I’m going to go out on a limb and say that secrets are almost always colored with pain.
When people feel some level of insecurity in their own relationships, that feeling is intensified by witnessing relationships that don’t fit their idea of what’s normal and safe. Because if I’m doing something that looks scary, (say . . . oh, I don’t know . . . loving more than one person in a romantic way), then it’s possible their partner might want to do that too – and Holy Hannah, let’s just make sure that’s not a thing right now because OMG too scary!
The more secure someone is, the less they care how I conduct my heart-business.
My polyamorous experiences have included plenty of secrets. I’ve never kept partners unknown to each other, but I’ve been kept as an unknown partner – sometimes without my knowledge or consent. I’ve had to pretend I was not involved with people I loved in certain circles – both to protect the lies of my partners who were being dishonest (I no longer put myself in these situations), and more recently to protect the relationships my partners have with family and friends who do not know they are poly.
The latter is what I want to write about; I do not condone the former.
I am “out” as poly in most areas. This means I don’t hide my relationship structure on social media, in public, or with friends and family – the only place I stay relatively quiet is at work. But I am lucky: I am not in danger of losing any portion of my support network by being myself and that’s not the case for everyone. Not by a long shot.
In one of my relationships, there are times I need to appear less-than-girlfriend. There are family members, friends, and professional contacts who are not in the know, and in many cases that’s a secret that needs to be maintained out of security – both financial and emotional.
And I’m not gonna lie here: that’s hard.
As someone who freight-trains through life leaving haters in her wake, I’m not used to having to show up as anyone but myself. I’m torn at times – I want to be supportive and attend social gatherings, but I struggle so much with my feeeeeeeelings when my role in a loved one’s life needs to be kept under wraps.
So look – I’m a wuss about some stuff. This is one of those things!
I know I am valued and loved and very important. And I know, without a doubt, that it’s not about me. But there’s a nasty little voice in my head that likes to play with my emotions – even when I work so hard to remind myself to keep my perspective and focus on what I know to be true.
I’m going to share with you the awful things my inner emotional jerk-face comes up with in case any of you experience the same things – because I think they can be overcome, and I think it’s important to work on them instead of burying them.
A list of things my Imaginary Horrible tells me:
- You will never be more important than the insecurity of others
- Imagine a future where you hide in plain sight for the rest of your life
- Oh, look at them showing affection to their other partner and not you
- You would never ask someone else to pretend like this
- This is a way to keep you “secondary” and prevent closeness
Lovely, aren’t they?
And so, after experiencing the heartache of that rigamarole on a regular basis, I let my poly pod know I would no longer put myself in situations that required me to pretend to be just a friend.
But that sucks, too – yeah?
On one hand, I’m trying to keep myself safe with an emotional boundary – I can’t lie, so I don’t want to put myself in situations that feel like lying or might require me to lie.
On the other, I want to celebrate birthdays and holidays and attend sporting events to cheer people on when they play! I want to see major accomplishments recognized and meet families and be a good friend!
We’re closing in on birthday, holiday, and sports season. I’m going to be invited to go places where I can’t reveal my actual status in the lives of people I care about. But I can take comfort in the fact that none of us are particularly pleased with that necessity, and that over time we’ve made some progress with being more visible. I can also adjust my self-talk.
I’m realizing that part of my poly is going to be learning how to switch gears as a way to love my partners.
Here’s how I plan to approach that:
- Negotiate each situation beforehand as far as expectations go – can I ride to and from with my partner? Can I sit next to them? How can I answer personal questions without lying?
- Share my feelings instead of locking them down – what are my worries beforehand and how did that go in the end?
- Ask for understanding if I need to bail, and have a plan in place to facilitate that if need be. And also, to be gentle with myself when that happens.
- Actively remind myself why I’m there – to be a good friend!
- Bring another partner for support, if possible and appropriate – using people is never okay, but sometimes “the more, the merrier” is super effing true
For me, being a good partner means doing some extra work at times. I refuse to get down on myself for not being perfect at poly or feelings or anything, really. What I strive to do is find the greatest amount of happiness in any situation and the fact of the matter is, I’m happier with my people than without, no matter what that looks like!