Being Open About Being Open: Coming Out as Polyamorous
All about the pros and cons of sharing your relationship orientation and tips for a smooth transition.
When people ask me who practices polyamory, my answer is that all kinds of people do; in fact, they probably already know someone who’s polyamorous! I feel lucky that I had the privilege and security to be open with my relationship orientation pretty early on when I figured it out. I’d just come out of a marriage, was single, didn’t have a job that would be put in jeopardy or family who would turn their backs.
Coming out as polyamorous was important to me for many reasons.
I made a post on my Facebook page, and to my surprised delight, received multiple private messages from friends I’d had no idea were on the non-monogamy side of the relationship spectrum. As a writer with strong convictions, I’ve chosen to use my voice to talk about things many people won’t (or can’t) talk about. It’s one of the reasons I write about polyamory, and a big reason for the creation of Polyamory Today.
Coming out as polyamorous was important to me for many reasons. I spent so much time living in a way that was not fulfilling or vivid, and I was ready to open my heart in every way. Different people have different reasons, let’s take a look at some of the most common.
Why come out as poly?
There’s an infinite spectrum of comfort levels when it comes to sharing details of your relationship. Some people prefer to keep their relationships private, while others like to share about their partner or partners with the world. So why come out as polyamorous?
To Normalize Polyamory
Because of the misconception that polyamory is all about sex all the time, some people will ask why don’t you leave that in the bedroom where it belongs? But you’d never say that to a monogamous couple just for sharing that they’re dating. Polyamory is about so much more than sex, it’s about connection and sharing a life together. It’s about people and humanity, just like any other relationship.
I want my kids to grow up in a world where they know that the way they feel is okay, even if they have a ‘non-traditional’ sexual orientation, gender, or relationship orientation.
Being open is a privilege, and one of the reasons I decided to come out was to contribute to normalcy and visibility for polyamorous people. It is a lot easier to be negative about something when you haven’t experienced it, or been close to someone who has experienced it. I also want my kids to grow up in a world where they know that the way they feel is okay, even if they have a ‘non-traditional’ sexual orientation, gender, or relationship orientation.
To Live Authentically.
For people in monogamous relationships, sharing their attachment status is a given; becoming ‘Facebook official’ is now a milestone for new couples. For some, coming out as polyamorous is a way to live their life in a more authentic manner.
Often, holding back when talking about our closest friends or lovers can feel disingenuous. It can also be a real letdown not to share your greatest joys with the family or friends who would want to celebrate with you and be happy for you.
To Speak for Those Who Can’t
In addition to having the desire to speak openly about my life, I want to use my voice to expose people to things that are new or different to encourage acceptance. I know that being open about things doesn’t come easily to everyone. Many people face very real consequences for being different or for not following the path others laid for them. When I speak about polyamory, I hope that I am helping people understand that this is just another way for people to relate to one another.
To Find Support
The need for support is another big reason some people decide to share about their polyamory. Whether I am sad, angry, happy, or confused, I have a village of people I turn to for support. When I can’t share about huge parts of my life with those people, I’m unable to find the support I desperately need.
To Be Transparent
One facet of transparency may be leveling the playing field so that people aren’t having to hide things for you. For example, if you have children who know your partners and know about your orientation, removing the pressure from them to hide that information. It can be hard to explain why some things need to be a secret, and the last thing I’d want is someone I care about slipping and then feeling like they messed up.
Another facet is found in wanting to be up front about who you are and what’s important to you. I want to surround myself with people who like and love me for who I am, and my polyamory is a part of me.
To Connect with Community
Finding people with the same interests and desires as you can be an extremely powerful thing. The feeling of alone-ness or of not having folks around who understand what you’re experiencing can be devastating. Finding people with whom you can share, ask questions, get advice, and connect can provide a sense of belonging and support.
Barriers to Coming Out Poly
Despite the increased exposure of polyamory in the media and popular culture, there are still barriers to many people for sharing about their polyamory.
Fear of Judgement
People are afraid and judgmental about things they don’t understand. We perceive things with which we don’t have much experience as weird or even threatening. It can be really scary to be the first one in a situation to be vulnerable even when you believe you’ll be accepted. When you’re afraid of judgement it just makes it that much harder.
Loss of Relationships
For some folks, the fear of losing relationships is a real threat. Sharing that your feelings or identity fall outside of the traditions and expectations of your family or culture can be terrifying. It can result in the loss of some of the most important relationships in your life, and choosing between loving yourself and loving and being loved by your family of origin is an impossible choice.
