Hi, Goddess of Java,
I am a BIG fan of yours and I come to this site in times of need, loneliness or when other frustrations arise.
I am the 3rd in a triad of a married couple with 2 kids. I am very grateful to be able to love my new family and to be with them on a regular basis.
For almost 2 years, I have struggled with being the 5th wheel and the nanny of the “cover story”. For the most part, I have come to terms with it. Proudly, I am far less emotional about it than I used to be.
However, there are still moments that it bothers me (yay for me, I can admit it now, too). Especially around the holiday season when families gather with extended family for gatherings, I am reminded that I will never be recognized for who I truly am. It’s the subtle, little things that eat away at my emotions.
Having a cover story where you are the household servant is not a “subtle, little thing”. It’s a big, blatant one.
There are definately situations in which you will not necessarily want to give the world every damn detail of your life. I break with a lot of polyamorous people when I say that I think there might be legitimate reasons why you might want to be personal about your personal life1, and I don’t think the less of anyone who chooses that.
But, you’re being introduced as the household servant. The only way I would ever consent to being introduced as “Java, our household’s Nanny” is if I were getting market rate financial compensation for actually doing that job! If you’re being paid to be their Nanny, then that’s your job and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There are other ways around that where one does not have to be introduced in a way that looks like you’re the hired help if you’re not. Say, “Java, who lives with us.” If anyone is so ill-bred to ask why, an answer using Miss Manners’ classic horrified disdain works wonders.
No, you’ll probably never get the outside social respect of “wife” in the household, and certainly that’s painful. The group marriage I lived in was mostly “out”, but even so, I’ve been in situations where I could not be socially recognized as a wife to one of my husbands, and it hurt. I’m not trying to blow that off. But you’re subtly being encouraged to accept considerably less respect than you deserve by being introduced as a servant when you’re not being paid to be one.
I’m not trying to paint your partners as the bad guys here. I know in the part I edited out for the sake of space you mention that they’re very concered with being inclusive. Since that’s so, I bet they’d be open to talking about your concerns about the dynamic and the three of you could certainly put your heads together to come up with something that’d make you all a lot happier.
1Which has been suggested as a topic for another column, and will probably show up soon.
3 thoughts on “Ask the Misanthrope: Cover Story”
Yeah — there’s a big difference between “this is our friend/roommate” (if you don’t want to be out about the sexual/romantic component of the relationship) and “nanny” . . . it really does set up a fundamental inequality.
My partners and I aren’t 100% out to everyone in our lives, but I am introduced as family, and treated as family by their parents (some of whom undoubtedly suspect but haven’t asked, one of whom outright knows) . . . and when that hasn’t been appropriate (say, to a letting agent if we’re renting a cottage), I’m described as their close friend.
I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I were described as having an employee status, even if it seemed to make initial sense in terms of childcare arrangements.
— A :/
I’d be utterly fine as being introduced as an employee if I was. Otherwise, not at all.
I’m right there with Ashbet. I have actually been in that exact situation (except that the third was the “employer,” and my partner and I were, in fact, financially dependent on her for some time) and the insidious hurtfulness of it not only destroyed the triad, it’s left lingering damage to the primary relationship and the individual self-respect of the both of us that is far from healed five years later. What started out as a convenient cover was internalized and, ultimately, made real.
It’s not something to just “come to terms with.” Words, especially, the words we hear over and over and over again, have real power, and the assumptions that ride on the backs of these particular words are not healthy – even if (perhaps especially if!) you and/or your partners assert that the words don’t reflect the private reality of the situation. Don’t stand for it.