Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

November 4, 2010

Savage advice: coming out to parents

Savage Love (many alternative newspapers)

Advice columnist Dan Savage offers recommendations to a triad who are wondering how to come out to three very different sets of parents:

Need to Know

November 4, 2010

I have a bit of a situation. I'm a 23-year-old het male, and I am married. My wife and I have a girlfriend now, making our arrangement a polyamorous triad. We all love each other, and we are getting to the point that we are thinking about how we are going to tell our parents about our relationship.

My parents have already been told. My mother was bemused and amazed, my father gave me a high five.... [But] my wife's family is super Southern Baptist, while our girlfriend's mother is a big ol' bag of crazy: She was a physically abusive nut job who beat her children with a Bible attached to a rope.

Should we even bother disclosing to either of their sets of Bible-beating parents?... If we shouldn't disclose, then how do we deal with things like family holidays? Is not disclosing a sign that either my wife or girlfriend is ashamed of the life we lead?

Not Telling The Whole Truth

You don't mention how long you've been in this poly triad, NTTWT, but seeing as you're only 23 and were already married before you met the girlfriend, you can't have been in this poly triad for very long....

I'm gonna advise against disclosing the true nature of your relationship(s) for the time being, NTTWT. Not because you have anything to be ashamed of — you most certainly do not — but because relationships with parents are best run on a need-to-know basis.

And it doesn't sound like your wife's parents need to know — not yet. This triad is new, and like most romantic relationships, it may not stand the test of time. For the moment, introduce your girlfriend as a friend; if your MIL is curious about why you're all living together, say something vague about the economy. If it turns out that your triad is one for the ages, NTTWT, then you can come out to your MIL and weather the judgmental shitstorm.

As for the girlfriend's mother, NTTWT, it doesn't sound like that woman has a right to know anything about her daughter's life.

All that said, NTTWT, I do think loving, committed nonmonogamous couples should be open with their families, if only to prove to people that loving, committed nonmonogamous couples exist. I'm not encouraging you to be closeted, just strategic. Your wife's family is more likely to be accepting if they perceive your marriage as not just loving, but lasting. Give it a few years, NTTWT, and then, whether the current girlfriend is still in the picture or not, your wife can let her mother know — as matter-of-factly as possible — that you're poly.

Read the whole article (Nov. 4, 2010). The link goes to its appearance in Seattle's The Stranger, the weekly paper that Savage edits. Note the cute graphic of three little piggies building a house, or maybe it's a blast wall against exploding parents.

Also on the subject of coming out: Bitsy is building Openly Poly, a website of resources and stories. Contribute yours.


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Anonymous Alicia said...

I am also in a rather new triad. My boyfriend and I have been in an open relationship for about a year and a half and our boyfriend (both hetro) is a new addition only three months ago. The holidays started to cause me alot of anxiety but can't be skipped as I have 4 kids from my previous marriage.
We all love eachother very much and don't want to leave anyone out, on the other hand we are all very real with the fact that we are plowing through new territory that may not last forever and freaking out family is not worth it if it does fall apart.
We live in a small town, and are very open honest people so we never tried hiding anything. We waited until parents started asking questions and answered them in a matter of fact, caring and mature way. This has helped ALOT!
We never pressured them to acccept it just eased what ever concerns they had the best we could and accepted their fears. I felt that it was best to treat my mother and her concerns with the same respect that I want this relationship to be treated with. I feel this was beneficial as we have time to grow our relationship and the families have time to work through their uncomforts. I have no intent on "shoving" my relationship in anyones face, just living our lives they way that suites us and helping anyone that wants to to understand.
I think us all being very uncomfortable and confident in our decision to commit to this relationship has helped emmensly and showed through to our parents. Had we been uneasy and fearful then I think our parents would have objected much much more
I feel this is key: Keep it to a need to know basis and only discuss with anyone what you are absolutly comfortable and secure with.

November 04, 2010 3:50 PM  
Blogger Polly said...

I don't really agree with Dan Savage's advice. At the very least, I think it's important to say, "We have this person in our lives, and she's important to us." If they ask questions, fine - you can answer them honestly, but can still keep some semblance of privacy and boundaries. It's possible to say, "All you need to know is that I care about this person. That's enough." It makes for a good mix of openness without making others feel that they have the right to pry into your sex life. Because they don't. Still, it's important that family members aren't surprised by information years down the road. The hiding may indeed be more offensive than coming out "too early."

