For many people, the idea of of a polygamous relationship sounds incredibly unorthodox. We assume it’s a tradition solely practiced by people of a certain religion or culture, and even then, we think it’s not very common anymore. But according to a Gallup poll done in 2015, people here in the United States are loosening up when it comes to their views of polygamy. When comparing opinions about it in 2001 to views of it in 2015, there was a nine percent change, from just seven percent deeming it acceptable back then, to 16 percent saying it’s A-O.K. three years ago. And with more shows coming out that put the spotlight on these types of relationships, including TLC’s Sister Wives and the newest addition, Seeking Sister Wife, there’s no hiding from this very real way of living and loving.
Dimitri and Ashley Snowden are one of the couples on the latter series, and the sole Black couple to be featured. They are based in Atlanta and have been spiritually married (they’ve chosen to “abstain” from legal marriage) since 2009, raising three children. And while Ashley, 31, and Dimitri, 37, are spiritual people, they’re not religious — they just embrace the polygamist lifestyle. We talked with the couple about what it’s like to live this way in the African-American community, and they answered all the questions we had about how such a relationship — or relationships — work. It makes more sense than you would think.
MadameNoire: Before you met, were the both of you in polyamorous dating relationships? Basically, how did you come to make this a part of your lifestyle?
Ashley Snowden: I studied anthropology, and that is how I came into my understanding of what polygamy was and how beautiful I thought it was. So that’s how I came into it and no, I didn’t have multiple partners at the same time. I was always in monogamous relationships.
Dimitri Snowden: For me, I think it was probably in my early 20s. I come from a pretty diverse background. My father was born in Havana, Cuba. He spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia and traveled the world. So anyway, for me, I think I wanted to create a way that could promote culture. Rich culture and tradition in my current family of course, and in subsequent generations.
What was the catalyst for you, Dimitri, that inspired this decision? Was there someone you saw or research you did? Was there an influence for this desire to have a relationship with multiple women at one time?
Dimitri: When I was younger I wasn’t committed to one woman at one time. So as I was dating I found that I was actually having serious feelings for women and I didn’t know how to express that or move about that freely, but also with fidelity. So I think as I started trying to just read and understand, I came across this construct, this relational construct of polygamy. It seemed to kind of satisfy the ability to live this way meaningfully and also with some sort of fidelity in terms of a family structure. So that was it.
Before you found this structure, how did the women you dated deal with your non-monogamous way of going about things?
Dimitri: I’m not sure I was non-monogamous, if you will. We were dating. In my opinion, if you’re not married, in the spiritual or legal way, then you’re kind of single. So I was very, very transparent. Very, very forward. So when I would meet the woman I would say, “I may not be your only one. You’re not my only one because we don’t know if we’re each other’s forever person yet.” And so, we kind of agreed until we could get to that point, we’re just here. And again, I was young. Twenty-something and change, so I was kind of sorting myself out.
How did the both of you meet each other and realize you were a good fit and on the same page about this way of having love and living?
Ashley: Our first one-on-one conversation was exactly that. We discussed it day zero. We were like “Ok, let’s take to the Internet and see how it’s done.” I studied anthropology in undergrad so I had been exposed to different family dynamics and polygamy was one of them. I thought it was beautiful! I loved the aspect of community and multiple women working together to have a family. It was so beautiful to me. No one else at the time was talking about it, so I thought it was fascinating. And from there, we just learned how to develop into who we are and how we wanted to live.
How did you guys actually meet? Did you run in similar circles?
Ashley: I was teaching and his company — what did you do? [laughs]
Dimitri: My company was providing IT services for the school that she worked at. Her computer was always broken. She could never print, her email never worked. Something was always happening that required me to come interact with her [laughs].
Dimitri, I know when you all met potential sister wife Jocelyn on the show, you told her that the way you go about your relationship is, you have multiple “wives.” You asked her if she would be O.K. with not having multiple husbands. So I was wondering, how would it work if Ashley or a future partner wanted to have another husband since you all are doing things based on spirituality as opposed to actual Mormon, for example, religious practices?
Two answers: One, yes they can. Because I don’t own any human. I don’t own anyone. So everyone can exercise their free will. But two, the caveat is if they do that then it’s no longer polygamy, it’s polyandry. So the vision of our family is built on polygamy, which is one man, more than one wife. That’s what we’ve agreed to, that’s the vision we want to build.
So when you guys had the relationship with the last woman that you spoke about on the show and it didn’t work out, when these things happen, how do people deal with a breakup in a relationship that involves so many people?
