So you’ve discovered that you’re polyamorous.
Maybe you’re already seeing more than one partner, or you’re hoping or planning to. Maybe you’re in a monogamous relationship that you want to open up. Maybe you’ve already told a few close friends, or your entire Facebook friends list.
For many polyamorous people, coming out to their parents is an important step. Some know that their parents will be accepting and coming out doesn’t feel like a big deal, but others anticipate some confusion, disagreement, or even rejection from their parents because of their choice to be polyamorous. And navigating this process isn’t always easy.
Although coming out as polyamorous to your parents is not at all mandatory – more on that later – it can sometimes be difficult or awkward not being out to your parents, especially if you’re young or really close with them.
Maybe you want to bring more than one partner home for the holidays. Maybe you have no idea how to respond to questions like, “Do you think they’re ‘The One?’” Maybe you just want them to know what’s going on in your life.
Not sure where to start?
Here are five tips for coming out as polyamorous to your parents.
1. Show Them Some 101 Resources
You don’t have to do all the work of explaining polyamory to your parents yourself. Luckily, many have already invented that particular wheel.
Polyamorous educator Franklin Veaux provides a useful introduction to polyamory at his website, More Than Two. This PDF by Cherie L. Ve Ard and Franklin Veaux includes both a glossary and some common polyamory myths. The books Opening Up, More Than Two, and The Ethical Slut include lots of introductory material for those who don’t know much about polyamory and could be great gifts if you think your parents might want a more in-depth explanation.
Many cities also have local groups that have events and meetings, some of which are geared towards people who are curious or apprehensive about polyamory and hoping to learn more. If you think this might help your parents, you can try searching Meetup for a group in their area.
2. Know That There Is No Right or Wrong Way to Come Out
Some people sit their parents down for a talk. Others prefer telling them over the phone or sending an e-mail. Some specifically state, “I’m polyamorous.” Others would rather simply say “So, I have two boyfriends” and leave it at that.
The best way to come out is the way that feels most comfortable and effective for you and your family.
If you know your parents tend to misinterpret or overreact during in-person conversations, e-mail might be best. If you want to hear their reaction, but know you can’t travel to see them for awhile, talking on the phone might be a good idea.
While it might be useful to consider how your parents prefer to communicate, coming out is about you and your identity. If your parents prefer to talk on the phone, but phones give you anxiety, you definitely don’t have to use their preferred communication method.
3. Ask Your Parents What Worries or Concerns Them About Polyamory
If your parents aren’t exactly enthusiastic in response to your coming out, asking them what bothers them about polyamory can be an effective way to get to the heart of the issue (and possibly reassure them).
While you are absolutely not obligated to defend your identity or choices – more on this in the next section – sometimes you might want to, and this is one way to do it.
Many parents of polyamorous folks fear that their children will face stigma and rejection and have a really difficult time finding people to date. They might worry that it means they’ll never become grandparents or dance with their child at their wedding.
While you may not be interested in marriage or children (whether you’re polyamorous or not), maybe you are – and letting your parents know that these choices are completely compatible with polyamory may ease their concerns.
Of course, it’s true that polyamorous people still face stigma and that it can be hard to find compatible partners sometimes. But that stigma is starting to fade and more and more people are trying polyamory, so it can only get better from here.
Showing your parents some positive coverage of polyamory in the media, such as this Atlantic article, can help.
4. Set Boundaries Around Conversation Topics That Feel Uncomfortable or Unsafe
It’s okay to let them know that you’re not comfortable discussing certain topics or that you’ve already answered that question and aren’t going to argue about it again.
Here are some scripts that may help:
“That’s not something I’m comfortable going into detail about. Is there any other way I could reassure you that I’ve made the right choice for myself?”
“I’ve already explained several times that having kids isn’t on the radar for me right now, so I’m not going to discuss that with you anymore.”
“You wouldn’t ask me a question like that if I were monogamous, so please don’t ask it just because I’m not.”
“Actually, let’s change the topic. Where are you and Dad going for vacation this year?”
“That’s a hurtful thing to say. I won’t be able to continue this conversation if you say things like that.”
“I think we’re talking past each other. Let’s talk about this some other time when we’ve both had a chance to unwind. Love you.”
Sometimes people with identities or lifestyles that are considered “weird” by others feel like they are on display, and like they have to fully explain or defend everything they do to those who are curious. This dynamic can play out with our families, too.
But you don’t have to stay in an uncomfortable, painful, or triggering conversation just because your parents want you to stay in it.
5. Challenge the Idea of ‘Coming Out’ If It Doesn’t Feel Right to You
Coming out – as queer, trans, polyamorous, or any other invisible identity – can be very empowering. It can feel necessarily in order to live an authentic life. It can connect you to people and resources that affirm you.
But coming out is not a necessary step in the process of discovering yourself and living the life you want to live. It’s a step that many people take, of course, but that doesn’t mean you have to.
Furthermore, coming out is not a singular, one-step event. You might be out to your friends, your partners’ families, and even your boss, but not to your parents. That doesn’t mean you’re “not out.” It just means you’ve chosen a way of coming out that works for you.
So if you don’t think anything good would come of being out to your parents, you don’t have to.
Some people choose not to come out to their families as polyamorous because it’s not safe for them to do so. If your family is abusive, you might worry that they would use a stigmatized identity against you in some way. Or you might be concerned that your parents would out you to other relatives that you’re not comfortable being out to.
Regardless, the decision whether or not to come out to your parents is entirely personal – and you don’t owe coming out to anyone.
Monogamous people never have to come out to anyone as monogamous, so there’s no reason why polyamorous people should have to come out, either – unless they want to. Many of us are socialized to believe that we’re obligated to share certain details about our private lives with other people – especially parents – but in fact, each of us gets to decide for ourselves who knows what about our identities and relationships.
You can live a happy, healthy polyamorous life without being out to your parents. But if you decide you want to, know that you’ll have plenty of support from other poly people who’ve been there.
And if you do come out to your parents and it doesn’t go well, these affirmations may help. Connecting with supportive friends, partners, and fellow polyamorous people can remind you that your choices are valid, whether or not your family approves of them.
Miri Mogilevsky is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism and a recently graduated with a Masters in Social Work and is starting a career as a counselor in Columbus, Ohio. She loves reading, writing, and learning about psychology, social justice, and sexuality, and is working on her cat photography skills. Miri writes a blog called Brute Reason, rants on Tumblr, and occasionally even tweets @sondosia.