Based on real life experiences, the story explores a wide range of relationship topics that are relatable to everyone. She uses humor as a way to spread awareness and encourage others to see themselves and each other more honestly.
Jess Novak: What’s the biggest takeaway you hope readers gain from reading Kimchi Cuddles?
Tikva Wolf: The most important message I want to convey is that whatever people truly are is OK. Whether they’re monogamous, polyamorous, straight, gay, genderqueer—who they are is who they’re supposed to be. It’s such a simple idea, but I think a lot of people need to hear it, and I want to be a source of self-acceptance for others.
JN: For a lot of people, the definition of lasting love is monogamy. When a relationship moves from casual dating to exclusivity, that’s seen as an indication of seriousness. Given that exclusivity is such a fundamental aspect of love for so many people, how do you explain what love looks like for you?
TW: I think there’s an assumption that lasting love is more significant, but I don’t think that’s true. People’s needs and desires change over time, so it's important to notice what you actually want to share and experience with your partner, and pay attention if that changes. I just don’t think that a relationship is any more valid because one of you dies before the relationship is over.
There’s also an assumption that exclusivity makes your relationship special. I get it! Sometimes there’s a strong desire to close yourselves off from the rest of the world, especially in the beginning. But I don’t see exclusivity as necessary; in fact, I feel closer when we can talk about our attractions to other people.
If the drive to make a connection with another person is very strong, I want my partner to follow that; I don’t want to inhibit anyone out of the belief that restricting them will benefit me in some way. It’s not been my experience that I get anything from creating that artificial bubble with another person, and when my relationship needs come from a place of fear, that separates me from my partner.
TW: Yes! When I'm only sharing what I actually want to share with people, I don't end up having sex out of coercion or obligation (which is something I often experienced in monogamous relationships). And when my partners don't see me as the only person who can fulfill a certain role for them, we are more easily able to share the kinds of sex (or any other type of connection) that we most deeply want to share with each other, and everyone ends up feeling a lot more satisfied. I'm never having sex where one of us is just going along with it, and I don't need to suppress any part of myself. All the sex I have now is a really strong hell yes for everyone involved. That's obviously also possible in monogamous relationships, but that simply wasn't my personal experience with them.
JN: One of the scariest parts about transitioning from a monogamous to a polyamorous relationship is the potential for screwing up what you have. What makes the potential risks of a polyamorous lifestyle worth it, and how do you mitigate them?
TW: I understand the desire to be in a relationship without any danger to the status quo, but I also think the idea of safety is imaginary. Being monogamous doesn’t keep you safe from those outside forces; people can cheat on each other, or just grow apart. They might realize they want different things, or they’re just no longer compatible.
I don’t think that polyamory increases that risk of separation, but it might alter a breakup’s timing. In a monogamous relationship, you can coast for a long time without having to examine things, but in a polyamorous relationship, triggers tend to arise more frequently. I don’t think one way is inherently more enlightened; they’re both valid, different choices.
JN: How do you handle issues of trust and jealousy?
TW: If you really trust your partner and your metamour (that’s your partner’s partner), then if something upsets you, you’ll seek to understand why rather than jump to judgment. If you’re secure, you don’t automatically think, "It’s because she’s a bitch, and she’s trying to upset me!" You come to that person and say, "Hey, this happened, and it really upset me." It’s a lot easier than people imagine.
If there are elements of distrust—or people who don’t understand what they want or how to communicate—life can get difficult. Polyamory is a model that a lot of people don’t have much practice with, so people who are just starting out encounter a lot of bumps when figuring out what works.
The folks behind morethantwo.com have noted that jealousy can be an indicator of something amiss in your relationship that already existed, but you might have been ignoring. Jealousy can be a huge gift, because it encourages you to ask questions like, "What do I feel like I’m lacking in my relationship that’s causing this intense feeling?" Being able to talk about it and uncover those issues is a huge opportunity.
JN: While all marriages are unique, do poly marriages tend to share any specific values? What do weddings tend to look like?
TW: Marriage is changing and evolving as people change and evolve, and as we discover more about what we’re looking for. Polyamorous people tend to have a more DIY mentality toward relationships, so when poly people get married—and not all do—their ceremonies tend to reflect that.
