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A Polyamorous Life (w Sarah Arlen) // Chapter 1

Sarah Arlen is a polyamorous American in Paris who makes indie films, helps awesome people brand themselves & adores writing love letters. Here is her story. It is intentionally left raw, as she told it to me for authenticity’s sake.  This two hour sit down will be divided in different chapters. As a writer I wish to open up the conversation around different types of relationships.

Chapter 1: A kid in love with love.

I always knew I was polyamorous. I didn’t have a word for it for a long time. As a little kid when I was five my dad showed me an American in Paris with Gene Kelly. As a five year old, I saw that Gene Kelly was in love with Leslie Caron but Leslie was also about to be married to this guy and she really had affection for him. Gene Kelly’s character is trying to support him, be his financier. She’s really sweet although kind of manipulative and I saw these 4 characters as a 5 year old, after having my parents be divorced as well. I saw them, and at the end of the film when Leslie Caron leaves the other guy and the other woman is left so that Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron can be together I was so disappointed because I loved all of them being happy and not two of them being really miserable, to sacrifice for the happiness of 2 people.

So even as a 5 year old my little brain was like “I don’t see why” because it didn’t make any logical sense to me personally. I also had a crush on two boys at school. And I also felt at the beginning “why would I choose one if I love them both, I don’t get it”. So it was actually very logical and made sense to me as a kid. I think also seeing the divorce of parents affects you and makes you think well how could that have maybe have gone differently? In the case of my parents they absolutely should have gotten divorced and I don’t have a problem with divorce…It started with that.

Then I remember when I was 10, I told my mom who had remarried by that time, while we were cleaning, something really random “when I’m older I’m going to love more than one person at once”. My mom said: “I think that’s a phase and you’ll grow out of that”. So we left it at that.

Then when I went to UC Berkley for school, I studied acting for 4 years. When I got there for my 19th birthday (Berkley was the haven for open thought and doing what you want) my best friend who had known me since we were 13 years old said “Here’s your birthday present” and it was a book called the Ethical Slut, it’s brilliant; what I consider the polyamory bible. Basically, how you do it without hurting people. It’s all about ethics which I think is something whom people who are unfamiliar with polyamory miss out on when they first meet polyamory so to speak. They don’t realise that ethics are the key. That’s what differentiates it from: playing around, cheating, etc. It’s the ethics, because the ethics are based in love, they make sure you are treating people really well. When I got that book, I felt like “ok now I can really do this”. The question before was “how do I do this”. I’m kind of unusual I guess because I never had a question of whether or not I was that. More like how do I do that? It made a huge difference because it was really clear and really anecdotal. It’s written by two women who are partners but also have been partners all over, with other people and have tons of experience; They’ve seen what works for them and shared very intimate information, so you felt like it’s really authentic. It is a real guidebook. Some people actually find that book too dry to get into because it’s a guide book: “How to do this”, “What happens when you have kids”…

I was fifteen or sixteen when Ellen came out on her show and I remember my best friend in high school and I holding hands on television as she came out . She made it very clear “I’m not trying to convert anyone, I want you to see me and hear me. You don’t have to necessarily agree with me but you do have to give me equal rights too, because I’m a Human and I’m not doing anything unethical”. I just remember watching that show and being like “Yeah..I don’t know how I will form my life, but I want to help make visible and audible the different ways of being. And it’s not always about polyamory with me, I’m a Human who has lots of different things going on”.

I think there are very few or no public role models. There are people who are famous and who are polyamorous. Tilda Swinton is polyamorous, she just doesn’t talk about it in that framework because of course she probably wants to have a private life. I understand that. Margaret Cho the comedian, is starting to talk about it publically. She’s identified as polyamorous for a long time which is great… but to break that into pop culture where you can walk into a conversation and start talking about relationships and you can say “I’m polyamorous” and people can say “cool” and there’s not the question of “what is that?“how does that work?” or “oohhh”, all the things that happen now that used to happen ten or twenty years ago to people who would said “I’m gay” and now it’s progressing.

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Stay tuned for chapter 2 next week!

Photo credit: Sarah Arlen’s website.