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.

It's bedtime at the Bishop house, and everything inside the pink two-bedroom apartment seems normal. Little Andy, with a thatch of red hair on his two-year-old head and his nightshirt tucked up into his Underoos, has a serious aversion to sleeping. So does six-year-old Alex, who keeps racing out from the bedroom to explain the breaking developments in the story of his loose tooth. Like all little boys, they like to stay up past bedtime and sneak leftover Halloween candy when no one is looking and make growling noises with their plastic toy trucks. And like all little boys, they lend a halfhearted ear to their parents, who are gently chiding them to get back into bed.

There is daddy John, a stocky, dark-haired man who is quick with a joke and even quicker to laugh at it. His voice gives away a Chicago accent, and he still retreats to the kitchen to enjoy the occasional Marlboro cigarette. And there is mama Brianna, curled up on the couch, whose sweet, giddy voice confesses, "Andy is cute, and the trouble is he knows it!" And there, in a chair by the door, is mama Charlotte, who is a whiz at making Oriental food and has long red hair just the same shade as her son Andy's.

John and Brianna and Charlotte are husband and wife and wife. And father and mother and mother. To be completely straight about things, it should be explained that John and Brianna are the biological parents of Alex and Andy. That means Charlotte and Andy's similar hair color was just plain luck. But hair color is apparently the only thing left to chance in this unconventional family. Over the past year and a half, John and Brianna and Charlotte have made planned, steady steps to create what they call a polyamorous family -- a family of many loves. They are not neohippies eager to re-create a 1960s commune vibe. In fact, they live in a gated community outside the Sam Houston Tollway. Neither are they part of a breakaway sect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), believing that multiperson marriage is okayed by God. For the most part, Brianna identifies as a pagan, and John and Charlotte claim no religious affiliation. But these three adults are part of a quiet Houston subculture that finds the idea of lifelong monogamous love either outdated, unrealistic, constricting or simply not enough.

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.
Frank and Emily need more than just each other -- they need a wife.
Esther Watson
Frank and Emily need more than just each other -- they need a wife.

"This feels right, comfortable and natural," says Brianna, after she has sent the children off to bed for the umpteenth time. "This is the way for us."


It might be easier to describe polyamory by first describing what its practitioners swear it is not. Polyamorists are not swingers. There is no anonymous sex with multiple partners at low-lit parties where names are unimportant. Polyamorists are not religiously affiliated with any one group. Many do identify as pagan, perhaps because it is a liberal faith that celebrates the concept of multiple adoration of numerous gods and goddesses. Polyamorists are not cheaters. The highest tenet in polyamory is honesty, and there is often constant discussion about the many different relationships going on among polyamorists who are also involved with each other. But polyamorists, if they are telling the truth, could be somewhat superhuman. Because many of them have decided that jealousy is a learned emotion that deserves to be examined, explored and then put away on a shelf. Because if you cannot tame your jealousy, polyamory simply cannot work for you. And that is because even though there are several ways of "doing polyamory," the bottom line is that if you are a polyamorist, someone you love and adore is sometimes going to be sleeping with somebody else. And you are going to know about it.

Although they would shun the title, Taylor Brown and his primary partner, Lisa, are the closest thing Houston has ever had to leaders of a polyamorous community. Taylor is a tall man, with a salt-and-pepper beard and a Shreveport, Louisiana, drawl. He and Lisa, who has waist-length hair and a penchant for clove cigarettes, do computer consulting work together. They have known each other for ten years and have both had romantic relationships apart from each other with the other person's knowledge and support. Unlike John, Brianna and Charlotte, Taylor and Lisa are not part of a "closed" polyamorous relationship, one where multiple members are involved only with each other. But they still fall under the large umbrella of the polyamorous community.

It was this community that Taylor attempted to galvanize when, right around the birth of the Internet, he began a Houston newsgroup for others interested in what is often referred to as an alternative marriage. As the newsgroup transformed into an e-mail address list, he and Lisa also began organizing monthly dinners at the Black-eyed Pea and the Cosmos Cafe to try to meet other Houston-area polys on safe, neutral ground. There are 100 to 120 people on the mailing list, Taylor says, and as many as 35 have shown up to the monthly dinners, although the average number of people to venture out is somewhere between 12 and 20. They range in age from 20 to 60, and most are white professionals, Taylor says. These Houstonians are part of a national group of polyamorists who post on alt.polyamory in droves, read the so-called poly bible Love Without Limits, by Deborah Anapol, subscribe to the 16-year-old Loving More magazine (10,000 circulation at present) and attend national polyamorist conferences, mostly in the Bay Area. Their lifestyle has a lingo all to itself. There are triads, line marriages, primaries, secondaries, polyfidelitous relationships, open quads and so on. Although there is some debate surrounding the issue, it is generally accepted that the term polyamory was coined in the early 1980s by Morning Glory Ravenheart, who belongs to the six-member Ravenheart clan based in Sonoma County, California. If there is a first family of polyamory, it is the Ravenhearts, who claim former Houston resident Wolf Ravenheart as a member.

