Ten months ago, we started dating a dear friend whom we’ve been very close with for three years. Long story short, we’re now in a full-fledged romantic relationship with him in a closed triad. This is nothing I had ever expected in my life, but we couldn’t be happier (and I know how much we all love birth control on DW – I have an IUD and we’ve discussed what would happen with an unexpected pregnancy if that failed).
BF is a wonderful addition to our family. The children love him; they’d known him almost their whole lives as a family friend and now they’re happy to have him around all the time. He’s glad to be co-parenting the kids and loves them dearly. The three of us have decided to not muddy the waters at this time by being more affectionate in front of the kids than we would be with any other close friend. We’re looking forward to our plan to move in early next year; my husband and I just bought a house with an in-law suite that our boyfriend will occupy.
My concern is this: BF’s family is local and knows about the relationship, with varying degrees of acceptance (his brother adores us, mom likes us as people but isn’t thrilled about the situation), but my family and my in-laws live seven states away and have no idea. Our only family member who knows is my sister, who has enthusiastically welcomed our boyfriend. My husband is distanced from his family and has no desire to share this with them, but my people are close-knit and it feels terrible to keep a person I love so deeply a secret from my (conservative) parents.
Should I even tell my parents about our boyfriend? I want them to accept this person who means so much to our family, but I wonder if that goal wouldn’t be better served by saying nothing and continuing to let them think he’s a dear friend? How would I justify bringing him traveling for holidays when he has local family unless the relationship situation was clear?
I’m also worried about depriving my children of a relationship with their loving grandparents by coming out about this, but I also don’t want to essentially shove our boyfriend in the closet the couple times a year when my parents visit like I’m not proud of him. He’s shared that he’s okay with being a secret from my family because we’re out to all our friends, emphasis on “okay” – it’s not ideal. How should I proceed?
— Caught Between Family
Just like any kind of “controversial” announcement you might make — either privately or publicly — you have to weigh the potential benefits against the potential costs, consider your motivation, and think about how sharing your news may affect the various related relationships, for better or for worse. The drawback to keeping a relationship in the closet, of course, is feeling like you aren’t living authentically – like you aren’t being true to yourself or your identity.
There can be a real sense of freedom in coming out, particularly if what you are coming out about is a truth about your personal identity. That may or may not resonate with you though. What may feel more relevant is the truth that there is a new addition to your marriage and family whom you love and whose presence may challenge how some people define family.
It may feel important, as you say, to show your pride and love for your boyfriend, especially in the face of those who challenge the validity of his role in your family. This may be accomplished, as you suggest, without sharing all the details. The end-goal may, in fact, be better reached, by sharing just some of the truth and not all of it.
I am struck by your admission that in an effort to not “muddy the waters” with your kids, you and your husband choose not to be any more affectionate with your boyfriend than you would be with any other close friend. This is, presumably, to not confuse them? You have probably decided to adjust your behavior and what details you share with them as your lifestyle demands it and as their ability to understand the details supports it.
I would apply this same logic to how and what you share with other family members. Does your lifestyle at the moment demand that your family know the details of this relationship in your life? Does their ability to understand support the idea of sharing details with them? If the answer to either of these questions, in your best judgment, is no, then don’t share all the details.
Your next question may be to ask how to know what lifestyle changes demand the sharing of details. Obviously, moving in your boyfriend into your family home would qualify as a lifestyle change. I imagine there will be some explanation you’ll share with your kids about that. You might explain that you and their daddy love “Uncle Greg” and want to share your life and home with him and make him part of your family. They may have questions about what that means and you will, I’m sure, answer those questions as you believe they’re able to understand and with details you believe are appropriate for them to know.
I would think their well-being would be your top priority. I would maintain this line of thinking as you approach your family. Share just the minimum information that your behavior/lifestyle demands to be shared and answer questions with only as much detail as you believe they can understand, with your children’s wellbeing always as a guiding light through the “muddy waters,” so to speak. If you have any fear that your parents will alienate your children in a reaction against a lifestyle they don’t understand or approve of, maybe that risk isn’t worth the potential benefit of sharing your truth, you know?
In the end, if your biggest goal is that your conservative parents welcome your boyfriend at Christmas dinner as a member of their extended family once you make clear what your relationship status is with him, you have to consider how likely that is to happen and then weigh whether that end goal is worth the potential costs of “coming out” to them. If your biggest goal is to maintain harmony at each level of your extended family relationships, especially between your children and their grandparents, share only the details that best support that goal.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.