alone. Once in a while, John and Brianna both discover that they'd like to spend the evening with Charlotte, or Charlotte and Brianna both want John to themselves. When that happens, they flip a coin.

"We had to start doing that, because it allows for more luck," explains Brianna. For a while they tried rock, paper, scissors, but it rarely would work. They would have to do it ten times before somebody won. So now it's heads or tails.

"If it lands on its side, we all stay home," says John.

Their families have had mixed reactions. Charlotte, whose parents are separated, says her mother loves her "instant grandchildren," and has visited and bought the boys gifts. Her father doesn't know. John calls him "a control freak," and Charlotte figures she's already disappointed him by not staying the little girl he once knew. But anyway, he had already disappointed her. Like the time when Charlotte was a little girl and he cheated on her mother with another woman. That disappointed Charlotte a whole lot. But she is certain this family won't let her down.

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