November 04, 2010 6:00 PM  
Anonymous HoldensPoly said...

It still strikes me that Dan just doesn't believe that polyamory is a genuine relationship style that can lead to long term committed relationships (he's said as much explicitly, though he's tried to walk back those comments). I would have to ask Dan if he would give the same response to someone asking his advise of when to introduce his parents to his same-sex partner? Does Dan believe if the relationship is only 1 year old that the person should hide it from his parents? 3 years? 5? What's the magic number Dan?

Let's say this person with a same sex partner doesn't identify as gay but as bi (and monogamous)? Does that change the answer? By all logic the same sex relationship might not "last the test of time" and the individual might have a relationship with someone from the opposite sex next. Should this person hide the same sex relationship from his parents?

I like Dan a lot, he does a lot of good, but his advise when it comes to polyamory is not only lacking it's often insulting.

November 04, 2010 6:10 PM  
Blogger Julian Morrison said...

Geez, your marriage is new, lets not tell your parents for a year or two, you might get divorced. Just act like room-mates.

Except for the "cut off that crazy bible-nunchaku mother" bit, this is made of fail.

November 04, 2010 9:25 PM  
Blogger Deorccwen said...

I, too, like Dan Savage on the whole, but I don't think he is always right; certainly not in this case, as the commenters above have pointed out. I can imagine it would be productive of massive insecurity for the non-married partner to be constantly introduced as a 'friend.' I have heard of it working well for some poly folk following this strategy when they eventually come out, but I would think it could easily work out very badly, as people feel lied to.

Seriously though, 'loving, committed, nonmonogamous *couples*' when they have said they are a triad? *sigh* Can't blame him, though; you see that a lot, even on some poly material. Perhaps it is more relevant for those in a Primary couple relationship, where all other relationships are agreed to be 'Secondary' to that relationship, but not for a triad.

November 05, 2010 5:48 AM  
Anonymous Polycuriosity said...

I for the most part agree with Dan on this. While in a state of NRE is NOT the time to start being open with bible-thumping a-holes. The letter-writer's wife feels the need for her parents to approve, but according to the him, her parents can't even handle the fact that he is a recovering addict. Not to mention that the girlfriend's parents were physically abusive to her.

In my opinion, neither set of parents *ever* needs to be told, but if the triad in question really must go there, they'd damn well better be sure that their relationships are strong enough to handle the crap that comes their way. Which doesn't happen within a few months... and I get the impression that the triad is very new. This isn't to say that the relationship isn't valid or anything because it hasn't been around a long time, but you can't deny that coming out as poly (and bisexual) is a much bigger deal than introducing the hetero partner you've been with for a short time.

I would wager as well, that the wife in this situation will grow up some if she waits, realize that her relationship doesn't need her parents' approval, and she wouldn't get it anyway. If she does wait, I'm sure she will end up glad that she did.

November 05, 2010 1:02 PM  
Anonymous ArgentoRose said...

If one of the partners of the triad is waiting to allow religious fanatic parents to get use to the idea of “a long term relationship” she is committed to before she “comes out” as polyamorous, then she may find that she can never be open and honest with her own parents. She is the one who needs the time to mature enough and to become strong enough to realize that continuing to remain in contact with her closed-hearted parents does not make for a healthy parent to child relationship and to break all ties off with them.

When any member of my family cannot love me unconditionally, I cut them out of my life (I have found that my life is healthier and happier as a result when I applied this to my circle of friends). Although that hasn’t happen with the members of my family I have informed so far, because they love me for who I am and not for what I do WITH MY LIFE, they process enough love and respect for me not to criticize me even when they don’t relate to it or disagree with it personally. But I must say that I have applied honesty with them beforehand when I came out as a pacifist and as a Pagan, so it came as no shock to most of my family members when I told them that I was bisexual and polyamorous later on. I think that they suspected anyway, “Well, that’s Deborah!”. My grown son teases me by saying that I am weird but that I was the “world’s best Mom” in his opinion.

It is how you love, not whom you impress, in this life that counts.

November 05, 2010 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the most positive comment about poly that Dan has ever made.

November 18, 2010 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I googled for NTTWT, but didn't find it. What does it mean?

November 18, 2010 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NTTWT is referring to

Not Telling The Whole Truth

the letter writer.

November 18, 2010 2:41 PM  

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