As discussed last week, our coworkers already know about my boyfriend Jim and I and things have settled down at the office. My husband Allan, Jim and I have an enjoyable friendship and my kids adore him, but what remains in the grand scheme of life is our families. All three of us would like the normalcy of being able to discuss our lifestyle freely, but if we were to come out to any of our families it could irrevocably ruin relationships.
A few months back, I wrote a question into Slate columnist Dear Prudence asking for advice on telling my religious father that I have a boyfriend. She ignored the question, instead talking about how my lifestyle could effect my children, while commenters were all over the board. The majority of people questioned why in the world I would tell my father about my sex life, that what I do in the bedroom is my business. Therein lies the main problem with discussing poly with outside people: they almost always assume the relationship is only about sex. Being in a new and enjoyable poly relationship is just like a monogamous person being in a new relationship — I want to share him with other people I love.
I know we could just keep it a secret from our families, but we find it increasingly difficult. For one, I spend a lot of time with Jim and am honest about who I’m with if it comes up — lying could be easily discovered and send off alarm bells. Second, the kids know about Jim to some extent and will know more as they grow up. Currently, if I go on an overnight with Jim, the children know who I was away with and might bring this up at any time. Allan and I find ourselves running into this more and more often. Jim and I are affectionate when we are out in public, just as I would be in a monogamous relationship: holding hands, and the occasional kiss or hug. Allan and I have discussed this and have decided we aren’t hiding, so what comes may come. But I often wonder if one day someone we know will walk by mouth agape at our clasped hands.
The weekend before my son’s birthday, I had spent Saturday night out with Jim at his house, the two of us picking the kids up the next day for an outing. That morning, Allan’s father called the house and asked to stop by. Allan went cold for a minute. Where would he say I, his dutiful wife, was? What if Jim and I returned while my father-in-law was still there? So he made an excuse to postpone the visit, and the risk was averted. That same afternoon, my father and his wife came over and the conversation came around to what we all were doing the night before. I tensely awaited one of the kids piping up that, “Mom was with Jim.” Or worse, “Mom was with her BOYFRIEND.”
My biggest concern in my own family is my father. He is a very sweet and kind man but extremely different from me in his world view. While I have a rather agnostic take on God, he is a Christian fundamentalist. He subscribes to the culture of the man being the head of the household, trying to live a life like people lived when Jesus was alive. My father also seems to believe that as the man who helped bring me into this world, he has a right to judge how I live my life.
I have a more “live and let live” kind of attitude. My friends come from all walks of life, engage in all kinds of activities, and as long as no one gets hurt I think people should do as they choose. In my father’s eyes, polyamory would be morally, ethically, spiritually wrong. I can only imagine what he would say about Allan and I disrespecting our vows and the Lord. I often wonder if after some thought, my father will eventually say “so why’s this Jim guy around so much?” and I’ll stutter to answer.
It’s not his business in theory, but I also don’t like to lie. He would have a similar reaction if I came out as a lesbian, or told him my religious views. It’s not so much the fact of polyamory, but the divergences of who I am from how he raised me.
Despite our differences, I’ve always been close to my father. I try to talk to him regularly and hiding a big part of my life from him feels dishonest and wrong. Not just that, but I just want to be able to share my happiness with him. But if I do, if I tell or he finds out, I could lose the connection that exists. Our pleasant talks and visits could turn tense or maybe end altogether. He might avoid dropping by for a coffee with me at work because Jim is there, or worse, he might not even want to see me.
My sister, whom I’m also close to, already knows about my relationship with Jim, but I can feel the strain it causes. She has told me she does not judge us, but that she cannot understand it, so we rarely discuss it. At least with her, I can feel she is trying. She called once, while I was with Jim the other night, and I was surprised and happy she didn’t get off the phone when I noted his presence, but there was a bit of awkwardness.
My mother, on the other hand, knows and has an entirely different spin on it. She doesn’t have qualms about my being with a married man, but she is shocked that his wife knows about it. It would make more sense to her if we kept the “affair” a secret. This probably makes the least sense to me; isn’t it better everyone is open and honest?
So really, in my immediate family, I cannot talk freely with any of them. My father has met Jim, but doesn’t know he’s my boyfriend, my mom might eventually talk with him and my sister has no desire to because she doesn’t get it. A close friend once explained that she’d rather think about me being with one partner so he was only going to think about Allan –and that’s one of the tamer reactions. A day of reckoning may come, and all I can do is prepare best for what could happen.