Alternative Family

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Love Lives Here

A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family
edition:Paperback
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Blissfully Blended Bullshit

Blissfully Blended Bullshit

The Uncomfortable Truth of Blending Families
edition:eBook
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Blissfully Blended Bullsh*t

Blissfully Blended Bullsh*t

The Uncomfortable Truth of Blending Families
edition:eBook
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Polyamorous

Polyamorous

Living and Loving More
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

It wasn’t a wedding. It was welding.
For years, I thought I was too commitment-phobic to walk down an aisle without running the other way. Maybe I watched that Julia Roberts movie, Runaway Bride, too many times. But on that June morning, as several friends helped carry layers of scalloped printed newspaper that comprised my gown — stories my partner Adam and I had worked on together over the years at the newspaper as reporter and photographer — I took confident strides toward my unorthodox future.
Several feet away, I could see Adam, beaming, a silver-haired fox. He stood six-foot-plus in his newspaper vest collaged with photos, including one of Iggy Pop from the New York Times Sunday styles section. Charlie sat in the front row, where his encouraging smile caught my eye, and I knew I was making the right choice to unabashedly love two men.

***

Our story began as a love triangle and eventually became a committed V.
In 2015, even though all three of us would have categorized ourselves as monogamous, Charlie and Adam and I started exploring the possibility of polyamory.
I discovered the two loves of my life — Charlie and Adam — a few weeks apart in the summer of 2013 when I felt that spark and connection with both, in diff erent ways. But because we thought monogamy was our only choice, there was a lot of heartbreak for all three of us, with me caught in the middle.
From the get-go, I was always honest with both men — how I cared about and was attracted to both of them and valued each of them in my life. Looking back now, I think that laid the foundation for open communication, and the respect and trust needed in any relationship, but especially poly relationships. Otherwise, things fall apart pretty quickly.
I struggled at the time with what life was supposed to look like: One partner. Monogamy. I was often told “You can’t have it all,” but living an ordinary life just wasn’t me.
Around that time, I discovered Design for Living, a 1933 black-and-white pre–Hays Code film by director Ernst Lubitsch. Th e fi lm focuses on Gilda, a petite, quirky blonde played by Miriam Hopkins, who ends up in a polyamorous relationship (or as close as you could get to one in those days) after a chance encounter with two men, George and Th omas (Fredric March and Gary Cooper), on a train to Paris.
Th ey both fall hard for her, and she for them, but she cannot decide between the two. So instead, she ends up marrying Max, a stout, rigid, and commanding husband who is very much about “keeping up with the Joneses.”
What changes toward the end of the story (spoiler alert), after Gilda realizes “the normal life” isn’t for her, is that her two loves come and rescue her from her unhappy marriage.
By that point, both men realize they need her and all three realize that each of them brings something diff erent to the relationship. Th e result is balance. Th e takeaway is that this love — although unconventional — is possible, but it can’t come from a place of starvation or fear. And the two men can still remain friends, even though they had been fi ghting for the attention of the same woman.
While I don’t agree that Gilda required “rescuing,” her succumbing to a monogamous marriage — even though in her heart she knew George and Th omas were the right people for her — resonated with me as a cautionary tale.
As the fi lm winds to a close, the starlet is in the back of a cab sandwiched between her two loves and they drive off to Paris to live together, not knowing whether it will work or fail. She kisses one and then leans over and kisses the other, and the screen fades to black.
Although my relationships with both Adam and Charlie began a week apart that summer, a number of confl icting factors contributed to my uncertainty about the future: Th e nearly thirty-year age gap between me and Adam. My desire to sooner-rather-than-later become a mom with Charlie. A long-distance relationship. And, of course, being in love with two people at the same time.

