Hiding Your Polyness – Times When You Can’t Be ‘Out’


I know a few polyamorous people who are absolutely ‘out’ in pretty much all aspects of their life. A very few. The ones I can name without thinking very hard about it, I’m pretty sure the number is in single digits. They’re out to families, friends, work, neighbours and the world in general – they’re not hiding it from anyone. Those people are either very lucky, or very brave – probably both. If you are one, I both envy and applaud you.

For lots of us, and I’d even venture to say most of us, we’re closeted at least somewhere in our lives. This might be through choice, or through necessity – or a combination. Personally I consider myself to be fairly out – my friends, parents, housemates, people from uni all know. I’ve been on national TV talking about it. (For that story, see previous post – ‘OMG, That Was a Bad Idea.’) I write this – a completely unlocked polyamory blog, under my real first name. But I am not completely out of the closet.

My employers, for example, do not know. This isn’t a case of ‘none of their business,’ but a case of me actively hiding it. I don’t know how they’d react if they were to find out, and whether I’d find myself minus a job if they did (the type of work I do means it’s conmpletely at their discretion to keep me or not.) But a combination of religious views and working with children means it’s just not worth the risk. Okay, this job isn’t exactly my dream career, but it’s helping me pay my way through uni so quite a bit is at stake. Is it even possible to be out as poly and work with kids? Strikes me as an absolute minefield.

The promise I’ve made to myself is that in my next job, as long as it’s not working with children, I’ll be open about being poly.

My extended family do not know. That is, anyone beyond my parents (and possibly my brother, I’m unsure how much he knows but sure he wouldn’t care at all.) This is partly at my parents’ request but, to be honest, I don’t think I’d have come out to the rest of the family anyway. It’s so far out of the realm of anything they probably know – especially for my grandparents and the older generations. They’d be confused, worried and probably strongly morally opposed to it. It’s simply kinder not to tell them. They knew me and A as a monogamous couple for years, and now believe I’m single. Which works. For now.

But I have to be so careful, and listen to multiple warnings from my parents each time I visit, just in case I forget and let something slip. Which I wouldn’t, because I’m on my guard all the time. This makes trips home or family events rather stressful for me.

It hurts to have to hide such a huge side of myself, of course. And part of me often wonders what would happen if it did all come out, somehow. I mean, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of keeping it from my parents, but one moment of spite from one person and my cover was blown wide open. (I’m sure I’ll share that story on here at some point, too.)  And the longer this continues, the more I could lose if it does come out someday. I’m lying every day to people who love me without knowing such a huge part of me. I’m living two lives, and hoping they never collide.

Just a few days ago, I was hanging out in a social context with my partner, metamour and some people we’re not out to. Now, I don’t mind this, exactly, and I completely respect my partners’ and metamours’ choices to be out, or not out, to whoever they choose. But it can be an extra level of stress because I’m always worrying about what happens if I forget? What if I hug or kiss my partner without thinking, as I do frequently when we’re together? What if I slip and casually call him ‘Love’ in conversation? I have to be really, really careful and I always wonder who’s noticed what. These are smart people, after all, and I’ve been told more than once that it’s obvious how much I love Nomad, even from the other end of a room.

It can be a dangerous game, living a double life. It involves a lot of self-censorship, sometimes out-and-out lying, checking and re-checking security of things you post online, and a mass of ‘if the worst happens’ contingency plans.

Maybe one day we won’t have to hide. Maybe one day we poly folks won’t always have to worry about the consequences if the wrong people find out about something as fundamental as who we choose to love.

In the meantime, we cope with it in the ways we need to.

What about YOU, lovely readers? I’d love to hear some of your experiences of parts of your life where, for whatever reason, you cannot be out as poly, and how you might deal with it!

21 thoughts on “Hiding Your Polyness – Times When You Can’t Be ‘Out’

  1. Nomad says:

    Too busy to comment in depth right now, Sweetheart, but I just wanted to say:

    (a) Nicely written post! (I had been wondering when you would tackle this subject)

    (b) Yeah, the closeting stuff sucks.

    (c) I love you!


  2. missamaranth says:

    Hi, Love! I am just about to run out of the door myself, but wanted to reply to you quickly first!

    A) Thank you! *smile.*

    B) It really does.

