How do I support my friend who just came out to me as polyamorous?

Hi! My friend has just told me that she is poly and I was wondering if you had any advice on how to support her? Ive told her I love her and support her 100%, but I was wondering if there is more I can do to help her (she's just realised it) thank you ❤

Best thing you can do is to ask her! Sometimes, people worry that when they come out, they’ll be treated differently, and often even attempts to be supportive can feel like “different treatment” - like suddenly buying someone a bunch of pride flag stuff and sending them links to articles about LGBTQ stories, which could make them fear that you see them differently and only through this new lens. But for other people, that would feel really affirming, and they’d really appreciate a friend making an effort to bring it up, learn about it, and actively support it!

You can also educate yourself about polyamory so she doesn’t have to do 101-level education for you (answering the same questions over and over gets old). That might also equip you to head off some of questions or ignorance from other people in your social circle, but of course, make sure she’s OK with this. Again, some people would love it if the education groundwork was done by someone else; other people would be really disturbed that someone else was discussing their identity and answering questions on their behalf.

Never out someone without their permission - ask her how she wants you to discuss this with people who ask, and honor any of her concerns about how this might impact her family or professional community.

Be open and curious, listen to her, talk things through with her, be a good sounding board - but hold your own boundaries and don’t feel like you need to let every conversation center around her new identity work, or that you need to have all the answers for her. Sometimes, new realizations like this can be pretty all-consuming, so be patient if she wants to talk about it often, but be aware of your own needs and head off frustration or resentment before it boils over.

Just keep being a good friend - a good listener, an honest communicator, a collaborator in fun, and you’ll be fine!

I'm dating polyamorously, but my parents are threatening to torch our relationship if I visit my partner

I'm in a long-distance relationship with a polyamorous married man. I've known him for years and he's my best friend, and we've been dating for almost six months now, and we're both incredible happy with each other and his wife is happy for us. When I told my parents about it, I knew they wouldn't understand, but I wasn't prepared for how much they would personally offended by it. They tell me it's wrong, that I'm setting myself up to be hurt, and that I should listen to them if I respect them. Despite being a good daughter who's never gotten into trouble and is doing well in college, my father says he would be ashamed of me for my relationship- and that hurts incredibly deeply to hear from him. No matter how I try to explain how polyamory works to them, they always say that it's not right "for me" because I'm "their daughter." My problem is that I'm 20 years old and still living with my parents while I'm in college, and I desperately want to visit my boyfriend who lives 3 hours away (using my own money)-- but my parents tell me that if I visit him knowing how much they disapprove, that I will be severely damaging our relationship and that there will be consequences. What do you think I should do?

I’m so sorry that you’re in this situation - that’s so painful and isolating.

I am perhaps on the extreme side of things when it comes to this type of conflict, so I will try to be both honest about my own position while empathizing with yours. I firmly believe that we as individuals have the right, and in fact the obligation to ourselves, to reject any nonsense from our families that threatens our well-being. You should live your full and honest truth, do what is happy and healthy for you, and if other people are upset about it, they are free to be upset about it. Sharing DNA with someone doesn’t mean that you need to care what they think more than you’d care about anyone else; nor that you’re beholden to whatever assumptions and expectations they have.

Your boyfriend is someone you chose to be in your life, someone who meets you where you are, and makes you feel happy and understood. Your parents are people who you did not choose, and who are being manipulative and hurtful. Based on that, I’d say prioritize your relationship with your boyfriend. If I were you, I’d go see my partner, and let the chips fall where they may. I would also start taking steps to make it financially feasible to move out from under the roof of people who are going to be so ignorant and hurtful.

If you don’t feel ready to take steps that would cause such friction with your parents (even though the conflict is their choice; not yours), talk to your boyfriend about this. See how he feels about waiting until you feel more emotionally able to stand up to your parents and do what you want. Let him know what he can do to support you during this painful individuation. Consider seeing a therapist to talk about how you might start the process of grieving the relationship you wish you could have with your family, but might not be able to if you are going to be a healthy, fulfilled, independent adult. Build relationships at college with people you can lean on. Best of luck - this is a difficult period to go through.

