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Advice – My boyfriend isn’t as out about his polyamory as I believed.

I (25F) have been dating him (27M) since March, we’ve only met in real life twice but our online relationship was very intense and exciting. I have been curious about polyamory for years but this is my first actual experience with it. He has an NP (26F) who I’ve met after both our IRL dates and really like. They’ve been together many years and have been poly for almost their whole relationship. Due to the virus both our dates were at social distance, we haven’t physically touched.

When we ascertained that our attraction was romantic rather than just physical/sexual, he asked how I’d feel about eventually becoming his partner. He wasn’t out to his family at the time. I thought about it and realised that jealousy wasn’t an issue for me, I feel a lot of compersion for him and his NP, but what I didn’t feel comfortable with was dating someone who wasn’t out and would have to keep me a secret. I wanted a proper relationship, not to feel like someone’s dirty little secret. He understood and said he and his wife did plan on coming out to his family, and they were already out to their friends. He couldn’t give me a timeline for when it would happen, but said they definitely planned on it. I said I was happy to carry on with our online friendship in the meantime and if social distancing lifted I’d enjoy hanging out with him, perhaps a FwB situation.

In June, his NP was speaking to her parents and the opportune moment to come out to them as poly came along so she went with it. It went really well, and my boyfriend felt emboldened to come out to his parents. They took it reasonably well and are coming around to it with time. Immediately after coming out to them he asked me to be his girlfriend, and I gladly accepted.

At the end of our second date, we took a (socially-distant) selfie together. I later posted it on Facebook with a message about having a great day with my favourite person. I didn’t say he was my boyfriend or anything, and I thought it would be fine because he was now out to his family and he told me he was already out to his friends.

He then messaged me asking me not to post things like that in future as he wasn’t out to everyone. I was confused, as I had understood that he was out to everyone important to him, and I thought I had made it clear that I only wanted to date if I didn’t have to be kept a secret. He said he thought I was only talking about being a secret from his family. I said no, of course not, I don’t want to have to pretend we’re not together in front of anyone, I want a proper relationship not having to hide. He apologised for the misunderstanding. I asked him why he had told me he was out to his friends if it wasn’t true. He said he was out to most of them, but there are a few friends he wasn’t out to and would like to tell face-to-face. Due to them living in different parts of the country and the pandemic situation, he doesn’t anticipate seeing them face-to-face before next summer, potentially.

I asked him if he expected me to be semi-secret until then, and he said that it would probably be necessary. I know it’s probably petty, and since he won’t see these people IRL surely it’s not a big deal for me to keep stuff about our relationship off social media? But it hurt me, and I feel a bit like I’ve been bait-and-switched.

Is this just a silly misunderstanding? Am I making too much of this?

I really care about him and haven’t had a connection like this with anyone before. But I don’t feel comfortable being kept semi-secret from people who are apparently very important to him for potentially more than a year after we started dating. Is this just a conflict in boundaries? Am I in the wrong here for being hurt?

/u/secretsecondarysub, /r/polyamory.

Dear Secret Secondary Sub,

Your pain is understandable and justified. It comes from a misunderstanding of your boundary (“I will not be in a romantic relationship with someone who is not open about their relationship orientation”) which was then exacerbated by the miscommunication (“I’m out to all of my friends and family”) seemingly triggered by a relatively innocuous event (posting a picture on Facebook).

Let’s unpack each of those disconnect points.

Misunderstanding a boundary

The boundary itself is sound. If you are already out as polyamorous, going back into the closet for someone else can feel so incredibly restrictive. The way you communicated that up front with someone you were interested in says a lot about how fundamental this boundary is for you. But I’m even more impressed with your ability to self-reflect. Upon recognizing that you have romantic feelings towards this person, you were still able to step aside and rationale behind your own boundary.

The problem is in his interpretation of your boundary. I’m not sure how thorough you were initially in explaining why you felt uncomfortable about indulging on those mutual romantic attraction toward each other. But based on his response, I am going to assume that you were very clear on not just what the boundary was but why you had it in the first place. Even if he didn’t fully understand your boundary, this would have been a great opportunity to better flesh out the extent of this boundary with you.

Because you were clear and forward in your boundary establishment, he should have known that you would not have accepted the role of his girlfriend had he not completely come out as polyamorous to everyone he needs to. While he does not own the boundary you stated, it is his responsibility to respect and understand the boundary you’ve outlined for him. And misunderstanding of said boundary is his responsibility.

Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not fully comprehend your boundary, misunderstanding of this kind is something to be very cognizant of, especially since it was your boundary that he overstepped.