***

Charlie and I met on July 24, 2013, in one of those “meant to be” Hollywood-type stories, as our paths crossing was really quite against the odds. I had recently split from my ex after my very messy aff air and decided to take a solo road trip to Montreal to check out the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival.
I drove seven hours to Quebec, making stops along the way. I was to be in La Belle Province for trois jours. On the second day, I had some time to kill, so I strolled down boulevard St. Laurent. After falling into a smoked-meat coma at Schwartz’s, I noticed all those obnoxious pictures I took of my food had drained my battery and I wandered into the nearest caf. to fi nd an outlet. It had a pi (3.14) symbol on the front and an advertisement for chess and London fog lattes in the window. Foreshadowing!
My high school French was rusty and embarrassing. Th e Asian girl with ombre-tipped hair behind the counter asked me if I was “attempting” to order a drink. “Yeah, I guess I am,” I responded in English. She began making random comments about the process of doing ombre highlights at home or in a salon, so I quickly ordered a cold drink and made my escape. Walking back toward the front of the caf., I scanned for available wall outlets. They were all occupied. Except one.
Th ere was a guy sitting at the table, but the plug was free.
Parlez-vous Anglais?” I asked.
“Yes.”
Relief washed over me. I asked if I could sit down and plug in my dying phone.
“No problem,” he said.
He had his headphones on and seemed to be daydreaming. I didn’t want to interrupt, but I also felt awkward just sitting there at the small, intimate round table for two, not saying anything.
So, being the curious reporter, I asked him about his life. He was in Montreal with his sister and brother-in-law. They were all from London, England, and had travelled to Toronto for their father’s remarriage to a Canadian woman. Th e road trip to Quebec was a good excuse to get some poutine with squeaky cheese.
For the next forty minutes, Charlie and I got lost in each other. We talked about our families, our lives in two diff erent cities, places we’d travelled to and places we’d still like to see, and how annoyed we were that our friends were getting married, having kids, and buying houses together. Ironically, some of those things are now what we want as a married couple — the American/ Canadian/British/Millennial dream.
Th at’s what connected us — talking about these subjects with such confi dence and ease. Years later, we still joke about the weirdo behind the café counter.
I had to leave to meet a friend, so we exchanged information. A friend request popped up on my Facebook the following day. I didn’t really think anything of it.
Two nights later, with us both back in Toronto, I off ered to take Charlie on the “Scott Pilgrimage,” my own constructed tour of locations around the city that are featured in the namesake movie and graphic novel series.
I wasn’t even sure it was a “date,” per se. I messaged my friend and joked I would text her a safe word to let her know I wasn’t murdered. “Foliage,” I said.
“Michael Scott’s safe word?”
“Damn straight.”
Charlie met me at work and I drove him back to my place, where we walked my dog, Wampa, before going for dinner at Korean Village. I was startled and fl attered when he sat beside me instead of across from me in the booth.
Later, I showed him the Metro, the last operating porn theatre in Ontario. He pulled me close to him as a picture of Ron Jeremy refl ected at us from the marquee. Th e loud hum of a street sweeper was nearing. He grabbed my hand. And didn’t let go.
After spending the night together, we went our separate ways. He sent me a text saying he just realized he was heading home to London that day. I off ered to meet him at the airport to see him off.
We both agreed that we didn’t see this as a booty call, but having just split from my ex, I wanted to take it slow and see where things went. I didn’t want to fall back into my serial monogamist patterns.
Fast-forward a few weeks.
I was covering a Scarborough by-election with Adam, who was my photographer that night. After Mitzie Hunter was declared the winner, we decided to catch up over a beer (for him) and a soft drink (for me — Asian fl ush barrier). I told him about Charlie, showed him photos, and shared stories about our escapades that night.
Up until that point, Adam and I were, as he calls it, “gal pals” — work confi dantes who were comfortable friends. But there was a moment — which, in hindsight, I admittedly felt as well — where we had that “click.” I approached him one day in the newsroom several weeks after the by-election. Adam describes it like that scene in Wayne’s World, where Cassandra is onstage playing heavy metal, but Wayne Campbell can only see her through a misty kaleidoscope with “Dream Weaver” playing.
I emailed Adam one night after that moment, on a long weekend, to tell him I was going to London.
“Without me?” he said.
“I’ll bring you back a chicken pot pie.”
He realized then I was going to see “the other guy.”
And then, for whatever reason, call it my exhibitionist nature, I ended up sending him some sexts. Th at’s the night when we went from gal pals of seven years to something more. Something we couldn’t have ever imagined.
Adam’s been there for me when I’ve needed him most and vice versa. He’s my rock. We’re old souls and he’d always be my fi rst pick when I needed help with a lede. One symbol of our synchronicity throughout the relationship has been the numbers 11:11. We’d randomly check our phones, see it was 11:11 a.m. or p.m., and send screenshots to each other.
I found myself falling fast. But I was also into Charlie, and I wanted to see where that would go.
Th e month after I met Charlie, he invited me on a “second date” in London. I hadn’t been in years and was always up for an adventure, and so I fl ew over and spent seventy-two hours with him. It was a risky amount of time to spend together, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. He showed me the Natural History Museum, his childhood school, all his favourite haunts. Holding hands, we walked around Regent Street and Clapham. Th ere was something good there, I knew it.
And so, our love triangle formed.

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Co-Parenting from the Inside Out
Excerpt