Effects on Family or Children
Along with worrying about their own relationships, some people worry about the effects the loss of those relationships or the change in people’s perceptions of them may have on their family or kids. It’s one thing to know that you will be going through something hard, but knowing that it could affect the way people relate to someone you care about can be an extra layer of uncertainty.
Fear of Misunderstandings
There are tons of very common misconceptions about polyamory. Even if you know these things aren’t accurate, it can be emotionally exhausting to explain why they aren’t, and to know that people are making assumptions about you and your relationships.
People assume that you are sharing TMI about your sex life, that polyamory is an orgy-filled free-for-all, that polyamorous couples are afraid of commitment or not committed to each other, or that your relationship is unsatisfying. Dealing with these perceptions can be work, and some people aren’t prepared to deal with that.
Fear of Tangible Loss
Some people face the very real possibility of tangible loss if they come out as having an alternative or non-traditional relationship style. This could include withdrawal of financial support or housing, loss of custody of children, or loss of their job. For those in military service, there could even be a fear of prosecution.
How to Come Out
Once you’ve decided you’re ready to step into the light, were do you begin? Whether it’s a journey or you choose to blast it across your life in one shot, here are some tips for making the process a little easier.
Communicate in Your Chosen Format
When you are communicating with people about something that is daunting, choosing your preferred form of communication will make it easier. I’m a writer, and process things by writing, so letters or shared blog posts work really well for me. I can get my thoughts down, and when people reply in writing, I can process and give a thoughtful response.
For some people, one on one conversations feel easier, with the ability to explain to the level of the other party’s understanding and have a nuanced conversation. For others, a group gathering or video where they can speak their truth works best.
When I started sharing my newly discovered relationship orientation, I told a couple of people individually first. It felt like dipping my toes in the water to see how it would go. This also allows you to start with people who you trust and who are a bit lower risk and who you are more confident will be accepting and supportive. Or, if it’s your style, get the scariest out of the way early!
When it feels like you can’t do something, the best path is to take one step.
Once I’d gotten a little momentum, I bit the bullet and posted about it on my blog, which was in turn posted on my Facebook page. When it feels like you can’t do something, the best path is to take one step. Just focus on that one step, and not on the entire journey, because it can be really overwhelming.
Come Up With Examples
One of the best ways to explain something new in a way people understand is to make a comparison or example relating it to something they’re familiar with.
One of my favorite polyamory metaphors is about something that’s almost universally loved: ice cream! My favorite ice cream is Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked. Probably 75% of the time I have ice cream, that’s what I’m eating, and it’s delicious. But that doesn’t mean I never want to have another kind of ice cream again. Sometimes I am in the mood for dark chocolate or good old cookies and cream.
Another easy favorite is drawing a comparison about love and children. When you have one child, you love them immensely. Does that mean you cannot love another child? Nope! It turns out when you have two children, you just have more love. Romantic relationships can be the same way. You don’t love the first person less just because you also love someone else.
Be Prepared for Questions
Think about the questions people will probably ask, and how best to answer them. Be prepared for questions like but, don’t you get jealous? and have answers ready. If you are writing letters, emails, or social media posts, consider adding a link or two to places where people can read about what polyamory is and the misconceptions and questions people most often have about it.
Make it a Statement
Remember that you are who you are, and that is something to be proud of. Frame it as a decision you’ve made or a conclusion you’ve come to after lots of thought and feeling — it’s NOT up for discussion/conversation. It is your prerogative to make it clear that you’re not willing to have a debate about whether polyamory is right or wrong, coming out is about gaining understanding from those close to you. It doesn’t have to be right for them, but it IS right for you.
Consider the Effects Before Taking Action
Think about your life as it is, and your life as you’d like it to be. What are the positive and negative effects that being open about your relationship orientation will have? How will your life change? How will it actually affect you?
Think about family, friends, jobs, places of worship, and social circles. What will you do and how will you feel if people are not as accepting as you expected? Being prepared is a great way to shift your point of view and find strength in imagining how you’d like to live your life.
Build a Community
We all have our communities, and finding a polyamory or non-monogamy community can be incredible. Seek out local poly groups and get-togethers to find support and people who will lift you up, whether you decide to share your relationship status and desires with the world at large or not. Many polyamory supporting groups understand that confidentiality is key. Seek out local meetups, Facebook groups, and sex-positive organizations that may support the polyamorous community in your area.
The most important thing to know about coming out about your relationship orientation is that it’s entirely up to you. You don’t have to share anything more than you’re comfortable with, even if that means sharing nothing at all.
If and when you do decide to share, do it on your own terms!
If and when you do decide to share, do it on your own terms! Go as fast or slow as you are comfortable with, and know that whatever you choose, there’s a huge community of us out here cheering you on.
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