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.

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.

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.

"You know, I feel better knowing John loves two women and he's not treating one like crap so he can sneak around and date the other," Charlotte says. "He's honest about what's going on, and the children aren't growing up seeing him sneak off to be with me."

Following the initial shock, Brianna's parents are coming around. Not that it matters to Brianna much. She didn't ask for their approval when she married John in the first place, she says, and she isn't going to start now. John's family seems okay with it too.

"My uncle praised me," John says. " "Hey, you go.' "

John and Brianna and Charlotte say this setup is forever, and they don't care what anyone says. They know of -- but don't worry about -- a recent case in Tennessee where the daughter of a woman named April Divilbiss was removed from her home because April lived with two husbands. The child's grandmother discovered and went after April's new family when they were profiled in an MTV program called Sex in the '90s: It's a Group Thing, and April has since become something of a poster child for the polyamorous community.

It's crazy to take someone's kids away because of this, say John and Brianna and Charlotte. The three of them love their kids. At school Alex even draws Charlotte into his family picture. And that's a good thing, because they want Charlotte with them forever.

"This is a closed relationship," insists Brianna. "I mean, if something in the future ever happened where we would choose to open it up again, everyone would have to be 100 percent willing." Then she giggles and adds, "It would have to be a guy. To keep things even."

Charlotte doesn't seem interested in opening up her family. She's happy with the one she has finally found. "This is one for all...," she begins to say, and stumbles over the phrase. When the sentence is finished for her, she smiles and repeats it with confidence: "All for one, and one for all."

"That's our theme song," quips Brianna.


Holly Feray is a 29-year-old brassy bombshell, and she knows it. How could she not? She has two husbands who adore her. And to make things even easier, they actually get along. Patrick Walsh, 32, has been with Holly for almost six years, and C.J. Tipton, 27, has been with her for three. Surrounding a table at the Empire Cafe, they finish each other's jokes, interrupt each other's stories and exude the camaraderie of old college drinking buddies.

Holly and Patrick and C.J. are a different kind of polyamorous triad than John, Brianna and Charlotte, who are all physically involved with one another. Patrick and C.J. make it very clear that it is only women they are interested in ("I'm a lesbian in a man's body, I'm so straight," says C.J.). While Patrick and C.J. describe their relationship as similar to one between brothers-in-law that really get along, Holly is certainly the center of a V with both of them equally connected to her. Unlike some polyamorous triads where a primary partner has a closer and tighter bond than a secondary partner, these three are on equal footing, they say. Also, unlike a closed or polyfidelitous triad, the three of them are free to date other people, although these relationships often take a backseat to the ones they are already in.

"We're a water molecule," says Patrick, a computer consultant. "C.J. and I are the hydrogen, and Holly's the oxygen." And it's true, perhaps in more ways than one. Because Patrick and C.J. seem to thrive just being around Holly and her auburn hair and her wry grin and her "I'm gonna tell you how it is, sweetheart" demeanor.

Patrick and Holly met when both were working as storytellers for the live-action role-playing game Vampire of the Masquerade. Patrick liked her caustic wit and her cute butt and the fact that her strong, dynamic personality complemented his laid-back, quiet one. They hit it off, and three months into the relationship, Holly decided she had to break the news to Patrick. She figured he might run screaming, but at least it would be out on the table and she wouldn't have her heart broken.

Ever since high school, Holly said, she had dated lots of guys at once, and she made no secret about it. She was never a tea-set Barbie-doll kind of girl who started planning her wedding in junior high school, she said. And she just couldn't see herself committing to one man for the rest of her life. After she told Patrick, he was just happy Holly hadn't wanted to break up with him.

"Prior to dating Holly, I could count the number of people I've dated on one hand," says Patrick, a soft-spoken man with a full brown beard. But because of that, he says, it had never occurred to him to have his girlfriend or wife with him all the time. If she wanted to be with other people and that made her happy, well, it made him happy. So when Patrick and Holly moved to Bryan-College Station for one year and Holly met C.J. at a gaming event, Patrick was cool about it.

"Holly was very open about being polyamorous, and at the time I was like, "Patrick knows about this, and is okay with this?' And she was like, "Yes,' " says C.J., who works in inventory control.

