When you’re a straight, cis person in a monogamous relationship, being out is easy. My guess is that you don’t worry so much about how people will react to your romance unless there’s something else queer about it – a sizeable age gap for example, or being in a mixed race or mixed religion relationship where the people around you might not be ok with that.
I’ve always been polyamorous, but I’ve not always been out as polyamorous. Early on I had no idea how to navigate around friends and family with this, so mostly I didn’t. The emotional expense of being honest about your relationships may be more than you can afford. For some people, owning the queerness is genuinely dangerous. Complicated, non-conforming relationships can be challenging enough without all the work of having to emotionally support other people in dealing with you well.
The worst part of all this, for me, has always been the breakups. The invisible, unspeakable endings of relationships I never made properly visible in the first place. When a conventional relationship breaks up, people tend to own it and the people around them tend to be supportive. When you’ve fallen out with your other lover… how do you even talk about that? Can you be confident of expecting support, rather than blame, shame, judgement and more pain?
Many of my most important love affairs have been romantic rather than sexual, so I don’t entirely fit in what many people imagine ‘polyamorous’ means in the first place. I can get deeply emotionally involved with a person without it ever being a physical thing. So, what a relationship is and means to me is not necessarily the same as what it means to the other person – that’s always interesting to navigate. I know there are people in my history who, for me, were life altering love affairs, and who almost certainly never thought the same way about me. Which is fine – love is what I do, not what I expect.
So here I am, grieving the end of a love affair that never quite was. Letting go of something that, for a while, was pure enchantment for me, but that maybe only existed for me. Wondering what to say to who, and finding out who knew me well enough to have spotted it anyway. It’s a strange place to be. There are no maps for this kind of territory. There are no roles readily supplied to slot into, there are precious few stories to navigate by.
I’ve also got to the point in my life of being unable to be other than myself. I’m too tired to hide the inconvenient bits. I’m past caring about people judging me – and increasingly willing to shrug and let go of the people who aren’t ok with me as I am. One of the consequences is that I can, and will start mapping this territory and telling stories about love that are not the stories my society usually tells.