    C) I love you too!!


  3. Manethos says:

    People I’m deliberately ‘out’ to: pretty much no-one that isn’t intimately -as it were – involved.
    To be honest, I’m often just not sure how to break it into conversation, or if it needs to be. Loads of people just don’t need to know, and since it’ll never go on facebook, they probably never will.
    I too have also been told how obvious aspects of it are, and to people that’ve asked I’ve explained (as well as I am able) that what we do is discussed and consensual from all involved. Though I’ve never mentioned the P-word…
    With people that notice, and don’t ask, I guess it just makes them suspect infidelity, which sucks a little. But I still think it’s easier than wearing a badge or something…

    With regards to family, most of them don’t even know I have a boyfriend, let alone anyone else. I’m out (in the bi sense) to family, and from conversations with my father I have grounds to suppose he’d also have no problem with the poly stuff either.

    P.S: I’ve been meaning to ask for a while, and now that I’m finally posting I have the perfect excuse: are you missamaranth in reference to a particular cereal nymph, or is that just a massive coincidence?

    • missamaranth says:

      *nods* yeah, I understand. It can be a really difficult thing to know how to bring up.I generally have an ‘ask/tell’ policy – ie, anyone who asks me straight out will get the truth. I do often wonder what people think, who’ve noticed something but never asked and I never got chance to explain to (my first year housemates and mine and A’s old neighbours being good examples.) I too suspect that they think infidelity/cheating is going on, but who knows?

      Families are always difficult, I guess, even when you’re pretty sure they’d be fine about it.

      I’d love to chat with you more about this stuff sometime soon!:-)

    • missamaranth says:

      Also, I got the name missamaranth from the Nightwish song ‘Amaranth,’ and use it for the symbolism behind it – among other things, the amaranth is a symbol of never-fading love.:)

  4. I think that segregating my private life from my professional life – and from my family – is second nature. It’s not something I ‘do’, it just wouldn’t occur to me *not* to.

    I’m not sure that it’s healthy: nevertheless, many people are, by habit and by nature, very private people through the experience of growing up in a dysfunctional community where personal information – anything, no matter how innocuous or trivial – is *always* used for malice.

    Whether or not your immediate community is healthy is one thing to consider. Another is that privacy’s an essential habit if you ever go into politics or teaching, with the constant danger of damaging attention from the press, or a malicious busybody with a prurient ‘morality’… Unless you’re married, straight, christian and so dull that anyone sensible would think “They *must* be hiding something!”, and you’d feel compelled to take up some harmlessly-racy eccentricity to divert suspicion, at which point paranoia is perhaps the least of your problems.

    Thinking about it, I’d say that instinctive concealment is a very unhealthy habit indeed: but I bet it’s more common than you realise. There are some deeply unpleasant schools, extended families, religious congregations, amd suburban covens of curtain-twitching Daily-Mail believers out there.

    It is entirely possible that the open and accepting peer group and community that we inhabit is so unusual and out-of-the-mainstream that we have lost sight of ‘mainstream’ thinking and are unaware of how unpleasant much of Middle-Class England can be.

    • missamaranth says:

      Fair enough. I guess it must be something you get used to after a while. I’m certainly getting better at it – that is, having to ‘catch’ myself before i give something away less. Some people are just very private people and don’t like discussing their private lives or mixing their worlds. I tend to be more the ‘out and proud’ type when I can, but wish I could do it more. Sometimes though, as outlined in this post, it’s either impossible or a really, really bad idea.

      I’m not sure how I feel about your last paragraph. I think I am very aware of how unpleasant it can be, and hanging out some of the time in circles where things are so open and accepting just emphasises for me how much it sucks having to hide a lot of the time in the ‘real’ world.

      I think it’s sad that we still live in a society where so many of us are forced to hide our true selves. But it will require massive rethinking of cultural norms before this sort of thing is recognised or accepted in the mainstream.

    • Dragonmamma says:

      Just like to say that I am a middle class Daily Wail reader (well some of the time at least) and dont have any problem with the lifestyle that Miss Amaranth is talking about. I know her and her “tribe” quite well and like them all. Also my daughter lives a similar lifestyle and after my initial concerns (were they cheating on her ?? etc) I found that I was rather relieved to discover that all relationships were consensual and with the full kknowledge of the group.Of course it helps that I am fond of all the people involved and now regard them as part of my extended family and the “extra” sons and daughters that I never had.. It surely is better to be part of a group of people so caring and considerate of each other than the traditional “Monogamy” that so often meant a secret lover or mistress hiding in the background.

