My husband and I are "in the closet" about my polyamory

December 3 | Guest post by Cora B.
By: Daniela VladimirovaCC BY 2.0

I am married. I am non-monogamous. My husband is monogamous. Only one other person knows about our hybrid-open relationship. We are "in the closet" about my polyamory.

While the word polyamory is starting to be heard (but not necessarily accepted) more commonly in mainstream media, the American Jewish and Afro-Caribbean Roman-Catholic/black American communities that my husband and I call home are decidedly not accepting of this relationship configuration. In these communities, the idea of non-monogamy is abhorrent if it is ever discussed at all. At best non-monogamy is shunned as selfish and perverted, at worst it is a sinful destruction of the family unit as designed by God.

Gimme a break.

To the world, we're your typical interracial, interfaith, heterosexual, monogamous couple skipping through the grassy hills. In reality, I date and maintain intimate relationships with 1-2 men besides my husband. It is an open secret in some ways. With my second partner, we don't sit in the dark corner of the restaurant. We openly show affection in public, as much as I'm comfortable with as I am not a fan of PDA. But the point is, anyone who would look at us could see that we are definitely having (good) sex behind closed doors.

When my then-fiancé and I decided to open our strictly monogamous relationship, it was an extremely hard journey filled with talking, negotiating, arguing, and more talking. My fiancé was upfront that he did not want anyone to know about our decision but keeping it a secret became more stressful at times than I had imagined.

Throw in a lifelong struggle with depression, a stressful job where I am often exposed to death, elitism, racism, and sexism, and suddenly the isolation we created for our open relationship seemed potentially toxic.

As my second partner and I experienced relationship bullshit surrounding time management and sexual dysfunction, I realized I had a limited support system. My husband was sympathetic but had no interest in the details of my second relationship while trying to manage his own insecurities about our change to non-monogamy.

I couldn't rant and rave to anyone that knew me intimately and in the real world. Sure, there were polyamory forums, but the few I found had questionable threads regarding race and ethnicity and feminism so I found it to be less than a comfortable space for me. I needed another change.

So my husband and I talked, talked, yelled, and talked some more. Finally, after reviewing concerns and fears, my husband agreed that he was okay with me letting a few choice individuals know that I was non-monogamous.

On the surface, it seemed like such a small change. I chose one friend who would now know that I was, in my friend's words, having my cake and eating it too. The friend that I chose resides in another country and has a completely monogamist framework for what romantic relationships should look like. Despite his confusion, he has always been a huge supporter of me and what makes me happy.

Having my one friend know has been a game-changer. He is an open ear, a great shoulder, and a good friend. He calls me on my bullshit, and doesn't hesitate to tell me when I'm being a hypocrite.

Considering the professions that my husband and I practice, and our ethnic backgrounds, I doubt there will be a time when both of us are completely free and honest about our open relationship. Until we make that choice, I will continue to blog about my inner thoughts and turn to that one friend about the annoying shit my second partner does that gets on my nerves.

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  1. I'm not in the closet about polyamory, but I have been, and one of my current partners is, and I really feel you about the stress and drain. It's sad to know I'll probably never meet his parents… but I know it the strain of it is way worse on him than it is on me.

    I'm sorry your communities aren't open to your lifestyle. I'm very fortunate to live in a place where nontraditional relationships are more accepted, even if they aren't yet mainstream.

    One thing you could look into is open- and poly-specific Meetups (via meetup.com) in your area. I'm relatively new to this town, and it was hard not having a group of poly people I could talk to that I wasn't also dating! The polyamory meetup group I've been going to provides a great discussion forum without the pressure and subconscious influences of also being in romantic relationships with people I'm talking to. The sense of community and rapport is really surprising–I'm an introvert, and hadn't realized that I was hurting for some social support until I joined the group.

    On a more meta level, it may be helpful for you to think about your polyamory in terms of setting boundaries with your non-poly community, rather than keeping a secret. Keeping secrets can quickly become toxic-feeling–I feel like I'm lying, or misleading someone, etc. Making the conscious choice not to discuss polyamory (or any other intimate/vulnerable topic) with someone because I know they won't be supportive feels a bit more internally honest. It's not a secret, exactly, it's just not something that would be useful or productive to talk about with some people, so there's no need to bring it up.

