The Poly Closet

Christopher wonders, “Is it harder to accept honesty than infidelity?”

Last summer my live-in partner Sybil invited my newer long-distance-girlfriend Cecilia and her husband and kids to her graduation party. My parents were also there, so introductions were necessary. They don’t know that Sybil and I are poly, and until recently we had never given coming out to them much thought. Why would they need to know about our sex lives?

Until Cecilia came along a year before, that’s really all our “extracurriculars” were about—sex and light dating. When Cecilia and I began to fall in love, Sybil and I found a way to work that into our relationship; but that didn’t mean we had a ready plan about how to handle parental party introductions. So I introduced Cecilia and her family as friends thinking that would suffice. Of course my mom followed up with, “How did you meet?”

“On OKCupid, Mom. It’s a great online dating site! You and Dad should try it,” is not an appropriate response here. So I trotted out our cover story about mutual friends, and we all looked at the ground.

If only Cecilia and I had met “in the real world.” While it is possible for suburban poly soccer moms and dads to find each other by chance, it isn’t likely given the statistics. There are more of us than you might think, but still not that many. There are some nearby poly social groups, but online dating is a necessity if we want to meet polys outside that small pond. Otherwise I’d have come out to everyone in hopes of finding a match. I was nowhere near ready for that.

We poly people have a strange relationship with the closet. I am writing using pseudonyms. Revealing that second relationship is daunting. It would be simpler to cop to having an illicit affair. There is a road map for dealing with infidelity. It has victims and perpetrators. You heal and recover or you break up. Everyone knows that story arc.

But there is no culturally understood road map for non-monogamy, so it often makes people uncomfortable when I come out as poly—revealing that I am not only capable of romantically loving more than one person, but I am doing so comfortably, and with the blessing of Sybil.

Furthermore, there exists this perception that success is impossible in non-monogamy. Even GMP’s call for entries asked, “Have you tried and failed at open relationships?” Inevitable failure is so often assumed, but my sweeties and I are doing fine.

When someone comes out as gay or bi, the people that take most exception and sometimes lash out are those who wonder if they might be gay or bi themselves. Fortunately though not everyone has these issues. But when I confide in someone that I am poly for the first time, I can safely assume that s/he has been at times attracted to someone other than a partner and possibly has been ashamed of that attraction. Or I may be triggering thoughts of long buried betrayals, or childhoods exploded by extramarital affairs. Perversely, this would be fine if I were admitting infidelity and saying “I’m sorry I caused all this hurt and we are in counseling and I’ll never do it again,” and then banish it to the dark place it belongs. But instead I’m saying “I’m in concurrent romantic relationships and I am ethical and up front about it. And you might be at a party with me and Sybil and Cecilia someday.” So it lingers, sometimes uncomfortably.

As the recent general reaction to how Newt Gingrich’s second marriage ended shows us, failed monogamy is much more resonant than successful polyamory. The publicity bump that came from that episode reminds me that those of us involved in healthy multiple relationships need to step up a bit in hopes of gaining some visibility, shining a light on success, distinguishing polyamory from deception and infidelity.

Sybil and Cecilia are with me to stay. It’s weird to be in love with someone and not let your parents know about it at some point, especially as they move through their seventies. In our phone calls, they would never know to also ask after Cecilia and her family after asking about Sybil. That moment at Sybil’s party last year was a big moment for Cecilia, meeting her sweetie’s mom and dad. But I feel a little shame that I needed to hide the importance from my parents. It won’t always be so.

—Photo Peanuttt/Flickr



  1. wellokaythen says:

    I think there are relationships out there that are “de facto” polyamorous relationships but the people involved would not use that term. They might call them open relationships or say “we can still see other people” or say they’re casually dating more than one person. I can’t imagine your family would disown you for being in one of those relationships.

    Maybe those aren’t exactly the same thing as a committed, long-term poly relationship, but there is a big variety out there already. Sometimes it’s staying in the closet or being in denial, but sometimes it’s just some sort of semantic preference.

    It reminds me of the men on the down low who have sex with other men but are adamant that they are not gay. They don’t like the word, but it seems to apply in some sense.

  2. Wow!

  3. In other news, it is very hard to be open with others, especially family, about poly relationships. I made the decision to ‘come out’ to my parents prior to my wedding to my husband (primary), as we didn’t want any drama’s caused by my christian mother or conservative father finding out that weekend. The result being that one of my sisters chose not to attend. It hurts, knowing that some people can’t be happy when you’ve found who you are, simply because it doesn’t fit with their narrow view of the world.

    I’m so glad you have found relationships that work for you and for the others involved.

  4. I fail to understand how someone can post what I would consider an offensive, abusive and very disrespectful comment, then finish it by telling the person the comment was directed at to be respectable.

  5. wellokaythen says:

    I hadn’t even thought about how that question was worded, “have you tried and failed at a poly relationship?” We would never ask for submissions for people about “have you tried and failed at a monogamous relationship?”

    You raise a very crucial question about loving relationships. People can have multiples of all other kinds of personal relationships: more than one parent, sibling, child, friend, coworker, acquaintance, teammate, business partner, etc. So, what is it about a sexual or romantic partnership that makes that different from all these other relationships where there’s more than one person?

    If the answer is jealousy, that you can’t have more than one lover because jealousy always fouls it up, then why is jealousy acceptable in that relationship but not in all the others? (If you’re jealous that your friend spends too much time with another friend and not enough with you, we say you have a problem with jealousy. So, why not with sexual partners?)

  6. Honesty and acception should really be the only aspects of your relationships that others see. That is all that should really matter! There should be no judgement of your relationship choices… in a perfect world. I respect that you chose honesty over infidelity. It goes to show how truly versatile human emotions can be.

    I’m happy for you and your girlfriends.

  7. It is truly saddening to hear that there are still ‘loves that dare not speak their names,’ in our society. (Yeah I modified the quote). Anyway…thank you so much for sharing your story. I really hope that one day soon we will stop shaming people for who they love, and instead celebrate it.

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