October 14, 2012 by aggiesez
Since I published my National Coming Out Day post, I’ve gotten into an interesting discussion on the excellent forum on Polyamory.com.
To recap, my Oct. 11 post was: Coming out: How “out” are you as poly, really? And why? In it I explored some basic issues and considerations about being out in various contexts about your polyamory or preference for honestly open relationships, from the perspective of solo people who don’t have (and may not want or be seeking) a primary partner of their own.
This included discussion of some real or perceived risks in being out, and how people in these relationships can consider their own “outness” needs and priorities — as well as the benefits of communicating and negotiating these clearly (with both primary and nonprimary partners) early in relationships.
I received some thoughtful comments to that post, which are worth reading.
I also raised this topic, with my post as a touchstone, in this Polyamory.com forum thread.
That thread has drawn many intriguing responses — mostly from the perspective of poly people who are part of a primary couple, but also from a few solo poly people. It’s well worth reading to get a range of views on this topic.
One point from my original post was that when a poly/open relationship is still in the early phases, maybe just starting to progress beyond casual dating or the initial rush of NRE, it can be surprisingly difficult to ascertain how “out” in various contexts your new partner really is.
Sure, the poly motto is “Communicate, communicate, communicate” — so you’d think we’d all just ask about outness early on, to lay the groundwork for future discussion, negotiation, and consideration and to make sure all partners and metamours are on the same page. And indeed, one longtime solo poly person questioned in that forum thread how any poly people would not be completely clear about a partner’s outness early in a relationship.
But after speaking with many poly people (solo and in primary partnerships), I’ve learned that real-world polyamory often falls short of this proactive ideal.
That includes me: My most recent long-term relationship hit the rocks a few months ago big time due to issues that my boyfriend, his spouse and I could — and should — have discussed early in the relationship. But we just coasted along, while he and his spouse obscured how not-out they truly are. This definitely wasn’t the only reason why things ended badly, but it played a key role in the damage done.
Here’s what I’ve found, as I mentioned in this post to that thread:
From my own experience, and that of many poly people (solo & not) whom I’ve asked about “outness” lately, it seems that usually this topic doesn’t get discussed clearly and specifically early in a relationship.
Discrepancies tend to emerge only after the relationship is well established and there’s substantial emotional investment. And what seems to be the most common way that outness discrepancies become apparent is when a nonprimary partner inadvertently transgresses an outness-related boundary of the primary couple, which the primary couple never disclosed and often is unwilling to negotiate about.
Another common situation is when the nonprimary partner unexpectedly finds themself excluded, avoided, or demoted to “friend” status without warning or negotiation at an event or in a social setting.
There are various reasons for why people usually don’t discuss outness clearly and early in poly/open relationships.
- Early in any kind of relationship (even most mono ones) it’s usually seen as pushy or moving too fast to make public mention of a relationship (such as calling someone your “girlfriend”) within the first few months. During initial “new relationship energy” (NRE) it’s hard to tell how serious a relationship might be in the long term. So for people with relationship experience, outness usually isn’t much of an issue early on.
- People often like to imagine they’re more open or braver than they actually are.
- Poly people often initially meet, fall in love and socialize within the poly community. When that’s your main social context for a new relationship, it isn’t always apparent that, say, a longtime poly primary couple may be considerably or entirely closeted in other social circles.
- Often people feel that that it’s unromantic to clarify outness boundaries early on, that this kills the NRE buzz because it clarifies limits rather than hopefully embraces possibility.
- Often primary poly couples assume that the norm is that, outside the poly community, they get the prerogative to maintain the appearance (and privilege) of mono couplehood — so nonprimary partners “should” expect and be willing to roll with that.
…Of course, your mileage may vary. If you’ve seen differently in your poly/open circles, if the poly people you know generally think very clearly about outness and discuss/negotiate it frankly and — especially — EARLY in new relationships, I’d find that very encouraging. From what I’ve seen and heard about, that’s usually not how it plays out in the real world, unfortunately.
So: How does my assessment of typical real-world poly behavior line up (or not) with what you’ve seen from the poly people you know or have been involved with, from your poly community, and with your own poly/open relationship behavior? I’d love to get more views on this, especially from solo poly people. Please comment below.
FOLLOWUP POST, Oct. 14: Why it can be hard to discuss how out you are (or want to be) early in a poly/open relationship