Would YOU want us to tell you?
August 4, 2011 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Should we tell our friends about our non-standard romantic situation? And if so, who should we tell? And when?

I am currently involved in a three-person romantic relationship. We're a V, with two of us involved with the third, and we consider our arrangement to be a committed and long-term one. We don't want to add any more people, and we're starting to plan for our future, including some talk about kids. We also cohabitate, but since we live in a small, young city full of college kids, no one pays much attention.

We have been in this arrangement for almost three years, and things are going pretty smoothly. But it's been difficult, particularly since our third is thought of as "single" by everyone else. Two of us are involved publicly, and people sometimes try to set our third up on dates, or ask us questions about when our "roommate" will move out, which makes us all feel awkward and a kind of sad as well.

We're starting to wonder if and when we should start telling our close friends, two or three couples we know very well, about what's really going on. In general, our friends are in their thirties, liberal, and not particularly mainstream or judgemental.

We would love to be able to be honest with our friends, and to be able to include them in our "real" lives. But we don't want to burden them with secrets they didn't ask for.

I guess my question is this: if you were our friends, would you want to know? Or would you prefer that we keep it to ourselves unless asked explicit questions about our relationships?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (63 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I would want to know if i was your friend. Because, mazel tov! When you tell people though, something will get weird with someone, at some point. Be prepared for some dynamic to change with somebody.
posted by Buffaload at 9:56 PM on August 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

if you were our friends, would you want to know? Or would you prefer that we keep it to ourselves unless asked explicit questions about our relationships?

Sure I'd want to know, just like I'd want to know if one of my friends was in a monogamous relationship with just one other person. The fact that your relationship involves three people wouldn't matter to me. And if someone wants to judge or get weirded out, either they can work out their issues with you and learn or they weren't worth being friends with in the first place.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:00 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I actually have EXTENSIVE experience with this as your friend - both recent (like yesterday) and a few years ago.

I wish you had just told me up front. For the friends we went to lunch with yesterday - JUST TELL ME ALREADY. I already know!

I think it is weird you lied about it when I finally have my suspicions concerned. It's just not that big of a deal in this day and age. Fuck anyone who judges you for this. I mean it.

That said... if one of you has professional concerns (my friends from a while back, one was a respected doctor in a group practice, that I get) please notify us via the mods.

But maybe I'm groovier than most? Nope. I was in on the "secret" way back when, and everyone we all knew would've been super cool. Really. Just tell unless your family will end up homeless.

Also. The transition part might be weird for folks and you will lose friends because you lied. It's OK. Own it.


I was in that position as a friend "in the know" in the first situation I mentioned. God I hate those people now, because 3 years of being their close friend and having to keep track of all the lies sucked.
posted by jbenben at 10:01 PM on August 4, 2011 [14 favorites]

I'd want to know, and it wouldn't phase me personally, but it would probably clarify things enough to make them click in friends' heads about why things are the way they are. People might suspect or wonder or maybe not consciously notice, but telling them might slide that final piece in to have things all make sense.

Be prepared for questions from some on the inner workings of such a relationship, but since you seem to be on solid ground, I'm sure you can it.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:03 PM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd want to know. I might already kind of know, but not know how to bring it up.
posted by rtha at 10:05 PM on August 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'd want to know. If we were real friends, I'd want to know the real you and your real life and hear how your important relationships really are.

I could see some self-protective reasons you might hesitate about sharing (to avoid potentially being judged or outed), but if the question is consideration for me and what would I want? I'd want to know.
posted by salvia at 10:05 PM on August 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm done yelling now because you are internet strangers and clearly not the folks I feel betrayed by.

I wanted to add that I always wondered during those 3 years how different my friends' life together as a long committed and functioning household would be if they just made that courageous jump and were casual but upfront about how they lived.

They should have done it. After almost 10 years together, the secrecy eventually did them in as a functioning family. It wasn't fair to the third who had to hide his role.

Do it.

Good on you!
posted by jbenben at 10:12 PM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would want to know and I'd have a ton of respect for you for coming out.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:28 PM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, like many people with sexual or romantic preferences or situations that aren't what our society assumes and reinforces, you need to decide if this is a private. personal, sexual set-up, or a relationship that is important and is "home" for the three of you. If you're talking about kids etc, it sounds like this is how you live, not just some kind of secret sex thing, and I think for your own mental health you need the other people in your lives to know that, even if not everyone handles it perfectly or reacts exactly how you'd wish.

I don't like to make analogies between being lgbt and other relationship stuff, but I'm something between lesbian and bisexual, and I had a lot of the thoughts and considerations you describe when I was first starting to date women. As soon as I got serious with someone, telling friends and family became non-negotiable out of respect for her and myself. Now we've been married seven years, almost everyone dealt with it!

