I just finished reading Portrait of a Marriage, about Vita Sackville West and her husband Harold Nicholson, who were poly before there was a word for it. She was something like bi and he was something like gay, but at a time when neither of those identities were recognized and where people had little choice but to marry. But theirs wasn’t a marriage of convenience per se; they loved each other deeply and took care of each other in emotional, intellectual, and domestic ways. Much like Leonard and Virginia Woolf, they had a marriage that was more than a marriage but also maybe less than one.
The whole piece is on Patreon, of course, about 2000 words, but here are a few more excerpts:
. . .
So when I read a book about a couple who were born in 1892 (Vita) and 1886 (Harold) and who spent nearly 50 years together, who lived through two world wars and had two children and numerous love affairs with others, and who managed to do all that during the first half of the last century, I wonder if what my wife and I have is just a regularly anomalous but recurring exception; that two people perhaps find in each other a great love for another person that does not fit the requirements of what people think marriage should be and so change it to suit them.
What I do know is that it makes me sad that others can’t understand it, or feel sorry for us, because when I look at other’s lives I feel the same way I do when I see people so restrictively gendered, and want to take the lens of their eye and shift it a little this way or that so they can see what they can’t see now. I am still sad to see that queer people have become more straight than the other way around because so many queer couples I know assume monogamish, at the very least, as a way of living, but with different sensitivities and restrictions: one couple needs to tell each other about every flirtation or romance or sweaty encounter, and others know that a business trip or some time alone means sometimes a soul finds lovely company and their person doesn’t need to know a thing except for that. I wish straight people were easier about this stuff and so the capacity to be sexual and to be attractive and to be vulnerable and intimate and loving and caring with more than one person an absolute bonus for a marriage instead of a threat.
What a world of love we could live in and instead we put such terrific limitations on someone we love the most in the world. I’m never going to get it, not anymore, not now that I understand what is possible.