Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

In Other Words: “Should I Not Tell People About My Polyamorous Relationship?”

PolyamoryThis letter recently appeared in a Dear Prudence column:

My partner and I recently added a third guy to our relationship. It’s not a casual thing — we are dating him with a goal of having a lasting relationship. So my approach has been to be open about telling people when they ask, “What’s new?” This is new, and it’s important. I’m not bragging about a threesome I had; this is a budding relationship of two months. Is it oversharing or TMI? I told a few work friends, who I would definitely discuss a new boyfriend with, and my family knows. Did I go too far? — In a Threesome

You can read Prudie’s reply here, and below is mine:

I’m wondering why you’re curious whether you’ve gone too far. Have people seemed uncomfortable, awkward, or, in general, aghast at your news of adding a new man to your twosome? Was there a reaction you were expecting or hoping to get that you didn’t? I’d use people’s reactions and the context in which they were given as a gauge for whether or not you should continue sharing personal information like this with those particular people in that particular context.

When it comes to work friends and colleagues, for example, it’s always best to err on the side of conservative, especially in the office (as opposed to out to lunch or enjoying happy hour drinks). Personally, if a work friend asked me, “What’s new?”, I wouldn’t immediately jump into the most personal or intimate of news, especially if I knew the information might, on some level, be shocking or unexpected or even uncomfortable, regardless of how important I thought it was. Even with family or acquaintances outside the office, depending on the relationship, the dynamic between you and these people in question, and how much they know about your lifestyle, the inquiry “What’s new?” might best be answered with a discussion about upcoming vacation plans, some new restaurant you just tried, or how renovations on your kitchen are going.

If people know you are polyamorous, you could fairly seamlessly weave in something about this new man into more mundane conversation topics: “Charles and I are going to Nantucket in August, and it looks like we might have company this time. We’ve been getting to know this man, Nathan, for the last couple of months, and things are going well.” Or, if your polyamory status is news itself, I’d share that first — though maybe not as an answer to “What’s new?” — before name-dropping the new boyfriend. Maybe over brunch or happy hour or some other activity that is a normal part of your relationship/friendship, you could say, “By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it to you, but Charles and I are polyamorous. I haven’t had much reason to discuss it because until recently it was just the two of us, but we recently met someone and it’s going well and you will probably hear much more about him, so I wanted to give you a head’s up. So far, we’re all very happy!”

Finally, it’s wonderful that your budding relationship of two months is going well, but two months is still… well, just two months. I’m not sure that warrants save-the-date cards or any special announcement just yet. I get that you’re happy and excited and hopeful that this is the start of something new, but, to be honest, if a friend of mine was pulling me aside and gushing about a new boyfriend two months after meeting him, I might feel a little wary. I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing here, but I am suggesting that if you feel like you’re getting some side-eye to your news, it may be more about your tone and delivery than the actual news itself. There’s a big difference between: “I’ve been seeing someone a couple months and it’s going great and I’m feeling pretty excited about our potential together” and “Oh my God! I met someone a couple months ago and I’m falling head over heels, and I think this could be it and we’re talking about when we might move in together!” Essentially, the message is the same — there’s someone new in your life you’re excited about (whether he’s part of a polyamorous relationship or not) — but the delivery is completely different (and one is a lot less side-eye inducing than the other).

Also, since you specially asked about TMI, I hope it goes without saying that no1currs about your sex life. If you’re sharing any of the details about your intimate, between-the-sheets happenings, then you deserve any weird reactions you might be getting. If you’re keeping that stuff to yourself and being normal about your delivery and not acting like you’ve just met the second love of your life and everyone needs to know because it’s just so amazing, oh my God!, then any weird reaction you might be getting is a sign that the person you’re sharing your news with probably isn’t used to not-quite-maintstream lifestyles. No biggie. The world isn’t going to stop spinning because Aunt Margaret thinks your threesome is weird. If anything, you’ve given her something new to gossip about at her next bridge game, so win-win for everyone (except, I guess, for whoever gets dealt a shitty hand).


