When to Disclose

When do I tell someone I’m interested in that I’m polyamorous?

I see this question posed a lot in online forums when the topic of dating is up for discussion. My answer is very simple: first thing.

I’m on one or two online dating sites, and my status as a non-monogamous person is very clearly referenced not only in the body of my profile, but also in any filtering criteria I’m allowed. When someone new expresses interest in me and I see potential there, my first message always includes a query regarding their awareness of me being polyamorous and if so, if they know what that means.

From what I’ve observed in the non-monogamous community I have access to, there are a large number of people who defer disclosing this information about themselves until after they’ve met a potential partner in person, claiming that being up front about being non-monogamous scares away too many people.

Well . . . sucks for them, but guess what? That’s not ethical.

As much as I would love to live in a society in which monoamory, polyamory, and the 537 shades of “open” in between were each as normalized as the other, I do not. I don’t owe anyone my measurements or my GPA or my profession or my star sign, but I do owe them the courtesy of not wasting their time and possible emotional investment in something that’s never going to be on the table for them: namely, a relationship with someone who will never be limited by anyone else in the number of romantic partners she has.

I think back to when my boyfriend and I were first chatting. I met him in person without his wife and he was very forthcoming about being married. That evening we struck up a non-stop conversation online that continued for weeks. To be quite honest, I started to fall for him immediately – and if he had been of the mind that disclosing his relationship status or polyamorous nature to me was going to ruin his chances, and I were someone for whom monogamy was the only option, I could have been hurt. Emotional investment happens on a different timeline for everyone, and if we can’t respect that, we have no business being out there accepting these interactions.

But it’s really more awful than just that . . .

If you say you’re inclined to wait until someone is invested in you to disclose what is in most cases a deal breaker in our society, then what you’re really saying is that you see emotional manipulation as a valid tool in your relationships. Newsflash: That makes you a bad person, and a terrible partner.

The moment you know you’re interested in pursuing a connection with someone, you are bound by ethics to disclose your non-monogamy to the object of your affection. I’m not going to get into when you should be telling your other partners about this new person – we all have different agreements there, and they may even vary from one partner to the next – but I am unwavering on this edict: You cannot claim to practice ethical non-monogamy and enter into an exchange with the intent to deceive in order to secure another person’s connection to you. The two are mutually exclusive.

That’s all I have to say about that.

 

The Big Ask

It is really hard to ask for what you want.

This isn’t just a relationship issue – it’s a fear issue. We don’t want to want more of someone than they want to give us.

In polyamory, sometimes the stakes feel even higher because my partners have other partners and do not risk being alone by letting me go. As though my partner might decide it was easier to not be with me than attempt to address my desires. This is not a mindset conducive to healthy relationships. While I do not rely on a sense of obligation to tether my partners to me and I prize autonomy above limitation, the message society gives me counters this. At times, the seemingly tenuous nature of my connections is so evident it takes my breath away and in that mindset, the perceived risk of asking for something I want can feel more weighted – riskier.

To confront the unknown with peace, I have let go of the outcome. In order to get myself to this place, I remind myself that even if my worst fears were realized, (that I am too much for my partner and they end our relationship because of my stated desire), then the relationship was destined to end anyway. Expediting endings as opposed to dragging them out is ultimately preferable; it will hurt regardless. When I find the courage to ask for what I want, I find pleasure in the knowledge that I’m contributing to an information exchange and speaking my truth.

So . . . I feel as though I have a duty to ask for what I want.

To do that, I have to know what I want and be prepared to accept that the other person may not want it, too. Or may want it, and just not have it to give. In a relationship structure that involves more than two individuals, there is simply more to keep track of and less finite resources to go around. Direct communication is the only way anyone can be expected to manage it. It is the way I give my loved ones the opportunity to be what I want; I assure you, they cannot read my mind.

I have asked for more time and been told it wasn’t available to give, but also that my partner wanted more time too. I have stated my desire to be more visible in a relationship that is not entirely “out,” and am satisfied to have been heard even if nothing changes. I have asked for emotional support, a more consistent schedule, specific connections during time apart – and received all and more. Even when the answer has been no, I’ve received reassurance. I have never regretted communicating a want even though I was scared to ask. Every time.

If you have ever found yourself longing for something, convinced you’re destined to go without, but you’ve never actually said the words “I want XYZ,” you might be guilty of relying on passive communication. I cannot expect someone to divine my wants from my pointed complaints about others. There is no mind-reading technique I’m aware of that allows my partners to know what’s missing for me from the tone of my voice. A text without punctuation, or a varied level of affection in a given moment will not convey what’s in my head. If I am not using my words, I am falling short in my partnership.

And if I’m relying on passive communication with others, I am also failing in my relationship with myself.