Some people want everyone involved, so group marriages can happen. I've also seen ceremonies where one person will marry their partner and then marry their other partner. None of this is marriage in a legal sense, but the ceremony matters; for some, a wedding is a sacred experience between the people sharing vows, some want a sense of being witnessed by their friends and family, and for others, it’s just a celebration.
JN: Being poly and a parent in a culture that’s pretty fearful of polyamory has to have trials. What are some of the expectations you’ve had to confront, and what are some of the joys of being a poly parent?
TW: Initially, I had a fear that being poly would negatively affect my kid—the idea that dating people who weren’t permanent figures in her life would upset her. But that’s just never happened. What kids actually see of their parents dating looks just like friends coming over to make dinner, so she doesn’t register it as any different than that. She’s 7, so she’s just starting to ask about folks’ different roles.
Her life seems to have benefited from having these extra adults around, many of whom don’t get to spend a ton of time with kids, so they’re fresh and excited to do things we’ve already done 5,000 times that day. I’m not really sure what other people imagine it’s like, but kids in poly households just end up having an abundance of loving adults in their life, giving them attention, helping with homework, offering advice... Dr. Elisabeth Sheff wrote a book about poly families, and her findings indicate that kids raised in these households have a highly supportive structure.
In a traditional marriage, child rearing often falls on the woman. I think that dynamic is a factor in why so many of these relationships end in separation. When there’s more help and creativity in our roles as parents, I think that’s beneficial—whether or not you’re poly.
JN: How do you avoid having hierarchies among partners?
TW: Right now, there’s this stigma against hierarchy in poly relationships, even though sometimes that just happens. If you’re married to someone you’ve been living with for years, and you have kids together, your relationship is going to be different than with someone you started dating last week. That new person isn’t going to get all your bank passwords, for starters.
To pull back for a moment: "Ethical non-monogamy" is a blanket term for any relationship that isn’t monogamous, but where everyone is in agreement. Some people who fit under that umbrella don’t use "polyamory" and prefer "relationship anarchy" instead. In this, the focus isn’t about having multiple relationships so much as approaching all your relationships as special. I use "polyamory" to mean this, but not everyone does.
The important part is to just treat everybody with respect and not to institute rules that people are uncomfortable with; as long as everybody’s on the same page, it’s going OK. A lot of the time, holidays are a non-issue—everybody can hang out together, or sometimes you’ll have a partner who just hates Christmas, so you’re relieved that you have another partner who you can decorate the tree with. Different people like different things.
JN: So you can enjoy the fact that your partner’s partner gives them something you don’t?
TW: There are different love languages. If you’re someone who is terrible at giving gifts, and your partner really loves gifts—like that’s their main thing—then you might feel really happy if they have another partner who gives amazing gifts. Then you don’t have to worry about it!
That’s something I really appreciate about polyamory. People aren’t expecting these things from me that I can’t do or that just don’t come naturally to me. Nobody’s angrily waiting for me to fulfill a need of theirs that I’m just not capable of fulfilling. It’s such a huge relief to have some of that burden taken off me; this way, I can share with a partner what I’m good at, without this awkward sense of obligation.
JN: What’s life as a poly activist been like in the months since the election?
TW: I’ve been nervously waiting to see what’s going to change, and I’m trying to figure out what my role is now. My work deals with the idea that all relationships are equally valid, and also engages with LGBTQ issues, but I’ll probably become more overtly political in the coming months, dealing with more current events than before.
I live in a little liberal oasis in North Carolina, but I’m still in North Carolina, so there’s a lot of intolerance. Many people I’m close to are genderqueer, and people are all puffed up on their intolerance, making them feel unwelcome and unsafe. It’s disconcerting, and gives me a desire to be more vocal.
JN: Your first book just came out, and your second book is debuting this spring. Would you tell us a little about these projects?
TW: Ask Me About Polyamory! is a helpful resource, almost a how-to. It’s very easily accessible—people who are intimidated to read a whole chapter can just read one comic.
Love: Retold is my first graphic novel. The book comes from my life experience but goes into a lot more depth. It’s a polyamorous love story following a character who’s similar to Kimchi as she learns what types of relationships she cares about and why. She comes to a place of discovering what she wants in a relationship and how to also have that with herself.
Check out Tikva's webcomic for Greatist, "The Secret Lives of the Polyamorous."