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

15 comments… add one
  • Stonegypsy July 21, 2016, 9:52 am

    There’s nothing wrong with sharing things about your new relationship with the people that you would normally talk to about that kind of thing. I have found that if I don’t act like it’s a weird shocking thing, most other people won’t either.
    “What are your plans for this weekend?”
    “Well I’m seeing a show with one of my partners, and then I have a date tomorrow that I’m pretty excited for”

    Or in your case:
    “So what’s new?”
    “Oh not much. Though my partner and I recently started seeing someone we’re pretty excited about. How’s your cat?”

    That’s it. You’re just sharing details of your life. It doesn’t become TMI just because it’s a non-traditional relationship

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  • T July 21, 2016, 11:24 am

    Yeah, I feel like Wendy’s advice would be completely different if it related to a more traditional / societally accepted relationship. Mentioning to friends (work friends or otherwise) that you’ve been dating someone for two months is far from the “most personal or intimate of news.” Of course I would expect my friend to tell me they had been dating someone for two months! Depending on the friend, it would actually seem super weird to keep that secret. The only thing making this seem more intimate is that it communicates that you are in a nontraditional relationship. Unfortunately, currently, there could be some repercussions to telling everyone, depending on who you tell (especially at work). But acting like it’s no big deal to mention that you and your partner are seeing someone new could sure go a long way toward de-stigmatizing it. I think if you want to be open about this, just be open – mention it in normal conversation without any weirdness, and hopefully your friends will follow suit.

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  • for_cutie July 21, 2016, 12:07 pm

    This is a tough one. Normally, I would want you to feel open and secure about your lifestyle choices. But I think sharing them at work may go to far. I worry that people don’t understand or care to understand your lifestyle. I worry that it may bring undue judgement upon you, or at worst open you up to sexual harassment because bad people may assume what they want about your sexuality.

    I work with gay people, bi people, and a trans person. I only know about their orientations because I’ve forged a bond with them outside of the workplace, and I never mention anything about their relationship choices at work. While I’d like to think and truly believe these things won’t influence their professional success, I just don’t know. With all of the ugliness in America today (ugliness often in the name of “values”), I think it is best to stay professional in professional settings and save the personal excitement for personal time.

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  • Teacher Nerd July 21, 2016, 12:54 pm

    Apropos! I was just remembering an incident from my undergrad days, about 10 years ago, in which a classmate would occasionally ask for a ride home. She and her live-in boyfriend shared a car, and lived perhaps a mile or two away from my own place, so this was not an especially difficult favor to help her with. She was always very polite in asking for a ride home, didn’t take advantage (I think she only asked me for a ride home maybe 3-4 times), and brought me homemade cookies at Christmas as a thank you. So, good social skills all around.

    One day, as we were chatting on the ride home, out of the seeming blue, she said, “You do know that [boyfriend] and I are swingers, don’t you?” I was so surprised, I was actually speechless. This is certainly not a lifestyle choice for me personally, but generally I don’t care what consenting adults do. However, I just couldn’t think of a darn thing to say, I was so surprised. (This happens rarely.)

    She told me at some point later that my response hurt her so much that she didn’t tell people she and the boyfriend were swingers for two full years. Of course, what went through my mind was that if you’re certain that your choices are correct, you’re going to have to understand that (a) not everyone will approve, especially for non-mainstream lifestyle choices (I am not saying that disapproval is always correct, only that no matter what one does, someone else will think it’s wrong); and that (b) if you’re that uncertain about your choices that someone’s surprise will elicit that I’m-not-going-to-tell-anyone-else response, maybe the thing to do is simply not tell people.

    I apologized – feeling that she was being slightly manipulative, but deciding that I didn’t want to lengthen my own response; however, in hindsight I could have clarified that I was simply really surprised and her relationship status was not what I was expecting to hear, that I responded badly.

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    • Stonegypsy July 21, 2016, 1:13 pm

      That’s just a really bizarre thing to say out of the blue to someone. I really enjoy talking about polyamory if it comes up in conversation, but I’m never like “You know I have several boyfriends, right?”
      Because that would be weird and off-putting and they would be justifiably surprised by the sudden turn in conversation.