      • missamaranth says:

        This makes me really happy to read. I wish everybody could be so accepting!

        “It surely is better to be part of a group of people so caring and considerate of each other than the traditional “Monogamy” that so often meant a secret lover or mistress hiding in the background.”

        ^ Yes! This! Exactly!:-)

  5. I can see how stressful that must be. At the minute I have to be careful about not dropping ‘girlfriend’ into conversation at work or with extended family, whereas it’s normally second nature. It sucks you have to hide.😦

    • missamaranth says:

      It can be really stressful. Sounds like you’re going through something similar at the moment, too. It does suck that we have to hide. For saying that our society as a whole like to pretend they’re open minded and accepting…. we really have a long way to go before hiding just doesn’t seem like the safest option a lot of the time.

  6. bminstrel says:

    Good post (and good blog)!

    In principle I’d like to be completely out, but there are always obstacles. The obvious one is that there are close relatives who would be too shocked and would never get over it. Over time that number has diminished but there are some places where I can’t see it changing😦

    A more surprising issue for me is that some people really don’t want to hear. Not in the TMI sense, more in the “does not compute” sense. I tried to come out to my work colleagues a couple of jobs ago using the “give honest answers to questions” tactic. Mentioning my girlfriend, or my wife’s boyfriend was met with puzzled expressions but no questions. I think they assumed I was trying to wind them up. I didn’t really want to ram it down their throats so in the end I gave up.

    And then there’s the reactions when you finally manage to communicate it. A few months back it became necessary to clarify my situation with my parents who had suspicions and were worrying. My father was cautiously accepting, albeit with reservations. My mother however told me virtually in the same breath that she was hurt that I’d not felt able to tell her before and that I should feel able tell her anything, but could I please never mention the subject again.

    Coming out is hard😉

    • missamaranth says:

      *nods* yes, absolutely. There are almost always obstacles to coming out in at least some parts of one’s life. It’s the same for me with my relatives – they’d be so shocked that it’s just not worth it.

      Also, I completely understand what you mean about people not wanting to hear. I’ve done the ‘casually dropping it into the conversation to people I want to come out to’ thing, with mixed reactions, and some like the ones you mention. Although I’ve also successfully come out and explained it to some people using that tactic, so it sometimes work and sometimes doesn’t, I guess.

      Coming out is indeed hard…

  7. Maeve_sp says:

    I recently had to come out to my cousin, whom I’d virtually had no contact with over the past 20 years. The reason was that she was staying at mine and I had a date scheduled. I came out to her as bi and as poly. She just nodded and went on with the conversation. I have continued to drop it into conversation but she has asked no questions. She has, however, acknowledged my date. I find it very weird when I come out and people do not ask me any questions at all. It makes me wonder whether they’ve actually understood and is very anticlimactic.

    I’m out to my immediate family and my friends, but not at work. The work part is frustrating, but, as you say, there is no guarantee that that they won’t let you go because of it. What frustrates me is that I’m trying to go into the area of diversity and poly isn’t a protected characteristic. I’m wondering whether it’s good to talk about my volunteering experience in poly, which is, after all, diversity experience. My guess is that probably not. Even in the diversity arena most people haven’t heard about poly and think it’s just about sex and therefore has no place in the workplace.

    • missamaranth says:

      I see what you mean. When people react (or rather, don’t react) like that, I feel as though they’re missing something or haven’t really understood.

      Work is very frustrating. It must be especially so if you’re working in the area of diversity! For me I consider it a necessary downside of my working with children, but I guess it’s the same in any job. It’s really sad that different relationship styles are not protected in employment law. Hopefully this will change someday….

  8. Agreeing with a couple of commenters above, I too have had pretty neutral reactions to coming out, even in my workplace. Most people either seem to find it unremarkable, or even think that I’m showing off a bit (?), or they may keep silent for fear of appearing too judgmental.

