Polyamory in Public

Polyam throuple out in public taking cute selfies

People...I’m an out and proud person. Having spent my adolescence hiding everything about myself, I now live unapologetically and 100% authentically. This means I’m open about my multiple relationships, about my sexuality, about my disability...basically there are no mysteries.

But I also recognise that this is my privilege. I can be openly me because of my circumstances. I don’t come from a cultural or religious background where there are any serious repercussions for my identity. I’m safe from violence, abuse or financial coercion of any kind, so I don’t have to worry for my safety when I talk about who I am. I don’t have children or have to worry about the custody of other people’s children. And I’m educated in my rights so if I’m discriminated against professionally I know what actions I can take. But not everyone has my privilege.  

For many people in polyamorous relationships being open in public comes with a myriad of risks. From basic social awkwardness through to potential loss of livelihood and even abuse or violence. So, for many reasons, polyamorous people may decide not to practice polyam in public. And this can add an extra strain to relationships. 

For monogamous relationships, being open in public is a form of validation and acceptance. It’s an opportunity to share the person you love with other people who are part of your life. This is just one of the reasons why the fight for same sex marriage was so important. We validate the relationships we can see. And we often penalise people for being single

From work functions to family gatherings, religious observances to traditional celebrations, birthdays to house parties - there are so many occasions where we’re encouraged to include our partner. Media representations and social expectations tell us over and over again that these kinds of occasions are about coming together and being with the ones we love. But that can be hard when you can’t be with the ones you love, or when you don’t feel safe bringing your whole self to certain spaces. 

For polyam people in established relationships these public events can involve keeping quiet about both sexuality and relationships. It’s not uncommon for people with multiple partners to have an established relationship that’s hetero-mono-presenting. As in, from the outside it looks like a monogamous man and woman doing their straight thing. But in the polyam community, many of those hetero-presenting couples involve one or more queer people. The established relationship shown publicly might be between a man and a woman, but their additional relationships are just as likely to be same sex. Being able to ‘pass’ as a het-mono couple is a form of privilege, but it’s also a form of identity erasure. And when it comes to ‘passing’, that presents a whole lot of new problems. 

When people assume that you’re cis, straight, white, able-bodied, monogamous, etc, they often feel a lot safer giving you their opinions on communities they don’t realise you belong to. You’ll learn more than you ever wanted to about your co-workers’ opinions on gay people if they think you’re as straight as they are. And if friends or family members start sharing those kinds of opinions with you, it can make it even harder to consider sharing your whole self with them.

Not being able to live publicly can be even harder on polyam people who are not in an established or ‘primary’ relationship. Some polyamorous relationships are hierarchial, where a primary couple will have additional or ‘secondary’ relationships. Other people practice solo polyamory, where they will date multiple people without forming a primary relationship. For these folks it might mean having to lie about being in a relationship at all. If your relationship doesn’t fit the conventional appearance of one, sometimes it’s easier to tell people you’re single than to try to explain or educate them. 

If you’re not publicly polyamorous, mentioning the name of a partner can bring the expectation that you’ll be introducing them at some point. But that’s not always an option. Your partner might be part of another relationship and might not feel comfortable hiding that. Mentioning one partner might mean that you have to remember not to mention any others to the same people. Basically if you’re not in a primary relationship, and you’re not publicly polyam, you might feel even more marginalised about your identity. 

Not being public can also cause forced separations. For instance polyam relationships that involve parents with young children can make school holidays a ‘no go’ zone. Vacations might be a dealbreaker if you’re a triad wanting to share a hotel room. The festive season can often involve everyone heading off to family homes, or having commitments to traditions their partners can’t participate in. Basically the time of year where we want to be surrounded by our loved ones can end up being the time we’re most separated from them. 

It’s okay to be a non-public polyamorist. There are a lot of very valid reasons for wanting to keep things on the downlow. And if you’re an out and proud polaymorist, that’s great, but remember to have compassion and understanding for our friends who don’t have the same privilege. Hopefully one day we can be part of a world where no one is in the closet about any part of their identity, where we can all be our most authentic selves. But until then let’s have empathy for those still on their journey. 

10 comments

  • jacksback60

    jacksback60

    More than a month ago

    We have been in a polyamorous marriage for 10 years or so but not in public very hard to explain to family and friends

    Reply
  • Paradisepair2

    Paradisepair2

    More than a month ago

    I appreciated this.

    Sitting in both camps of swinging & poly seems to be fairly fresh ground. There will be more of us in the years to come but right now - some poly folk don't feel comfortable with how sex positive we are and swingers are uncomfortable with the concept of extra partners and feelings!

    And I have experienced partners struggling with how in the closet our relationship is while also lacking any drive to be open either...

    Reply
  • countrytouch82

    countrytouch82

    More than a month ago

    I have a six year intimate friendship with a couple (ie with the female half). They are always together. While there is intimacy in private, we keep little known in public. Some family will disown you for these things. I would not consider it a relationship per se but more FWB, but the same issues arise. We all agree I can count myself as essentially single, and therefore I'm still looking for someone who can and will share romance in public (PDAs) such as holding hands, and eventually meeting family etc.

    Reply
  • Glamnic

    Glamnic

    More than a month ago

    Great article. I am in the start of my poly journey. Im going to ask friends to read this.
    Thank you

    Reply
  • Zamboon

    Zamboon

    More than a month ago

    Mormons and other religious sects and other cultures have perfected this lifestyle over centuries - even so often the basic emotions mainly jealousy come to the fore ( why does my husband want a new wife? is the question most asked) - I know 2 ladies in Poly relationships - one lived with her husband and boyfriend fir many years until the bf cheated on them ..it was quite strange when she told me " you dont cheat"! And I knew that whenever the bf was away the other 2 would visit swingers clubs without his knowledge .. the other lady loves her partner and they live together but he has a few gfs and he does sleepovers - shes on meds and sees a shrink to deal with it all ... I respect the lifestyle but it must be hard - in a work situation or being invited to say a wedding or even a dinner party - who do you go with?

    • AMM.Editor

      AMM.Editor

      More than a month ago

      With Mormons it was polygamy I thought? ie. plural marriage which was actually part of their religion and helped them achieve a higher heaven. Very common in the 1880s but not so common in modern times. Perhaps it has been downgraded to polyam. Not sure.

    • Zamboon

      Zamboon

      More than a month ago

      Perhaps and I take your point but the emotions remain with the situation

    • Photos in private gallery

      mandgee

      More than a month ago

      Please don't EVER conflate Mormon polygamy with polyamory. For the Mormons, or at least for the extremest fringe, it was all about power and subjugation. Polygamy is illegal in all US states, including Utah, and mainstream Mormons have renounced it. However, an extremist sect did continue the 'practice', often hidden in out-of-the-way places like northern Arizona. The FBI finally caught up with Warren Jeffs and he was jailed for life plus 20 years for child abuse (don't you just love US justice?). Maybe some poor bastard will share a cell with his corps?

    • Zamboon

      Zamboon

      More than a month ago

      Very interesting thank you - i think my opinion came from reading books about the lifestyle and also there was a tv series the Big something which demonstrated how they lived and that seemed ok by modern standards - then there were a couple of docos and Iremember the one line " ya dont french kiss your husband in front of the other wives"

    Reply
  • Photos in private gallery

    Stefan1986

    More than a month ago

    People oversharing their opinion with you also depends on you being the type of person who attracts other people's opinions. I have honestly never come across anyone oversharing their opinion with me. A strange form of luck I suppose...

    Reply
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