These days, I’m happily in a relationship where we’re both on the same page re: how out we want to be. Which is a good thing because given the nature of my work, I’m pretty darn out.
But a long time ago, long before I was an author, I was in a relationship where this wasn’t the case. In my first marriage, my then-husband and I definitely did not agree about how out we wanted to be about the fact we were open.
I’ve Found People in the Gray Zone Typically Do Better With a Heads Up
I was then, as I am now, of the camp that when it comes to your personal life, it’s better if friends and family know — in general terms — what’s going on. Especially if there’s a decent risk of them finding out accidentally.
Part of this is because I grew up bisexual in a small rural area, and I learned some important lessons about what happens when you don’t give people a heads up.
Now, it’s true that there are some people who are never going to accept you for who you are. They are the lost causes. But there are also people who will understand — and may even surprise you in how accepting they are. And then there are folks in the gray zone where they’re maybe a little weirded out but able to come to an understanding eventually.
A heads up doesn’t matter so much when it comes to people who are going to never accept you. Nor does it matter when it comes to the easily accepting folks. But it’s the folks in the gray zone who do better when they get a heads up. It’s knowing those gray zone folks who have motivated me to tell people in my personal life.
And I’d rather not spend my life worrying about the lost causes, afraid that at any moment I’ll be unmasked and lose them from my life. Life experience has told me that if someone reacts that way, I’m better off without them long term.
I Treat Workplace Outness Differently
Now, when it comes to workplaces, I tend to be a little cautious. For the most part, I’ve always kept my personal life to myself at work. I don’t typically befriend coworkers. And while I don’t lie about who I am at work, I am not one to volunteer information. (This has been true even at times when I’m dating an opposite-gender partner monogamously, when my love life would look completely uncontroversial.)
But once my ex-husband and I were seeing other people in our small rural area, I wanted our parents to know. I know this is a harder choice for couples who have children and are depending on said parents for babysitting services. But we didn’t have any kids. Didn’t need anything from them.
My then-husband, however, disagreed vehemently. And so we stayed closeted.
I did eventually tell my parents, who were notoriously more conservative and close-minded than my in-laws at the time. And they took it remarkably well. They weren’t supportive exactly, but they’re used to me doing things that confuse them. And after the conversation, they pretended it had never happened.
The Parents He Was Afraid to Tell… Were Polyamorous All Along
Flash forward five years. My first husband has become my ex-husband. But we parted on pretty reasonable terms. And we’re having a friendly conversation over chat. Filling in one another about the goings on in our lives.
And what does he tell me? His parents have a girlfriend. Yes, a shared girlfriend. His parents are now in an MFF triad.
Once I learn this news, I double over laughing. Laughing so hard I practically hurt myself.
Because the parents that my then-husband was so afraid to tell that we had an open relationship… are polyamorous themselves.
The parents he was tip-toeing around were polyamorous. And may have also simultaneously been tip-toeing around him.
Every situation is different of course. But it was a powerful lesson about fear and assumptions.
When You Disagree With Your Partner About How Out You Want to Be
Anyway, when you disagree with your partner about how out you want to be, I’ve found the only ethical choice is to go with the wishes of the partner who wants to be less out.
So even though I really wanted to tell my former in-laws (I was closer to my ex-mother-in-law than I was to my own mother, so it was odd to keep such a big secret from her), I honored my then-husband’s wishes and didn’t tell his family.
Inevitably, the partner who wants to be more out is the one who must make the compromise in this situation. Anything else is really inappropriate — even if you suspect, as I did, that it would be better to tell those people.