Expanding definitions of love, reframing jealousy, and taking pleasure in seeing partners happy with other people.
Author/illustrator Sophie Lucido Johnson talks about her polyamory memoir “Many Love” which chronicles her journey in ethical nonmonogamy.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
#S2E26 | “Many Love”: A Polyamory Memoir w/ Sophie Lucido Johnson
[Wild & Sublime theme music]
Sophie Lucido Johnson:I want to encourage people who are afraid of this word, "polyamory," because it's so scary, that I think the principle of the way that we love can be much bigger than just mono-normative. You know, "You are my partner, and you are my everything, and I want you to be my best friend, all of these things at once." It's something I think we could all learn something from.
Karen Yates:Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style, based on the popular live Chicago show. Each week, I'll chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You'll hear meaningful conversation, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I'm sex educator Karen Yates. Today, I interview author and illustrator Sophie Lucido Johnson about "Many Love," her memoir about embracing polyamory. Keep listening.
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Hey folks. We are continuing summer book month at Wild & Sublime with an interview I did in the early months of the live show with author and illustrator Sophie Lucido Johnson. And let me say, Sophie's Instagram account has some pretty neat illustrations, and she does pet portraits on commission! Just saying. I also want to say that she drew a bird next to her signature when she signed my book, and that felt very special. Thank you, Sophie. Sophie's birds, by the way, are quite excellent.
Okay, now for the polyamory, because I figure you haven't pressed play for the birds. Sophie's book, "Many Love," published by Simon and Schuster, is a very cool and intimate recounting of her transformation from monogamist to out-and-proud polyamorist. There are many charming and deft illustrations throughout the work that augment the book. Kirkus Review called "Many Love," quote, "a refreshingly candid and provocative narrative, illuminating and entertaining." Sophie Lucido Johnson is a writer and cartoonist in Chicago. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Believer, the Guardian, and lots of other places. She is also the author and narrator of "Love without Sex," an Audible original that explores nontraditional relationships. And I've just started listening to it. And it's really cool. This interview took place in December 2018 at Stage 773 in Chicago. If you are wondering about the extended bit of laughter in the middle of the interview, I'm pretty sure I was doing an air metal guitar riff. Enjoy.
[in front of live audience] I met Sophie at a book launch for "Many Love" at Women and Children First, which is a remarkable bookstore on Clark, if you've never been there. And I just beamed at her throughout the whole show.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:[audience cooing] Our love hasn't turned into more than a smile yet.
Karen Yates:Yes. [laughter] One never knows.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:One never knows...
Karen Yates:This is a really amazing book. It almost felt like we were in sleeping bags together, like at camp, you know? "And then, I moved to New Orleans, and then we did this..." I'm like, "Uh huh, uh huh, yeah..." Because you really take the reader by the hand into the micro-movements of poly lifestyle. Right?
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Thank you. It's because I'm trying to date every reader! [laughter]
Karen Yates: The connection I feel with you! We've already kind of gone on a date!
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yes.
Karen Yates:So the book is actually illustrated, because Sophie is an illustrator. So many of the pages have illustrations, cartoons, and fantastic grid — these were very useful — about types of polyamory, types of jealousy. That was fantastic. One of the things you say early on, and I love this, "One of my intentions in writing an account like this is to flex the possibilities of what can be meant by the word 'relationship.'" And what I loved is that your relationships are very fluid. And I would love for you to talk a little bit about that community.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yeah. It's weird to be on a show that's so beautifully about sex, when I wrote, like, a poly book that's sort of like, "But it's not really about sex, everyone!" But it is sort of about sex. I think that the intention, the way that I'm living my life right now, and I'm very happy living my life this way, is to approach all relationships like they might be just as important as any other relationships. So, a relationship with someone I'm sleeping with might be just as important as a relationship with a friend, or with someone who is a mentor. And so then I can really spread out my priorities, and make my network gigantic, so that if something happens with someone, you know, I have a big, vast sea of other people that I love. And I want to encourage people who are afraid of this word polyamory, because it's so scary, and I'm not ready for a sex part— I mean, everyone here is ready for a sex party, it seems. [laughter] But there are some people out there in the world who aren't ready for a sex party, and that's okay. But I think the principle of the way that we love can be much bigger than just mono-normative. You know, you are my partner, and you are my everything, and I want you to be my best friend, all of these things at once, it's something I think we could all learn something from.