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    • Scarlet A July 21, 2016, 1:18 pm

      That I would classify as a really weird thing to tell someone since you describe her as “a classmate” and not “a friend of mine”. Being a swinger, as far as I know, has an explicitly sexual connotation, unlike polyamory. So being like “hey you know my boyfriend and I sleep with other people?” is indeed a bizarre thing to bring up to someone you aren’t close with and definitely heads straight to TMI territory. Even if she were in a very vanilla, monogamous hetero relationship this would be akin to being like “hey you know Boyfriend and I love missionary, right?” Which, sure fine, but I don’t need to hear about it.

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      • Teacher Nerd July 21, 2016, 4:24 pm

        We were certainly friendly; I enjoyed her company (and hope she enjoyed mine). We had a class or two together and had met at the same campus job; and we may have socialized a few times (at this point, I don’t remember one way or the other). Perhaps because I was an older student, I never felt the need to share my sexuality or details of my relationship with others; I certainly never shared any aspects of my sex life with anyone I wasn’t actually in that relationship with. I’m not discounting the possibility that I missed a few clues – and at this point, again, with the passage of time, I can’t recall what we were discussing, so maybe there WAS some related discussion that emanated clues I simply wasn’t picking up on. (I’ve never been non-monogamous, the result of which is that I probably miss non-monomgany cues from others.) I just remember being surprised into silence, which I could see as being misconstrued as disapproval.

  • Stillrunning July 21, 2016, 1:32 pm

    TNerd- you apologized once, that should have been enough. Frankly, I’m tired of feeling that I have to instantly accept/agree/approve of a behavior that’s new to me. Sheesh, give me time to think about it. It’s not a one way thing; do me the courtesy of allowing me to think about it and you’ll have a friend who warmly accepts you instead of someone who resents feeling pressured.

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  • bittergaymark July 21, 2016, 1:45 pm

    For a relationship this unusual, I would wait a bit longer until it was truly established and a real thing… Why? Not that I would be ashamed of it… Just that if it DID fall apart, you are giving naysayers more anti-poly ammo. “Knew that wouldn’t last. What a mess.”
    I do understand that people are more judgmental than you might expect.
    Last year, when I told a few people I was having a fling with a married gay guy. Some were rather HARSH. Even AFTER I explained that he and his husband not only had an open relationship — but that we had all met and had dinner together on more than one occasion… It was all very above board from the start and I still got red the riot act by some surprising people. Oh, well.

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    • Stonegypsy July 21, 2016, 1:55 pm

      My husband and I had a mutual friend for years that we were really close with and hung out with a lot. He knew that I was poly, but as soon as I brought up that I was dating someone, he never spoke to me again.
      It really hurt at the time, though eventually I realized that I didn’t want to be friends with someone who would do that.
      On the rare occasions that someone actually goes off on a rant, I take out my phone and start browsing facebook until they realize I don’t give a shit what they think about my lifestyle.

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      • bittergaymark July 21, 2016, 1:58 pm

        Maybe he was just miffed you didn’t want to date HIM!! Seriously…

      • Stonegypsy July 21, 2016, 2:22 pm

        Ha! Actually that thought crossed my mind a couple of times. Seems like an extreme reaction, though

      • bittergaymark July 21, 2016, 2:55 pm

        Or maybe… after you were going poly and dating another man, he wanted to play a bit with your husband…

    • Stonegypsy July 21, 2016, 1:57 pm

      Also, I do not understand people using relationships not working out as anti-poly fuel. Like.. mono relationships break up too. Often.

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  • dinoceros July 21, 2016, 3:58 pm

    I think this is an interesting topic because on one hand, it’s reminiscent of people feeling the need to hide their sexual or gender identity. But on the other hand, it also sort of falls under the category of personal relationship information, which reasonably does have some boundaries. Like if I were seeing someone and it was essentially just hooking up, I wouldn’t share that with all the same people that I’d share it with if it was a relationship. Aside from my actual work friends, I don’t know that I’d tell people I was seeing someone after two months, unless it came up in conversation, and even then, if they weren’t my “boyfriend,” I’d probably use the term friend. I have certain boundaries in terms of what I want other people to know about how I approach relationships and what we do within them, and some of that is related to how they might judge it, but also just because I don’t need everyone to know everything about me.

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