So I say tell! But also think about emphasizing the caring, supportive, romantic aspects of your situation over the sexual ones, people will assume plenty about those already.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:35 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I came here to say exactly when jbenben said - you should tell your friends, but especially please don't tell some friends and not others.

I've been "that friend" who doesn't get told about "controversial" personal decisions of other friends. And at first, I couldn't figure out why - I'm a pretty liberal-minded kind of person. And then, I realized that it was because they were doing to me what they were afraid I'd do to them: they were judging me based not on observed actions as a good friend and thoughtful person, but instead based on negative stereotypes about my demographic.

If your friends are friends, they'll be cool -- if they're not cool (or at least accepting/curious), they're not really friends (but hey, you should always give them the chance to come around).
posted by lesli212 at 10:38 PM on August 4, 2011 [13 favorites]

And adding on to what jbenbean said, I'd add that if you want this to last you all need to support each other, and part of that is presenting a united front to the outside world, all standing up for what you have together, and not asking or expecting (even by admission, just as I can chose to let people assume I'm straight) anyone to hide anything.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:38 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Normalize it. Be positive about it, not embarrassed. Anyone who has an issue with it, that's their issue, not yours.
posted by davejay at 10:54 PM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think that mefites tend to be an exceptionally open-minded group; if your friends are like the typical mefite then there should be no problem....but most of us have friends/family/acquaintances who are more conservative and for whom it would be a problem, and I am betting some people in your circle will be weirded out. Which is not to say you shouldn't tell; I think ultimately it is best to be upfront. However...I think the reaction of mefites in this thread does not really reflect the reaction of a typical american. Just another viewpoint.
posted by bearette at 10:59 PM on August 4, 2011 [9 favorites]

bearette is quite right. I don't care in the least that various of my friends are in open or poly relationships with persons of various genders and sexes. If I were your friend, I would definitely appreciate knowing your romantic situation, because then I would have the option of not being a jerk about it! People asking when your "roommate" is going to move out well might not do that if they knew the situation. I am sure some of those who ask would feel quite bad about having said something potentially hurtful, if they knew that it was.

But that is me, and my friends. You know your friends far better than I do, of course. It's always possible that they would be uncomfortable with it. But the whole thing is uncomfortable if you continue to keep it a secret. And I agree, it's not fair to the third.
posted by Because at 11:06 PM on August 4, 2011

Sure bearette is right, but if people are going to be weird or fucked up, I think it's so much better to deal with that outside the relationship - between the fucked up person and the three of you, than to bring that (potential) ugliness into the relationship and essentially handle it between the three of you. I don't recommend you tell because everyone is nice and lovely, but because it sounds like you're preemptively dealing with other people's possible lack of understanding and it's hurting you.
posted by crabintheocean at 11:12 PM on August 4, 2011

In my experience, out of about 5 people, one will be weird and awkward about it but not in a serious way, one will deeply judge you and fear for your marriage but never say anything outright, and one will reveal their own secret non-monogamy/kink/random encounter. The other two will take it in stride.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:13 PM on August 4, 2011 [11 favorites]

I would highly recommend developing and (I know this sounds dorky) practicing an agreed-upon "standard answer" that succinctly and reassuringly communicates the fact of your relationship. You can go into more detail with those who are interested and/or are very close friends.

"Reassuringly" because unconventional relationship models tend to bring up questions in the form of concerns. "Succinctly" because it greatly reduces awkwardness with those who may be less comfortable with this information (so that they can appreciate being informed without feeling like they endured TMI.)

Your good friends and social circle should know, but it's totally okay to draw your own line regarding whose business it is among more casual acquaintances and co-workers.

/has a greater-than-average number of poly friends
posted by desuetude at 11:40 PM on August 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Mostly, I don't want to be part of a select group of friends who know. If some friends don't and some friends do, and you're asking me to keep your secret, that would suck.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:40 PM on August 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

The only reason I care if you tell me or not is if I've been trying to get into your third's pants, and then I only want to know so I can give up and move on. Otherwise I care only vaguely about your romantic committedness and not at all about your sex life, sorry.
posted by anaelith at 11:40 PM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Please tell me up front. Some of us don't pick up on social mores as easily as others.

It would have helped me wonder why my married friends were asking me over to watch movies, play cards, etc with their 'housemate' as a foursome. I had an embarrassing three weeks or so that I was convinced that they were trying to set me up with her. It might help with the poorly hidden groping between bridge hands. I wondered why I kept getting asked over even though I'm not all that good at cards.

That was more than five years ago, and we're still very close.

And as usual, jbenben distills it to one point. Are these people your friends? If not, do you really care what they think?
posted by Sphinx at 11:45 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

"I think that mefites tend to be an exceptionally open-minded group; if your friends are like the typical mefite then there should be no problem....but most of us have friends/family/acquaintances who are more conservative and for whom it would be a problem, and I am betting some people in your circle will be weirded out. Which is not to say you shouldn't tell; I think ultimately it is best to be upfront. However...I think the reaction of mefites in this thread does not really reflect the reaction of a typical american. Just another viewpoint."

via bearette.