Karen Yates:Yeah, we dump a lot on partners, don't we?
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yes!
Karen Yates:And what I love is, you cite Andie Nordgren, who wrote this treatise called "Relationship Anarchy" — you can find it online. It's really beautiful. It is a very short read, but it kind of talks exactly what you're saying, that we can look at our best friends as the most important relationship in our life, as well as our lovers. But you know, poly comes in many forms.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yes.
Karen Yates:So, there's open relationships. And you talk about the difference in your mind. What's the difference between poly and say, open relationship?
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yeah. So the way that I usually describe it to people is, you know how every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square? You know, you know what I'm talking about? Everyone, it seems. So, every poly relationship is an open relationship, but not every open relationship is a poly relationship. A poly relationship, the distinguishing factor is a consent of all parties. So if I'm partnered with you, we both agree to tell everybody else we're partnered with everything that's going on between us, and so everyone's sort of connected. Within that, there are sort of like, telling more and telling less. So I practice a style of polyamory that is sort of called "kitchen table polyamory," which means all the partners could sit around a kitchen table and have a conversation and be close to each other. The alternative to that is parallel polyamory, where we're talking about everything, but I don't want to know your other partners. Like, you go do that in your world. Tell me about it, tell her about it, tell him about it. But let's keep things separate.
Karen Yates:Right. And then there's this idea of the metamour, which is like, if we were seeing each other, you know, another one of your partners is my metamour. And it can be so beneficial, in my estimation, because I'm poly as well, to meet someone else's partners. Because if you're liking the other person, jealousy doesn't happen as often.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:It's crazy how true that is, and how much, when people approach polyamory, they think, I want to do the parallel model, because I just don't want to know.
Karen Yates:Because I'm too afraid of jealousy.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Afraid that it's gonna be painful. And I think what happens then is we tend to other-ize. We tend to think, oh, this other person might be really scary, and really gigantic and awful. And it's easier to dislike someone we don't know.
Karen Yates:Well, insecurity comes — maybe they're better in bed, maybe they're more handsome, whatever.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yes. And also fuck them! [laughter] You know?
Karen Yates: Exactly.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:But like, when you sit around with people and you get to know them, you realize we're all kind of afraid of the same things. We all kind of want the same things. We all want to be loved and to feel safe. And so for me, that's been really integral in my relationships, is having them sort of all be connected.
Karen Yates:Yeah. One of the things that really struck me about your book is all the various folks you talked to. You called Dan Savage up, you had a conversation with him. [audience uproar] "You talked to Dan Savage! He's really cute!"
Sophie Lucido Johnson:I know we have problems with him — like, I understand that there's problems with him now, but still — and also, when we talked on the phone, he was buying orange juice at Starbucks. So he was like, in the middle of a sentence where he's like, "Harry and I have our dicks in everybody— just one orange juice, please, no ice." I was like, “The life of Dan Savage!”
Karen Yates:He reframed "monogamish" for you, which is such a huge term now, right?
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yeah.
Karen Yates:So what did he clarify for you?
Sophie Lucido Johnson:I think that Dan Savage, for a lot of us, came to us in moments where we were trying to sort of expand our sexual vocabulary. And I think he's a really good kind of like, intro for people who are thinking, maybe I'm not just sort of a hetero person in the world. Maybe I have something that's different about me, and I want to explore it. So it was really helpful. His podcast was helpful for me, you know, years ago, I really appreciated just the way that he opened up his ideas. And I think now, he and I have some different ideas. I went on his podcast, and we... had so much [unclear].
Karen Yates:Did you have some brangles?
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Well, you know, he is a white man, and he likes his voice. [laughter] There are just like, moments where I felt like I had a thought, but I didn't get to really come through with my thought.
Karen Yates:It wasn't allowed to bloom.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yes, I wasn't allowed to really blossom. But I have a lot of guys who still preserve this definition of monogamish as like, I'm sort of in a relationship that's really serious, but it's not fully monogamous, because we like, have open relationships with other people. But this sort of primary partnership really matters to us. But I'm kind of rejecting primary partnership these days.
Karen Yates:Because you're married to a man, and you also see other people, including women.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yeah! Life is so fun.
