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‘I realised how prudish America was when I came to France’ – Parisians tell their stories of multiple loves

'I realised how prudish America was when I came to France' - Parisians tell their stories of multiple loves
Is three necessarily a crowd? Photo: Ingri Bergo
In the city of romance, a special Paris café dedicated to polyamory - the practice of having more than one significant other - gathers dozens of people every month. An English speaking group will open in March.

Alexandra moved from Washington DC to Paris “for love” more than 20 years ago. Twenty-five years and three children later she and her husband were “still happily married.” As veterans of monogamy, they decided to open up their relationship to include a third person.

“I was skeptical at first, but my daughters talked me into it,” Alexandra said.

'It' was polyamory, a concept she first learned about through her two daughters, 24 and 20, who were both living polyamorous lifestyles with multiple partners. 

Deciding that she wanted to learn more about the concept, she had come to attend Café Poly, a monthly salon-style event that is held in a traditional looking French bar every last Tuesday of the month. Alexandra was not the only first time visitor on that January evening.

“I see many new faces today,” Jena, one of the organisers, said as she scanned the crowd.

The room was packed. Around fifty people sat around, sipping wine. Latecomers had to ask for extra chairs to be brought in. 

Since its establishment in 2009, the crowd turning up to the café has grown from a core of about 10 people to several dozens every month. 

Most of the people looked young, somewhere between their late 20s and early 30s, but there were several who looked like they were in their 50s and 60s.

“Remember, this is not a place for pick-ups,” Jena said, as she laid out the ground rules.

“This is a place to discuss polyamory and how it is to live as polyamorous couples.”

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Some of the people in the room looked slightly nervous, others were eagerly chatting with those around them. 

A box was passed around the room for everyone to write questions that the organisers would read out loud and answer (“for shy people to be able to ask anything they want,” one of the organisers said). 

“Can I love someone and be polyamoric with someone else?” 

Jena smiled slightly as she read the question out loud.

“Well, that’s kind of the idea of polyamory, isn’t it,” she said.

‘Poly' means plural in ancient Greek, and 'amor' is Latin for love, so polyamory is love for several people.

“Society always pins us as 'either or',” Jena said.

“Either you are in a serious relationship, or you’re looking for a quick lay. We need to break up those definitions. There is no single definition of polyamory, or about love.”

A person who is polyamorous is committed to the idea that love is not exclusive, in the sense that it is not necessarily reserved for one partner.

Polyamorous love can be shared evenly between several partners or dosed out between one primary partner and other, looser acquaintances. 

Jena has three partners, lives with two of them and brings all three home to her family for Christmas. 

“As soon as my family accepted the idea that this was not a plan cul (a fling), it worked out fine,” she said.


A triad is like a couple, but with three people instead of two. Photo: Ingri Bergo

Jena went through more questions. Some were technical, inquiring about the idea of polyamory itself (‘can I be polyamourous and jealous?’, the answer was yes). Others were more specific, based on personal experiences. Some asked for advice on how to be polyamorous in a monogamous society. 

“After a decade of homophobia, I discovered polyphobia,” one man said. 

Some had found it harder to come out as polyamorous than as gay or transgender. 

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Being polyamorous is not easy even in open minded Paris. But it might be easier there than in other countries, like in the United States. 

“I realised how prudish America is when I came to France,” Alexandra said.

Raised in Washington DC, a city she said was open minded yet uptight, Alexandra had integrated the American way of love. In the US, monogamous love is firmly established as the norm – perhaps even more so than in France.

Polyamory, therefore, did not come naturally to her.

“I was reluctant at first, I didn’t understand the concept. But when my daughters explained it to me it made so much sense,” Alexandra said.

“It’s about building something with another person. I am not interested in libertinage and all that, which is just for the sex.” 

During the evening she listened intently, occasionally nodding when she heard something she agreed with.

“It’s just about respect. How can you assume to be everything for one person?” she said.

“It brings a lot to our relationship as well. The theory of it is very scary, what if I love another person more than I love him?” 

“But I realised that I can care for someone else and not care for him less.”

And, like love, polyamory knows no borders.

Alexandra was not the only foreigner to participate that night, and sometimes an ‘English table’ is reserved for those whose French is not fluent enough to follow the conversation.

The organisers are preparing a completely English speaking group to open on March 3rd.

Click here for a direct link to the event.

 

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