Dear Polyamorous Misanthrope,
I recently started a relationship with a person who has never been poly before. We’ve been dating for a little over a month and things have gotten really emotionally intimate, really fast. It’s wonderful and we’re both really happy being with each other. The complicated part for him is that I’m very poly. I have long-standing primary and secondary relationships.
The take home point here is that he’s not going to be my primary and if he wants a primary he’s going to have to keep dating other people and find one (hopefully someone ok with him still seeing me, but I don’t want to be selfish about this point). When we first started dating I met some of his non-poly friends and it wasn’t a big deal. He introduced me as a friend, we kept the PDAs minimal, and if they assumed anything they assumed we were casually dating.
But now that intense emotions are involved he’s starting to wonder what, if anything, he should tell his friends. He’s afraid to come out, afraid they’ll judge, but he really cares about me and is considering biting the bullet if being in the closet is likely to harm our relationship. My general rule for my non-primary relationships is that I don’t introduce them to or introduce them as platonic friends to people I’m not out to as poly (I’m out to my close friends, but not out at work, and not out to family). Trouble is with him that ship has sailed.
I feel weird about the idea of having to lie to people about our relationship. Not saying is one thing, but if they ask??? At the same time I don’t want to push him into making any major life changes just because I’m this big, bright, shiny new person in his life. Got any advice?
Cramping His Mono Style
While it is many people’s strong preference to have relationships acknowledged socially, sometimes it’s awkward. Our society does have a monogamous paradigm with perceived rights and obligations towards couples as a unit. This can make things kind of weird. When I lived in a group marriage, I preferred that my spice be acknowledged as exactly that. In retrospect? I think I was expecting the world to conform to me, rather than just moving through the world on my own terms and not trying to mold other people.
I’m not sure, though, that I understand. Is your boyfriend asking you to lie about your relationship, or does he just not want to bring it up? I do tend to tell the truth when asked a direct question — sometimes with a note of horrified surprise if I feel it is too direct or intrusive.
A friend of mine tends to introduce his friends and lovers by name only. He doesn’t use relationship titles. If someone wants to get nosy about it, it’s on the other person. I rather like this approach as it works from a presumption of personal privacy about things that don’t matter. The idea that we’d treat someone differently that we’ve been introduced to because those friends’ binkies have touched is really weird, when you give it some thought. After all, what other people do privately between themselves is hardly our business nor does it affect us.
Of course, the real point is that couples are often treated as units with certain socially-perceived rights and privileges simply because that couple is an acknowledged unit. My thought is that if you’re poly, you might want to re-think that convention as you’ve rethought many others. I don’t have a full answer on how to handle it, because it’s an individual thing. For the record, I’m married, but don’t tend to do all the proper social “married couple” things. The Prince and I have worked out what works for us and it’s hardly conventional, but hey, that’s par for the course for poly people. There are people who know The Prince and his girlfriend and have socialized with them, but not me. I expect they’d be a bit surprised to know he has a wife. Shoot, even people who have socialized with all of us might very well think that The Prince and I are divorced but on good terms. We choose not to volunteer, though if directly asked, we tell the truth.
We’re rarely asked.
Not giving full disclosure about your relationship to your partners would be deception, yes. They expect that information. I’m not sure in a social context that you owe anyone a detailed explanation of the exact nature of the relationship. If people are that close to you, they can ask, I would think. If they’re not that close, they’re just being nosy.
Miss Manners, of all people, actually has encouraged the same thing… twice. She’s amazingly tactful about the concept of polyamory and other socially non-mainstream issues. She’s my hero and if I ever grow up, I hope I show that level of grace.
 These are situations where we’d be socializing around our kids, which makes some sort of connection pretty immediately obvious.
 I’m assuming… Maybe you don’t have such an agreement, and that’s okay, too. But many poly people do