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Seven Steps For Coming Out to a (Potential) Sweetie as Poly

When polys like someone who may or may not be open to polyamory, what to do?

Coming out as polyamorous to someone you want to date can be a daunting prospect. If you identify as polyamorous, you want to know if the cutie who caught your eye would be open to sharing you with your other current or potential sweeties. For polyamorists and other sexual minorities, however, coming out can risk a negative reaction. What is the poly about town to do?

Many long-time polyamorists exclusively date other experienced polys, skirting the issue of coming out or explaining polyamory by avoiding relationships with monogamous people and those trying their first open relationship. Dating only people who are already polyamorous works much better in areas with large concentrations of poly people, but leaves people in most other places with rather limited options. For those people without access to a large selection of polyamorists, recruiting from the general population may be the only way to find new partners.

1. Date Polyamorous People

In any polyamorous setting, honesty is both the best policy and the social norm. For people who hang out with a polyamorous crowd and are socialized to expect direct and excruciatingly honest communication, anthing short of immediate and complete disclosure can be interpreted as potentially manipulative or sneaky. If you are in a setting where you are safe to disclose personal things about yourself, then absolutely come out as polyamorous at your earliest relevant opportunity.

One of the best ways to find other people who are open to polyamory is to look for them online. Both Polymatchmaker and OKCupid provide a lot of poly connections and provide options to describe yourself as poly and seek poly partners. Avoid sites like Plenty of Fish that cater to a Christian crowd, as they are rumored to remove profiles of people seeking consensual non-monogamy.

2. Reconnaissance

If your social situation requires more discretion, you might want to move a little slower. The task of introducing the idea of polyamory to a current or potential sweetie can be intimidating. Find out about how the person feels about sexual diversity before bringing it up in a personal sense. When deciding whether or not to reveal that their parents were poly, some of the kids who participated in my research on polyamorous families would ask their peers what they thought about same-sex marriage. If the person expresses legal reservations about same-sex marriage, that provides some wiggle room for follow up questions about morals and ethics of relationships. If the person expresses religious or moral objections to same-sex relationships, then they are at least somewhat likely to react poorly to consensual non-monogamy. This is obviously not a hard and fast rule, but people with deep religious or personal beliefs that same-sex relationships are wrong tend to hold other conservative beliefs about sexuality as well.

google images
Source: google images

3. Relax

There is no need to make a big deal out of the announcement, no need to give signals that you are about to have a SCAREY TALK because it can be just a regular chat. If you have tested the waters and decided it might be safe to proceed, then be sure to select a moment when you will have the time and privacy to have a potentially sensitive conversation. Stressful or rushed situations are probably not the opportune time to bring up polyamory.

4. Assess their knowledge

Be on the lookout for an opportunity or find a way to casually bring up consensual non-monogamy, and ask if the person has ever heard of it and what they think about it. You could show them my blog Seven Forms of Non-Monogamy that describes various types of non-monogamies and ask them what they think about it. Many celebrities, like Jada Pinkett and Will Smith, are at least rumored to have non-monogamous relationships, so you could see a movie with a potentially non-monogamous celebrity and ask about that while waiting for the movie to start. Alternately, you could select a movie with a non-monogamous theme or character, like those collected by Alan at Polyamory in the Media.

5. Assess the risk

Given what you know about this person and how they have responded to your fact-finding attempts, how do you think they will react? Even more importantly, how might that reaction impact you? If this person has power over your or could negatively effect you in some professional or personal sense, use special caution. You can always bring it up later when the opportunity presents itself, or once you are either more certain of a positive response or less vulnerable to a negative response.

If the only risk is rejection, then consider being bold! Rejection will not actually kill you (even though you fear it might in the moment), and has actually proven to be a good thing in some cases,

google images
Source: google images

6. Consider possible reactions

People who already know about the concept of consensual non-monogamy will most likely have some kind of stance towards and thoughts about it, and you would be well advised to find out what those are before deciding if it is a good idea to bring it up yourself.

When people who have never heard of consensual non-monogamy learn about what I call “the polyamorous possibility,” they generally have one of three reactions (which I explain more in the blog Fear of the Polyamorous Possibility):

1) Huh, interesting. I wonder why/how they do that? I am not sure how I feel about it, but it is not that big of a deal.

2) YAY! I need to run out and get a poly relationship RIGHT NOW!

3) OH NO! No one should want to do this, I definitely do not want to do this and pray that my partner does not find out that this terrible thing exists!

7. Take the plunge, or not

YES! Consider coming out and asking this person if they would try consensual non-monogamy with you if:

  • The person is interested in the concept, or at least not freaked out
  • The person is not in a position of social or economic power over you, or you are not vulnerable to that power
  • You are attracted to that person and think they could handle non-monogamy the way you do it – will they be friendly to your other partners? Will they fit in with your life? Are you willing to potentially fit into their life? If these are possibilities that seem fruitful to explore, than you are on the right track!

NO! Don’t do it, at least not yet, if:

  • The person freaks out or gets really upset at the mere thought that consensual non-monogamy exists.
  • The person has some kind of economic or social power over you and might use it against you if they are angry.
  • You feel it is in any way not a good idea. Trust your instincts! You can always wait and do it later if and when your reservations have been resolved. Sometimes you will meet someone who is appealing and you might be very attracted to her or him, but if they are an emotional train wreck with jealousy issues, then you might want to restrain your impulse to get poly with them. Polyamory is frequently challenging for mature adults who have done extensive personal growth because it demands such a high degree of communication and emotional intelligence. Conflict is an inevitable part of any long term relationship, and it is even more likely to arise in multiple-partner relationships simply because there are more people with more potentially conflicting needs to consider. Polyamory is not a good choice for people who are unable to deal with conflict in one relationship, so beware involving them in your poly life.
Source: google

Got rejected?

Take heart! At least you tried, and you can try again. Also, consider that the initial negative reaction might change over time. Some of the families that participated in my study were initially rejected when they came out to their families of origin, only to come together again later as time healed emotional rifts. You never know what might happen months or years from now, and in the mean time you can keep your eyes open for a better match.

More from Elisabeth A. Sheff Ph.D., CSE
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