Tag Archives: Closeted

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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The First Rule of Polyamory Etiquette: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Next week we’ll start on tips and guidelines for dealing with specific situations. For now, I want to address an important point that is more important than anything else I will say about etiquette.

When it comes to social situations involving your poly partners, or their poly partners, don’t be afraid to ask.

  • “How would you like me to introduce you to people?”
  • “How do you feel about PDAs?”
  • “I know you’re partly in the closet. If I run into you around town is it okay for me to say hi?”

If you know there are situations you are likely to run into, ask ahead of time. You won’t be able to prepare for everything, but be prepared for what you can. It will make life easier and seriously reduce your social stress quotient.

The Building Blocks of Polyamory Etiquette

As I said last week, etiquette is basically the customary way people interact. While etiquette experts can lay down “rules” for the socially inept, these “rules” change all the time as culture and society change.

All customs are based on some part of the culture they spring from. This includes etiquette. In the US today, the key concept is equality. Basic everyday etiquette is built around the idea that everyone is equal. This is why in the movie Titanic we liked Molly Brown, who doesn’t look down on Jack. Unfortunately (in my opinion), this focus on equality has evolved into a need for same-ness. Drawing attention to another person’s differences is among the heights of rudeness–a custom which baffles many immigrants and international visitors.

According to pop culture, propriety was the key to etiquette in Victorian England. Anything could be done as long as it was done properly. A similar concept from Japan is on or face. In the shogunates of Japan all interactions were built around not damaging each others face.

If polyamory has a culture (and we certainly seem to be developing a sub-culture of our own) then I would say the key concepts are honesty and respect. These will be the building blocks of poly etiquette. In all situations, the question we try to answer is “How do I negotiate this social interaction with honesty and respect for all involved?”

Poly Etiquette in the Closet

The wider society we live in forces many of us to be “in the closet” about our relationships. As many poly folk have found over the years, keeping our relationships secret is in direct conflict with the open and honest values enshrined in polyamory. While the ideal of poly etiquette may be based on honesty, sometimes ideals need to be set aside for the protection of ourselves or others. When honesty is not possible, we must fall back on respect. Respect for the wishes of our poly partners, respect for the people we are dealing with, and respect most of all for ourselves.

Some would say that lying is inherently disrespectful to all involved. There is some truth in that. But needing to lie to someone does not prevent us from respecting them as a person.

Until society changes so it is safe for all poly folk to be open about our relationships, we will not always be able to be honest with those around us. We can still be honest whenever honesty won’t endanger ourselves or others, and we can still be respectful of the people we interact with.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patron.

When Your Kids Discover Your Closeted Polyamorous Relationship

(To keep things simple, this post has been written in terms of two parent households. The most of the same issues and choices will apply regardless of your family set up.)

The big problem with being closeted is that you can be outed. While some folks managed to stay closeted for decades, that’s the exception rather than the rule. And relationships that do stay closeted long term are usually not trying to hide the truth from people they live with. Sooner or later, many poly parents will need to deal with their kids learning the truth.

Kids who discover you have other relationships will likely be tweens or teenagers. Younger children generally don’t have enough awareness of social conventions and adult interactions to know the difference between their parents having friends and their parents being in intimate relationships. Tweens and teens who discover their parent’s relationships will make their own assumptions about what is going on. At best they may assume or hope that you have an open relationship. At worst, they may assume that you and/or their other parent are having an affair or are on your way towards divorce.

Unfortunately, not all kids will come to you about what they know or assume. This creates a difficult situation–you think your relationships are secret and their assumptions are running wild. If they are assuming affair or divorce, this can put a huge amount of stress on your kids.

Hopefully, if your kids do discover your relationships, they will be comfortable enough to come to you or your partner about it.

You best approach at that point is just to be honest. Make it clear that no one is cheating, no one is sneaking around, and that your kid’s family is not going to be torn apart by your relationships. They may have questions, they may be upset or feel threatened, they may not care once they know that nothing is going to change for them. Give them some time to absorb everything.

If possible, I recommend giving them an idea of who they can talk with. You being in the closet should not deny your kids a chance to have a support system. They need to have a family friend, relative, therapist, someone they can talk with (who isn’t you). Unless you intend to come out, in general, your kids will need to know that you are in the closet and why. That means they will need to know who is and is not safe to talk with.

If your kids do not come to you, you may notice changes in their behavior, mood, and how they treat you or your partner. Of course, that also describes stereotypical teenagers. It is always hard to tell when tweens or teenagers are dealing with a major problem that needs their parent’s intervention, and when they are dealing with the regular stresses of being a teenager.

If you suspect your child has discovered your relationships, but they say nothing to you, you’ll need to decide how to approach them. You might take the head-on approach of outing yourself. This will make it easier to discuss your relationships and any concerns they may have. However, if they hadn’t yet discovered your relationships you may have outed yourself unnecessarily. Or you can try to get them to tell you what is wrong. This is notoriously difficult with teens, and only slightly easier with tweens. If they have discovered your relationships, or if something else is going on that damages their trust in you, it will be even harder.