This story is jointly published by nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune, in collaboration with Salt Lake Community College, to elevate diverse perspectives in local media through student journalism.
Sabrina and Ben Gallegos had been married for a year when they met Allie Bullock in July 2014. The women were co-workers and became friends, so when Bullock and her boyfriend broke up, the Gallegoses offered her a place to stay while she sorted things out.
The three grew close, and over a period of about seven months, the Gallegoses both decided they wanted Bullock to be more than a friend. As Utahns, their polyamorous “throuple” has been mistaken for polygamy on more than one occasion, but they are part of a growing number of Americans who practice this relationship style.
“I started to see this relationship blossom between the two of them,” Ben Gallegos said. “It was a deep friendship, it was a different kind of connection. I couldn’t help but admire [it], and seeing Sabrina fall in love with Allie, I kind of started to fall in love with Allie through her eyes.”
The concept of a relationship like this was new to him.
“I had no idea that ‘polyamory’ was even a term,” he said. “Looking stuff up online, there’s other people like us, there’s a whole community.”
Polygamy and polyamory are different — the latter is a fluid continuum based on the freedom to love multiple partners consensually, while the former is marriage to multiple people. While not all involved in polyamorous relationships want to get married, both groups at times must navigate issues like hospital visits and insurance coverage.
In February 2020, the Utah Legislature lowered the criminal charge from a felony to a misdemeanor for a married person taking another or multiple spouses.
It was called the bigamy bill, and was aimed at polygamists. Then-Sen. Deidre Henderson, the sponsor of the bill, said, “We removed the fear of otherwise law-abiding polygamists of being jailed or having their children taken away from them.”
While polyamory has not gained legal recognition in Utah, it has elsewhere. In July 2020, polyamorous unions were legalized by the town of Somerville, Massachusetts, providing them the same rights as married couples, like hospital visits and shared health insurance coverage.
Utah state Sen. Derek Kitchen said he is willing to fight for the option to practice polyamory. He has fought before.
Back in 2013, Kitchen was part of the federal case that led to Utah recognizing same-sex marriages. This was before the Supreme Court legalized these unions nationwide.
At the time, as he disclosed for the first time in a New Yorker article published in March 2021, he was practicing polyamory. He opened up about the reactions he has received since that article came out, and about the future of polyamory, in an interview on KUER’s RadioWest in April.
“I never imagined or desired out of the gate a polyamorous relationship, it’s just how a relationship with a primary partner evolved,” he said.
Kitchen told host Doug Fabrizio about his experience fighting for the right to marry his former husband, while still feeling like he couldn’t be honest about his relationship style at the time. But understanding of polyamory has increased since then, and there isn’t as much of a stigma.
“It’s about individual freedom, it’s about liberty, it’s about empowering people to be intentional about their family-making,” he told Fabrizo. “I think we’re able to talk about it in a productive way that allows for a healthy dialogue and discussion without this thick layer of shame or judgment.”
A deliberate lifestyle
Amy Peterson, a film major at Salt Lake Community College, made a documentary about polyamory this fall called “Love One Another: Polyamory in Utah.”
In her film, Utahns — including the Gallegoses and Bullock — share what polyamory can look like and how they believe it has helped them have healthier, more fulfilling relationships.
“It wasn’t that we felt like there was something missing from our marriage,” Ben Gallegos said. “It just kind of seemed like there was a puzzle piece that we didn’t know needed to be there. And when she was always around, it always felt complete.”
When they came out about their relationship in 2017, friends and family had mixed reactions. Some confronted them angrily, taking issue on religious or moral grounds, and then stopped talking to them.
But for the most part, people have stuck with them in the six years they have been together. Not long into their throuple relationship, Sabrina Gallegos gave birth to a daughter, Emery, in 2015. The new baby helped some family members to overcome their initial problems with their relationship.
“It’s just taken [them] a lot of time, a lot of years, a lot of interactions, a lot of opportunities ... to see our daughter and appreciate the young lady that she’s becoming,” Ben Gallegos said. “The person that [Emery] is today, [Allie] is one-third equally responsible for everything that that little girl is. When Emery was born, Sabrina held her, I held her, Allie held her, and it’s all she’s ever known, she’s just always had three parents.”