If there is something I desire and do not have, I am already in a position of want – of not having it. I risk nothing tangible by asking for it, even if I receive a “no.” My perceived risk is the aforementioned fear about being a burden – or wanting too much. In reality, I’m just confirming the position I’m already in, or gaining something. By asking for what I want, I’m at the very least getting more information about my relationship. That is never a loss. I’m also giving my partner a chance to say yes, or to make some other adjustment in our relationship that might result in a compromise.

I also remind myself that the inherent impermanence of my relationships is no more so because they exist in a polyamorous framework – it is simply the nature of relationships between individual humans. We are all just out here negotiating our paths with others – no one can promise forever. When I remember that, and show up as myself without holding back, I contribute positively to the growth of my relationships, (both in depth and in breadth), and I show my partners they can do the same with me.

 

 

 

 

 

Desperately Seeking Normal

One of the reasons I write this blog is to contribute in whatever small way I can to the normalization of polyamory. I want the way I love to not be weird to people. It feels normal to me, but at times I’m struck by how my treatment of it as normal is seen as aggressive by others.

If I talk about my girlfriend and my boyfriend, I’m “talking about poly” when really, I’m just talking about relationships . . . as you do. My ups and downs just look a little different sometimes.

If I use words that are specific to polyamory, I’m “talking about poly” when really I’m using words that make the most sense in my life. People “talk about mono” all day all night, but it’s not notable because that’s all anyone sees unless someone like me makes a point of being visible.

Being visible is how shit gets normalized.

I get that when something outside the scope of normal gets brought up over and over again it can feel like saturation or promotion. But what are my options? Do I pretend that I have only one partner? Do I pretend we’re monoamorous? Of course not.

No one needs me to pretend to be anyone other than myself because nothing I’m doing in my relationships affects anyone who isn’t in them, regardless of whether or not they think it does.

So why is normalizing polyamory important?

Because anytime people are allowed to be themselves, they flourish.

You cannot tell I’m polyamorous to look at me. The assumption is that I’m not. That is how our society views relationships and anything outside of that is taboo or unethical. I mean, there are plenty of unethical relationships happening in and outside of monoamory, but poly is not inherently so. It’s not even mostly so.

I have encountered more people claiming to be mono and lying about it than I have encountered those who are poly. Mono relationships don’t have a monopoly on ethics, by any stretch. In fact, I believe that if poly were more acceptable in mainstream society, we would see far more ethical behavior with stigma eroded in favor of honesty.

But there is no path to that without normalization.

And there is no path to normalization without visibility.

And there is no visibility without talking about it . . . so you will have to forgive me for insisting on being visible. If you don’t see me for who I am and give me an opportunity to show you I’m perfectly normal, ethical, happy, and healthy, then I won’t be able to hope that someday I won’t have to be a secret in certain situations.

The Metamour Connection

I have two very different romantic relationships: an open relationship with a woman whose other partnerships are pursued without any obligation to me as far as notification and whose love interests I rarely meet until they become more serious, and a more structured relationship with a man whose love interests I am well aware of and discuss with him at length as they develop. The latter relationship is called a V triad wherein my boyfriend is the hinge and his wife is my metamour.

There are as many ways to structure polyamorous relationships as there are people who practice them. For some, knowing their partners’ partners is problematic and undesirable. My style of polyamory is more family-oriented, and I prefer to know and interact with mine.

One of the things that brings me the most happiness in my V, is the relationship I have with my metamour (my boyfriend’s wife). The three of us practice what is referred to by some as “kitchen table polyamory,” and is hilariously enough literally how we do things, (detailed in a previous post about how we communicate as a pod).

One benefit to a close relationship with my meta is being able to share the joy of loving the same person, or, as it happens, the not-so-joyful stuff. I was recently able to lean on my boyfriend’s wife in a way I never expected to be able to, and she was there for me. I cannot tell you how much that meant. And there are certainly times she comes to me in a similar vein. There is not a lot of support in this world for the way we live, but being that for each other means the world to me.

Another important aspect of being close to her is the opportunity we get to see each other as fellow flawed humans. Society conditions us to be competitive, and we might imagine the other as “better” than us, or somehow perfect in a way we are not. I call such thoughts “gazing into my Crystal Ball of Doom” and more information helps me combat that situation.

She and I have poured intention into forging a friendship in what might seem like turbulent waters, but I am really proud of how we’ve done it and continue to do it. We are not perfect by any stretch, but we share a vision of how we want our relationship to look, and therefore put in the necessary work. For us, it’s meant being vulnerable and trusting the other not to leverage it to their advantage. The society we live and love in has some very prescriptive behavior models for how to manipulate perceived threats to our romantic relationships, so being good friends with a metamour is not without challenges. We have to actively work against what we’ve been taught to do, but the rewards are plenty.