But here is exactly my point on all of this.

Guess what OP? You've already put yourselves into a (somewhat, not really) unique role in society. I favorited the answer that specifically said to "Normalize it." YES.

The people who will judge you are very much NOT like you. By not being on the outside concurrent with how you are on the inside, you are engaging in relationships that do not reflect your personal truth. That sucks.

Be true to yourselves. Quality people, even if they don't agree, will respect you for being true to yourselves. There is no better advertising for accepting human kind as we really are (diverse!) than honesty about our families.


Let me take this one step further....

Folks who would not accept you are not being very true to themselves, either. The codified shit we mostly adhere to on the outside is usually very very opposite of how we feel inside. This is why we have preachers turning out to be meth gay sex addicts - suppression of our individuality taken to an extreme always turns out badly.


Normalize it, because it is actually normal for some folks. The rest who embrace their own diversity in ways different than you, but are similarly diverse (most of us) will absolutely be onboard.

I long for a world where we all "get it." Be the forerunners. This totally inevitable change in society can not happen in a vacuum. Help the rest of us join you.

posted by jbenben at 11:58 PM on August 4, 2011

Yeah, tell your friends. This is aok. Particularly as you're talking about future planning/kids. Be prepared for some weirdness, but whatever - people can deal or they can't - you want to continue to be friends with those who can.
posted by mleigh at 12:51 AM on August 5, 2011

Definitely tell people. Unless you are really really careful (i.e. uptight and weird), close friends will be picking up on SOMETHING anyway. And chances are some of them will think they are picking up on cheating or other unpleasant relationship dynamics, rather than understanding the reality. E.g. if they intercept a glance or a touch or overhear a comment between the two members of the V who are supposed to not be romantically involved. Your friends might be quite relieved to know the truth.
posted by lollusc at 1:19 AM on August 5, 2011

Just out of curiosity, if y'all are planning on having and raising kids together, how would this not come out anyway? I can imagine that would be a hard thing to explain away.

Regardless, I think you should tell your friends. Being one of the last to know that my best friend was lesbian many years ago because she thought I would judge her... well let's just say I found her assumption that I would be that close minded judgemental in itself. For me the big deal wasn't my friend's sexuality, I was however incredibly hurt that she felt I wouldn't accept her. That's what sticks in my mind the most.

So you could find that you isolate and offend your friends more by what you don't tell them than by what you do. Trust that your friends love and accept you no matter what your lifestyle, I think you may be pleasantly surprised. Don't view it so much as the revealing of a secret, more a letting them get to know you and who you are that much better.
posted by Jubey at 2:05 AM on August 5, 2011

If you were telling me, I'd have a lot of questions. I'd be curious to know more about what it was like, your relationships with both people and your relationship as a triangle. Since we hadn't talked about it before, I'd wonder if this was something private and touchy. Could I ask for more details, or would that be rude? I'd want to know "who can know?" (I'm not like the person above who minds secrets. I just don't want to accidentally out you, so I'd want to know.) I'd also wonder a bunch of random details, like might I offend you by calling someone your husband when the term is "co-husband" or "triplet" or some such thing I didn't know. Basically, I'd be like, "oh, I totally want you to be comfortable" and then be awkward by trying not to offend you. :)

So, it'd help me if you explained the relationship fairly fully, then told me who knew, then told me that questions were fine and I wasn't going to offend you guys, and then somehow affirmed that in general this was now a normal fair-game discussion topic that we could talk about in the future (or that if it was private, that you'd say that, too). Maybe: "I wanted to tell you more about my relationship. Relationships actually. [Full explanation.] We are [slowly telling everyone / telling only the following people / telling only you for now]. And I'm so glad that we've decided to tell you because it's been hard for me not to talk to you about it. You probably have some questions, too, and I'm happy to answer them, now or later."
posted by salvia at 2:42 AM on August 5, 2011 [12 favorites]

I can never figure out a logical reason to be bothered or offended to these kinds of things, but its also not something i'm actually comfortable with, because it's not a familiar situation and i don't know how to think about it. Although i'd totally pretend to be completely cool with it, inside it would make me feel... nervous? or something? at least partly because you'd be highlighting for me that i'm not as experienced in alternative lifestyles/relationships as i like to pretend?

