You Put Your Whole Self In, You Take Your Whole Self Out

I’m curious how established couples (e.g. spouses or long-term partners) who may have started out monogamish or closeted poly and who chose to come out later in the relationship, negotiate agreements around ‘outing’ one another (as poly) to mutual friends and family. What if one partner wants to be more out than the other? I see ‘outing’ as a behavior that affects BOTH parties, and I’m afraid of repercussions in my professional life, as well as with loved ones who are quite conservative. So, I prefer to keep things pretty private, except with my circle of trusted friends.

How do you handle this situation? Got any tips or examples of fair and reasonable agreements that you recommend?

-In through the Out Door

Choosing when and how to come out is a topic that is near and dear to me. I’m of an earlier generation than you and Leon, and was wrestling with these privacy issues well over 20 years ago when polyamory was nowhere near as accepted as it is today. I realized some of the poly workshops/events I was attending and presenting at could be intentionally or accidentally divulged to my office, and I lived in a state where I could be let go for not being representative of the mission statement of the company. (I worked for a Catholic hospital. Need I say more?)

Today I’m retired and don’t have a career to protect, but back then I did so I took matters into my own hands and adopted an alias. My Facebook name – Lee Hencen – is my alias and I use it for absolutely everything that isn’t of a legal nature. After all these years, I actually identify with my alias more than the name printed on my state ID! Today, only a very few trusted people know my real name.

When I went to poly workshops, I paid friends cash and they would charge my fee on their credit card as if they were buying me the workshop as a gift and I used my alias to sign up for everything. No one from work knew me as Lee Hencen, and I allowed no pictures of me on the Internet when it came into vogue so there could be no association between my alias and my appearance. No one at work had any idea I was polyamorous or gave workshops at polyamorous events. When Facebook became a thing I never added work friends. Only near retirement, when they needed me more than I needed them, did I get brave enough to allow pictures on the Internet and only after 3 years of retirement have I shared my alias and added some former colleagues as FB friends.

I was in an open marriage from day one, as our vows did not express any sexual fidelity. Those were the days before the Internet, and even before common use of the word polyamory. I intentionally didn’t date anyone who lived nearby, to lower the chance of running into folks I knew. I also had children to protect – no one met my children until we had been on a good ten dates or so. If we were local to my area, absolutely no public displays of affection. Once I got divorced, I worried less about being seen with someone locally as I could pass as just being seen as single and dating.

In terms of potential outing by my partners at all points in my life, my rule was clear and simple: don’t even think of outing me to anyone for any reason. That’s my private business and for ME to decide. If you don’t agree, we don’t date. Period.So what happens if one person wants to be out more than the other? It’s like hiking: if you want to hike together it must be at the pace of the slowest person or you aren’t together. I apply that to being out: if someone cannot agree to my level of “outness” (or I cannot agree to THEIR level of “outness”), then we have no business in being in a polyamorous relationship. How much I’m out or not is MY decision and not negotiable.

I don’t know if this helps you or not, but it’s one person’s story and POV! Leon, over to you.

Deciding whether and how to be in or out isn’t a hokey (pokey) question at all. Open and honest communication may be hallmarks of polyamory, but ALL relationships must incorporate both compatibility and respect: matching each others’ needs and wants, and honoring each others’ boundaries. The first is intrinsic reality, while the second is chosen behavior.

Two people might not be on the same page due to differing sensitivities of perception; one might consider outing a minor inconvenience at worst, while another would consider it a devastating consequence to their job/social circle/family/other relationships. Even when the realistic consequences aren’t likely to be as serious as someone fears, the fact it’s important to one person, means the other/s must respect that boundary. If someone doesn’t grasp how important an issue is to their partner, their chosen behavior is likely to take it less seriously or even forget their agreements on the matter. This is particularly true where, as here, the symbolism of being ‘out’ might influence one person’s desire to be public (especially factoring in the appearance of ‘shame’ or hiding one’s partner) compared to the other’s desire to be private to avoid the consequences of being outed.

Agreements on being open are completely up to you, and the people with whom you are involved (or who are close enough to be able to out you). The actual negotiation is as simple as finding time to talk, and sharing not only what you want, but your thinking behind it including why it matters to you as much as it does. Going beyond a boundary to explain the feelings behind it, allows for meeting of the minds (including allaying potential insecurities of the partner wishing to be out), limits gray areas (where a scenario comes up that wasn’t specifically discussed and appropriate behavior is otherwise unclear), and will allow everyone to not only follow the letter of the agreement but respect the spirit behind it.