“When I was a child,” Diana Adams began, “I had a doll house and a rich fantasy life. I imagined that I was a cancer-curing surgeon, a world-class ballerina, and a TV show host all at the same time. I was also an amazing mom to all my dolls, but it was always a little mysterious about where they had come from and whether they all had the same father. A little neighbor boy once said to me, ‘I’ll be the daddy.’ I thought about that for a moment. I said, ‘No, you can be my gay lounge singer friend. That’s much more fun.’ I’ve always liked boys. I just like them better in groups.”
Over the years, the aspiring ballerina/surgeon/TV host shifted her focus to law. As a lawyer, Adams now runs a Brooklyn-based legal firm oriented toward providing traditional marriage rights to non-traditional families like the one she imagined as a kid. As an openly polyamorous woman, Diana lives inside a version of that doll house today. Along with her primary partner Ed, she is currently romantically involved with several other men and women.
I sat down recently with the 35-year-old to discuss her life and career.
Why does polyamory work for you?
I remember from a very young age realizing that I was bisexual, and that I tended to be attracted to many different people at the same time. I really think that polyamory for me is an orientation, like being heterosexual or homosexual. Humans in general have a hard time with monogamy. That’s always been the case. We used to have a sense that it was acceptable for husbands to go out and have other lovers, but with the shift to egalitarianism, rather than to say that woman could do that too, we’ve gone in the other direction.
What are the consequences of that, do you think?
I think it's interesting to see the way that when people get into a monogamous couple dynamic, they often have to neuter their sexual desires. As the initial intensity of a relationship shifts to feelings of long-term love, you can end up in a sexless marriage, and I think that’s a huge contributor to infidelity and the breakup of a lot of families. We put so much emphasis on a partner being everything—that this person completes you—and when that doesn’t happen it creates a lot of pressure. I don't think that open relationships are for everyone but it's something that you should no longer feel ashamed to talk about at a time when so many marriages are failing.
What do your other lovers give you that your primary partner can’t?
Well, for example, with my female partners, I feel a different kind of power dynamic. I feel a protective impulse toward women I’m involved with. It's a different kind of love feeling. My partner Ed is a wonderful feminist man, though sometimes I’d really like to be out on a date with the kind of man who wants to open car doors for me and treat me like a princess. I don't want that all the time, but I might want that once a month.
How do your different lovers get along with one another?
They’re really good friends. The men even have a name for themselves. They call themselves “The Man Harem.” Sometimes they’ll play with that. They’ll all show up in matching clothes – wearing all pinstripes, or all red shirts, for example. They’re friends and they help each other. For instance, I just had my birthday and my partner Ed is off doing amazing work as a scientist. As a consolation, my long-term boyfriend is staying in the house for the week. So, rather than my boyfriend saying, “Wow why's your partner going out of town when it's your birthday?” he’s asking if my partner is okay having to be away for so long, if he needs support. And my partner is saying, “Thanks for taking care of Diana since I can’t be there.” There’s a real feeling of compersion. Compersion is the opposite of jealousy.
That word compersion is a really new word whereas jealousy is such an ancient concept. What role does jealousy play in your relationships?
Jealousy is an emotion that we treat in a really blunt way. We often say somebody’s jealous and then that's an excuse for all sorts of bad behavior: throwing a drink in someone's face, or storming out, or manslaughter. In manslaughter, it's basically a defense: “I walked in on my wife having sex with another man and I killed them.” We treat jealousy almost with this reverence, but we don’t unpack what’s behind it. Let’s get more specific. There are different versions of jealousy. One version might be a feeling of scarcity. Another can be insecurity. The way that I discover what version I’m dealing with is that I ask myself, “How old do I feel right now?” And when I'm insecure, I'm feeling like I'm 13.
How do you deal with those emotions?
We talk a lot. We check in with each other, “Is this okay with you?” and the answer can be, “I don't know.” For instance maybe Ed and I are going to a party together and this guy that I've been dating is at the party too. “Will it feel okay with you if I go over and kiss him?” Polyamory will find your buttons and it will push them. If you don't want to have that kind of challenge, it's not the right lifestyle for you. But, if you're up for it, polyamory can be the catalyst for powerful personal growth.
How does your family view your lifestyle?