If you sense any of your friends are like me, give them time and evidence that all will be normal and comfortable once they get used to the idea.
posted by Kololo at 5:20 AM on August 5, 2011

If I'm your friend, I want to know about you. Knowing about your partners is a part of knowing about you. But bearette is also right, depending on your associates, there is probably going to be at least a few people who will freak out when you tell them.
posted by crankylex at 5:43 AM on August 5, 2011

I would want to know so that I could behave with respect to your situation. Treating a non-single person as single isn't respectful and most people wouldn't do it if they knew.
posted by orange swan at 6:07 AM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I might have a slightly odd reaction if you told me, just because, to the best of my knowledge, I don't know anyone in that situation. But that odd reaction would be on me, and not on you. And I would definitely try to be cool and accepting but in my head, I'd be all "Do I ask questions about how it works or is that nosy?" so I might do or say slightly stupid things in a fit of social awkwardness.

But even with all that as a given, I'd certainly rather know, and understand your situation, and be forced to work through whatever odd reaction I was having than not know. Because, again, odd reaction is on me, not on you. I don't need to know the details of your sex life (in the same way you don't need to know the details of those of your totally vanilla straight friends' sex lives), but if you are in a committed relationship with someone, as a friend, of course I want to know.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:07 AM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Be who you are. Live out loud. You're happy, you're healthy. If people freak out about it, they weren't your friends and it's best to know now.
posted by inturnaround at 6:07 AM on August 5, 2011

If a friend responds awkwardly but positively, don't take this to mean that they are secretly negative. In fact, maybe try to build in some "how you're supposed to respond" cues in the conversation, that would be great. Like, "you're my dear friend and I wanted you to know because this relationship is happy and successful and may be permanent".

I say this because a friend told me about a working thing, see, and it's a thing I actually approve of, and I don't believe in being rude to people even when I disapprove, but this thing was something that none of my friends had ever told me about doing...I'd met people who'd done this thing, see, but it was just common knowledge and not something I was asked to provide feelings about. And so I wasn't sure whether my friend wanted a "that's great! I'm so proud of you!" or a "it sure sucks that this economy pushes you into doing, I support your struggles" or what, and I sort of punted, and my friend later revealed that they felt that I kind of disapproved but was being polite.

So yeah, if you're telling friends tell them in a way that clearly demands a "congratulations! I'm so happy for you!" in response.
posted by Frowner at 6:09 AM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would want to know, if I was your friend. But I'll cool like that. You might lose some friends, who were never going to be good friends to begin with.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:10 AM on August 5, 2011

Also, when you tell people, you are modeling healthy non-binary-coupledom. And there are a lot of people who would probably like to be in a healthy non-binary relationship but are embarrassed or think it can't work.
posted by Frowner at 6:11 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some people are going to be pissed you lied to them for three years.
posted by smackfu at 6:29 AM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Please think through what you will do if someone does react negatively. Will you respond with "Well, fuck you, get out of our life"? Or will you give them some space to think it through? If they cut off from you for a while, will you be OK if they gradually return?

I'm reminded of friends who came out (you know, the old-fashioned "just gay" way) to their parents. The parents are shocked, offended, hurt - and eventually relax and accept.

Count me with the group who would prefer to know. And hear it directly from all three of you.
posted by ES Mom at 6:31 AM on August 5, 2011

If we were real friends, I'd want to know the real you and your real life and hear how your important relationships really are.
This. We're not real friends unless you tell me. It's OK if you don't want us to be real friends, of course, but I wouldn't feel like I knew you if you left this out.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:34 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

"Do I ask questions about how it works or is that nosy?"

This is a good point - make it clear that it's okay to ask questions (if it is), and be prepared to answer if asked. You can say something like "You might have questions - if not right now, then later, and it's totally cool to ask," so that the person knows this isn't their one and only chance to ask.
posted by rtha at 6:36 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I was in your position, I think I'd host a casual little get-together at our place and tell all the friends at once, but not in a "OMG we have a secret to share" sort of way but in a "yeah, so this is how it is" sort of way. The benefits include: 1. everyone knows at once, thus minimizing gossip; 2. everyone at least has to feign politeness while they process the news; 3. your friends can see you on your home turf, acting as a domestic unit and not some kinky sex triumvirate.
posted by oohisay at 6:53 AM on August 5, 2011

We would love to be able to be honest with our friends, and to be able to include them in our "real" lives. But we don't want to burden them with secrets they didn't ask for.

Neither I or my wife would be burdened, nor would we make a big deal about it. But we'd probably have lots of questions for ya'll, wanting to know things and how it all works.

We're starting to wonder if and when we should start telling our close friends, two or three couples we know very well, about what's really going on. In general, our friends are in their thirties, liberal, and not particularly mainstream or judgemental.

As described here, this is a no brainer. Be prepared for not everyone to approve, but realize that they may be surprised by this disapproval too.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:59 AM on August 5, 2011

So yeah, if you're telling friends tell them in a way that clearly demands a "congratulations! I'm so happy for you!" in response.

This is really good advice for a lot of momentous life changing news. I've had friends tell me they were pregnant in a fairly deadpan sort of way, and without knowing if they were trying or if it was a happy accident or if it was an unhappy accident that they're making the best of or if they're seriously considering abortion, it's damned difficult to know how to respond.