So this Friday, I’m looking forward to heading out for burgers, cider, darts, and laughter with my amazing meta before we join my boyfriend/her husband at a game night with mutual friends. I will always be grateful for what we have and how it works, because it makes me feel like family in a world that sees, and often treats me, like “the other woman.”

Couragous Conversations

One of the practices I’ve found helpful as a polyamorous person is the having of courageous conversations. I like to call them this as opposed to “difficult discussions” because I want to acknowledge the bravery with which we all approach the table to have them.

It takes a lot of courage to invest in direct, open, and honest conversation. But I assure you, the return on investment is huge.

So what do I mean when I say “courageous conversation,” anyway? Well . . . it’s simply the intentional coming together of more than one person for the purposes of communicating. Exchanging ideas, solutions, perspectives, concerns, joys – about issues, past events, upcoming dates, overall themes, desires, needs, wants, agreements – in a safe, calm space where all parties agree to honor the others.

Doesn’t that sound nice? It fucking is.

So look – I do not come from a wellspring of mature communication practices. There were people I really opened up to through the years however, and I began to understand through those experiences what richness communication could bring to our relationships. What took some time to nail down was how to exchange potentially upsetting information about ourselves while being supportive of the other people involved – and that takes some courage. (And some, ahem, emotional maturity.)

But I swear to cats, it’s not that hard if you’re willing to do the work.

Here are the ingredients I find necessary to set the scene for a safe and productive discussion about any topic:

  • A date on the calendar – in one of my relationships, we’ve found it helpful to have a quarterly “town hall” between the members of the V triad I’m in. This is me, my boyfriend, and his wife (my metamour). This date is on the calendar a couple months in advance because we are crazy busy and it’s important to us, but any date far enough out to give people enough time to anticipate and mentally prepare for a discussion is ideal.
  • An agenda – we exchange emails on an agreed upon date a couple days prior to the meeting listing items we’d like to bring to the table. These are just items to discuss, not a personal essay on feelings. An agenda works two ways – it helps keep the discussion focused, and it allows everyone to process the topics a bit and not have to worry about feeling blindsided once they get to the table. Knee-jerk reaction self is not one’s best self!
  • A neutral location – but really, this could be anywhere that everyone feels safe and comfortable. For us, we usually use my boyfriend and his wife’s house because my apartment has kids in it and they’ve made me feel very welcome in theirs. You just want to be somewhere where everyone has equal rights, particularly if there are elements of hierarchy between members of the discussion – like a primary partner and a secondary partner.
  • Tissues – because feelings happen!
  • Sugar – or foods, or anything to keep energy up. I don’t recommend alcohol. While it may relax people at the outset, it has the potential to go badly. Personally? I like to make a dinner and then start chatting over dessert. Cooking the dinner together as a group is nice, too.

But you also have to manage your communication techniques in a way that is non-violent and conducive to an exchange.

This is what you need to show up with in your head and your heart:

  • An open mind – because of course you do.
  • A detachment from the outcome – this is a team effort and you don’t get to decide how things shake down. You may be asking for something that another person cannot provide. They may address an issue you feel defensive about. You only need to share your part and let them share theirs. The outcome is a natural occurrence, not a stated goal to steer towards.
  • An understanding of your motivation – and this might be the most important part. We are all capable of using words in ways that influence. I would go so far as to call myself a master manipulator! But that’s not how this works. If I know I’m going to say something just to make someone else retreat, I will not say that thing. This is especially critical when you’re communicating an injury or hurt feeling. I’ll come back to this with an example in just a bit.
  • Compassion – an acknowledgement that everyone is coming to the table with a sense of vulnerability, and that generally what you need to feel safe is also what they need to feel safe.

So I want to break down how a courageous conversation might go about a sensitive topic. Let’s use a hypothetical from last week’s blog about my plan to negotiate up front about times when I have to refrain from revealing the extent of my relationship with my boyfriend in public. Part of that plan is to revisit what worked and what didn’t after the fact if necessary.

In this hypothetical, let’s pretend I have had a bad reaction to seeing my boyfriend be affectionate to his wife while seemingly ignoring me – this will have been understood up front, but I would like to ask for some changes during future times when we need to act in a similar fashion.