All three moved back to Houston two years ago, and Holly and Patrick are making plans to have C.J. move in with them. They want to find a home with lots of rooms so they can each have their own spaces to carve out individual lives. It can be difficult, Holly says, trying to juggle Patrick's and C.J.'s affections. In the beginning, C.J. had to take a backseat to Patrick and Holly. He didn't want to threaten anyone, and he wanted to give the relationship time to find its feet. Holly and Patrick say they appreciate that.

Like many polyamorists, Patrick, Holly and C.J. have a certain way of talking about jealousy that makes it sound like an unnecessary demon that pops up once in a while and needs to be put back in its place. They hit "jealousy walls," says Holly, and they have little family meetings to figure out why. Usually someone isn't getting to spend enough time with Holly. They talk about it and wait for the green-eyed monster, as they put it, to leave. As if the jealousy were something they shouldn't feel. As if it were something they should have gotten over a long time ago.

In the beginning they had to set up a schedule. It was C.J.'s idea, because things were uneven, he felt. But it was painful. How can you set up a schedule for love? It was even more complicated when you consider Holly likes to spend quiet evenings at home with Patrick and nights out on the town with C.J. ("We never have that conflict of "I don't like baseball and you're dragging me to a baseball game,' " says Holly.) But what if one day she was feeling one way -- like she wanted to go dancing -- but she had promised to stay in and watch videos with Patrick? Nobody would be happy. And Holly would stress because the schedule was off.

"It can be exhausting," says Holly. So they got rid of the schedule.

They have their moments when it all comes together. Like the time Patrick asked Holly to marry him. Because Patrick was still working and living in Bryan-College Station until the wedding, C.J. became the official wedding assistant. He and Holly returned to Houston to prepare for the ceremony. C.J. helped her pick out the flowers and figure out what her dress should look like. Sometimes he'd even pretend to be the groom just because it made it easier to deal with the vendors. Because Holly identifies as a pagan and so does C.J. (Patrick claims agnosticism), the two of them had fun preparing the traditional pagan "hand-fasting ceremony," where ribbons representing Holly and Patrick would be wound around Holly's and Patrick's hands. C.J. even had a part in the event, helping to call the four corners of earth, air, fire and water.

Patrick and Holly had the ceremony to show the world they love each other, they say. And as they told the Wiccan woman who officiated the ceremony, they would promise to honor and respect and love and support each other. But of course there were no vows of fidelity. C.J. wants a ceremony too, he says. But there's no rush. He knows Holly loves him. She will love him forever, he says.

Holly and Patrick and C.J. adore talking about that marriage ceremony. It seems like it might have been their finest hour. All three of them were in sync, and they all played out their parts. Patrick was quite nervous, and Holly was very nervous, and C.J. was taking care of things. He relished his role as right-hand man for Holly, running around finding her allergy medication, keeping Holly's mother from panicking, dealing with the DJ who accidentally brought a Jimmy Buffett CD instead of the music Holly had chosen to make her entrance with. To this day, their favorite picture of the three of them is from that wedding reception. In it, Patrick and Holly are seated at a table looking at each other in that way that only just-married people can. And there, in the middle, is C.J. He is leaning in between the two of them peering over their shoulders, with a coffee cup in one hand and his head turned toward Holly.


Wolf Ravenheart, 35, of the famous California polyamorist clan the Ravenhearts, just had a hand-fasting ceremony himself. He was recently joined with his second wife, 21-year-old Wynter Ravenheart, who was raised in a polyamorous home. Wolf, who lived in the Houston area from ages six to 30, flew his mother out from Seabrook to attend the event. She was okay with it, he says.

Growing up in League City, attending Clear Creek High School, Wolf was kind of a geek, he says. Girls never paid much attention. If you had told him when he was 30 years old and working at a Houston Kinko's that he would soon make a connection with the Ravenhearts through mutual friends and end up living in a six-person marriage with two wives, he would have thought you were nuts. But he is happy. He refers to Wynter as his "younger wife" with the gleeful giddiness of a man who has found the promised land.

He appreciates what Taylor and Lisa are doing with the dinners and the mailing list back in Houston. But he won't return. He has found something even better out in California. There, the Ravenhearts are open and out, and everyone knows they are polyamorists. Wolf lists the television programs they've been on with great excitement. The Montrose in Houston may be a "mecca of weirdos," he says, but go ten minutes outside the city in any direction, "and if you're one of them pinko commie faggots, they'll kick the shit out of you," he says with a forced, fake twang.