The more you set a tone of happiness, the easier it will be for people to follow your lead. This is probably especially true if you're person in the V who is most likely to be seen as possibly being in the role of 'I'm just going along with this so I don't lose my spouse to this other person.' The clearer you can be that this is not a sacrifice but a choice, the better.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:02 AM on August 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't want to know because it is really none of my business, but if told, I would do whatever you wanted me to do with the info, keep it secret, acknowledge it, tell the world, whatever. I do think I would look at you in a slightly different way, not negatively or positively, just different. If someone brought up your name in conversation, I would be thinking to myself (not aloud) "She's the one in the three way relationship." But, ultimately, I wouldn't care if you told me you were involved in a 4 way with one other and Siamese twins. Whatever our relationship was built on, it would still be built on that.

If the secret is affecting your relationship or your relationship with friends, then I would tell. Otherwise, tell the people you would tell things about your relationship to otherwise. I have some friends who I tell more intimate details of my relationship with my wife than I tell others. This is no different.
posted by AugustWest at 7:19 AM on August 5, 2011

I will tell everyone. It's just... I... I don't know... I'm constitutionally incapable of keeping a secret. You'll tell me it is a secret. And I swear I'll remember that for, like, a whole afternoon. And then I'll forget that I'm not supposed to tell anyone. Immediately. And then Adam or Bridget or Jocelyn is going to say, "Man I get a weird vibe from those two but I can't put my finger on it." and I'll take a sip of my latte and say, "Oh, it's not weird. They're polyamorous. Haven't you ever known a poly person before? What's your problem? Or are you still stuck in the many-sister-wives-creepy-mormon trope?" And then we'll have a really nice conversation about how normal you are. But the cat will totally be out of the bag.

I'm sorry. I feel like I should preemptively apologize.

I don't say that to freak you out. Just that when considering we don't want to burden them with secrets they didn't ask for, you should realize that some of us are like Teflon to secrets. We are never going to permit ourselves to be burdened by your secrets. And I say this as someone who is gay and has, consequently, dealt with the coming out process. Knowing my own ability to sink ships with my loose lips, when I started coming out at 16 I never expected anyone to keep that particular Nyan Cat in the bag. Rather, I relied on the fact that everyone would know the minute I told one person. Made life easier for me and reduced the number of potentially awkward conversations I had to have. People could figure it out by social osmosis and I only had to have desuetude's succinct/reassuring conversation a handful of times with people I was particularly close to.
posted by jph at 7:29 AM on August 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Whatever you do, don't go, "I'm thinking of getting into a V with my roommate. What do you think?" and then listen thoughtfully through a discussion, and then say, "Okay, thanks for your time OH BY THE WAY WE ALREADY DID IT." That is not respectful of your friend's opinion and the time your friend has put into thinking carefully about you.

Not that I have any experience with this or anything.
posted by Madamina at 7:32 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have some friends who I tell more intimate details of my relationship with my wife than I tell others. This is no different.

I think there's a clear difference here. Not telling people that you're involved in a V isn't like not telling people that you have a Dom/sub thing going on, or that you go to swing clubs. It's like not telling people that you and your wife are married, and instead pretending you just live in the same house because you can't afford the rent on your own.

There's a sexual overtone to it that can't be denied, and I totally understand why you'd feel like you don't want to know, but denying the existence of a relationship is not at all the same thing as not sharing intimate details of a marriage.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:35 AM on August 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

If you don't tell me, you're not my real friend. If you tell me and I react badly, I'm not your real friend.

It's really that simple.
posted by modernnomad at 7:52 AM on August 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Just as a follow-up comment - in my social circle it would be far weirder not to tell people than to tell people. In fact, you'd need to do some explaining about why you hadn't mentioned it for the past three years.

Maybe you could say something like:

"Jill, you're a very dear friend and I want to tell you something that I haven't felt confident talking about before. Joe and Tim and I have been in a relationship together for X years. Since we're all very happy and plan to stay together in the long term, we want our friends to know.

I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner - I trust you and know you'll be happy for us, but I was still nervous about talking about it.

[Some relationship stuff like "we met and we knew we were right for each other/whatever is appropriate - a couple of sentences that cement the "and this is a love story!" aspect.]"

I think it's important to emphasize 1. that you value your friends and want to be honest with them; 2. that your relationship is happy and loving, and that you're not just providing them with TMI about your sex life; and 3. you are confident that since they care about you, they will be happy that you are happy. The third one is proscriptive rather than descriptive.

I personally wouldn't do this at a group event - it could get very awkward if one person has a bad or unexpected response and/or you could end up feeling like you're being interviewed.

