One thing that newly poly people ask me for advice about all the time is coming out to potential partners. Now that they have the freedom to date/fuck other people, how do they exercise that freedom? How do you communicate “available” and “has a partner” at the same time? What if everyone thinks you’re a dirty cheater and no one else will play poly with you?
These are all really valid questions, and if I knew all the answers I’d probably have a lot more boyfriends. I want to give some advice in the next installment, but, first, my own horror story. Sometimes people react badly to the news that you’re poly. Really badly. Leave-you-alone-in-an-Irish-fishing-village badly. It’s part of the poly experience. Here’s my story:
The summer of 2011, I was studying abroad in Dublin. Class had ended and we’d been kicked out of our dorms, but I wasn’t ready to head home, so I was staying in hostels and seeing the country on my own. I met a really fantastic guy, and we saw a lot of each other during my solo travels. He lived 20 minutes outside of the city and I was in hostels, so we hadn’t had a sleepover yet, but we spent a lot of time going out to the bars in Dublin, walking around St. Stephen’s Green, and making out. I had two boys back in the states who I talked to on gchat every night in the hostel, and they both knew about Dublin boy and were happy for me that I was having a good time abroad.
Dublin boy and I eventually decided to take a weekend trip to a small seaside town outside of Dublin called Howth. Our plan was for him to leave work early and meet me at the train station and we’d head into town together. The day before our trip was scheduled, I realized that I hadn’t told him that I was poly yet, because a smooth and appropriate opportunity just hadn’t presented itself. I knew it would be terrible if I told him while we were on our trip together and he had a problem with it and we were stuck for the weekend. I also knew it was wrong to keep it a secret from him. So I did the only thing I could think of - I texted him to let him know that I had two boys back home, they knew about each other and they knew about him, and everything was chill, but just letting him know. He texted back saying that was fine and I was so relieved.
The next morning, he confirmed that he would leave work early to meet me at the train station. Then he said he got caught up at work and would meet me in Howth, so I took the train myself. I didn’t hear from him again until that afternoon, when he texted to say that he had changed his mind and didn’t feel comfortable seeing me again because of my other boys. I told him that they knew about him and I wasn’t cheating and told him to Google polyamory, but he just said that he wasn’t coming to meet me. I spent the day wandering Howth on my own, feeling awful and lonely, then returned to Dublin. We didn’t see each other again.
What made the whole thing sting even worse was how my two boyfriends were genuinely disappointed for me. Whatever reservations Dublin boy had about being with me, they were unfounded. There was nothing besides his own hang-ups stopping him from having a great weekend at the seaside with me. I felt terrible about waiting so long to tell him, because I didn’t want him to feel tricked or betrayed, and because I’d let things go on long enough to be really crushed when he stood me up like that. I regretted not telling him earlier, so I could have told him in person, and either worked things out or stopped things before they led to a lot of time and effort (and money) spent on something that would flop so badly.
What I didn’t regret was telling him at all. A small part of me had considered just keeping it secret, because I was leaving the country in a week and we were just a fling, but I knew that was wrong. People have a right to give informed consent to all sexual activity, and there’s more to consent than decisions about physical acts. There’s emotional consent, too. It would have been wrong to trick him into doing something he wasn’t okay with - namely, sleeping with a girl with two boyfriends. I do my best to respect other people’s choices in sex and relationships, even if I don’t agree with, understand, or like those choices. Healthy polyamory requires respect, honest communication, and complete consent. In the end, I was happy with my choice, despite my great disappointment.
Sometimes bad things happen when people find out that you’re poly. You’ll lose out on a lot of potential partners. And it will sting. But you’ll survive it, just like I survived being left alone in a small seaside town in Ireland. It’s frustrating when you really want to be with someone and they won’t participate in something polyamorous, but the best thing to do is say: “Okay. I respect your needs and choices. I’m disappointed to not be getting what I want, but I won’t push the issue. Thanks for being honest with me. I hope we can be/stay friends.”
Final tips about coming out to potential partners:
- Early is better. Don’t wait too long to let them know what your terms and conditions are.
- Honesty is the only way to go. Lying, lying by omission, and manipulation are never okay in sex and relationships. Give everyone the chance to give consent to everything. Even one-night-stands deserve the same respect.
- You will be let down and denied things you want. A lot. You will be left stranded alone on the Irish seaside. It will be disappointing and frustrating. You’ll survive it.
- Sometimes you won’t like people’s reasons for turning you down. You still need to respect them and not argue or push the issue. Never tell someone that their needs or feelings are wrong, even if you don’t understand them. Gently and clearly explain your own perspective, don’t put up with slut-shaming, but never pressure someone.
- Never visit an Irish fishing town before noon, because nothing will be open yet. Nothing.
Got questions or thoughts about coming out to potential partners? Want to spend a weekend on the Irish seaside with me? Get in touch here.