In my 25+ years of doing alternative lifestyles counseling and doing support and education groups for this community, I have encountered many different situations and questions about whether and how one should come out poly. This is a list of some of the most frequently asked questions and the best answers I’ve devised for them. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you care to submit in a future article.
Q: Should we tell our teenage children about our life style?
A: Unless you are either very discrete and/or hypocritical in your discussions of sexual love with these “children”, they already suspect you have an unorthodox lifestyle. Teenagers are far more aware and intelligent about such things than many parents realize. If they do suspect, but have not been told, they feel distrusted. If they don’t suspect, but find out in any number of ways on their own, they are likely to be shocked, hurt or angry. The safest, most caring thing to do is tell them yourselves, handle their questions (as well as any possible emotional upset) as fully, honestly and compassionately as you can. Be sure they understand that this is something you believe in rather than something you are ashamed of. Let them know, too, that their own choice of lifestyle is up to them and that you will support them in the choices they make.
The question of whether to tell younger children comes up too. I raised my children in a marriage which was open from the beginning. Our four year old daughter discovered this by finding my husband in bed with a female friend of the family one morning. She came into the other bedroom to find me in bed with this lady’s husband. She said “Mommy, Daddy is in bed with Grace. Oh! You’re in bed with Roy!” There was nothing going on but cuddling–both of us hugged her and said this was how we chose to express our love for each other. We told her all of us loved her, too, in a different way. She seemed satisfied with that. It probably would have been more difficult if these were not two people who we had over many times and who had taken her on picnics, to the zoo, etc. If that had not been the case we would not have been in bed with them in all probability–certainly not where a child could walk in and be upset by it. It was always our policy not to do anything which would likely be upsetting to our children and to answer their questions honestly when they came up. The bottom line is not to be doing anything you yourself feel less than proud of. Children will certainly sense it if you are always hiding something from them.
Q: Should I tell my teenaged children about my lifestyle? (Divorced mother concerned about her X husbands reaction to her being poly)
A: See above, but you may need to add the request not to share this with Dad, who may be needlessly upset by it. You take your chances on this one–your teenager may discuss it with the other parent if it sufficiently upsets him/her or if the family situation is such that he benefits from playing one parent against the other. Custody issues are more touchy with younger children, but can still be a factor in cases like this. Ideally, you would share it first with your X, discuss if/how to reveal your lifestyle to the teenager(s), and show a united front on this issue. That only works if you have a good relationship with the your X and habitually discuss matters effecting the children’s welfare.
If you choose not to chance coming out to your children in a divorce situation, be very discrete in your behavior as being found out by accident can be far more explosive here.
Q: My parents don’t know I’m in a triad. They’ve met their grandson, but think he is the son of my co-husband–our lady’s legal mate. Should I risk their upset over a lifestyle in conflict with their strict Catholic beliefs or deprive them of the joy of a long hoped for grand child by their only son?
A: I advised this man to tell his parents the truth as I believed the delights of grandparenthood would outweigh their disapproval of his chosen lifestyle. Things were stormy between them for a while–more because his parents felt they should have been told from the start rather than with the child reaching age two than from their disagreement on lifestyles issues, though that was certainly in there.
The man in the above example was a friend. He said at the time I gave it that my glib advice was fine for me because I would not have to live with the results. I decided to take the challenge and come out Bi with my Mother (about the only kind of coming out I had not already done with my family). She was really upset and did not have the prospect of something as wonderful as a new grandchild to console her. As an old woman in a rest home, did she really need to know this? Probably not.
Need to know vs upset factor is, I think, the key here. Your Christian fundamentalist aunt and uncle who live across the country and see you once a year at the family reunion probably don’t need to know about your lifestyle. If they are coming to spend a week staying in the same house with you and your two wives– better tell them. Asking one of your wives to act like she’s “just a room mate” for a week is another option, but not one I would use. In my home, I ask stay over visitors to be decently tolerant of my lifestyle or see me elsewhere.
Q: Should I discuss my lifestyle at work?
A: Generally not if any risk to employment or promotability is present. It is no one’s business but your own and that of those close to you. If it becomes appropriate to mention it due to some attraction you may have to a co-worker who would treat you as verboten if you were married, you are taking the usual risks in getting involved with someone at work who may not work out long term romantically, plus the added risk that this person will “out” you against your wishes. Take care!
If you are the boss, revealing your lifestyle involves the risk if you are male of causing female employees to take innocent actions on your part as sexual harassment. As a woman, this has not been a problem for me nor do I believe most women need to worry about it as boss. At worst, it may invite unwanted passes which you can diplomatically rebuff. It can’t get you fired, but whether it is worth the hassle or not is questionable.
If you are actually in an established triad, coming out may be worth while so that both your significant others can be present for company picnics etc.
I tell my employees about the lifestyle since I deal with poly issues in my business both as a hypnotherapist and a matchmaker. Also, I have always been very public about my lifestyle as a presenter on the topic.