I’m just so hurt and upset that my family will not accept me for who I really am. They can not get over that I have a husband and my boyfriend who will be moving in with us later this year. I’m trying so hard to get them to see that it would mean a lot to me for them to meet him and be able to have him at family gatherings as well but thru refuse to even give him a chance. I’m at the point of saying I will just not go anymore.

You know how people say “blood is thicker than water”? The actual quote is “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” I’m firmly of the belief that you owe more to, and are owed more by, the people who you choose to be in your life and who choose to be in your life. Simply sharing DNA with someone by a happenstance of fate doesn’t mean they’re going to be healthy to have in your life.

I am so sorry that you’re dealing with this. Polyamorous people are not the first, and won’t be the last, minority to face rejection from their families. It’s so painful. But you are doing the right thing by setting boundaries and standing up for your chosen family, by fighting for the relationships that serve you and lift you up. Try to be proud of the strength and courage it takes to stand up to your family’s ignorance and protect what matters most: the love you, your husband, and your boyfriend share.

If the frustration and the alienation gets to be too much, please consider talking to a therapist that specializes in issues like this, or joining a polyamorous group in your area or online. <3

Is it advisable to come out to your friends on Facebook/social media that you’re in a polyamorous relationship or is it best to just keep that knowledge to a small select group?

This is totally up to you. I have a lot of mixed feelings about this, so I’ll try to organize them here. A few things to consider:

Your personal safety: If you worry that being so out would jeopardize your career or personal safety, don’t. If you work with children, have a career with a political or religious aspect, or otherwise think this would put you at risk, it might not be worth it.

Your partners’ feelings: Your partners are part of your life, and they deserve to feel that way. If someone feels hurt or left out because you are ‘hiding’ them, consider whether staying closeted is sustainable.

Where you are in your life: If you’re young and your relationships are casual, coming out has different consequences than if you’re older and more committed. If you’re raising kids together, wanting to bring all partners home for Christmas, etc. then it’s harder to hide, but the consequences from disapproving people can be bigger.

How you experience your polyamory: If this is an identity, part of who you are, then I think coming out can be more freeing. If you experience it as a choice or a sexual behavior, you might be more comfortable only telling a few people. I’m all for people being openly out as gay, but if you’re kinky, that might not need to be everyone’s business. If you feel frustrated at not being able to live out loud as your polyamorous self, I think that’s a good argument in favor of coming out. If you kinda don’t care who knows, there’s no reason to feel obligated to announce it.

Best of luck making your decision! <3

What is the best way to come out as poly to your family. My one girl friend is married and I want to be open about it, but I don’t want anyone to judge her as well. It’s getting to a point where it needs to happen sooner or later. Plus I’m starting to see another girl on top of her and trying to make it so no one questions what is happening.

The thing is, you can’t stop people from judging. There’s no perfect way to “come out” that means everyone will instantly accept and understand. If people are judgmental, it doesn’t mean you came out in the wrong way. It’s not up to you to manage other people’s opinions and responses.

My recommendation is to be cheerful, honest, and clear with your family. Don’t act like you’re unburdening a great secret. Explain that this is what’s healthy and fulfilling for you, and answer their questions as graciously as you can. Just like any other “coming out,” it’ll be nerve-wracking, but once you decide you’ve got to do it, you just have to jump. 

If people act like jerks, do your best to ignore it. I have some family members who feel the need to share their negative thoughts about my polyamory. Typically I just smile blankly, say “mmhmm” and then change the subject. If they do things like refuse to allow you to bring both girlfriends to Christmas dinner, that’s their problem. Build a network of love and support and let people have their dumb opinions in their own little corners. 

I’m running into a bizarre-feeling issue with poly here. I have a lovely partner, who has been super supportive of me every step of the way since coming out. The few who I’ve told in my life have taken it in stride as well. However, I’M still convinced that deep down I’m a bad person for needing this. I feel like I’m not playing by the rules, being selfish, all the things that people say to be critical about poly lifestyles. Is this something you’ve encountered before? Have any kind words?

