The Etiquette of Unexpected Encounters

There was a story shared…somewhere on the internet, I don’t remember where. Someone’s sister called them up freaking out. Insisting they had to cancel the wedding because the sister had seen the poster’s fiance kissing someone else.

This particular story had a happy ending–the poster laughed it off and told their sister “we’re poly.” But the story also illustrates the way unexpectedly running into members of our polycules (or members of our polycules families) in public can be a social minefield.

Types of Unexpected Encounters

There are three types of unexpected encounters:

  • Running into one of your poly partners unexpectedly (with or without other poly partners.)
  • Running into one of your poly partners when you or they are with someone who is not part of your polycule.
  • Running into a family member or friend of one of your poly partners while you are with a different member of your polycule.

We’ll be looking at each of these in turn. First, here are a few things that applies in all three situations.

Know if People are Out of Not

Whether or not a poly partner is out has a huge impact on the etiquette of unexpected encounters. B3eing in the closet makes unexpected encounters both a lot more complicated and potentially damaging. Being out means they may be awkward, but probably won’t be any worse than that.

Know How Members of your Polycule Feel about Public Displays of Affection (PDA)s

Whether or not your partner is out, giving them a big hug and kiss if you bump into them in the supermarket may not make their day. There are a lot of reasons folks may want to avoid PDAs, from general discomfort to fear of outing themselves. What their reason for liking or not liking PDAs is doesn’t matter–what matters is that you respect their preference.

Know Their “Public” Name and Gender

People can be in the closet about more than their relationships. You need to know how they present themselves in public and how they want to be addressed when away from safe spaces.

If You Need to Assume…

If you run into someone and don’t know any of these things, play it safe. Assume they aren’t out. Assume they don’t like PDAs. If possible, quietly check what name and gender they are using at the moment. If it isn’t possible, speak generically, “Hey it’s good to see you!” until they are able to clue you in.

Next week we’ll look at the etiquette for bumping into your poly partners (and other members of your polycule) when you least expect it.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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