How much do you tell people? When do you tell them? How? Should you tell them anything in the first place? Why?
I’ve been poly for over a year now and haven’t run into any major issues with my relationships. I’m happy with my partners, they like each other, I like their partners, it’s all good.
But when I talk to my colleagues or to an acquaintance, how do I work in the partners? Thus far, I’ve spoken about my boyfriend/partner to some, about my girlfriend to others and about my husband to most. In some instances I’ve mentioned both my husband and my partner/boyfriend, but generally the persons I’ve been speaking with have assumed I was talking about the same person. Given that these are throwaway conversations with people I don’t intend to have any kind of deep-and-meaningfuls with, that’s not so bad. Flying under the radar and all that.
But what about contacts that are a bit more than that? What about people who, because we see each other more often, eventually mention their kids and what they did that weekend, or the funny thing that happened with their in-laws, etc.? At some level, you’re expected to reciprocate with stories of your own lest you seem uninterested in theirs. And I’m not uninterested. These are nice people who are fun to talk to and while they’re not on my BFF list, I don’t want them to think I’m being standoffish or that they’re boring me because neither is true.
My boyfriend gets mentioned more often than my girlfriend because, as I said earlier, people tend to confuse him with my husband, and that works fine for me. ‘Girlfriend’ however is a word that would draw attention and possibly questions or confusion from people who’d assumed I was straight. Now, on the one hand, so what? They made an assumption and it turned out to be wrong. Happens all the time. They’ll live. On the other, I dread the poly 1o1 conversation because I don’t want to have to explain the ins and outs of my lifestyle, or worse, have to give a summary and then have the person assume a whole new set of things.
But then again, why should I care what they assume? Why not just put it all out there and expect them to catch up on their own? There’s plenty of information out there – why should I have to explain anything? In general, I’d tend to agree with that, but then you could argue that the best way to avoid the tedious task of explaining things is by simply not mentioning them in the first place. It’s a bid disingenuous, after all, to throw something out there that’s clearly ‘out there’ by current social standards and just blink at people and say ‘what?’ all innocent-like when they don’t get it.
In retrospect, it was far easier to come out to existing friends because I already knew who I needed to tell and to whom it just wasn’t relevant. With new friendships, it’s a lot harder because you don’t know what level they’ll eventually find and it’s a bit hard walking the tightrope between full disclosure and oversharing. You don’t want to spring something on them that they really don’t need (or care) to know, but you don’t want to leave it too late and make them feel like you’ve been misrepresenting yourself or just plain lying to them all along.
Throw in other potential issues like professional contact, legal requirements, the likelihood of your lifestyle being used to discriminate against you, the impact of word getting out to whomever it is you’re not all that cool with or with entities or organizations or communities that might create issues, etc., and it can get a bit worrying. I know there’s no delineated ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do it, but I wish there were some sort of general guideline, because I really don’t know what to do sometimes.