    Not all of my friends and family can share all the important aspects of my life, and that's okay. The lessons I learn in from those important things can still carry into parts of my life where it's not safe to talk about those things explicitly.

    I hope this helps. You're not alone, even if most of your support is from semi-anonymous strangers on the internet.

    21 agree
    • Not all of my friends and family can share all the important aspects of my life, and that's okay. << I think this is a huge part of it right here. Blogging has been such a blessing in that it has allowed me to get support from semi-anonymous strangers as you point out!

      5 agree
  2. I'm so glad to hear that you found a solution! Relationships are hard work, adding more people seems to increase the difficulty exponentially.

    I found myself in a similar situation: poly and married with a monogamous husband who didn't want to hear about my third. Unfortunately, my relationships recently imploded.

    This exact situation is amazingly difficult to find support for, online or in person. I'm sincere in my gratitude to read about your success. I wish you much love and happiness to come.

    9 agree
  3. It's so nice to talk to someone, isn't it? To be able to vent, or to be excited–because there's that, too. Now you get to share the good and the bad things, as in any other relationship.

    When my throuple was just beginning, there was some confusion from within as well as without about our reasons for sharing (or wanting to share) that information. There's this gut reaction of, "This is TMI, no one needs to know this," because the thing that comes up for people first is that this is about your sex life. And that can/should be private from the community, right? Why do we feel this compulsion to tell? And the answer is: because it's MORE than just your sex-life. It's just your life. Period. The whole thing. It affects your relationship with your husband, it affects his moods, it affects your day-to-day emotionals. It affords you new, unique victories… and failures. Highs and lows. And if you're not ashamed, it feels gross gross GROSS to keep all that inside.

    A family member, accepting as she was, asked me why I felt the need to tell her about our throuple. Not that she cared, but it was none of her business, she said. She looked at it as dirty laundry. Inappropriate. I replied: "You know that I'm married, though. You can assume that means I have sex with my husband. Is that inappropriate information?"

    It's family. And I'm glad you have someone with whom you can share. I hope that someday soon it'll be easier to be out more. By and by, it has become so for us (with very few exceptions). Good luck, and go you.

    14 agree
  4. I just want to say–GO YOU for being able to take inventory of your needs and finding a way to make it work. That sounds really simple, but finding a way to meet any need comes with challenges, and when those challenges are incredibly emotional or at-odds with some pretty deep-seeded beliefs, it's pretty hard to get there!

    Do you think you could handle the responsibility of starting a small, private forum? If you can't find the community you need, you might be able to build it! You have some really specific concerns about what topics you're comfortable with people on a forum discussing, and I bet you're not even remotely alone. Even if you're not up for it–and I bet half of the Empire can nod along about how hard and draining that can potentially be–even putting the word out there that it's what you're looking for might lead someone else to take it on.

    7 agree
    • Thanks for the "GO YOU" (this is why I've adored the OB world for so many years- no judgement and such positive energy! ) Your idea is a great idea but to be honest, I doubt I can muster the energy at this time, but definitely something to slip that idea into my back pocket.

      4 agree
  5. Yeah, my Reform shul is very VERY gay friendly, but polyamory is a terms that the Rabbi's still haven't even really heard. Luckily the Reconstructionist shul seems to be more universally accepting – I just need to motivate myself to start going. We are almost completely open about our lifestyle (my Dad doesn't "know" because he's trying really hard not to, but we will see how long that holds up now that our quad is cohabitating), but it's definitely made it awkward to get involved with the larger Jewish community. Our personal social group is basically all poly, kinky gaming nerds. Now that my son is approaching school age, I really would like for him to have other Jewish friends (even his "brothers" aren't Jewish since they have different parents). Guess it is time to bite the bullet and start making developing that community a priority. Want to come be our poly-Jewish friends?