Also, I add that when I was twenty I said some jerky things to a close friend about her casual hook-ups (it was a different world! casual hook-ups were much more unusual!). I regretted it later and have apologized at intervals over the years. We're still friends.
posted by Frowner at 8:12 AM on August 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

If some of your friends already notice that each of you goes out separately with your third, who as far as they know is a "roommate", they might suspect cheating rather than an agreed-on relationship dynamic.

If I were you're friend, I'd rather know so I didn't assume anything icky was going on.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:22 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you should tell because by not acknowledging the status of the third person, you're hiding a non-illicit romantic relationship with someone, and that's unintentionally demeaning to them.

Other posters have picked up on the fact that some of the people you know may have divined something about what's going on, and because you haven't told them straight out, you may have inadvertently put them in the horrible position of suspecting you of betraying your spouse.

And then of course, the hiding your marital status from your close friends, which is not friendly.

Some people will disapprove of three-person relationships, but whether a particular relationship configuration is right or wrong according to whatever standard, is less important than treating people with respect. Of course be sensitive to the fact that others will have different standards from yours - that's part of respecting them. But nothing's more important than respecting the people in your life and I think disclosure is going to be a necessary part of that.
posted by tel3path at 8:26 AM on August 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

I would want to know. A friend was in an unusual relationship and didn't tell me or anyone else in our social circle, which lead to some raised eyebrows and gossip -- because everybody knew something was going on, but didn't know what. Once she told us what was up, things made more sense and actually were less interesting and gossip-worthy.

As a nosy person, I would want to ask you all kinds of questions (as I want to with just about everyone I meet). So when you do tell people, please be clear if you're willing to be the Unusual Relationships 101 lecturer.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:37 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't like feeling socially confused about something, but that it's not okay to ask questions. Your friends and family may be feeling that way now.

Ideally, I would want to a) be told, b) be accepted for having an awkward phase with the new info, while I learn new ways of thinking and behaving, c) be guided by you in how to proceed, like what partner-descriptive words you would want me to use, and if you now hope I only invite you over as a threesome from now on, d) be overtly given permission to talk about my own feelings and experience of this with our mutual friends (I process my thoughts and feelings partly by talking, and it would be a relief to be able to say things out loud like, "That explains that time at the restaurant when...").

Also, for me it works best when I accept that for some people I'm their poster child for certain things, and I accept that mantle as patiently and gracefully as possible, answering their questions, and pointing them toward resources, or even just being aware that I want to do what I can to make my choices look like good ones. So you will now be the ones people go to to ask about polyamory (I'm not sure what word you want me to use, and neither will your friends, til you tell them, as I mentioned above.)
posted by Ellemeno at 9:02 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I should note, for the record, that my open minded LDS cousin sent me here... A month or so ago I 'came out' to her about being poly and kinky, about 2 weeks ago I "let slip" about the guy that I'm exploring a potential relationship with having a fiance. Within a day or so I "let slip" that the three of us share a bed when I visit them, explained the nature of a "V" where we're both involved with Him but just cuddly and affectionate with each other. Then I held my breath to see what she would say, and nearly fell off the couch laughing at her chipper "You have a sister-wife!" reply. I keep trying to shock her but the girl won't cooperate, she even sends me to read discussions that she thinks I might be interested in :)

Any rate. My V is still in the beginning stages and we're taking it slowly because I recently ended my primary relationship and he wants to be sure I'm not diving into this for the wrong reasons. Also, his fiance has kids. The older one is a few days off 18 and knows enough about their lifestyle to not be surprised when she sees all three of us coming out of the bedroom in the morning.. The younger is ... actually I think she's only 11 and still hasn't been let in on any of the secrets... so in front of the kids we don't show much affection, no kisses or cuddles, just forehead kisses :(

All of our friends are already aware that I was somewhat involved with him during my previous relationship so no one is surprised that we're exploring our own potential now. It may help that we're involved in our local kink scene, and openly affectionate in those circles.

One of the first questions I had when he flat out asked if I wanted to pursue this or not... was how we would handle it when I eventually go live with them... they live in a smaller town where pretty much everyone knows or at least recognizes everyone else to say hello to. Whenever I'm visiting them and out with his fiance she gets asked for introductions, and people are nosey enough to outright ask what our connection is... The first few times she stumbled with it, before settling into "very close best friend" lol.

We still haven't discussed all of the details, but his response to my question was that he doesn't much care what people think, and he has no problem just telling them that he practices a non-standard relationship dynamic with more than one loving commitment.

I tend to be very open about my lifestyle, its a large part of who I am and if I can't be open with the people that I care about then I feel like I'm isolating myself from them.

Yes, some may take it poorly... but there are ways to test the waters, if you're willing to be a tiny bit manipulative first. Mention having a friend in a non-standard relationship and see how they respond... if it turns into a positive discussion you've opened the door to explaining that you are the friend :)

If you don't think that some of the friends can handle it, or that there might be negative consequences, choose your words carefully. If all else fails you can at least tell them that your 'roommate' is already in a committed relationship, just keep in mind that might lead nosey friends into wanting to know details and why they never see her with her guy...