If you’re struggling with self criticism but you have people around you who are supportive, try to lean on your trust and respect for those people. They wouldn’t be your partner and your friends if you didn’t trust them or respect their perspectives, so if they believe you are sensible and worthy, try to honor that. If they expressed any other opinion, you wouldn’t be like “nah, you’re ignorant and wrong,” you’d take them seriously. So their opinions of you also reflect the thoughts of someone you respect and believe in.

It might also help to direct some of the criticism outwards. You’re right that there are lots of nasty societal messages about poly people - we are taught since we’re young by music, movies, books, and other media that being monogamous is the same as being moral and having integrity. And we internalize that, and it can make it hard for us to practice self compassion and live into who we really are without shame. It’s not only poly people - women, the LGBTQ community, any minority must live with the echoing voices of dominant narratives telling them they’re flawed, not good enough, deviant.

But instead of getting down on yourself, try getting down on society. It’s wrong and it’s destructive and it’s not fair that we’re handed these toxic messages and we don’t get positive media representation. It’s sad and frustrating that we have to dig a healthy identity out of this mess. Remind yourself that these difficulties aren’t your fault, and that you’re not alone in dealing with them. Indulge in a little self-righteousness. Read work online by poly activists, read about self care and self compassion. And continue surrounding yourself with loving, supportive people. 

Hi, sorry if you’ve already answered this, but how do you come out to a prospective partner as poly? I met somebody while I was really drunk, and then we went on a date. I was so caught up in being nervous that I entirely forgot to mention that I have a casual partner. We have our second date soon, and I could use any help you have on how to approach the topic!

Ach, this is a tough one. It can be awkward, and I’ll be honest with you - sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes you tell someone you’re poly and they back out because they just aren’t into that sort of thing. It’s a sad truth about being a minority when it comes to [sexual/romantic] [behavior/orientation].

But here are the tips I’ve compiled over a whole lot of awkward coming outs (comings out? come outs? help):

One: Stay positive! Don’t convey, with your tone and/or body language, that you’re unburdening some dark secret. Try and be upbeat and casual - you’re sharing something quirky and interesting about what it is to date you, not asking if they’re okay with this weird scary thing.

Two: Make it about them! People like when things are about them. Say it’s because you really like them, and want to keep things going - but you also really respect them and believe that consent is super important, so you want to make sure they’re fully informed and on board before things get any more serious.

Three: Be gracious and honest! Answer all their questions, even if they seem dumb or borderline offensive or you’ve answered them a million times. I’m generally of the opinion that minorities aren’t obligated to “educate” anyone if they’re not feeling it - but this is a different situation.

Four: Respect consent! Don’t argue, give counter-points, or otherwise act like you’re trying to talk them into something. Any sign of discomfort or hesitation on their part deserves your attention and sensitivity - remember, it’s never okay to try and coerce someone into a sexual or romantic situation they aren’t enthusiastic about!

Five: Be good to yourself. If it doesn’t work out, don’t beat yourself up. Pat yourself on the back for being a good polyamorist and a responsible human - for being open and honest, respecting consent, and not getting someone else into a situation they wouldn’t be okay with if they knew all the details (lying by omission). 

Corollary to five: protect yourself. Being someone’s “training wheels poly” can be exhausting. If someone gives you the “well I’m not sure about all this, but I’ll try it for you” routine, you need to decide whether you’re willing to take that emotional risk. Some people like it, others are wary. Know your own boundaries and stick to them, no matter how hot they are!

Coming Out Poly: My Horror Story

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.

Pre-Packaged Answers: Haters Version

I get a lot of rude, judgmental, frustrating, or just ignorant “questions” (usually more like combative statements) too. Here are some common ones and my answers:

Question: My cousin tried an open relationship and it failed miserably. All these things do is cause a ton of drama.
Me: I know plenty of monogamous relationships that have ended with lots of drama, too. It’s not the type of relationship that causes drama, it’s the people involved.