Miscommunication of the resolution

This misunderstanding is further aggravated by this particular miscommunication when he said that he was out. What he really should have said in that moment he came out to his parents is that he made some great personal progress that he wanted to celebrate.

Again, his misunderstanding of your boundary (if it really is a misunderstanding) speaks volumes about what led to the ensuing miscommunication. My guess is that – at the very best case scenario – he was just very excited from his coming out going so well that he pinned your boundary against his own elevated emotional state. And you had no real reason to doubt what he said, especially since – again – you were very clear and forthcoming about your boundary of not romantically engaging with anyone who isn’t fully out.

At the very worst case scenario, this isn’t just an issue about a misinterpretation of words; it becomes an issue about an absence of one. If he fully understood that you would not romantically engage with him while he wasn’t fully out to everyone, then he should have been much more clear about who he was and wasn’t out to, especially since this particular boundary is so important for you.

And his misfire here reveals a lot about his internal decision making process, especially when it pertains to a heightened emotional state.

Sharing an image on Facebook

And this is the part that I am the most confused by.

A distant selfie of you two with that particular message is not explicitly romantic or sexual, unless people are already coming into it knowing your relationship statuses. But even if that breached on his boundaries, he never specifically stated or asked you to not post anything on social media. An unstated boundary is not a real boundary. You had the right initial assumption that since he asked you to be his girlfriend that he was out to everyone he needs to be out to.

My guess is that his history of being in the closet for so long has made his social media nerve hypersensitive to the point that even this innocuous selfie was determined a gross violation of his unspoken boundary. It could even be that that hypersensitivity triggered an underlying sense of guilt about his violation of your boundary, almost as an internal projection onto the very person who he should be apologizing to.

What’s really interesting is that there are Facebook settings he could have implemented to prevent something like this from happening, if it really was his unspoken boundary. He could have untagged himself, reduced the shared photo visibility, or changed his privacy settings such that only a curated list of people he was out to were privy to his polyamorous connections. He didn’t do any of those. Instead, he took that anger right out on you, which reveals a deeply conflicted perspective he has about the role of social media in his personal life as well as a deeply troubling inability to manage non-monogamous relational conflicts.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Putting it all together

Let’s just go back to comparing the two specific boundaries here.

  • I will not be in a romantic relationship with someone who is not completely out to everyone in his life. (Your boundary)
  • I will not be in a romantic relationship with someone who outs me on social media without my explicit permission. (His boundary)

You asked if this really is a conflict in boundary. I think it is a conflict of boundaries, but I also think it is worse than just a conflict of boundaries. I believe the most likely scenario involving his headspace was that he was careless with the boundary you established with him, and overly strict with the boundary he didn’t know he had (or maybe he knew that he had, but did not proactively volunteer that information for you).

What I am much more troubled by is his relative lack of agency in resolving his ongoing boundary violation. If he isn’t out to everyone he needs to be out to, then he should be making a diligent attempt to come out to everyone as soon as possible, not waiting for the next best opportunity to come out in person. This tells me he doesn’t actually care about honoring the spirit of your boundary (if he understood it at all). You want to have a proper, authentic relationship, not one that you have to selectively filter.

And to quote the venerable Doctor Horrible, the status quo is not quo.

Photo by Egor Lyfar on Unsplash

There is a Japanese proverb that says if you chase two rabbits, you’ll not catch either. Your boyfriend does not get to both:

  • Rabbit 1: Ethically pursue a relationship with you while knowing that this is your boundary.
  • Rabbit 2: Remain in the closet with his distant friends and ask you to selectively filter your social media activity.

If he wants to pursue the first rabbit, he needs to have more proactive plans to ensure that he is fully out of the closet, so that he can adhere to the boundary you initially stated and continue the romantic relationship with you. If he wants to pursue the second rabbit, he needs to acknowledge that he will have to discontinue this romantic relationship – permanently or temporarily – until he decides he is ready to be fully out as polyamorous.

Consider that a lot of cis het ladies are conditioned and socialized to work around cis men in their respective dysfunctions and miscommunications. As such, consider shifting the burden of responsibility onto him – as the person who was responsible for the misunderstanding as well as the miscommunication – and not let him push his responsibilities of doing the emotional labor associated with the process of coming out onto you.

Perhaps a reconciliation of your boundaries as well as reassessment of your relationship status are due. Consider if you’d again accept his proposal to label you as his girlfriend if he asked tomorrow, knowing what you know now. Would you enthusiastically consent to romantically entangling with a person who either so egregiously misunderstood or disrespected your boundaries?

Good luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

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