Karen Yates:This is one thing you said that I loved. This is probably my favorite sentence in the whole book: "I was actually discovering something very important about polyamory. It's not so much about letting the people you love sleep around. It's more about allowing yourself to let go." And, you know, I think that, for me, at least, isn't just about polyamory. It's just about being in a relationship. You can be monogamous, and this still hits home. Right? You can't control this other person in your life. If you're having problems in the relationship, there is a letting go that has to happen, right? Just a relaxation into what is.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yeah. The notion that we do want to control everything in our lives, but there's just very little we have any control over. And the release is very comforting and powerful, especially because I think relationships change. And we don't want that to be true. We really like to, like pin them into place. We want to sort of make them into a statue. And that's what marriage vows remind me of — like, this is always going to be true! I promise, I'm saying it in front of my dad, so. But relationships just don't work that way.
Karen Yates:Because we're changing.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Everyone changes all the time. So a lot of like, what I want to promise to people is, I promise that I can't promise anything. And I promise that as I change, I'll communicate that to you, and as I start to have feelings that are uncomfortable, that we'll process them together, and that, you know, you'll be in the loop. And that is — that doesn't mean you're not in painful relationships. It just means that the pain is out there, so we can all be in it together.
Karen Yates:You do spend a full chapter talking about jealousy. And you know, it sounds like you process a lot with your partners, right?
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yeah. Love it.
Karen Yates:Yeah, because it is that vulnerability piece that we were talking about earlier. Let's open that up a little bit. But also talk about the unicorn word, compersion. Explain compersion. Explain to folks who don't know what compersion is — what is compersion?
Sophie Lucido Johnson:I hear some grumbling in the crowd. Dan Savage hates compersion, like, as a word, because he just doesn't like how it sounds in his mouth. He's like "compuhduhs." But it's a very useful word. The way it's defined is the opposite of jealousy. So it's that feeling you get when something really good happens to your partner, and you feel like, really happy for them. And I think this is—
Karen Yates:Wait, let's be clear. Around another relationship?
Sophie Lucido Johnson:I think that it doesn't have to be. I actually think it's like, a really useful term. My jealousy arises way more around competition in, like, the sort of creative world. So, a lot of times when someone's like, I just got published in, you know, Vogue, I'll be like, "Good for you!" But then inside, I'm rotting, and wanting to— [audience laughter]
Karen Yates: Yeah, yeah. I totally know what you're talking about!
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Every once in a while, if it happens to someone I really love, the feeling is really different. It's like, wow, I really feel happy for you. That's really exciting.
Karen Yates:You're actually making me realize something. I've started really not being jealous of my peers and their success, because I start thinking, well, they're successful, that means I can be successful too. I mean, it's like yeah, this can happen. If you can find compersion with your friends, there's a good chance you'll be able to find compersion with your romantic relationships.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:I'm feeling it a lot with romantic relationships lately, just because, like, I hate going to metal shows. You know? Like, that's the worst thing I can think of.
Karen Yates:I don't think I'm doing it correctly.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Yeah. I don't know. [audience laughter] My husband loves going to metal shows, so when he finds a hot girl to go to metal shows with, I'm like, "That's great!!!" Very genuinely, hooray for both of us! That feels really true.
Karen Yates:Well, thank you so much.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:Thank you for having me.
Karen Yates:So wonderful to talk with you.
Sophie Lucido Johnson:It's a cool show.
Karen Yates:"Many Love." Go out and get it all over the—
Sophie Lucido Johnson:The universe.
Karen Yates:To learn more about Sophie Lucido Johnson, connect with her, and get her book, go to the show notes. "Many Love" is on our Bookshop site, a Wild & Sublime affiliate program. Buy the book on Bookshop, and help independent booksellers and Wild & Sublime.
The work I do in biofield tuning, an energy modality that uses sound waves to help repattern your bioelectric field, can support you in getting out of stuck behaviors and become more aware of different choices. If you're interested in working with me, or learning more about my weekly group biofield tuning sessions on Zoom on a variety of topics, including increasing intuition, expanding consciousness, balancing your energy centers and more, go to karen-yates.com. That link is in the show notes.
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Well, that's it, folks. Have a delightfully pleasurable week. Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you heard? Then give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I'd like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme Music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media, at rebelliousmagazine.com.
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