Question: I’m tired of you people judging me for being monogamous. Don’t tell me what to do. I like my relationships the way they are.
Me: I’m sorry if you’ve met a poly person who acted like they were better or more enlightened than you. I don’t feel that way. I think everyone should be in the relationships that are best for them. I would never pressure a mono person to become poly, and if someone ever does, tell them they’re being disrespectful.

Question: I think you’re just hiding behind that because you’re afraid of commitment.
Me: My style of commitment might look different from yours, but I’m very committed to my [number] boyfriends. 

Question: God clearly defined relationships as between two people.
Me: I believe that God values love and community more than arbitrary rules. My polyamory makes me feel joyful and fulfilled, and hasn’t affected my relationship with God at all. I would be happy to talk more with you sometime about my spirituality and the way it informs my relationships.

Question: It’s impossible to love more than one person.
Me: I know that isn’t true, because I love more than one person. And besides, you love both your parents, don’t you?

Question: You’re just doing this for attention/to feel special.
Me: No, my identity goes a lot deeper than that, but I’m apologize if you’re not interested in talking about this. [Change the subject by asking them a question about themselves, or leave.]

Question: I think that’s gross/wrong/sick/stupid/unhealthy.
Me: Thank you for sharing your opinion with me. 

Question: Giving it a fancy name doesn’t hide the fact that you’re just whoring around.
Me: So what if I am? Sex is awesome and there’s nothing wrong with having sex with more than one person. My sexual choices don’t affect you, so calm down.

Question: Ohgod, I could never do that.
Me: That’s okay! No one is asking you to. I don’t think polyamory is a better way to be than mono, it’s just another way. Monogamy is healthy and fulfilling for lots of people, just not for me.

Do you have a snappy, funny, or educational answer to a stupid question you’re tired of getting? Have you heard a question about polyamory so absurd you have to share? Got questions about dealing with the haters? Get in touch here.

My Pre-Packaged Answers

I mentioned in an earlier post on coming out that I have pre-prepared answers for the most common questions I get when I come out. I figured I’d share them with you. You might have completely different answers for when you get The Questions - that’s fine! When I talk to people, I try to present a good impression of polyamory without acting like I speak for every poly person everywhere.

If someone is curious about something, or wants to go more in-depth, I have longer answers for all these questions (some might become essays for this blog) - but these are my short-version answers to keep a conversation moving.

Question: Don’t you get jealous?
Me: Not really. I find that jealousy often stems from a fear of losing someone to someone else. If my boyfriend can see other people without having to leave me, I don’t have to be afraid that him liking someone else will threaten what we have.

Question: Do you have threesomes?
Me: That’s a really inappropriate question and I’d rather not discuss my sex life with you. OR No, our relationships and sex lives stay separate within the couples, but this is not true of all poly people.

Question: Is that like an open relationship? I’ve heard of those.
Me: There are as many ways to be poly as there are poly people. Open relationships tend to be more about sexual permissiveness, while what I do consists of multiple emotionally committed relationship. But it’s a very wide spectrum.

Question: Which one do you like more?
Which do you like more, your car or your bed? One’s great for sleeping but won’t get you anywhere, and the other is great to drive but not for sleeping. I get different things from my different partners and our relationships are all unique. Some are more casual, others are more committed, but I would never rank one above another. Other poly people do it differently and have “primaries” and “secondaries,” but that’s not what I do.

Question: What happens when you want to get married?
Technically, there are laws against multiple marriages, but I’d like to have commitment ceremonies with all of the men I choose to marry, at the various points in our lives when we want to get married.

Question: What do your parents think?
I’m an adult, and I’d never base my relationship choices on what anyone else thinks. That said, I’m very blessed to have parents that support whatever I do as long as I’m happy. 

Got questions about answering the inevitable poly interview? Or do you have advice about dealing with the coming-out Q&A? Get in touch here.