    6 agree
  6. I am always happy yo see more posts about poly! I am poly myself but currently struggling with this same problem from a different perspective – I do not want to be closeted, but I am because of my boyfriend's partner and I am highly resentful of it. We are all poly, but I bear the majority of the burden of closeting – I am the one who cannot be affectionate with my own partner or must be introduced as a friend and excluded from family functions. There are legit reasons to be closeted sometimes, but often I think it is just a way of maintaining couple privilege at the expenense of others. If I thought I would be closeted forever, I would not continue dating my boyfriend, nor will I ever date someone again who expects me to conceal my relationship just because they don't want to have awkward conversations with their family. I am proud of my partners, and proud to be poly, and the only way it will become socially acceptable is for poly people to stop hiding.

    7 agree
  7. I can sympathize with your husband on this one as I am in his shoes in my relationship with my wife. I am monogamous, and she is polyamorous. I try hard to be supportive of her with this while suppressing my own insecurities. She encourages me to explore other relationships myself, and I suspect that she doesn't really understand that while I love and support her poly lifestyle, it is not one that I want for myself. I support her because I know that I cannot be all that she needs, and I want her to be happy. Something that I would love to find, but doubt that I ever will, is some sort of support group for people like myself who have spouses who are poly, and how we cope with it. Learning how others approach it and how they deal with their own struggles can only help provide other tools to help all of us learn how to be more supportive of our poly partners.

    13 agree
    • Hi Geoffrie, Thank you for your comment. I read it aloud to my husband, I can feel quite isolated in my position but I know it is equally difficult if not more difficult for him. I encouraged him to look at some discussion forums to see how others manage the good, the bad and the ugly but he is not ready yet. I hope that someday he'll be able to talk to at least one other person and open that pressure valve .

      1 agrees
    • You are enough, you are all that a partner needs, you deserve support and you deserve to be happy too. Please always know that.

      8 agree
  8. I am so glad to hear I'm not the only one in a relationship like this! My husband is straight and monogamous, while I'm bi and non-monogamous (so long as the relationships are casual and with cis-women – his rule, not mine). We're open to several of my friends, but because of his work, we can't really be open to his friends. I haven't really gotten to take advantage of this dynamic, so I fortunately don't really have any issues I need to vent about.

    3 agree
  9. My loves and I are in the closest for the most part too. My "other" is a local firefighter, married and has a child. We've been together 2+ years.him and his wife have n been poly since they staryed dating 10 yeats ago. my primary and I are poly, though he doesn't currently have an "other." We're adapting terms and etc…learning as we go! Thanks for posting this!

    1 agrees
  10. Having been polyamorous for 50 years, I would question calling what you are doing polyamory. I big part of polyamory is consent. It sounds like your husband is consenting under duress. If that is so, it isn't poly.

    28 agree
    • As a fellow poly person, I understand your anxiety. Polyamory is so frowned-upon that we don't want anyone thinking that it's just glorified cheating (or something). That said, I don't think we are well-informed enough to decide whether or not the relationship is healthy based on this one article. For me, compersion (or, getting something good out of your partner enjoying someone else) is necessary to my polyamory. Maybe it is for you, too. BUT, that doesn't mean polyamory without compersion isn't possible or functional. We simply don't know; we're not them. Remember, too, that this is a post about one of the down-sides of polyamory in a prohibitive community, so the focus is bound to be on stressors and negatives rather than the successes. Even more important than compersion, to my mind, is lots and lots of communication — of which there is plenty for the couple, according to the article. They talk, they argue, they negotiate. I think insecurity is a thing that happens in all relationships, poly ones especially, but as long as no one is burying their feelings I think there's always hope.

      16 agree
    • I appreciate and understand where you are coming from. I disagree with your conclusions and also the assumption about by husband being under duress is wrong but I can see why you might make that distinction. Your specific concern is sometimes just stick with the umbrella term non-monogamous and get into the details more thoroughly when dealing with potential partners or discussing things on my blog.

      2 agree
    • I'm not really seeing the duress here, unless there was some "we open our relationship or its over" sentence I entirely missed? I am also a veteran of decades of polyamory, and have known a fair number of couples of the mono-poly style where no duress was involved, that are/were content and satisfied with their relationship.

