Hiding My Polyamorous Relationship
You probably wouldn’t know it from my work here on Medium, but to most of the world, my relationship simply doesn’t exist. My girlfriend and I are nothing more than friends, casual-but-close people who never so much as hold one another’s hand. We live double-lives, not because we want to, but because we know that most people wouldn’t be able to handle the details of our relationship — because we have to. Before most people, our displays of affection are simply off-limits, our designated roles don’t exist, and our identity as a couple vanishes.
For all of its joy, for all of its grandeur, for all of its wonder and beauty, for all of its undeniably sweet and savory splendor, our relationship brings us some real, practical challenges in our everyday lives. While a lot of people tend to focus on the sexual aspects of the polyamorous relationship, the mundane, the usual, the everyday, and the commonplace, all present various nuanced differences which have made us question what’s important to us at every turn.
Those nuanced moments have brought us a strength that few know, in our willingness to compromise our egos and through the democratization of our relationship. After all, when your relationship could damage your reputation simply by existing, it’s important that the participants are cautious and considerate of the others involved, making sure not to break the anonymity of those who need it, in front of those who would never understand.
We exist, but we often hide, and I’ve always wondered who other people actually were when their masks came off. The police officer who pulled you over and let you off without a ticket might just be excited about his date with both of his girlfriends tonight, too excited to fill out the necessary paperwork to issue you a ticket— he’s not trying to dampen his excitement. The bank teller who took your deposit might have seemed distracted while staring off a bit because she was basking in the anticipation of her date that night — with her husband and a new suitor at the same time…and you would never know. The truth is, we never know who others are when we’re not around, just as so few know my secret life.
Like the masked members of the Rennaissance masquerade, we hide our identities as lovers behind the anonymity of friendship, when necessary, returning to polite society as friends when we’re not enjoying our lives as lovers. Like a masquerade, our most intimate friends and family are the members of the secret club who know about our polyamorous trio — to everyone else, there is silence.
To some people, we're simply friends, in front of others, we're simply roommates, but in front of those who are capable of understanding what it is that we’re doing, we reveal ourselves as lovers. How could we do this? I’ll first say that a little bit of necessity goes a long way. Some have suggested what they assume to be the difficulties of polyamory in the comments section of my stories, and typically they assume that there’s a lot of in-fighting or confusion, or that polyamorous challenges are like the challenges that they face, only with more people involved. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Not a single one of her hundreds of clients know that I’m anything more than a close friend to her and her husband, and I’m perfectly okay with this. The quality of our love is not measured by the opinions of others. In fact, I very much prefer it this way. Our relationship is not a thing for show, it’s a thing to be experienced.
The reality of the situation is, we’re professionals, we’re business owners, we’re upstanding members of our communities — communities which might not understand our way of living — and our way of loving. We can’t just go around telling everybody, life doesn’t work that way. The vehemence, passive aggression, and quiet disdain I’ve received by people who don’t know me online stand as evidence to the idea that society simply isn’t ready to accept polyamory as a socially acceptable type of love…and I love it.
There’s a beautiful power in doing what we do for ourselves and no one else. There is a hint of untouchability in what we have because it doesn’t need to be authorized by anyone else but us; no one else licenses our love, no one else needs to permit it, it is what we’ve built ourselves, we three, without reference to the traditional social standards which influence many relationships. The masks of friendship are the masks we show most of the world and this shouldn’t be underestimated in its influence over what we do and insist upon doing even if we can’t be noticed in doing it.
In a very real way, this is ours and ours alone, and because of this, it is pure, and in its purity and remoteness from the world lies incorruptibility that I love.
The Modern Rennaissance
What we’re doing isn’t actually anything new…
The Rennaissance was an interesting time. Europe was finally beginning to embrace the arts, the humanities, the sciences, and of course, their sexuality. One of the interesting facets of Rennaissance culture was the Masquerade balls, often secretive parties held in clandestine times and places, away from polite society where the people of Europe could indulge in their darker sides, those more colorful shades of their personalities which were overflowing with lust and carnality.