Coming Out Poly: Tips & Advice

Coming out as polyamorous can be messy and awkward and frustrating, just as coming out as anything can be. One disadvantage to being poly is that most people don’t have a real concept of what polyamory is at all. While there are lots of misconceptions about people who are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans*, most people have something of a working vocabulary when it comes to those terms. But coming out poly often grinds the conversation to a screeching halt while I stop and explain what, exactly, it means. 

When I say “coming out poly,” I don’t just mean that moment when you take a deep breath and say “Mom, Dad…” It’s also that moment when you offhandedly mention your girlfriend to an acquaintance and they say “wait - I thought you said earlier that you had a boyfriend?” Staying closeted as a poly person requires a lot of linguistic gymnastics and half-truths, but coming out requires just as much energy. No matter what else we’re doing or talking about, as soon as the poly thing comes out, it’s like a spotlight turns on me and I have to clear up everybody’s questions before we can return to whatever topic elicited that information from me in the first place. Sometimes that’s fun, other times it’s really uncomfortable.

Coming out formally, with the attention on you and the expectation that you’ll hold the floor to answer questions, is a lot easier to structure and anticipate. And coming out to potential partners is a completely different ball game (I’ll talk more about that later.) But coming out in general social situations can get hairy too. Here are some of my tips about coming out poly in conversation:

Weigh the Cost-Benefit

Sometimes it’s just not worth it to come out. I try to err on the side of honesty in everything I do, but there are some moments when it’s a better idea to just say “my boyfriend” instead of “one of my boyfriends,” or “my friend” instead of “my boyfriend.” These situations are for you yourself to gauge, but I tend to avoid mentioning my polyamory when I’m in a professional setting, when I’m with people I might never see again, when mentioning it would hijack attention away from someone else, when I’m someone’s guest, or when I just really don’t feel up to it. If it would seem improper or impolite, or just not worth the energy, I’m happy to pass as mono for a few minutes.

Be Smooth, Be Cool

Sometimes you’ll accidentally out yourself. When that happens, just say “oh, yeah, I have a boyfriend and a girlfriend. They know about each other and it’s all great. It’s called polyamory,” and then return to what you were saying. Leave it up to the other people in the conversation to invite a long discussion on polyamory. Other times you’ll want to out yourself in a conversational setting for whatever reason. In that case, it works pretty well to say “one of my boyfriends” or something like that, and let people ask questions if they need to. People will follow your lead. If you act like it’s some horrible secret, or if you seem like you’re using it as a play for attention, people won’t react as well as if you treat it like just another detail about your life.

Have Answers Prepared

I hear the same things every time I do come out as poly. They are, generally: Do you have threesomes? Don’t you get jealous? What do your parents think? What if you want to get married? Is that like an open relationship? and Oh, I could never do that. I have quick answers for all of these, so the conversation goes smoothly and quickly and I feel like I’ve educated someone without rambling or getting tripped up by a rude question. You will get lots of rude and stupid questions. Know how to answer them with grace and gentleness so everyone can move on. Your prepared answers can be a simple “that’s a personal question I’d prefer not to answer,” too - but that comes off as a lot more confident when you know in advance what sort of question you’ll be deploying it for.

Ignore the Haters

Haters gonna hate. My brother makes sure to remind me often that he thinks I am a slut and that what I do is sick and wrong. I caught him soliciting nude pictures from girls on Myspace when he was fourteen, so I don’t put much stock in his opinion. I had a friend who thought my polyamory was cool and not his business, but when he told his girlfriend (who has never met me), they had a big fight because she was so angry with him for not being angry with me. She is a judgmental weirdo. I’m also a Christian, and a number of people in my faith community are not fans of my relationships. But at the end of the day I have a community of friends and lovers to return to, who have far more to offer me. I always do my best to quell misinformation, to calmly and firmly explain that I am deeply in love with all my partners and that I’m happy and fulfilled, and answer everybody’s questions, even the rude ones. But I don’t let their problems with polyamory become my problems.

Questions about coming out as poly? Other tips for my readers? Get in touch with me here.