Many Love

Sophie Lucido Johnson
Touchstone / Simon and Schuster
$16.99 print / $9.99 digital

A Memoir Of Polyamory And Finding Love(s)

Sophie Lucido Johnson talks about learning a lot from her parents with a 48 year marriage, two children, family pets over the years, and a good life on a quiet street in a good neighborhood. It’s a good life and one that as a teen Johnson herself thought she was destined to model and started down the path with her early relationships and onward as an adult. Something didn’t seem right to her though. Like many queer people who come to discover their personal truths over time, so too did Johnson come to understand through much questioning and honesty with herself that she is a polyamorist.

The concept of polyamory may be new to you or you may have heard something about it but were confused or possibly embarassed to ask. After all, misperceptions and misinformation abound on the subject. Understandably polyamorists are often reluctant to come out publicly out of concern over curiosity, gossip, and harsh criticism. Queer people and anyone having a chronic health condition understand how frustrating being asked personal questions can be even by well meaning people. Before reading Johnson’s memoir my understanding of polyamory was rather limited to the small amount of information two polyamorist couples (unknown to each other) shared with people in their circles. Both women had shared their bisexuality, one tearfully out of fear of rejection. After consideration the husbands agreed to opening their marriages to polyamory rather than becoming jealous or cruel or asking for divorce. What more did I need to know about their relationships beyond the simple fact that each couple was happy and very much in love?

As it turns out, there is a great deal more to know about polyamory. True, given my confession above it could hardly not have done so, but Johnson did it with remarkable candor and at great length in a narrative style full of wit, humor and charm. Johnson opens with an anecdote recounting a date night with another couple interrupted by an emergency vet visit and the care and concern that was lavished upon them afterwards to give readers a feeling of what is to come with each page turn.

While Johnson’s is a very personal story, she cites research on the practice to bolster her points. Deborah Anapol’s Polyamory in the 21st Century, which also happens to be the author’s favorite book on the topic, figures most prominently. A FAQ section lays the foundation while addressing matters such as diferent types of privilege that can and shouldn’t come into play. A bibliography is a welcome addition since this is all a great deal to take in at once and will likely elicit repeat reading. Johnson relies on her fluid cartooning skills throughout to deploy information, throw in a humorous note or simply to stress a relevant emotional character moment. The chart comparing polyamory to other types of relationships is a good example of how to avoid being boring and tedious to the reader.

You may be wondering is polyamory a “one size fits all” sort of thing or isn’t it all just about hooking up for sex. The answer to both seems to be no. Certainly as Johnson explains polyamory can be more about sex for some polyamorists:

“The trouble with the way my peers often use the word “polyamory” is that there tends to be too much emphasis on sex. In some of my social circles, “polyamory” and “hookup culture” are synonymous. In my personal experience, the two couldn’t be further apart. Aren’t there relationships that fall somewhere between platonic and non-platonic? Isn’t there love that exists beyond “friendship” and outside of “lover” and paradoxically both inside and outside of “family”?”

This quote appears in a section of a chapter in which Johnson is talking about her close friendship with Hannah with whom she’s also been a roommate. It’s Hannah’s attentiveness among other attributes that sets Johnson on the path to questioning whether polyamory is a valid option in her life. When Johnson does talk about having sex with other partners she does so in the context of how empowering she’s made to feel.

Does jealousy happen to polyamorists? If I’d been asked this question before reading this book I’d have thought for a moment and likely have said no. As it turns out, it does and Johnson devotes an entire chapter to talking about the emotion within the greater context of human sexuality and in a more in depth level on her own experiences with and reflections on it. The key to working through is lots of talk and process and honesty. I remember the husband of one of the couples mentioned above being happy for his wife when she had a date with her girlfriend. His emotions weren’t at all in question for me, but it struck me as being the first time I’d known anyone to express this feeling. As it turns out Johnson brings up a word for this familiar in polyamorist circles: compersion. Broadly speaking it’s the joy one has while experiencing the joy of someone else. As it applies to polyamory it’s the opposite of jealousy by being joyful at seeing a loved one love another person. While Johnson admits to having felt jealousy, she also readily shares her aspiration to feel compersion.

Many Love ends on a high romanctic note. After a Saturday morning drinking coffee and bird watching, a favorite past for her and primary boyfriend Luke, the couple returned to their apartment. Plastic Mardi Gras cups filled with daisies were lined up at the door, a small hint at the thousands of flowers everywhere in the apartment, in a nod to the proposal in Sophie’s most beloved Gilmore Girls. And just like Max in that episode, Luke was down on one knee holding a little black box.

Johnson acknowledges it isn’t for everyone and I knew before starting to read Many Love that I’m not cut for polyamory. My rate of success with monogamous relationships has been dismally low. What came as a surprise for me is how Johnson’s philosophy serves as an inspiration to be better.

Write what you know is the time worn advice given to aspiring writers and Johnson did just that. That this is her writing debut makes her an author to watch!

You’ll want to look for Many Love(s) at your local bookstore rather than your local comic shop which is likely not to carry the title as it’s an illustrated book and not a graphic novel in the strictest sense with which most comic shops operate. Many Love may also be purchased through Amazon.

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