Aging in Polyamorous Families

A preview from the cutting edge of polyamorous family research.

Posted Jan 23, 2017

In 1996 I began researching polyamorous relationships for my doctoral dissertation, and in 2016 I started the fourth wave of data collection for my longitudinal study of polyamorous families with children. While I am still conducting interviews and have not reached my final conclusions, my preliminary findings regarding aging in polyamorous families are both solid and interesting enough to share here. For more information about my research methods, sample, and findings, please see my book summarizing the first three waves of data collection: The Polyamorists Next Door.

The first in a series of two blogs on aging among polyamorists, this blog offers a peek into my preliminary findings on aging polyamorists and their relationships with their children, community engagement, the physical impacts of aging, and divorce.

Children

Nazareth College/flickr
Source: Nazareth College/flickr

Mid and late mid-life polyamorous folks mirrored many others in their age group by spending less time and energy on parenting than they had in earlier waves of data collection. This decreased emphasis on parenting was due in large part to children growing up, moving out, and getting on with their own lives. Also similar to their peers in their 50s and 60s, some of these polyamorous parents allowed their “boomerang” young adult children to move back home again after leaving the first time when the initial launch did not work out for them as planned. 

Community

Although some continue with high levels of activism that even increased with retirement from paid work, many aging polyamorous folks reported declining levels of involvement in organized community events. These older polyamorists cited a number of reasons for their decreased involvement with organized polyamorous community events, primary among them boredom with endlessly talking about dating and jealousy. Older polyamorists or those practiced in long term relationships have long since dealt with the challenges associated with jealousy and dating, and frequently express a desire to move on to discussing other things.

Another reason some mentioned for their slow withdrawal from polyamorous community engagement was that many events are at night. This makes sense for folks in the work force who can come to a Meetup or support group after work, but it can create a barrier for older polyamorous folks because driving at night can be problematic. Aging brings disability and mobility issues which can also make it difficult to go to events, and it is inevitable that someone at a large event will be wearing a fragrance—either perfume/cologne or frangranced lotions, shampoos, or hair products—so polyamorous people who have developed chemical sensitivities often choose to stay out of large crowds.   

Physical Impacts of Aging

In addition to limiting their attendance at some polyamorous community functions, the older folks in the study also mentioned experiencing increasing disability, loss of mobility, and a growing reliance on medications and physical assistance.

Max Pixel
Source: Max Pixel

Some of the community event venues were not accessible to people using wheelchairs or with significant mobility limitations. Respondents also reported making plans for being old, such as planning to find housing without stairs or installing a home lift to navigate the stairs when walking up and down flights is no longer an option.

Divorce

Members of my sample experienced significant family transitions over the last 20 years, including several high-profile divorces among polyamorous community leaders. Financial implications of polyamorous divorce mirror those among more conventional families: Low-earners or those who do housework and childcare for free to care for the rest of the family tended to lose financial stability and experience some significant downward mobility in housing, cars, and lifestyle. In one instance, the low earner from one family joined with the low earner from another family to create their own family and experienced the compounded disadvantage of working at low-wage jobs.

People in these polyamorous families also experienced some disadvantages associated with divorce that more conventional relationships could avoid. In the US and elsewhere, it is only legal to marry one person at a time, and being married to more than one person concurrently (bigamy or polygamy) is a felony in most states. Lack of legal recognition also means lack of legal standing to request custody or visitation of children, spousal support for those who kept the home so others could earn money, or a share of the property. Unmarried polyamorous spice (the plural for spouse), like other sex and gender minorities without an officially recognized familial status, remain legal non-entities to the family and thus have no rights what so ever.