ACPPP: I was just curious about coming out as poly. I’ve been a practicing poly person for a few years now and with my past partners and every time I have the conversation it seems to degrade into my partners not feeling appreciated, or that I’m insatiable. I make it a rule to talk about being poly with my partners before we fool around, but perhaps I should be doing this on the first date instead? It seems really soon in a relationship to put that on the line. Another issue I’m having is that I’m getting to that age (26) where I can no longer just keep not explaining the ‘friends’ that my parents keep meeting. So my big question is this; What’s the easiest way of coming out of the poly closet?
Wanting to be on honest person with all my loved ones,
A Closeted Practicing Poly Person
A Closeted Practicing Poly Person
(Note: this column was originally composed for a site where I was billed as "ask a poly girl," so it takes all kinds of stuff about poly for granted. For more basic info about polyamory, wikipedia says this and Google will be fruitful.)
RPM: There are lots of ways to come out as poly. Lots of them are good. Your question has two very distinct parts: how to tell new partners, and how to tell your parents. I’ll answer them separately.
Without further details about your situation, and assuming that you are someone who is firmly poly and not contemplating entering a monogamous relationship, I’d say in general that earlier is easier. I told my husband I was poly on our first date, and…well, now he’s my husband. So that went well.
I advocate first-date revelation for two reasons.
1) If you put it off, your dishonesty quotient grows with each date your status goes undisclosed.
2) On a first date with so little at stake, it doesn’t come off as a huge big deal. The longer you wait, the bigger a shock your poly activities will be and the bigger a disruption to the perceived status quo.
That said, it’s a thing that can freak people out and turn them off, especially before they have any experience of you or reason to trust you, and especially if they’ve never heard of poly before. There are ways and ways to do it positively. Try variations on this theme: “I really like you and I’m having fun being out with you! Just so you know, I’m seeing some other people now too. I wanted to let you know right away so it doesn’t seem like I’m hiding anything.”
Then wait and listen. Reactions could range from “oh cool, good to know. Want another drink?” to “but if we ever got serious you’d stop seeing those other people, right?” to “Ah. Not interested. Could you drop me back off at home?” Whether or not you launch into the full philosophical discussion depends a lot on the response you get.
If it’s the last one—if you just scared someone off who is totally not cool with even contemplating the possibility of poly—then you just did you both a favor and saved some time. You did not fail, you just figured out that this relationship’s not going anywhere—and that conversation would have gone a LOT worse if you were six weeks in.
If what you get is more like the middle reaction—a request for clarification—then it’s appropriate to divulge the details of your personal situation, answer questions, provide reassurance that you are brimming with respect for the person you are currently out with, and evangelize your lifestyle a little (if you can do it gently and without pressure.) This can be one of those really fun and precious moments where you get to introduce an open-minded person to the concept of polyamory. You probably have your own list of reasons why it’s a good idea for you, since it’s unlikely you simply defaulted to poly—yay, a chance to talk about them!
In my experience, at least in the liberal laid-back bubble of the Seattle dating scene, the most common first-date reaction is the first one. No big deal. Even monogamous-identified people often casually date more than one person in the early stages of relationships, so this is within the range of many peoples’ experience. So if your bombshell is received with equanimity, go on and enjoy your date. You’ve just laid the groundwork for continuing to be honest with this new flame. On your second date, when they ask how your week was or whatever, you can mention that nice time you had on Wednesday with Paul or Lisa or whoever you were out with most recently, and it won’t be a huge revelation. The more consistently forthcoming you are about who you are, what you are doing, and what your expectations are, the easier it will be for the person getting to know you to digest it in gradual depth, just like they assimilate most of the information you give them about yourself.
Bottom line: if you’re cool with poly yourself, and present it as part of yourself as naturally as the fact that you prefer chunky peanut butter to smooth, you have the best chance of them being cool with it too. Proactive honesty is your best strategy.
Coming out to your parents as polyamorous is a highly individual decision. For some people, it is very important to do so; for others, it is impossible. I’m guessing that since you bring it up, you’re feeling the desire to come clean with your folks. Hurrah for open communication!
I’m out to my parents, and I’m fortunate in that while they don’t particularly approve, they accept that I will make my own choices about my love life. We argue about it occasionally, in a loving way. Our agreement to disagree is a key part of our continuing good relationship. Keep in mind as you prepare to do this that very few parents in this day and age will jump for joy to find out that you’ve chosen an unconventional and difficult romantic path (my mom likes to say, “We tried that in the 60’s and it didn’t work”). Keep in mind, too, that most parents in any day & age want you to be happy more than anything else.
What’s your relationship with your parents like? Do you tell them about dates you go on? Do you want to? When do you start thinking of your ‘friends’ as partners? Realize that any of these answers will change the way you disclose.
Here’s a guideline that might work for you: once you’re calling someone boyfriend or girlfriend, that might be a good time to mention them to your parents, as an emotionally significant person in your life that you want them to acknowledge specially. As with folks you’re dating, if you can continue to be upfront about what’s going on in your life, fielding questions and surprises becomes easier as you go along. For example, for first disclosure let’s prefer “Hey mom, you know that girl I invited to dinner last week? Isn’t she neat? She’s my girlfriend now! Mmhmm…oh, and I had a nice date with Olivia on Saturday too.” over “Hey mom, guess what, Martin and I are getting married! We want our other boyfriend, Jens, to be our best man. Sorry I didn’t tell you we were dating before; it seemed awkward.”
No matter who you’re telling, be aware of the fact that your lifestyle is a minority lifestyle that isn’t generally well understood. Expect dismay and shock and persistent misunderstanding from some; that is what you are signing up for by choosing to conduct your relationships in this way. Continue to be as clear as you can without being defensive. Be patient. Understanding can seem an eternity away, and then come after years. Realize that some of the people you are telling have been raised to believe that polyamorous behavior is wrong, mean, perverted. These cultural beliefs cannot always change in one conversation, or ten. Stay motivated by a desire to stay full of integrity to those you love, and you are on unimpeachable ground. Avoid trying to convert people who disagree; your way is not better than theirs, any more than theirs is better than yours. The only way to achieve acceptance is to offer it.
Dealing with the aftermath might be fodder for a whole ‘nother question or ten. Let us know how it goes, and good luck.
Yours in love,