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Ev'yan Whitney

Why This Woman Chooses To Embrace Polyamory In Her Marriage

"There is a common misconception that something is inherently wrong with us."

Marriage

I have a mostly traditional view of relationships and consider myself to be very monogamous by nature. If a future together is the goal, I'll rock with you until I have nothing left in me to give, and from my partner, I expect the same. Now, there has been a time or two where the door to our bedroom has been opened to another, but they were only guests, never mainstay attractions in our relationship and never more than us adding depth to the bevy of our sexual experiences together. I take commitment seriously, but like many things in life, and many things pertaining sexuality, I don't believe in a spectrum that is all black and white.

Thus, I'm always curious about different lifestyles and seeing how the other half lives. Monogamy is very important to me in a relationship, but I'm well aware that it is not the only way we have relationships in this day and age. I had questions, especially while catching up on one of my favorite podcasts, The Sexually Liberated Woman.

In one of her more recent podcasts, Ev'Yan Whitney confessed to listeners intimate details about her marriage through an open dialogue with her husband aptly titled "Non-Monogamy and My New Marriage." The most common myth Ev'Yan Whitney has heard is that someone polyamorous must be dissatisfied with their relationship, but it's one she isn't afraid to readily dispel.

“This common misconception that something is inherently wrong with us, that we are in denial about something, that something is missing, is hogwash. For my husband and I, it does not apply. And polyamory does and can work," says Whitney.

Becoming polyamorous was a decision she and her husband of nine years, Jonathan Mead, did not take lightly and occurred only after they were open and honest about one another's views on love and marriage. By definition, polyamory is having "many loves," and can be expressed in relationships in different ways, including having sex with people outside the relationship without emotional connection (i.e. wife-swapping, swinging) and having multiple wives and multiple husbands.

“At the crux of it," Whitney says, “Polyamory means you believe that there is no such thing as one soulmate, one love, that there are many people that you can have sexual, emotional, and romantic connections with and that you honor that by dating other people and being with other people."

How She Met Her Husband

Having not been a believer of love at first sight, soulmates or other romantic clichés, her and Jonathan's love story is something she says went against her every intention at 19 and newly single, “We met on MySpace and within the first of week of talking we were madly in love with each other. I was pretty jaded about relationships because of my parents going through a divorce after 20 years of marriage. Their divorce made me feel like love doesn't matter, but Jonathan came into my life and changed everything. Six months into us dating, we were living together. And by the end of the first year, we were married. It was serious and fun."

How Polyamory First Came Into Play

In the beginning of their 10-year relationship, monogamy was very much a part of how they approached their relationship. They were both raised in monogamous households, so complete faithfulness was their default. Until three years into their marriage, and a day after the couple watched a documentary on concubines together, her husband confessed to her that he had romantic feelings for someone who shared those feelings with him. “The way that he told me wasn't like he was telling me he had feelings for this woman and they had consummated their feelings, and he wasn't asking me for permission. It was him coming to me, being open and asking that we have a conversation about it because he just didn't know what to do with it. That was the first time I heard the word 'polyamory.'"

Understandably, Whitney felt betrayed and describes that turning point in their relationship as a very tough time with the word “divorce" even rearing its ugly head in conversation. Six months later, however, Whitney developed feelings for someone else. In her realizing her feelings for someone else, she also uncovered her bisexuality and queerness.

“I wanted to uncover and live a part of myself that I didn't really have the opportunity to do because I got married so young. My queerness is very important to me, and I didn't want to feel like my sexuality or my individuality was hindered because of being in a relationship with someone. That's when we started to have a real conversation about what it would look like if we had a non-monogamous relationship."

"I thought I owned him. You don't own anyone."

The Transition Into Polyamory

The transition from a monogamous marriage to a marriage that was polyamorous was not a smooth one. There were a lot of road bumps along the road to the seemingly blissful place it is now several years later. “We had to unlearn a lot of our beliefs that we learned about love and relationships and marriage and sex and sexuality. That was rocky for us both. I learned I had some really messed up views of who my partner was. I thought I owned him. You don't own anyone."

Whitney had no idea the benefits that would come from engaging in a polyamorous marriage, but she says she has maintained her individuality, autonomy and sovereignty even while fully committed for life to another.

“The sex is amazing," she says with a smile.

“When I know that partner desires someone else, but he chooses me, he chooses to come home to me, he chooses to share his life with me––that is the biggest compliment and the biggest gesture of love there is. It's also really hot that I can go out and date other people and experiment with queerness and to uphold that and figure that out and my partner supports me. It's so beautiful to me."

Whitney is a champion for polyamory relationships, namely because it works so well with the dynamic she and her husband have established, but she doesn't want people to get it twisted and see her marriage as #goals. “Non-monogamy is not for everyone. Monogamy is also not for everyone. When we take the time to question the way that we are going along with templates, I think it's important for us to choose how we want our relationships to look and the kinds of relationships we want to have."

"Non-monogamy is not for everyone. Monogamy is also not for everyone."

5 Things to Do Before Becoming Polyamorous:

  • Ask your partner questions about jealousy, ownership, and independence.
  • Have conversations about what healthy love looks like.
  • Discuss and discover your true stance on monogamy.
  • Read books. Start with Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open by Tristan Taorimino and work your way through The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. Read them alone and with your partner.
  • Make sure that the foundation of your relationship is strong enough to withstand the dynamics of polyamory and introducing new people inside of your relationship.

Connect with Ev'Yan on other spaces around the web via her blog and Instagram.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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