To Tell or Not to Tell

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To Tell or Not to Tell

The dilemma (for many) around telling vanilla friends and family about the lifestyle

When people get into the lifestyle (LS), they are concerned about anonymity. This is normal because this is not exactly a generally-accepted practice. People fear they will be discovered by someone they know. Also, when anyone first gets into this, they are not sure they will stay in it, so there’s no need to expose themselves. We all fear not only judgment but ramifications in our personal and professional lives. Many start with fake names, at least on their profiles, maybe even upon meeting. Profiles are filled with pictures of us with emoji smiley faces covering our own until we trust someone enough to send them ‘face pics.’ We are all pretty equally scared of being discovered, so discretion is a primary value of our tribe.

We are not in this for love, and we’ll say so.

There are some polyamorous folks, of course, who just know, “this is who they are,” and, in my experience, they are more likely to be open about it. That’s great because I feel they are probably paving the path for some of us more heathen-like non-monogamous types who weren’t born this way but just choose this lifestyle. My theory is that the polyamorous are the crew that are leading the way on the non-monogamous-acceptance path because they can fall within the “love is love” narrative of the LGBTQIA+ movement. Some of us fit into that movement, and some of us are probably more in the shadows of the +, or “and more.” The narrative is out there, and it’s a good one, but the swingers? We are not in this for love, and we’ll say so. We are in this for sex. Gasp! Sex for pure pleasure’s sake? I mean, God might be able to get behind “love is love,” and God might have made gay people, but swingers? Ultimately, our culture is still driven by religious Puritanism, even if who God is and what she thinks is getting murkier every day. 

That might be the thing that makes LS friendships curiously deep quite quickly: we hold each other’s secrets, or at least one of them.

Usually, once people have been in LS for a while, they relax some. Most revert to using their own names. We all realize that if we bump into our neighbors, well, we are discovering this about each other. Then, the longer we stay in it, the more normal it becomes and the more our identity may be defined by it. When we got into it, experienced folks would tell us how eventually, they only hung out with LS friends. After a few years in, we understood. It’s not only that LS people are just a very fun and open crowd, but it’s also who you become the most comfortable hanging out with because they actually know things about you that you hide from others. That might be the thing that makes LS friendships curiously deep quite quickly. We hold each other’s secrets, or at least one of them. They know the deepest things about you and have seen you at your most intimate and vulnerable… yet they may not remember how many children you have or where you grew up. Of course, the amount that people “identify” as being lifestyle is a complicated conversation, and that almost constantly evolves, so while what I say might be true of those who completely identify with it, it may vary in its level of truth depending on where people are on that spectrum at any time.

As it does become more of your identity, questions arise as to whom you might tell. I mean, can a vanilla friendship last and be authentic when the answer to, “What did you guys do last night?” cannot be, “Well, we ended up at a 6-person orgy, and it was the most amazing experience of my life,” but will be something like, “We went out with friends for dinner and some drinks after.” Is it even fair to expect it to? I said the same things as everyone, “My friends don’t care who I’m having sex with, so why do they need to know?” Then eventually, I started to feel strange not telling them — the ones I loved the most, anyway. My situation is unique, becoming a lifestyle coach, but still, it’s a question most will likely grapple with. Everyone has their own comfort level around telling anyone, and, if so, who.

The Fascinated, The Supportive, and The “That’s Nice”

My journey with that was such that when we first got into the lifestyle, we didn’t know what we were looking for. My husband had said, “I think there’s something more,” and I spun for a while not knowing what this meant. I am a person who relies heavily on my girlfriends to make it through life so my bestie had to know my struggle. She didn’t know what more meant either, but she was there for me every step of the way. As my husband and I experimented and learned what more was going to mean for us, she heard about all of it. She fell into the “truly fascinated” category of friend reactions. In my experience, here are the categories of those we have told:

The Truly Fascinated: These are the “Not for them but tell me more!” crowd. They love the details (well, maybe not every detail) and love to hear about the dynamics. These folks have many questions. My friend would never consider non-monogamy for her and her husband, but she has had as many insights about the dynamics of the LS as I have.

The Supportive: With these folks, they are excited to be in the know and that you felt safe telling them. They’ll have questions, and they’ll bring it up again if they think of others, but they don’t have the fascination factor. My sister was one of these. I was sweating about sharing with her, but we are close, and it got weird not telling her. When I did reveal, she said, “That’s cool!” “It is?” I questioned, “How is it cool?” “Because you two are doing what is right for you.” Oh, I thought, that is cool!

The “That’s Nice”: These are the ones who might say, “Thanks for sharing with me,” if they think of this often-used phrase. They are polite — you get the sense you won’t be losing them as friends, but it’s kind of awkward — they don’t know what to say, so neither do you. They’ll maybe ask a question or two, but they probably won’t ever bring it up again. That’s fine by you; you now feel better that they know, but you aren’t sure they do.

A wake-up call to remind me that this is still not an accepted idea among the masses.

Then I had a different experience altogether. This was a wake-up call to remind me that this is still not an accepted idea among the masses. A few years ago, I went to what I like to refer to as “therapy camp.” I went to deal with some childhood trauma that kept lingering and raising its head within my relationships. During this camp, we were put into small groups of 8–10, and we spent days getting to know one another and sharing the reason we were each there. We were probably the most vulnerable with each other than we would be with almost any others. Afterward, we created a texting chat group, and we stayed in touch. Of course, the frequency became less over the years, but about every six months, someone would pop in with a “Thinking about y’all!” (several were from the American South).

Just after launching this career, during one of these pop-ins, I wrote to the group about my career in life and relationship coaching. I got comments back about how great that was. Then I texted and said, “I’ll be vulnerable with y’all and send you my website. My husband and I have been non-monogamous for five years, and I can’t remember if I told any of you this at our retreat.” I waited. Crickets. No response. I went to bed wondering if anyone would see and respond over the next day. The next morning I couldn’t help myself, and I chimed in, “Really? No comment? No one has anything to say about this?” A little while later, one of the women chimed in, “Best of luck to you, Lauren.” Huh. I had been effectively written off by my therapy camp group. I suspect another text string was created without me in it, or my coming out destroyed the group altogether.

That was pretty low-stakes for me, given they weren’t people I was in touch with often. I also thought the probability of acceptance would be high, given all we had been through together. Nope. It was a good reminder that I need to be very thoughtful about whom I tell. While some people even share with their children, my husband and I don’t think it’s the right time. We are also concerned that if we were open, our children’s lives would be negatively affected by judgmental people.

For now, we decided maybe it is safer to stay in the shadows of “and more.”

Someday, we do hope we can be open about our lifestyle. It’s not what we feel we need to lead with when we meet people, but we have come to feel that we can have more authentic friendships with those we can share it with. “It’s none of their business” is one version of what we used to think. Now, it quite literally is my business. With that last experience of reveal, for now, we have decided maybe it is safer to stay in the shadows of “and more.”

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