Don’t let our modernized and watered-down versions of these parties fool you, a true Masquerade was nothing like Mardi Gras, many masquerades were absolutely the kind of sexually-charged gatherings that would impress the Roman Emperor Caligula, and they were happening right in the hidden rooms and secret locations of a very puritanical Early Modern Europe. Cloaked in the dim light of lanterns and dripping candles flickering atop etched-metal candelabras, polite citizens gathered under the cover of night to perform some unusually elaborate and, even by today’s standards, liberal banquets, during which an unleashing of their human sexuality was a prominent feature.
Behind the mask of anonymity and away from the judgmental public eyes, they practiced their sexualities as they pleased, uninhibited, and with a complete disregard for the polite society — they sought to escape. At times, our relationship feels like this, and I find the metaphor perfect for the occasion.
The masks they wore were much more than simple aesthetics, they were worn so that the members engaging in sweaty, lusty, and wine-fueled sex and sin could return to church that Sunday and none would be the wiser. This was the point of the anonymous sex, friends didn’t go to the masquerade to sleep with their own close friends, that might be too risky, but they went with friends to get lost in the sea of strangers so that they would have sex with that person from the other side of town, without the fear of risk that would come along with being unmasked or recognized by someone they knew. So long as everyone was anonymous, everything was just fine.
Differently colored masks signified the comfort levels of the participants, as well as signaling things like whether or not someone was willing to speak or not speak during the event. These parties were so intricately designed and crafted that no one really needed to speak if they didn’t want to; they came up with an alternative form of communication, one that was only known to the participants. Like the masks they wore, we too have our stares, our gestures, our motions, our own little language that others can’t decipher when we speak it.
We polyamorous people are much like these relics from the past, the masked members of the congregations of the masquerades in Italy and Switzerland, in that you’d never know what we were doing behind the scenes unless you were doing it with us — and what we do is invite-only. The main difference is that our hidden romances are predicated upon love, not sex.
In the Shadows
In no moments do I feel any sort of indignation or injustice about not being able to tell many people in my life who I’m in love with and who’s in love with me. Most of the world just isn’t ready for that yet. We came to this decision cumulatively, who we would tell and who we would keep our clandestine love a secret from. Every one of us involved had their say. We chose this secrecy collectively and discuss new disclosures with one another before they come about. Everyone is comfortable in these choices before they’re made.
I would be lying to you, however, if I told you that there wasn’t a sweet and savory hint of delicious joy that I feel stemming from our ability to seamlessly flow from friends to lovers, then back again, depending on our audience.
We transition perfectly every time, and inside every mind that lies behind the different sets of eyes that observe us is a different version of reality.
Is this inauthentic? Are we being fake? I think not. It isn’t a performance. Because the fact is, we very much are truly friends. We’re best friends, actually, and that’s how we pull it off so well…because we just act as we would normally act when we’re alone and not being sexual — all great lovers are also great friends when they’re not being lovers; and the public masques we wear directly influence our lives, reinforcing the friendship that is the mask that has grown up around our sexuality and love.
One thing is for sure, there’s something deeply romantic about the mystery and anonymity involved, the hidden behaviors, the subtle gestures, the caring on a different level that most of the world will never see.
Just as the powerful and restrictive church of old drove the masquerades of centuries past underground, so too is our current framework, inadvertently forcing it upon us. The masks we wear were indeed constructive by our own making, but they don’t seek to cover up anything we’re ashamed of, they’re simply defenses against a judgmental society that’s very capable of being swept away in the flood of dehumanizing tendencies. We refuse to be reduced to objects, and that’s important. We refuse to be changed into an object-thing or an item because here we have pure subjectivity outside of the prying eyes who wonder and stare.
Unlike the characters who danced and played in the masquerades of old, however, we aren’t just there for a night of casual sex, only to return to our polite lives as if nothing happened, we’re sustaining deep, true, and lasting relationships behind the scenes and between the lines. We’re in love, and in love, we shall remain. And if the long history of the world has taught us anything, it’s that love always wins.
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© 2019; Joe Duncan. All Rights Reserved