This is a guest post by reader CT. I met CT through OKCupid back when I was pregnant as he is a fellow polyamorous parent who was happy to offer advice. We have been chatting online for over a year now, and though we have yet to meet in person, I consider him a trusted friend.
Here, he offers his experience and insights on dealing with some of the tougher aspects of being polyamorous.
Published in 2008, Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up attempts to be a simple guide to the not-so-simple subject of navigating a non-monogamous relationship. It’s been reviewed fairly widely since its publication so rather than a review, I’d like to use Opening Up as a springboard for discussing two topics explored by Taormino – honesty and coming out.
Honesty is an essential ingredient for non-monogamous relationships, and this is a view that Taormino endorses. But Taormino has a particular kind of honesty in mind, and it’s not the “radical honesty” promoted by Brad Blanton. In criticising ‘radical honesty’, Taormino claims it is:
“an egotistical and confrontational style of communication. It isn’t fair to or useful to share everything with someone who doesn’t want to hear it, is not ready to hear it, or doesn’t have the skills to process the information.” Opening Up – Chapter 4.
In place of radical honesty, Taormino proposes honesty with kindness and compassionate communication. As one of her interview subjects explains, in a relationship:
“There has to be a kind of gravitational pull toward each other. If all of your focus is on yourselves you’re just going to fly off in different directions, and there’s not going to be a relationship. I think a commitment to kindness can be the gravity that keeps you in orbit.” Opening Up – Chapter 4.
However honesty with kindness isn’t just something to practice with one’s partners. It’s also something to be considered when thinking about coming out as non-monogamous.
Coming out earns a whole chapter in Opening Up. Taormino guides readers through the benefits and risks of disclosing one’s non-monogamy, addressing topics such as how best to come out and finding support during this challenging process. Arguably, one of the key messages of this chapter is that being selective in coming out, or not coming out at all, can be a legitimate and valid choice.
Which brings us back to the question of honesty.
If you’ve signed up to radical honesty and not hiding your true self from the world, one can imagine a lot of internal angst being generated by not being ‘out’ to family and friends. But as Taormino’s interview subjects highlight, coming out carries the risk of causing a lot of hurt if not handled carefully.
There is the risk of hurt to oneself through rejection by family, friends and community. There is the risk that one’s children, partners or family will also be subject to ridicule or ostracism. Finally, there is the risk of hurt to family or friends who may struggle with having their perception of a person or relationship turned upside down.
It’s this last area where I imagine ‘honesty with kindness’ can make a big difference. Both questions of who to come out to and how to have that conversation is something that arguably needs to be done with not just one’s own welfare in mind, but also with kindness for the recipient.
Who to tell and how has been a big struggle personally, and one that’s been guided by a principle similar to ‘honesty with kindness’. There have been times when it has been tempting to just relieve the weight of secrecy by telling everyone and expecting them to simply “deal with it”. That temptation has been tempered by a desire not to risk hurting those who really don’t need to know about the openness of my marriage. The decision not to be more openly poly is also, of course, driven by fear of the potential backlash against my family and myself.
And so it is that those who know about my poly lifestyle are mostly new friends made since we opened up, and neither of our families. Whilst being able to be openly honest with more friends and family is appealing, I think my wife summed up our situation well when she said:
“I like the friends we’ve got, they don’t need to know to be our friends, so why take the risk on telling them?”
Thus, through a combination of kindness and fear, it’s a relatively small circle that knows the nature of our marriage.
And so dear Polymomma readers – I ask you for your experiences in coming out? How “open” are you? How did you weigh up the desire for honesty with the risks and the need for kindness? And what has been the outcome of your decisions?