When asked about jealousy, Wolf sighs like he has been asked this question too many times before. Like he almost feels sorry for someone who hasn't evolved enough to get past such a boring caveperson emotion. The trick is to be inclusive, not exclusive, he argues in a singsong teacher's kind of voice. He uses the word "compersion," coined by his older wife, Morning Glory, the same woman who came up with the word polyamory in the first place. Compersion is the feeling he gets when he sees his wife Wynter in love with other people he loves. It's better than jealousy, he says. It's the opposite of it.

"I don't feel shortened by anything but time," says Wolf. "I've got a job, two wives and a girlfriend in the city. But my needs are being met. I fell into a place where I got to have my cake and eat it too." Like the bird in Aesop's fable who has to fill a water jar with stones to get the water level high enough to drink, it seems the more people Wolf puts into his life, the easier it is to find fulfillment. Fulfillment is a word polyamorists use often. Sacrifice is not.

Wolf offers this easy quiz to find out if you are polyamorous. He says if only one person turns you on ever and you don't feel the need to go anywhere else, you are probably monogamous. But if you love someone, and then somebody else walks by and your heart rate goes up, you are probably polyamorous.

And probably human, too.

It isn't as easy for everybody as it seems to be for the Ravenhearts, with their sculpture business and their Sonoma County group home and their appearances on A&E's The Love Chronicles. Take Frank and Emily. Frank and Emily are having a lot of trouble finding just one wife, much less five or six. They had a wife for a while, and then they lost her. After two years of everybody living together in the same house, their wife moved to California to take care of her sick mother.

Frank, 33, and Emily, 36, can't use their real names for this story. They only want to say that they are a professional couple who live in Houston. They fear if anyone found out about the way they live their lives, they could lose their jobs. Emily's strict religious family would not understand. Even Frank's preteen daughter from a previous relationship does not know. They told her the wife was just a roommate. They told friends she was just the housekeeper.

When Frank met Emily over six years ago, he made it clear she would not be the only woman he would date. He had never dated just one woman at a time, because it hadn't been enough. Emily figured she could be okay with that. But Frank went away on business a lot, and Emily was lonely. She thought back to college, when she had felt an attraction to women but had never done anything about it. But if she had an attraction to women, and Frank had an attraction to women, maybe a wife could work. She would be someone for both of them.

They met her at a party, and after eight months she moved in. She had been a couple's wife before, and she knew how it worked. It was so wonderful that Frank says he doesn't have words to describe it. No words could do it justice. Emily says the closeness and the intimacy she felt with their wife was like nothing she had ever had before. Maybe it was even deeper than the intimacy she felt for Frank.

It was difficult, of course. It had to be kept a secret. No one could know how happy they were. Even now, as Emily talks over the phone about having to place personal ads to find a new wife, she has to make sure the door to the room is shut, perhaps so Frank's daughter will not hear. She has to talk in a low voice. No one serious is responding to the ads, she says, in a tone that is both sweet and desperate. Some guys even call, pretending to be women. She doesn't get it. One of their ads clearly states, "Couple Seeks Wife." Now why would a guy answer that?

Now their wife is gone. They need another. They say they've gone to some of the monthly polyamory dinners, but there is a boom of couples seeking a third person. And the two of them can't exactly approach a woman at a bar or a regular party like a single person could. She might think they were crazy, or sick. So for now they are looking anonymously in newspapers and on the Internet.

"We genuinely want love and Christmases and savings accounts and the house and everything," says Frank. At night they hug a pillow between them, he says, wishing it was someone.

"We could be happy by ourselves, but to be completely fulfilled we want a third person," Emily says. Her voice is sad. She isn't lying. Something is missing. Then she says in a way that is almost a question: "Everyone deserves to be happy."

So for now Frank and Emily will spend quiet nights together being only halfway happy. They will cuddle in bed, clutching a pillow, imagining the space between them being filled by someone heaven-sent and perfect and beautiful and smart. Someone who finally will be enough. It would be easier, probably, if they could just go out into the world and ask for it. A thumbnail-sized blurb buried in the back of weekly newspapers seems like no way to find a lifelong partner. But they are praying it will work. They can't go about it any other way.

"White professional couple seeking nonsmoking DDF [disease and drug free], open, honest, sharing bi-curious or bi-female," the text of the ad reads, right under the bold headline "Couple Seeks Woman." The 35-word ad closes with a promise. A promise Frank and Emily and a lot of other polyamorists wish more people could believe was really true: "You can be with him, her and/or them both. The best of both worlds and more. Serious calls only please."

Now there's nothing left to do but listen for the phone to ring.

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