Dimitri: Not to be trite, but it’s really no different than monogamy. When it doesn’t work, you then start deconstructing the relationship. You start separating stuff out and making plans logistically, emotionally to separate yourself from the relationship. Obviously with polygamy there might be a lot more moving parts because you have more adults so you might have more children. But the feelings, how one metabolizes that time, how one moves through that time, it’s all the exact same.
So when you meet someone you’re interested in for the both of you, is there an amount of time you wait while getting to know them before you introduce them to your children?
Ashley: There’s not a magic number. I think we go on our confidence in the relationship before we bring our children into the relationship. And just because you have confidence in what you think you feel about someone doesn’t always equal success. But it definitely shields the potential of having to have these meetings over and over again. Just like when you’re dating in monogamy. You like somebody but initially it’s usually just happy feelings. It’s the initial butterflies in the stomach and it’s all of that. And once you get to know the person and really understand who they are, then you understand if you’re compatible. We try to at least get to the part where we’re pretty sure that we know. And we’re always learning. Dimitri and I are still learning each other and we’ve been together for eight years. But we definitely don’t rush into introducing the children off the bat.
In the future, if you are able to find someone you want around for the long-term, what would your kids identify them as? Would they be “mom” immediately?
I think initially, it’s about the comfort level of everyone involved. We’d like to get to a place where there’s no distinction between moms. Obviously, especially with our children now, they will biologically know that I’m their mother because I’ve been here with them consistently. But as more children come into the family, there may not be that hard-and-fast line. We don’t get into, “This is your stuff and your territory, this is mine.” We all live and work together. We’re all moms. Well, except Dimitri is dad [laughs]. But we’re all raising the children together as one family, so she’s mom, I’m mom. My daughter may refer to her as mom or some similar name as mom, and likewise. Her children, if she has them, will do the same.
How do both of your families feel about this decision to practice polygamy? Ashley, I know your mom was still trying to wrap her head around it.
Dimitri: My family is actually pretty A-O.K.. My parents are pretty liberal. They live by a simple mantra: If you’re happy and they’re happy, go for it. And that’s all they really have to say about it so we’re good on my side.
Ashley: Most of my younger cousins and some of my aunts and uncles, they support me. They love me no matter what. We just kind of have that type of family where everybody’s like, “Yeah, do you.” My dad is a little more resistant. But he’s like, do you. “I don’t agree with it, but you’re still my daughter and I love you.” That is what it is [laughs].
What do you want people to walk away with when they watch your story on the show? Because there are obviously going to be people with strong opinions about your life.
Ashley: The fact that you can state that it’s not something you wouldn’t do but watching the show you notice, O.K., “This could work for you.” I think it’s learning, one, and educating yourself. But then two, knowing there are more options out there. It’s O.K. if you don’t want to live this way. Knowing what the options are helps you be more convicted in your choice, one way or the other. So that’s what we want people to take away, just knowing that there are other ways of relating and it’s O.K. if you don’t agree with it but now you can be educated on the subject. Also, you can know there are different people living this way of life and there are different versions of it.
Dimitri: I would just add to what she said, my takeaway for people would be please just ask questions. Please just ask. And I would rather the energy go into inquiry over disdain or judgment. I get it. You don’t like it, you don’t understand it, it’s confusing to you and you’re like “What the hell is going on?” I get all that. But if you’re going to put all that energy into that sentiment, just ask a question, because a lot of what you’re feeling is based on the institution of what you were raised in. We get into this thing around cognitive dissonance, where if it’s outside of our beliefs we can’t seem to wrap our minds around it and for some reason everything else is completely wrong. And that’s not fair. So to Ashley’s point, there are many ways to live life, an infinite amount of ways. Just ask questions. Don’t pass judgment. And there’s no wrong way to live. If you ‘re not hurting anyone, there’s no wrong way to do it.
That makes sense, because there are already a lot of questions. There are a lot of questions from people about if this hurts you, Ashley, and how you benefit in this situation. I guess people are wondering, like your mom asked, does this make you a lesbian and are you having sex with the woman he chooses? How does a woman benefit from being in a polygamous relationship like this?
Ashley: If sex is the only benefit to a relationship then I don’t know why people do them [laughs]. It’s like, we get into this type of relationship and sex is one part of it. And it includes Dimitri and the woman. But the rest of the relationship is the building. I’m going to be spending the most time with her and we’re going to be building. We get to create what we want. Women are infinitely creative and I can only imagine meeting our perfect, perfect woman and we all come together and it’s just this Kumbaaya. And it’s probably super surreal at this point. But that’s what I’m trying to establish. We’re raising a family together. We’re going to be self-sustainable, keeping the finances amongst ourselves. We’re going to be uplifting ourselves, creating culture and legacy. Our children are going to have a lot to look back on and a lot to gain.
Seeking Sister Wife airs on TLC on Sunday nights at 10/9 c.