As is probably the case for a lot of people, I don’t think of my coming out as a single event. To be honest, staying in the closet was something that I never even really considered as an option. When my husband and I opened our marriage and I embarked on a new relationship, I told friends and family members in a way I envision as similar to the way monogamous people would share the news of a new love interest. Which is to say, I simply told people as the opportunity presented itself—over lunch with one close friend, over the phone with those who live far away, and so on and so forth. Sometimes I felt a bit nervous about what their reactions might be, but for the most part it felt no different than sharing any other part of my life. Some responses were lukewarm, but no one has been outright condemning; none of my friendships have drastically altered.
Life, as they say, goes on.
Sometimes, when I read about others wrestling with the decision of whether or not to be out, I wonder what made me feel so utterly casual about breaking the news. Mostly, I simply saw no good reason to keep it a secret. Like any couple, my boyfriend and I spend time with his friends and with my friends and with our mutual friends. We go out in public to places where we’re likely to encounter any number of casual acquaintances. We walk down city streets and eat at restaurants where we’re apt to run into friends and former classmates. And I could not imagine doing all of those things while carefully pretending to be just friends, never holding hands or kissing or putting an arm around each other’s shoulders unless we were behind closed doors. It seemed silly to me to be poly and yet treat my relationship with my boyfriend as if it was some kind of tawdry, secret affair.
What has surprised me the most about being out, however, is how many other people insist on treating my non-marital relationship as if it is merely some kind of tawdry, secret affair. Even amongst those who mean well, it sometimes feels that few people are able to view my relationship with my boyfriend as a real, valid relationship. Instead, it’s often viewed as being all about sex. And even when people are perfectly okay with that, it means the relationship doesn’t hold much legitimacy in their eyes. Many people, it turns out, are far more able to conceptualize a relationship that allows for getting some action on the side than they are able to conceptualize being in more than one loving, fulfilling, intimate relationship simultaneously.
Different types of relationships
I’m not the type of person who looks down on those who do have relationships that are open in a more strictly sexual sense. I think different arrangements work better for different people, and I’m happy for any couple (or trio, or quad…) who have found the relationship structure that works best for them. But it is important to me to dispel the misconception that all non-monogamous relationships are always exclusively about sex. I don’t blame anyone for harboring those misconceptions, either. Poly, after all, is fairly invisible in our society. I can’t expect people to be educated about or even familiar with something they’ve never really been exposed to or had reason to consider. All I can do is my own little part to change that lack of exposure, to become more visible. To be out.
Lately, I’ve made it a bit of a mission to be as out as possible. Silly rite-of-passage though it may be, my husband and I changed our relationship status on facebook from “married” to “in an open relationship,” alerting all those far flung high school classmates and distant relatives that things are not what they used to be around here. I regularly post links to poly-related articles and resources, and while I never made any kind of “hey, guess what, everyone?” announcement on the internet, I also don’t shy away from mentioning both of my relationships in a public forum. If people are confused and want to ask me questions, they are welcome to. I hope that they will. I worry often that it will seem as though I’m only trying to be shocking, to create controversy, to shove my “strange” life down everyone’s throats. But what I want, more than anything, is for everyone to see just how not strange my life really is. I have a husband, and I have a boyfriend!
Life in a Poly Relationship
And usually I spend time with each of them individually like anyone would in a monogamous relationship, and sometimes all three of us sit around and drink a few beers and watch a movie. Okay, so maybe it’s not the picture of normalcy to most people. But the point is, it’s a normalcy. Mine. And there’s no real drama, no wild and crazy orgies, nothing that would make good fodder for reality TV. My life is rather mundane, in all of the best possible ways.
I don’t believe I’m going to single-handedly change the world. And sometimes it’s not the most comfortable thing to put myself out there, when just the simple act of explaining my relationships is like opening the floor for interrogation and debate. But if I treat my relationship with my boyfriend—and the fact of my polyamory—like it’s something that must remain behind closed doors, then how can I expect anyone else to treat it any differently? I’m not out for shock value. I’m out, simply, because I have nothing to hide. Because being poly is not something to hide. I’m not over-sharing any TMI, intimate detail any more than anyone who ever says “hey, this is my boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/etc.” is sharing intimate detail. At the end of the day, people don’t have to like my lifestyle. But they are going to have to accept that it exists. And maybe someday, we will live in a world where monogamy is not the default, but is seen instead as just one of the myriad possible relationship structures available. In the meantime, I’m not looking to blow anyone’s mind with my “wildly unconventional” life. I’d just be happy to expand a few people’s concepts of what an ordinary life can be.
Note: In the time since I wrote this piece, my poly-life has continued to evolve. My boyfriend and I are no longer “together” in the classic sense of the word. However, another of the benefits of poly relationships is that they don’t always need to fit neatly into rigid categories; our lives look very much the same as described here, and we continue to have a sort of partnership that would be unlikely in a monogamous context.