Short version because i've already rambled. a lot. Its a complicated situation and comes down to how comfortable you are taking the risk that some of your friends may not take the news well. Sit down with your partners and come up with a phrasing/explanation you will all use in discussing the topic with outsiders... decide who should be told. Okay your friends, but what about your boss, or family, or the mailman... is there anyone that any of you specifically do or do not want to clue in etc :)

And those that you do tell, make sure they understand how important discretion is to you. If they want to tell someone else, please talk it over with you first, or if they let slip by accident let you know asap so that you can be prepared to talk to that person yourself and explain.

Or you can just do what one of my former partner's wife did.... she made a post to facebook saying, basically "Look, I'm poly. That means that I love my husband, but with his permission I also have a boyfriend and we're coming up on our 5th anniversary together. Yes, my husband also has had girlfriends. No we aren't swingers and we don't sleep around. If you have questions feel free to ask, if you have judgment unfriend yourself now." All of the responses were positive 'as long as you're happy' type things, with lots of support from those of us who already knew. The best, of course, was her grandmother's reply "I wondered when you were going to fess up"

Mileage may vary on that tactic, of course. I let things slip here and there on facebook... but honestly, keep a separate non-family profile where I can say whatever I want without the worry of drama from my bucket-o-crazy aunt who was telling people I went to orgies way back before I'd ever thought of becoming sexually active.
posted by myShanon at 10:01 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't want to know because it is really none of my business,

Wrong; it absolutely is your business. Socially, those in committed relationships are to be considered as a unit. It would be incredibly rude to invite two people out of a triad to most events and not invite the third. Can you imagine how shitty you'd feel if you invited Robert and Will camping, or to a wedding, or out for your birthday, or whatever, and excluded Miriam because you thought she was just their housemate and not their partner?

OP, be willing to step up and defend your third's legitimacy in your relationship. Otherwise the message you send is "I like you, I love you, I want to be with you forever and I want to have children with you. . . but not enough to risk answering awkward questions." When you come out to people, definitely make it clear what kinds of questions are welcome. (I will tell you three that everyone and I mean EVERYONE will be curious about, whether they say so or not: "Who has sex with whom?" "Does everyone sleep in one big bed?" "Do the legs of the V get to choose other partners, or are they expected to be monogamous?" I'd strongly recommend coming up with some kind of answer to those questions even if you'd rather not, because otherwise, they will be answered by gossip instead of you.) But yeah, don't force your third to live his or her life as a lie.
posted by KathrynT at 10:09 AM on August 5, 2011 [13 favorites]

Yes, I would want to know the about the relationship. For one thing, I'd appreciate an early opportunity to stop making a fool of myself by the assy, presumptive things I've probably been saying to you if I had no idea what was going on:

"Hehe... I think [roommate] has a crush on you."

"So [spouse] doesn't mind that you and [roommate] went to [fun weekend destination] together and shared a hotel room? My spouse would flip."

"[Roommate] is so cute and nice... I can't understand why he/she doesn't have a boy/girlfriend." Etc, etc.

How stupid am I going to feel 15 years in when the real nature of the relationship finally comes to light? Especially if it becomes apparent that certain other of our friends new what was going on all along.

Reason #2 that I would like to be told: there is a good chance that I already know or strongly suspect. Several times I've been in a situation where a couple has been trying to hide the true nature of their relationship, and it is really annoying and uncomfortable listening to the fibs and lame cover stories and having to pretend that I am as dumb as they seem to think I am, feeling like I have to censor every comment I am about to make lest I inadvertantly refer to something I'm not supposed to know about.

And it's a totally crappy feeling to be among those who haven't been told when others clearly have. Once a few people know, the bunch of you will almost certainly be dropping clues left and right that there is something secret going on... meaningful looks, veiled references, whispered conversations that end abruptly, etc. People NOTICE that shit and wonder why they are being left out of the loop.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:44 AM on August 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have to gently disagree with the suggestions to encourage questions. The little voice inside their heads that says "maybe I shouldn't ask that " is otherwise known as empathy, and it is more important than curiosity. You seem like a private person, and that is your right. Feel free to respond to questions with a polite form of "none of your business ".
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:57 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I like to invite folks over to dinner to socialize. It would be awful (I would feel awful) if I invited Alice and Bob over to dinner (because they were clearly a couple) but consistently excluded Carol because no one had mentioned she was also part of the social unit.
posted by leahwrenn at 12:20 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You have spent THREE YEARS hiding your third partner from everyone? I'd be really resentful and frustrated that my partners felt the need to hide me for THREE YEARS even though there has been talk of raising children together! Who cares what other people think and whether they want to know? Your third partner deserves to be treated with respect. Come out.
posted by buteo at 2:19 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't speak to your specific situation, but I can give an anecdote:

When I was younger, homosexuality was much more stigmatized than it is today, so people were generally more hesitant to come out, even to close friends. So, in those instances when a friend DID come out to me, my reaction was usually, "thank you for trusting me enough as a friend to confide in me." Sometimes the revelation was about as surprising as news that the sun would be rising next morning, but being trusted with something so personal made me feel valued as a friend.

