When Cinna Lewis’s husband gets home from a date, she’s the first one to ask how it went. It bolsters the friendship side of their marriage, she says, a marriage that has flourished for 10 years, this May. Cinna had no intention of ever getting married until, at 32, she reconnected with an old Cedar Rapids Washington High classmate, Beau Lewis.
“I have some complex views on relationships, but with him it was the cliché,” she said. “I just knew, he’s somebody I want to build a life with.”
Beau and Cinna got hitched with no playbook, she said. They’ve been figuring out what being married means to them as they go along. And for the Lewises, polyamory — opening their marriage to other partners — has been the secret sauce.
“I’m very stubborn; I don’t want to be told what to do. I don’t want to tell somebody else what to do,” Cinna said. “I think being in love is the most amazing feeling in the whole world, I really do. The rush we get or the pleasure we get from being a part of a partnership — whatever that looks like, there’s nothing like it.”
If there’s a gene that makes the average person prone to romantic or sexual jealousy, Cinna thinks she was born without it. Growing up, if she sensed a boyfriend had a crush on another girl, she’d encourage him to flirt with her.
“It just didn’t bother me, where my friends were like, ‘you’re insane.’ I was always far more injured by dishonesty, secrecy, things like that. I’d rather know what you’re thinking and feeling.”
“That’s how I discovered the concept of polyamory, because it does tend to attack a lot of those kinds of issues. It’s about growing into yourself as a person, figuring out where your insecurities come from.”
Cinna is pansexual, but believes polyamory, beyond being a lifestyle choice, occupies some portion of her sexual identity. “I think it’s a part of how I’m wired,” she said. “My husband really identifies as polyamorous. He can just feel that in his bones.”
Still, neither Cinna nor Beau had really been in poly relationships before. When they decided to introduce it into their marriage, it wasn’t because monogamy wasn’t working out for them, Cinna said, but because it was working. With such a strong foundation, why not build on it?
“We like to think outside the box. That binds us together as a couple. We don’t want to have lordship over one another,” she said. “With polyamory, it was just — I don’t want to call it a realization, because that’s kind of corny. It was just this thought. It started from an idea that I wanted each of us to have as much autonomy as possible.”
“I approached him out of nowhere one night. I walked in the TV room and was like, ‘You know, I’d really be OK if you wanted to see someone else or sleep with somebody else.’ … When he realized I wasn’t just messing with him or making a joke, we started talking about it. I think that every non-monogamous couple has to have a boundaries conversation — what’s going to be OK, what’s not OK.”
They set only two hard-and-fast rules for each other’s dating life: when it comes to sex, use protection, and keep it out of the marital bed. Still, they wanted to take the time to prepare for the transition, knowing polyamory requires brutal honesty, high levels of trust and constant communication.
“I’d say there was three or four months of just talking about it before we kind of slowly got on OkCupid and put ourselves out there.”
The Cedar Rapids couple made their own online dating profiles, disclosing wherever possible that they are “married, non-monogamous.” She and Beau are “uniquely suited” to a poly lifestyle, Cinna said, from their more-the-merrier attitude about love to the lack of children to consider when embarking on or breaking off relationships. (Lewis was never interested in having kids, and Beau’s children from other relationships are older.)
Before long, Beau had a girlfriend. Then Cinna had a girlfriend. Later, Cinna dated other men. And on a couple occasions, Beau and Cinna have had the same girlfriend at the same time, forming a triad.
“I don’t want to say I have a favorite experience, but it’s a really cool one because then it’s like everyone’s working together as this really cool team,” Cinna said. “It was so nice that I care about this person and she cares about him and I know that if I’m not around she can be there for him if he’s having a bad day. I felt like there was so much support in that kind of system.”
The biggest enemy of poly folks, she said, is time: “The logistical nightmare of life balance,” Cinna said. “Scheduling alone time, because everyone wants one-on-one time. You know, it’s Valentine’s Day, how do we sort that through?”
And while Cinna and Beau practice perfect honesty with each other and their partners, it can be hard to be an “out” poly person. Their immediate family and friends have been accepting, and Cinna even brought a girlfriend to a work function once without conflict. But no legal protections exist to protect polyamorists from discrimination.
“There’s a lot of threat to it. People can lose their job. If there’s a custody situation, people have to worry about it being brought up in court,” Cinna said. “It’s hard to be out, and maybe that’s part of the problem. I think there’s probably way more of us out there than what any of us know.”
She’s learned to be patient while explaining her personal life to curious friends and acquaintances, but can get annoyed by assumptions that every poly person is a swinger, or serial cheater.
“You have to remember that cheating equals lying. Cheating is dishonesty. Cheating is betrayal. When everyone’s honest with one another, there’s no betrayal,” Cinna said. “My perfect utopia on Planet Earth, you’d see families of poly people at IHOP. I think we’re kind of far away from that yet, unfortunately. I want everyone to be safe to be who they really are. Because there’s no greater gift than that.”
She sees that gift in action all the time, she said. In poly circles, it’s referred to as compersion: feeling joy at someone else’s joy. Cinna fondly recalls a nice day when their triad were relaxing together on the Lewis’s back deck, beside the fire pit.
“I remember I’d gone in the house and was looking out the kitchen window at him and our girlfriend at the time. I was just watching them interact and they were getting the fire going and exchanging a kiss and helping each other out with stuff. That felt really, really good,” Cinna said.
“Polyamory is really beautiful. I call everything I do in life an adventure, and polyamory is one of the greatest adventures I’ve ever been on.”
Emma McClatchey is not married, but likes to think of her cat, dog and her as a kind of triad. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 278.