      3 agree
      • It just sounds like a volatile relationship, and that it would be so with or without the one-sided polyamory. If there is strife and unhappiness, which it sounds like there is, it rarely works out in the long run. That goes for any relationship, not only those with unbalanced ideas about commitment.

        2 agree
        • I think there is a big difference between a relationship being volatile and a relationship encountering obstacles. All relationship have moments where their is disagreement and YES, occasionally unhappiness, that is when people sit-down, communicate, negotiate and make decisions that all parties can be satisfied and happy with.

          1 agrees
  11. My husband, our partners and I are all at various points in the process of coming out about our polyamory to our families and communities. In general, it has been such a positive process for me! It turns out that my fears of judgement or negative responses from those who love me were largely unfounded, and I've been met with more support than I imagined.

    The weight of that secret can be intense and can make an amazing thing feel shameful. I'm so glad you now have someone who you can talk about all your relationships with. Also, now your friend may have a chance to expand his view of polyamory, which is awesome for everyone! We view living our lives openly as a polyamorous family to be our biggest form of activism. We don't wave a flag or shout about polyamory all the time, but we live openly, and our future children will know all four of us as their parents and themselves as siblings, no matter which of us they biologically arrive from (which I'm sure will prompt interesting conversations with other parents)I think one huge thing anyone can do if they want to expand rights and acceptance to all relationships is to show through your actions, in whatever communities you feel comfortable with, how amazing and right polyamory can be for you and your family.

    5 agree
    • Thank you, your comment. In particular, "I think one huge thing anyone can do if they want to expand rights and acceptance to all relationships is to show through your actions, in whatever communities you feel comfortable with, how amazing and right polyamory can be for you and your family"

  12. THANK YOU!!! You put into word what I could not. I am in Polyamorous relationship. And while I am lucky enough to have both my people living with me. People treat my paramour as if he will leave soon. As if he is in the way. And I can undnerstand thire point of view but, he is not leaving anytime soon.

    It is stressful and painful at times. And I want to scream at people that it is non ot their business who I date and love. BUt there is always that sense of being judged. So what we have come to is trying to be happy. We tell the one that we think we can trust and happy in our everyday lives. It confuses people sometime, but that is one them.

    Having that one person to talk to is amazing. It was hard for me fine one and trust them to find someone. But we just try to live happily. Also, I pick people away from me to tell. The internet is wonderful sometimes, because you can just turn it off and people are often their truest self online.

    Thank you ^_^ and good job. YOU are awesome.

    5 agree
  13. I'm lucky enough to be able to be open with my family, but for awhile I couldn't talk about poly on Facebook because my wife's family didn't know. Three Coming Out days ago I asked my wife to think HARD about if she could be out by the next one. She did, and it was a huge relief. I was able to talk about my girlfriend on FB. I didn't have to guard conversations any more. And once they got over the initial surprise on non-mongamy (and that in fact, that we hadn't been monogamous from day 1). Just recently, I accidentally slipped, and told my mom's boyfriend. But gosh it was easier to talk about why I visit LA so frequently once I said that's where my girlfriend lives!

    I do find sometimes that I get put in the closet by appearance alone. I'm an observant Jew, and I cover my hair for my wife. People don't ever think that I might be into women, much less more than one of them. I walk a fine line between oversharing, and being shushed by peoples expectations.

    9 agree
  14. Thank you for writing this. Definitely going to follow your blog.

    I would like to counter the supposed definition of being/living a "poly lifestyle" (as suggested by Silenus above) as it means many things to many different people. In my limited experience, poly has as many meanings as people practicing it.

    In my mind, polyamory defines one's affinity and ability to be in love with and/or maintain a sexual relationship with more than one person at a time under the premise that one is being honest with all partners involved about the status of the relationship(s). It defines ones self as opposed to what one's partner feels about the other relationships.

    Non monogamy on the other hand is an umbrella term for everything that is not strictly monogamy (swinging, open, polygamy, cheating etc).

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