For Berk Forbes and Daley Yoshimura, both in their 30s and living in Salt Lake City, polyamory has been a deliberate lifestyle. They live together and have been together romantically since 2019, but they are non-hierarchical and do not call each other their primary partner. For them, the appeal of polyamory is the freedom to love and experience others outside the traditional boundaries of monogamy.
“Daley and I get to come together and be like, OK, this is what we want our relationship to be,’” Forbes said. “And if I have a relationship with someone else, me and that person get to sit down and decide for ourselves just between us, too, what do we want it to be.”
Sometimes they are both dating other people, sometimes just one of them is, and sometimes neither of them are.
“That’s a misconception with polyamory – that you’re always dating multiple people,” Forbes said. “That’s not the case at all. Certainly, space exists for that, but you get to decide and navigate it on your own terms.”
According to Forbes, people sometimes dismiss polyamory because they think it comes from the flawed belief that one person won’t fulfill them. That’s an unrealistic expectation, he said.
“No one single person can give me everything I need in life,” he said. “You’re attaching a negative connotation to that because of how you’ve been conditioned, but there’s actually nothing wrong with that. That’s humbling and valuable to accept. I can’t imagine being everything for Daley or for anyone else. That would exhaust me.”
One difficult aspect of polyamory, Peterson said, is feeling a need to show that this relationship style is legitimate.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it is,” she said. “And so there’s this pressure to show that it’s working, whatever that’s supposed to mean.”
Meeting new people, Forbes said, can also be tricky. “I’ve always loved meeting people in real life. I find it really exciting to meet someone and ask for their number, but how do I slip this into conversation casually that I’m polyamorous and I have a partner, but I would love to take you out on a date. It’s weird and it’s awkward sometimes. So I think that’s the crux.”
Dating apps can help, but they are exhausting, said Yoshimura. “I know it’s a tool and it’s really straightforward to weed out who you would get along with or not. But sometimes I get bogged down by the texting back and forth. And then also just living life in general and not trying to be on my phone all the time.”
There are internal struggles, too. Ben Gallegos said, “As a throuple, comparison vs. equality can be hard. We want to treat each other as equals without comparing each other. Comparison will kill joy faster than anything in this lifestyle.”
To get out of the comparison mindset, Gallegos said, “We remind each other that our relationships are unique and each one has different needs. Uniformity wouldn’t fulfill all of our needs.”
Finding what works, and what doesn’t
For Peterson, whose film attempts to demystify polyamory and who identifies as polyamorous herself, it’s just as important that people understand what it is as what it is not.
“Some people feel this pressure to say they’re polyamorous and that they have to be dating multiple people at the same time, but you can identify as poly and just have one partner,” she said.
Even though polyamory is about realizing a capacity for deep emotional connections with multiple people, Peterson said, it doesn’t have to amount to love, just like in a traditional relationship. “It doesn’t have to be on that level. I have yet to really feel like I’m in love with multiple people at the same time, but I feel strongly that I have that capacity.”
Peterson got married at 20 and found herself struggling with monogamy, ultimately divorcing her husband after two years in 2018. Peterson has been practicing polyamory for about three years.
“Trying to be monogamous just made me feel like there was something wrong with me for wanting something else or for not wanting to spend all my time with one person,” she said. “I could never go back to those rigid ways of doing things, because I like being open to the possibilities.”
It’s about intention
Monogamy is undergoing the pressures of a changing world, according to Esther Perel, a bestselling author and psychotherapist, who gave an interview to Lewis Howes for his podcast “The School of Greatness.”
“In the era of self-fulfillment, and the right to happiness, we don’t have more desires today than the previous generations, we just feel more entitled to fulfill our desires,” she said, “and we feel that we have a right to be happy.”
This ideal of the freedom to choose is the driving force of Peterson’s film. She hopes that for those watching, polyamory will be understood less as an avoidance of commitment and more of an intentional decision on when, and with whom, to commit.
“It’s not something that’s trying to tear society apart,” she said. “So much of [polyamory] is about community and supporting one another. It’s about having this network of care and love and the capacity and the availability to love people. From a polyamorous standpoint, there is no limit to the amount of love that we can give.”
Matt Didisheim wrote this story as a journalism student at Salt Lake Community College. It is published as part of a new collaborative including nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune.