More advice columns that get it
Here's another forward-looking item of the kind I think we'll be seeing a lot of in coming years. It's an advice column in today's issue of the weekly alternative newspaper of Memphis, Tennessee.
Bianca Knows Best … And Helps a Polyamorous Woman
My husband and I started dating "Jenny" nine years ago, and she's been a central part of our lives since then. Two years ago, she moved in with us, although to all but a few of our closest friends, she's a roommate. She doesn't have any family of her own nearby, so she's been coming to our family holidays as a "friend" since we met. Everyone loves her, and we have been thinking about coming out to them.
I don't have the foggiest idea how they'll react. Most of them are religious, but not the arch-conservative type. I'd like to be able to be able to be truthful with my family, but I'm also the type who tends to avoid drama and blow-ups like the plague.
Any advice on how I could ease into this before the next family get-together? Or should we leave a good thing just the way it is?
— Nervous Polyamorous Girl
First, I’d like to congratulate you for making a polyamorous relationship last as long as you have. I’ve had friends who experimented with multiple partners, but I only know of one couple (or should I say triple?) that’s managed to make it work for longer than a few months.
As for your quandary, I’d say if Jenny has been coming to your family gatherings for nine years, she’s probably considered a part of the family by now. And that means your family members will likely be more accepting of her position in your life than if she was a new addition. Not to mention that Jenny’s long-term place in your life must mean you three are pretty serious.
I’d advise coming out slowly, and certainly to do so before the next big family gathering. A Christmas dinner or family reunion is no place for that kind of drama. You could start by telling a few of your more open-minded family members (whom you think can keep a secret). Ask them to help you gauge how other family members might react. For the more conservative members of the family, you may want to break the news in the company of those who are in on your secret. It’s always good to have supporters in these situations.
Polyamory is even less understood than gay relationships, so prepare for a little backlash. In fact, some people may even write you off. But if they love you (and your husband and Jenny), they’ll come around in time.
If after testing the waters with open-minded members of the family, you decide that some family members just won’t get it, it’s okay to keep a secret. Just come out to as many people as you feel you safely can.
Read the original (Jan. 19, 2010). Thanks to David H. for the tip.
While we're at it, here's another advice columnist's take on how to come out as poly to your parents, from Feministing.com. It includes lots of specifics that to my mind are dead-on perfect.
Ask Professor Foxy: How Do I Tell My Parents About My Poly Relationship?
Dear Professor Foxy,
I'm currently in a relationship with a man I love dearly, and I have been for nearly 3 years. It's going well, he's marvelous, we get on great. There's just one thing - this is a polyamorous relationship. He also has another girlfriend, who he's been with for a long time. That in itself isn't a problem. I knew about her before I entered into the relationship and I've never had a problem with polyamory, it suits me fine, we take suitable precautions in our sex lives and we're always open and honest with each other about everything. The problem is in explaining this to my parents. My mother noticed that my boyfriend was listed as in a relationship with the other lady on a social networking site, and has the notion that she must be his ex and he just hasn't changed his status....
I want to convey that this relationship is every bit as committed as a monogamous one and just as loving. How do you go about explaining this kind of thing with no knowledge of the response you'll get? What if the response is negative? Please help.
...My first step would be to talk to your boyfriend and let him know that you are going to have this conversation. This will likely change the way your mother interacts with him and he needs to be prepared for that....
Next I would make a list of all of the questions your parents are going to ask and focus on the ones that will annoy you most. I don't know your parents, so I am just going to put out some possibilities:
Honey, do you think you can't get a man who really loves you?
He is getting his cake and eating it too.
Darling, you know you aren't actually OK with that.
In my day, we just called it cheating.
Then you need to think of calm, rational answers. And keep repeating them. Whenever we come out about something, be it our gender identity, our sexual orientation, or our relationship status, we have had time to process and work through it. Others will need that same sort of time. Keep in mind that if your parents have friends on the same site, they may need to end up explaining this to their friends as well.
Answer their questions with patience. I also caution that words like polyamory may not work for the first conversation. Keep it simple. "Mom, I know you keep asking me about the woman who says she is in a relationship with Jack. They are in a relationship. I've always known about it. Jack and I are serious and committed and we see other people. We are open and honest with each other and this works really well for both of us."
If she denigrates the relationship, I would point out ways that he has been great in the past. When he has been at family functions, when he has helped your family, how happy you are together.
And then, and this may be the most difficult part, let it go. It will take time for your mother to understand and accept this (just ask the majority of queer folks who eventually have accepting parents). Keep answering their questions, but also set boundaries. If either of them are rude to your boyfriend or questions his love for you, you can call a stop to that. Your relationship and partner deserves respect.
This is the last and most important part prove them wrong by actions. Show them that for all of their preconceived notions of what a "real" relationship is, you and your man are happy and love each other. It takes time, but this will be the greatest convincer of all.
Read the original (Sept. 5, 2009).
And another, this time on coming out to a new date by Kamela Dolinova on her always interesting Boston Open Relationships Examiner site:
Open Questions: When do you tell your date that you're poly?
...You meet someone new at work, through OKCupid, at a party and he or she is not "in the scene." You really like them, so you ask them out for coffee.... You are polyamorous, and plan to remain so. How soon should you tell them, and more importantly, how should you tell them?
It can be awkward to bring up something like your relationship structure or orientation when you're on a first date; it's a similar issue to talking about sex straightaway. You're just getting to know someone, and this kind of conversation is not only personal, it also can imply deeper expectations than are appropriate for a first date. Imagine if on a first date someone said to you, "I'm really looking to be married within a year," or "Hope you like hot candlewax, 'cause that's what I'm into!"
However, it is very important to reveal the truth of the way you conduct relationships well before you get into a new relationship with someone. And it's important to do it early enough so that the person doesn't feel you've been deceptive. The trick is to do it in a way that will not scare the person away whether due to of a lack of understanding or a sense of premature seriousness.
First, you need to accept that some people will run away when they hear that you're poly, regardless.... Making sure that they can do so in an informed way, rather than because you're creeping them out, is key.
One of the simplest ways to reveal your polyness is mentioning a partner. Often, when I'm in the midst of flirting with someone, I'll mention my husband or boyfriend. If I mention both in the course of a conversation, that usually gets raised eyebrows if the person I'm talking to isn't familiar with poly. This is a perfect opportunity to say something like, "Oh, my husband and I have an open relationship. We both date other people and are totally honest about it." Getting this information out of the way before you even ask someone out is probably the best way to go about things; this way the person knows up front that you're not being dishonest with your partner simply by showing interest in someone else.
...If you are married, I recommend revealing this fact very early.... A direct approach will probably work best. Something like, "Hey, you're really neat, and I like you a lot, so I wanted to be up front and let you know that I'm polyamorous which in my case means I'm married but I date other people, too. I know that might sound strange, but I wanted to let you know before we go any further. If that's not a dealbreaker for you, I'm happy to answer any questions you might have." Try not to make it too high-pressure if they're shocked and don't have any questions right away, they probably just need time to process what you've said. If they run screaming, well, probably they weren't someone you should be dating, anyway.
If you're poly and single, or only currently have casual attachments, you can be a bit more casual about your status particularly if you're flexible about it and might consider dating only one person at a time. It's still a good idea, though, to reveal it early on. You might use an anecdote as an opener: a story about that triad you know, or a mention of the movie you saw the other night with your friend and her two boyfriends. If you can raise the topic in an unobtrusive matter that will pique interest, you can then talk about poly in a casual way and mention that that's how you've been running your own relationships, when you have them, for a while. In this circumstance you might even save this for a second date, when you're sure that you like each other and there is potential for more. Don't wait longer, though, as this will seem deceitful...,
In short: get it out in the open as fast as you can, and as Dan Savage would say, don't present it as if you're talking about having leukemia. Present it too heavily and you'll freak people out. Wait too long and you'll look like a liar. Be casual and truthful, and you should find out pretty rapidly whether the person is a viable dating partner for you.
Read the original (Oct. 14, 2009).
Labels: advice columns