For polyamorous people, there is no romance without finance

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The Boston Globe

When people find out that Scott Legault and Petra Jackl, who are married, also live with Legault’s girlfriend, the questions the three field tend to be focused on the bedroom.

But just as important to the Warwick, R.I., trio when they embarked on the new living arrangement in 2019 was a far more banal reality, confronted by lovers of all stripes: money.

There was a mortgage to refinance to include all three of their names. There was Legault’s pension and annuity, to which his girlfriend had to be added as a beneficiary. There was the divvying up of household expenses relative to each of their incomes.

“I’m fairly open at work about telling people that I have two partners, and guys being guys, they’re like, Oh, but I try to say, ‘It’s not really like that,’” said Legault, 58. “But the nice thing about it — and the guys immediately understand — is when you say, ‘Three incomes.’”

Jackl, Legault, and his girlfriend (who did not want to be named in this story for privacy reasons) identify as a “vee,” in which one person (Scott) acts as a “hinge,” in a relationship with two other people who are not independently dating. But polyamory — an umbrella term describing people who pursue more than one romantic connection at a time — comes in many other flavors.

There are triads, in which three people are all dating each other individually and as a group. There are hierarchical structures, consisting of primary and secondary partners; and nonhierarchical polyamory, in which all relationships are on equal ground. There are “nesting partners” (who live together) and “comets” (partners who see each other only rarely).

Just as each configuration, often dubbed a “polycule,” is custom-made, these relationships also require custom-made financial considerations.

Who pays for dates? Will partners combine means? And, when money is already among the most difficult things for couples to discuss, what does a conversation about it look like outside of the framework of a duo?

Glossary of Polyamory Terms

While the prevalence of polyamory is murky — one 2016 study estimated that more than one in five US adults had engaged in consensual nonmonogamy at some point in their lives — SomervilleCambridge, and Arlington have emerged as bastions for the community. In the past three years, all three municipalities have begun allowing domestic partnerships among more than two people (Somerville was believed to be the first in the country to do so, in 2020). Somerville has also passed ordinances banning discrimination against polyamorous people.

The Globe spoke with more than adozen New Englanders who identify as polyamorous to talk about how their matters of the heart intersect with matters of the wallet.

The cost of dating

Single people spend $117 billion a year on dating, according to a 2022 survey by Match. And for polyamorous people, tending to the many tendrils of their love lives can come with a particularly hefty bill.

Haley Slavick, a 27-year-old nanny, started dating her boyfriend in August 2022. When that relationship began, she “definitely started overspending” on dates, she recalled — a habit that negatively affected her relationship with her wife, who she’s been with for nine years.

To better regulate her spending, Haley Slavick started earmarking funds in her personal checking account, specifically for expenses related to her relationship with her boyfriend, such as a trip to Puerto Rico last August.
– COURTESY OF HALEY SLAVICK

Slavick started earmarking funds in her personal checking account, specifically for expenses related to her relationship with her boyfriend. She also has monthly meetings with each of them individually, and money is one of the things they discuss.

Sparrow Alden, a 59-year-old professor who lives in New Hampshire, devised a more makeshift budgeting method. She and her wife of 33 years each put all of their income into shared bank accounts. From that, she takes a monthly personal allowance of about $100. A portion of that goes into a physical envelope, which she has used to pay for dates with out-of-state boyfriends, who put an equal amount into the envelope.

“It was just total transparency,” she said.

For long-distance polyamorous relationships, travel can prove the largest line item. Marissa Barlow, a 36-year-old Somerville resident, identifies as “solo poly,” meaning she lives alone and has no plans to mingle her finances with partners. She has two local partners and another more serious partner who lives in Seattle.

With her local partners, she said, they often split the cost of a tapas or sushi date evenly. With her Seattle partner, there is more math involved: They each pay for their own flights when they visit one another about once a month, and split lodging costs when she flies to him, since he lives with a different partner.

“This is a very expensive relationship,” she said with a laugh.

When Marissa Barlow visits her partner in Seattle, she typically pays for her own flights, but they split the cost of hotel rooms or Airbnbs. DANIELLE PARHIZKARAN/GLOBE STAFF

Since dating can be “a lifelong process for polyamorous people,” financial sustainability is key, said Matthew Burdick, a Warwick, R.I., resident, who shares a girlfriend with his wife, Melanie Carrazzo, and has several other relationships.

“Love is infinite, but …” Burdick said, starting a well-worn saying within the polyamorous community.

“Time and finances are not,” Carrazzo concluded. “You have to just decide what your priorities are.”

Does polyamory save money?

When it comes to longer-term expenses, many polyamorous people said their relationship setups eased a range of cost-of-living burdens.

“The meme is that … the only way to afford rent nowadays, is to be polyamorous,” said Willie Burnley Jr., a polyamorous person and Somerville city councilor at-large who sponsored the city’s new ordinances.

Somerville City Councilor Willie Burnley Jr. stood near Somerville City Hall last year. STEVEN SENNE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Just ask Kaden McPherson. This April, the rent for the three-bedroom apartment in Fall River she shares with her husband will climb from $1,200 to $1,800 a month — a stretch for the couple, who already lives “paycheck-to-paycheck,” said McPherson, who works in a bank’s fraud department.

So the pair is in talks with their other other half — another married couple, who currently live in Maine — about the four of them buying property and moving in together somewhere less expensive, like Rhode Island.

“My mother, she was like, ‘I barely can handle your father sometimes, how do you handle three people?’” said McPherson, 30. “I said, ‘It gets kind of interesting, but from a financial standpoint, it works out very, very well.’”

Other savings can arise merely from the reshuffling of household labor. Heather Reid-Barratt, a 38-year-old Hinsdale, N.H., resident, is a part of a “throuple”: Reid-Barratt has a spouse, and they share another partner, who is preparing to move in with them and their 11-year-old child.

When that happens, they plan to split the roughly $6,000 in monthly expenses three ways — and there is also the plus of built-in child care.

“That’s such an alleviation of having to pay for somebody to come over,” said Reid-Barratt.

The financial relief, Reid-Barratt added, “is a benefit that I did not expect.”

Communicating with multiple partners

“The way our culture treats having different attitudes about money as a moral- or virtue-laden thing, is just as true in polyamory as it is in monogamy,” said Laura Boyle, a Connecticut-based relationship coach who wrote an economic guide to polyamory. “Having to figure that out with three or more people gets really complicated really fast.”

Bringing more partners into the mix makes it all the more crucial to have cards-on-the-table conversations about money, said Barlow.

When Barlow and her Seattle partner started dating in 2022, they had to have a “big conversation” about money as they started investing in their long-distance relationship, she said — especially since he has a live-in partner to consider.

“If you’re planning a vacation, there are people that are not going on that vacation that have some relevant input,” she said.

One of Barlow’s local partners, East Boston resident Fritz McGirr, was in a monogamous marriage until the summer of 2021, when they separated and he decided to try polyamory. His ex-wife brought in a much higher income than him, he said, which hadsparked resentment over time. Now, he said, with new partners, all topics are on the table.

Fritz McGirr, was in a monogamous marriage until the summer of 2021, when he got divorced and decided to try polyamory. DANIELLE PARHIZKARAN/GLOBE STAFF

“I think the openness of polyamory does lend itself to just being open to conversation,” he said.

After all, money is just one of the many daunting topics — from jealousy to sexually transmitted infections — that having multiple partners forces to the forefront.

“It’s still a tough conversation,” said Melanie Carrazzo, the Warwick resident, “but part of polyamory is facing the tough conversations and actually having them.”

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