Eve Furchgott
Copyright 1993 Fellowship for Intentional Community.
Reprinted from Global:Ideas:Bank.

Polyfidelity is a new multi-adult family structure in which clusters of best friends come together around shared values, interests, life goals and mutual attraction. Inside such a Best Friend Identity Cluster (B-FIC), family members are non-monogamous, relating to all their partners without a hierarchy of preference. Thus in a heterosexual polyfidelitous B-FIC, each of the women has a sexual relationship with each of the men, and no group member relates sexually to anyone outside the family group.

While different groups might work out different methods for determining who will sleep with whom every night, the method used successfully by actual polyfides in the United States is the 'balanced rotational sleeping schedule.' This arrangement has each person sleeping with a different partner each night, sequentially (using the chronological order of when people joined the group as the sequence), until at the end of the list, at which time she/he comes back around to the first person again.

Romantics might consider such a system too 'mechanical', but those who use it think it is a marvellous way to ensure that every twosome in a B-FIC has equal and ample time to build their own special, one-to-one intimacy. Being non-preferential does not imply that the relationship inside any dyad (set of two people) is identical. Every combination has its own unique qualities (called 'lovjoy' by practitioners of polyfidelity) which does not have to compete with any other dyadic relationship.

Polyfidelity offers a number of obvious advantages over more traditional family and intimacy styles. It caters to the desires of those who like sexual variety, yet allows this to occur in the context of lasting, deep, meaningful relationships. This blend of spice and stability is very refreshing to people who, in other situations, have had to forfeit a stable home life in order to experience variety, or vice versa. The problem of having unrealistic expectations of what one partner can provide that often occurs in two-adult families is solved; no one individual needs to be all things to anyone else. For single parents, or parents in general, a polyfidelitous household is a marvellous environment in which to raise children. The burden of responsibility and care that would otherwise fall on one or two individuals is spread out throughout the group, which allows the adults to be involved in many activities besides childcare, and gives the children a healthy assortment of good role models; adults with whom to build caring, trusting relationships.

'The intimacy of women or men sharing the same sexual partners and living space is unique to polyfidelity, and delightful'

Then there are the benefits of same sex camaraderie in the privacy of one's own home. The intimacy of women or men sharing the same sexual partners and living space is unique to polyfidelity, and delightful. The whole problem of jealousy is much more easily solved in this context than in others, because the pleasure and closeness one observes in the relationship of any two of her/his partners in no way threatens her/his own relationship with each of them. In fact, the opposite is true: the better the relationships are between all family members, the more secure the group is as a whole, and the stronger each individual's relations with any of her/his partners. In an age where social fragmentation and loneliness have reached epidemic proportions, polyfidelity offers its adherents a fantastic, built-in social and psychological support system, in an atmosphere conducive to individual growth and change. The support system is economic too, as the cost of living for many adults sharing space and other resources cooperatively is much lower than the cost of living for people in one or two-adult households.

Polyfidelity does require some profound changes in how one views relationships and the world in general. Certain conditioned premisses must be rejected - for instance, that it is impossible to have more than one intense, emotional relationship at the same time, or that if you really care about someone, you will get jealous about his/her other involvements - and new ones accepted. Polyfidelity is not suited to everyone, but there are probably many millions of people who have a hard time finding satisfaction or fulfilment in marriages, couples or open-ended affairs for whom this new lifestyle will be a dream come true.

Polygamous families in various parts of the world have always been one-sided (one man and many wives, or, occasionally, one woman and several husbands). Polyfidelity is the first family structure to equalise that condition, and could never have existed in times or places where old-fashioned morality ruled people's lives. It is a product of the women's movement, as well as a branch of the communal living and kibbutz movement.

Currently, polyfidelity is being practised by two groups in San Francisco (one with nine members; one with eight) and scattered other, smaller clusters in various other places. In addition to those actually doing it, there is a growing network of hundreds of other people who are watching the people in the live-in 'test tubes', and studying the polyfidelity alternative with some notion that, in due course, they may want to try it for themselves. Discussion groups have formed in many places for people who are interested in learning more about polyfidelity and meeting others of like mind. The original polyfides in San Francisco (this group has been together for 17 years) are active in encouraging people everywhere to study what they are doing as a prototype, which can be analysed and replicated (with or without modifications) all over the world.

'The problems polyfidelity solves: loneliness, jealousy, social fragmentation, housing shortages, single parenting, economic strain, emotional boredom'

The broader ramifications of this family structure are potentially quite significant, because of the problems it solves (loneliness, jealousy, social fragmentation, housing shortages, single parenting, economic strain, emotional boredom) and because of the new vistas of responsible hedonism it opens up.

Subscriptions to the quarterly book-length Kerista journals on 'Advanced Practical Scientific Utopian Theory' are available for $18 from Kerista, 543 Frederick St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA (tel 415 4753 1314 or 415 665 2988).