I heaved my suitcase into the back of my rusted Corolla and sank into the driver’s seat. I was parked in the driveway of the suburban Winnipeg house where I had become the mother of two sons, then aged five and eight. On that November night the curbs were edged with dusty snow, the brown lawns sullen and hard. On that night I was leaving my home and my marriage of fifteen years.
I backed onto the street and drove around the curve, crying so hard I couldn’t see. As soon as I was out of sight of the house, I pulled over, sobbing, my head in my arms on the cold steering wheel. My sons, David and Steven, had known for a week that my husband, John, and I were separating, but this was the first tangible step to reshaping our family. I knew their dad would care well for them that night. Still, it had taken every ounce of my resolve to kneel, look into their sad, bewildered faces, and hug them goodbye, saying, “I will see you tomorrow.” Leaving the house was such a significant step, it felt unreal and desperate. After a few bleak minutes, I took a shaky breath, restarted the car, and drove slowly out of the neighbourhood toward my temporary refuge.
The ship that had been my married life had foundered and I was throwing myself into black, cold water. I didn’t know how this next phase would work, just that our family life as it was couldn’t continue.
In the previous year, I had realized that our marriage was frayed to the breaking point. Years of escalating arguments had led John and me to try counselling, but after three months, John stopped going. When I asked, “What is it that’s not working for you?” he answered, “I just don’t think it’s going anywhere.” It felt like I was standing on one side of a twoway mirror with John on the other side. He could see what I was experiencing, but my view of him was opaque, shielded. I felt more and more helpless, trying to peer through the glass. Very lonely.
Finally, one sunny Saturday morning, sitting across from each other in our matching blue wing chairs, we had our first honest talk in years. I comprehended what I hadn’t wanted to see: John’s commitment to our marriage was gone.
As this horrifying realization sank in, I felt like I had been punched in the belly. I spent that day sitting, walking, staring into space, trying to rearrange my world. We carried on for the next few weeks in an atmosphere charged with things unsaid as I gathered my nerve and looked at options. One thing was clear to me: while John would be content to carry on as before, as if nothing had changed, I could not. I peered briefly down that future path and saw myself there — a bitter, weary woman with no joy in living.
I started examining other choices. I knew the boys loved us both and would need time with each of us. For them to be brought up well, they would need parents who were healthy human beings. For me, in addition to lots of time with David and Steven, I would need time to myself each week, real downtime, or I would be a terrible mother — constantly shrewish and irritable. So, co-parenting seemed the least disastrous option. I confess I wasn’t all that concerned about John’s needs, but a part of me registered faintly that it would be good for him to keep connected with the boys.
I knew that John was good with David and Steven, that he loved them. Even through my haze of hurt and anger, I could see he had gifts to offer them, different than mine. I drove them to music lessons, curled up with them nightly to sing lullabies, and made sure they ate vegetables. He took them to his family farm and expected them to do physical labour, carried them on his shoulders, and got them giggling as he wrestled with them. Whatever else happened, John was the boys’ father, and they needed to grow up knowing and taking pride in both of their parents. I never doubted the importance of this in the long term.
Once I actively began to consider leaving, I carried tension throughout my body, wondering if I could make good choices. My throat felt tight, my breathing shallow. I kept rolling my shoulders to try and loosen them. My work colleagues never gave advice, which I appreciated, but they saw me each morning haggard from lousy sleep. Puffy bags under my eyes made me look closer to sixty than forty. In our small office, sympathetic looks told me people knew I was grappling with whether to leave my marriage. For my fortieth birthday, co-workers threw a coffee party, covering my office ceiling with exuberant red and white helium balloons trailing ribbons. I almost cried at the absurdly cheerful sight. A colleague said, “You’ll know what to do when the time comes.” Her confidence helped me keep listening to myself to find my next steps. I needed every ounce of confidence-building that came my way.
John and I tiptoed around each other for weeks, keeping a buffer of politeness between us.
“Will you be able to take Steven to his practice tomorrow night?”
“Sure.”
We seemed stuck, unable to go back or forward. I felt increasingly fragile, as if my inner core was dissolving in the endless effort to keep a normal facade.
Finally, one evening, as I was folding laundry in our bedroom, John came in. I suddenly couldn’t do this any longer. I blurted, “If we separated, would you consider co-parenting?” I was scared to ask the question, as if naming the possibility of separating might make it more real. John didn’t look at me.
After a few long seconds, his answer came: “Okay.”
It was a huge relief to me. There was a viable, if terrifying, way forward. No one I knew was co-parenting. Considering it felt odd, as if I were peering into strange new territory. I talked over the possibility with friends, but no one had done anything like it. I looked in bookstores, but at that time there was little on the shelves.
Co-parenting never felt like a good choice. I had wanted so much to keep the family together that anything else was a sad and scary unknown, something that didn’t fit the dream of family. However, the dream was gone. Shared parenting offered the fewest bad outcomes.
When I asked myself if co-parenting would work, I started by assessing our resources. First, I felt fairly confident that I could earn a living if we split. It wouldn’t be fancy, but we could survive. I also believed that John could stay solvent, so we each could provide some financial base. This was critical. Another factor was family support. My parents and siblings lived three thousand kilometres away in British Columbia. I wasn’t willing to uproot myself and the boys, or ask them to choose between their dad and me, in order to move closer to my family. Therefore, their dad’s relatives, right in Winnipeg, were an important resource. I felt genuine affection for his family and believed they would provide social support for both the boys and their dad.
Next, I needed to look at where I would live with the boys, and where their dad might live with them. I couldn’t imagine staying in our house, with its echoes of heartache. I thought we should sell the house we jointly owned, both move to a nearby, less expensive neighbourhood, and find homes within walking distance of each other. John, on the other hand, first expected that I would stay in our house. When I said absolutely not, John announced he would stay there. He didn’t want to introduce any more change into the boys’ lives than they were already facing.
This turned out to be an excellent decision because it gave the boys social stability. I am grateful now that John insisted on staying in the house and that I didn’t oppose him further. I can see how pain dominated my thinking, limiting my readiness to consider all options carefully.
What would it be like to see the boys only part of the week and have them move back and forth? I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like for any of us. I supposed we would all survive, but beyond that it was uncharted territory.

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