Of course the opposite can be true as well; a friend who feels the need to hide something is sometimes a friend only up to the boundary of that hidden thing. Trying to be friends while avoiding the elephant in the room can be very tiring for everyone involved.

Of course this has nothing to do with your personal relationship, but bear in mind that you also have a relationship with your friends, one that can be cemented with truth.
posted by lekvar at 2:25 PM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think you should have a big party and make it an event that will go down in history as the greatest party of the decade. Tell everyone! Take questions like a press conference. Give away prizes. Write a theme song. Create a special drink. CELEBRATE! No secrets, no waffling, no keeping track of who knows and who doesn't.

When you do anything other than BE YOURSELF you have set a bad precedent. You stop being a positive representation of an alternate lifestyle and start hiding things just like marginal cultures have had to do for centuries. Don't be that person.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:45 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your friends are probably following your lead on this.

If they're not asking, it's not necessarily because they don't want to know. It may be that they percieve you as not wanting to talk about it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:15 PM on August 5, 2011

Great point upthread about your preferred descriptive relationship terms for the relationships within your V. Please identify these for your friends right off the bat (M is my spouse, X is my boyfriend/girlfriend, M and X like to say that they're partners-in-law.) Give them some words to use so they CAN ask questions without fumbling through this.

When someone is sharing this important thing with you about the people they love, and they're looking at your reaction, hoping that you're not going to turn out to be the Uncomfortable Judgmental Friend, and they ask if you have any questions...it can see kind of...petty? to go straight to a workaday logistical question like "okay, do I still call X your boyfriend or what?"
posted by desuetude at 9:40 PM on August 5, 2011

Late to the party, but - as a poster noted upthread, if you are going to have children, you can't expect to keep secrets for very long. There's a reason why "kids say the darndest things!" is a catchphrase. Kids are natural-born blabbermouths and don't get the concept of "family privacy" until they are older.

There is no way to keep kidlet from blurting out something like "Uncle Charlie isn't really my uncle and he sleeps in bed with Mommy on the weekends" or "I saw Uncle Charlie and Daddy kissing the other day." You will have to be a Threatening Scary Parent or tape kidlet's mouth shut (and you don't want to be that parent, do you?) if you want to keep your relationship a secret after you have a child and child gets old enough to talk. Besides, family secrets are incredibly toxic to children. All the more reason to be candid about your relationship now before you have the child you are planning.

(By the way, you might want to read Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's Mothers and Others for an evolutionary-biology perspective on how and why humans evolved to be "cooperative breeders," that is, have extended family help raise the kids. A well-adjusted polyfamily means more adults to love and care for kids and that is nothing but good for them!)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:33 AM on August 9, 2011

wouldn't want to know because it is really none of my business,

Wrong; it absolutely is your business. Socially, those in committed relationships are to be considered as a unit. It would be incredibly rude to invite two people out of a triad to most events and not invite the third. Can you imagine how shitty you'd feel if you invited Robert and Will camping, or to a wedding, or out for your birthday, or whatever, and excluded Miriam because you thought she was just their housemate and not their partner?

Nope, still none of my business. It is only rude to not invite one of a three way relationship if I was aware of it. If they chose not to tell me, it is not rude for me to assume it is a relationship as they present it to me. It is their decision to tell me or not. They have no obligation to which you are implying they should. I would hope that they would feel comfortable enough with me to tell me and know that it will not affect our relationship, but there are so many other factors for them to consider, it is their decision, not mine. Any social decisions I make can only be judged based on my knowledge. But, yes, I would feel bad if I found out after the fact that I had inadvertently excluded someone.
posted by AugustWest at 10:10 AM on August 9, 2011

It would be helpful to know where you are geographically.

I read the responses above that say to own it, and come out to everybody, and that's great. But I think it depends on where you are. If you are in a liberal area, on either coast, it would be cool (or, to myShanon's point, maybe also in Utah). But I grew up in the Bible Belt, and I think people there would flip their shit on hearing this, and you would need to be a lot more careful about what you said and to whom. I've been gone over a decade, so maybe things have changed, but maybe not. The friends I still talk to from that area would call you a nutjob or worse.

I'm sorry to be a wet blanket. Whatever you choose to tell people, I wish you the best.
posted by I am the Walrus at 2:05 PM on August 9, 2011

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