    I’m out pretty much everywhere, although there are no doubt some instances where I might as well not be cos nobody cares! The difficult part for me is that my long-term partner is not out everywhere. I’m uncomfortable with that situation, but I also respect their needs and think pressuring people to come out is wrong. It makes things a bit tricky at times, but in practice it’s more of a moral or psychological stress than a big problem.

    • missamaranth says:

      I think neutral reactions are not a bad thing, certainly much better than negative ones! But, as somebody else always said, after so many negative reactions, a neutral one always makes me wonder if the person isn’t listening, hasn’t understood, or is uncomfortable and trying to change the topic. The keeping silent for fear of appearing judgemental is interesting! I know some people I’ve told who are basically okay with it but curious about how it all works have been really tentative and nervous about asking questions for fear of seeming judgemental, or of offending me! I juist tell them that unless they’re trying to prove me wrong or catch me out (which, sadly, some people do) questions are fine.

      It is difficult when a partner isn’t out, definitely, as I’ve mentioned in this post – but you’re right, pressuring people to come out is wrong. I respect my partner’s wishes, which in practice makes little difference to our lives – occasionally we have to pretend in front of certain people, but never for long. The biggest stressor for me when it comes to this, is always worrying about accidentally putting a foot wrong or slipping up and outing us.

  9. Preiapet says:

    I grew up in a very rural area where people actively tried to know everything going on in your life to gossip about you and in general make you miserable. My mother hated this. She hated even more that many of our extended family participated and were even the worst offenders. I grew up hearing that I had to keep things to myself “don’t tell every thing you know” and “don’t air your dirty laundry in public”. It did not take much for me to learn the importance of this. If the adults were bad the kids were worse. I am a closed private person without thinking of it now. It takes a lot for me to trust someone to open up with more than a very incomplete picture of who I am. If I meet you at a poly or alternative lifestyle event, you get a nickname or “scene” name. You may know all about my poly relationships and such, and while you may know what generally I do for a living, you won’t know my real name, address, where I work, or phone number. If you wish to contact me you will be given an email address associated with my scene name not my real name. I am sure that my parents have a clue about me being poly. I have been with my secondary for 15 years. I have been married to my primary for 7 and together for 11. My parents ask about my secondary and his family often. Neither my family nor my secondary want to meet, so they haven’t though they have spoken on the phone.

    As for work, I do work with kids. It is my career and I love it. I live in a conservative heavily religious southern state. Being out in this area would be career suicide. I do not socialize with my neighbors and they do not know where I work. I bought in this community because it was far away enough from where I work. I drive an hour each way to work just so I can keep things separate. Yet, I still can count on one hand the number of people that I have trusted enough to invite to my home in the last 8 years (2 with one of those being my secondary who has been here once because I go to him). I would not know how to be out of the closet that I have constructed. It would stress me out more than I can describe to even try.

    • missamaranth says:

      Hey, thank you for reading and replying! And thank you so much for sharing your story and experiences.

      I think a lot of us are brought up being taught to be very private and not tell people a lot of things about our lives. Lots of people choose to live that way, and that’s absolutely fine, but for those of us who really want to be out and loud, it can make things a bit difficult! I was much more cautious about giving out details when I first started moving in ‘alternative’ circles. Nowadays I’m much less worried, I happily give people my real name and contact info pretty quickly. There are pros and cons to this. It’s nice being able to be open, but it also worries me sometimes – am I being too open?

      Thanks, in particular, for sharing your experiences with working with kids and being poly. As I mentioned, working with kids isn’t my dream career path, but right now it’s paying the bills and in its own way I love my job. To come out would, I think, mean to lose it in a moment.

      I think out, or closeted, or part of each….. it’s all fine, as long as it’s the best thing for the person/people involved!:-)

  10. Cattiva says:

    I am out to friends. But those are the only people I feel I can be. I can’t even really ever come out to my parents about being bisexual so I know they would really flip if they were to know that my fiancee and I are poly (at the moment no other partners since I need to get back on anti-depressants and want that under control before adding anyone on either side) and into BDSM.

    • missamaranth says:

      For a long time, I was in the same situation, and when that changed it wasn’t entirely through my own choice or my own doing (that story, as I mentioned to somebody else, will be forthcoming on this blog at some point.) It can be really difficult not being able to talk about things! I’m glad you have good friends you can talk to though.

      Thank you for sharing your experience!

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