  • Agenda item – when we exchange lists prior to our discussion, I will say that one of the things I’d like to talk about is how our outing went for me as a “friend” – I will avoid writing a big long list of feelings, because dumping via email is unfair and it doesn’t give the other people involved a chance to process in the same space.
  • The presentation – I will admit to having an unexpected reaction to a negotiated scenario and ask for us to do things differently in the future. I will also acknowledge that no one did anything wrong to prevent anyone feeling defensive. My feelings are mine and no one makes me have them. I get to talk about why I have them and what I think might be helpful. Remember where I mentioned understanding my motivation? That’s where this comes in. There’s a big difference between “I had an unexpected reaction to your totally normal behavior” and “You made me feel like I wasn’t even there” . . . yeah?
  • The proposal – I can ask for some changes to the arrangement that will make me feel more reassured in the moment. Perhaps it’s a discreet text exchange while we’re out and about. Maybe it means a different seating arrangement. And for the purposes of this exercise, let’s pretend I ask for something a little extreme: I will ask that my partner not show his wife affection when we’re all out together because that will eliminate what’s giving me the negative feelios.
  • The discussion – questions may be asked here for clarity, or discovery of other possible solutions. This is also a place where epiphanies often occur! Face to face discussions often bring about what’s best for the group as opposed to what’s best for the individual.
  • The response – my boyfriend and my metamour would likely be totes amenable to discreet texting and me sitting next to my boyfriend, and they would likely not be okay with modifying their public presentation as a couple to appease my insecurity. Because this is an issue that would affect both of them, I would expect both of them to give me feedback on my proposal – this would include their feelings about the changes, and likely an acknowledgement of how I felt. (We work well like that!)
  • Resolution – small changes agreed to moving forward, but I did not get everything I asked for.

So as we move through our agenda, each issue is addressed and talked through to resolution to the best of our ability until we make it through the list. Sometimes we’re just trying to understand each other. At the end, I like to point out that we all do an incredible job of putting the necessary effort into making our relationships healthy. It’s important to acknowledge what you’re grateful for, and this process is something that enhances what I have with them.

And there are times when an issue cannot be deferred to a quarterly discussion. Sometimes, we need to call an impromptu meeting on a single issue so that it doesn’t fester and become divisive in the meantime – regardless of timing, we still follow these basic steps to facilitate discussion.

This little branch of my polycule has a discussion coming up next week. It will be our fourth! And as always, I am grateful for and looking forward to it.

I’m a lucky girl.

Secrets and Security

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!

Honesty Doesn’t Hurt Me

I say this to those closest to me quite a bit: you can’t hurt me with the truth.

What I mean by this is:

  • More information is better – because I don’t know what I don’t know. You may be feeling something you’re afraid to admit – but I can’t help you if you don’t name it. Also, knowing you’re in a bad place but not knowing why will lead me to imagine the worst.
  • Negativity breeds in captivity – and holding onto a bad feeling or a resentment won’t make it better. Once you’ve sat with something for a moment to understand what you’re reacting to, it’s best to speak your truth. At the very least, you get to give voice to your experience. Best case? I get to own my piece and we both get to move forward.
  • I want to help – because if I’m in a relationship with you (romantic or otherwise), I want to invest in your happiness and security. I can’t fix your problems, but I can hear you, and I can do things differently (if I need to) or hold your hand (if that’s helpful).

And while all of these are important to remember when communicating in any relationship, they are of critical importance when you’re navigating the polyamorous landscape.

I could go on and on about why, but I think an illustrative example will best explain what I mean.

Say I’m out with two partners. Things are going swimmingly in our little pod until suddenly I sense a disturbance in the mutual-affection continuum! Perhaps someone gets a little quiet as they experience an unexpected feeling, or maybe someone said something that was misunderstood or landed wrong. In any case – we all sense a discomfort. For one of us, we’re holding back on saying what’s wrong for fear of burdening the other two with what might be nothing. For the other two, we’re stuck not knowing what the heck is going on or what we may have done and how to fix it. This could get yucky, fast

        “What’s wrong?”

         “Nothing.”

Sound familiar? It’s the first step on the path to increased insecurity, uncertainty, and misunderstanding . . . and it’s a deadly practice in a polyamorous situation. Bad enough when only two are involved, but the potential for disaster in polyamory is multiplied by the number of relationships, as everyone is affected.

Know these things:

  • It’s okay to misunderstand someone and ask for clarification – it’s not okay to assume the worst and build a massive resentment against them without giving them a chance to explain. You will rarely hear me call something “unfair” but this really is. To everyone.
  • It’s okay to have a feeling that makes you uncomfortable – but I assure you, the people who care about you most want to make you feel secure. Letting them do what they can in the moment shows you trust them. It gives them an opportunity to make a change if necessary, or to just listen to you say what’s real for you.
  • And like I always say: you can’t hurt someone with the truth – there is no ill intent in speaking your truth. Just saying how you feel is not a demand for special treatment or accommodation. It’s not a tantrum. It’s not a punishment or accusation.You can’t hurt someone with honesty.

I am lucky enough to be partnered with people (and they are partnered with people) who value communication, directness, and honesty. I don’t know how to do polyamory any other way. The anxiety birthed by unspoken bad feelings and multiplied between us is too much to bear. An investment in direct and rigorous honesty has brought a depth to my relationships that I cannot fathom living without.

So know this also: Your feelings are always valid, even if they’re a product of something you wish you weren’t dealing with. So, out with them! It’s not as scary as it seems. You may even find your connections stronger for it in the end.