Polyamory Etiquette: Meeting Family About Town

The great thing about living in a small town or close-knit neighborhood is you are always running into people you know. The terrifying thing about being poly in a small town or close-knit neighborhood is…you are always running into people you know.

Meeting your SOs parents for the first time is always interesting. Meeting your SOs parents at the mall while you are out with your OSO takes interesting to a whole new level. Especially if you and your SO aren’t out about being poly.

When You Are Out

If everyone involved is out about being poly, or willing to be out, then just go with common courtesy and don’t worry about it.

You and SO1 are out when you run into SO2’s sister.
You: Hi, [sister]. [SO2] told us your birthday is coming up, hope it’s a good one!
sister: Uh. Yeah. Thanks.

Unless they are prepared to be an ass in public, the worst they can do is make a mumbled reply and hurry away. If they are prepared to be an ass in public, you can always turn and walk away. On the other hand, if they are cool with your relationships, or trying to be cool with them, you can have a nice conversation and add another brick to their understanding that your relationships are just a different way of doing things.

When Someone Isn’t Out

Often, one or more people in your polycule won’t be out about being poly. This can make running into friends and family awkward at best, and potentially life destroying at worst.

Take a deep breath. Repeat after me: “None of their business.”

The biggest and worst temptation when you are “caught” in public together is to give excuses and explanations. Don’t. You do not owe anyone an explanation of your relationships. Even if you weren’t polyamorous, you’d have friends, relatives, co-workers, etc, that you might be doing something around town with. So be polite, introduce the partner you’re with, but don’t give any explanation for your relationship.

You: Hi [sister]. [SO2] told me your birthday is coming up. Hope its a good one!
Sister: Hi [you]. Thanks. Who’s your friend?
You: [Sister] this is [SO1], [SO1] this is [SO2]’s sister, [sister.]
Sister & SO1: Hi. How you doing?
polite chit-chat
You: Well, nice running into you. We need to get going if I’m going to get back in time for dinner. Hope to see you gain soon, [sister].

If sister asked how you know each other, you can probably find a “safe” way to tell her how you met: through a local meet up, at a convention, online, etc. You don’t need to say which meetup or convention. Asking how you met or how long you’ve known each other is polite chit-chat. Pushing for details is prying. “Look sis, I like you, but I don’t owe you my life story. Now if you’ll excuse us, I have to [X].”

If you need to pull this line, or one like it, SO2 will probably be getting a call later, so make sure they know about what happened.

Sister: Sis, did you know that [you] was out with [SO1] today? I tried to find what they were doing together and [you] got snarky at me.
SO2: My sis, the private eye. Did it maybe occur to you that [you] is allowed to have friends and doesn’t owe you an explanation for them? Yes, I know about SO2. Thanks for worrying, and chill.

[h3]You Can’t Afford PDAs[/h3]
When my ex got involved with a cowgirl, I thought her insistence that we could not have PDAs was one more part of her trying to get him to herself. Right along with her (literally) picking a locked door to prevent us from having any alone time.

Well, I wasn’t smart enough to cut my losses. Instead, I finally put a foot down and said: “There is no one here who knows us, I’m tired of being treated like a shameful secret, I want you to kiss me.”

Wrong thing to put my foot down about. It seems her ex was in the crowd that day, and even though we didn’t see him, he saw us. And the picture he took of me and my ex kissing was used as evidence that the cowgirl was lying to the court. She lost custody of her kids and became even more obsessed with separating my ex and me permanently.

I have no sympathy for the cowgirl, but her kids did not deserve to be caught in the middle of our feuding.

The larger point of this story, of course, is that unless you are in a private room with a closed door, you can never know who is around. If anyone in your polycule needs to be in the closet, avoid PDAs. Depending on your culture a hug or a kiss on the cheek can be passed off as a gesture between friends. More than that? Well, you may not be risking anything–or you may be risking everything.

And if, like in my case, there is feuding in your polycule, don’t use PDAs as a lever. A PDA in the wrong place can destroy the life of people who are in the closet.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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