Coming out, again

My father recently celebrated his birthday. Well, “celebrated” might not be the correct word, but it sure happened.

He’s had a tough few years, for various reasons I don’t feel like getting into now, but let it suffice to say that a few people who were very important and influential in his life have passed away in the last couple of years, under less than ideal circumstances, and he has been stuck holding too much grief. He’s a sensitive sort and can be violently emotional and defensive. He and I don’t have an easy relationship, but we love each other fiercely. He has remained the only truly important person in my life with whom I have remained purposefully “closeted” for the last couple of years.

So, he had a birthday. It occasioned his speaking to me about things like end of life wishes, wills and trusts and other family matters. He asked me, formally, in writing, if I would consent to take over management of certain family affairs, should he and my mother no longer be able to do so. He asked if he could give me power of attorney in various cases.

My sole reason for not discussing polyamory with him since college (when he did not react very well) has been that I feared rejection, being disowned, something like that. My mother has urged me to “give him a little more credit” – give him a chance to accept me. But, I have been, honestly, afraid. I have not wanted to discuss it with him simply because I have not been ready to face the consequences, should he decide that I am no longer part of the family.

Maybe it’s silly, but plenty of parents have rejected their children this way. It was too painful for me to think about.

Yet, it seemed like a wrong and harmful deception, to allow him to assign such responsibilities to me if he did not fully know and acknowledge who I am, and choose to assign those responsibilities anyway. Which means, logically, that in order to accept that power of attorney, I needed to come out, clearly, and with no more hesitation.

The outcome would be either that he chose to keep me in his life, as his daughter with all that entails, or not.

I thought, better to disown a daughter before spending all that money and time on lawyers and paperwork.

So I sent the email. It said essentially, Dad, I will of course accept these responsibilities and do my best when and if the time ever comes. But, first, I want to make sure you know who I am, and still want me to.

The following day, he cc’d me on some correspondence with his lawyer, indicating how we were moving forward with various paperwork. So, I thought, I guess I’m not disowned.

It was extremely anticlimactic. Which is wonderful.

I wish there were something more profound for me to say but that’s what it was: anticlimactic. Yet, completely in line with how my family usually is with difficult things.

The other day, I was saying hello to my mother on the phone, and my dad broke in (he’d clearly had a drink or two) to say, emphatically, that he loved me, about six times.

He said something else, too:

I am always here, I will always be there for you, so don’t be afraid. Take every risk.

Advice to a new polyamorist: Everything changes

I’d been talking to a friend off and on about polyamory, and she got in touch again a little while ago. We no longer live in the same city since I’ve moved to SF, but I think we’ll keep in touch. We have a lot in common. She’s married, too. Now she has a young child. She and her husband are young and going through a lot of life changes.

About a year ago, we had lunch and she confessed to being interested in, and perhaps even jealous of, my open marriage. This was almost funny to me because I always admired her and thought she had everything in her life so well put together, that it hadn’t occurred to me that she might think anything similar of me. (Sidenote: Everyone has a wish list and a list of questions and worries, everyone, always.) We talked about marriage and relationships in general, the level of commitment that being open requires, the difference between “open” vs “swinging” vs “polyamory” vs “polyfidelity” etc. There are a lot of definitions to play around with and learn about. It was a lively lunch discussion. It seemed like she was yearning for more freedom and more time to explore, but with her young family, it was just a wish, put on the back burner for a while.

So, when she reached out to me again to ask me more about this topic, I was not surprised. She had just asked her husband to consider an open marriage, to give his consent to her dating. She seemed relieved and pleased that he had given that consent, but also worried because of the way that he gave it. It also worried me.

He said, basically, “Do what you have to do, but I don’t want to hear about it.”

What does that really mean? she wondered. Does that mean he doesn’t feel he has a choice, that he feels forced in to something he doesn’t want? That would be the opposite of her intention, which she said was to expand their relationship within the bounds of honesty, love and mutual respect. And, polyamory is what she wanted, not just a special dispensation to hook up with people at parties. She sought the ability to explore additional relationships, build more connections, and allow for the possibility of multiple loves.

What if she found someone else who was special? What if she fell in love? How would he react to this possibility? she asked him.

His response was, again, not what she hoped to hear. He’d be unhappy but he would find a way to “move on.”

Hardly the response of a person open to the idea of “multiple loves” existing simultaneously.

My advice to her was very basic, but the best I could come up with (and still is): Don’t rush. Give him time. Don’t rush. Communicate a lot. Check in with him a lot and ask a lot of questions and take an interest in his feelings and fears. If he’s anything like my husband (and it sounds like he is), he won’t be the most forthcoming with his vulnerabilities and emotions, so sometimes one must really work to discover them.

I thought about this a lot over the next few days, as it turned out that, she and Boyfriend, both back in the city I left, discovered a connection between…themselves.

Boyfriend then came to discuss it with me and, essentially, make sure he had my permission to see her.


I was taken completely by surprise. It’s been a while since I’ve been so surprised. I’d had no idea. Neither had they, he insisted. I had some very hard days as I obsessively wrestled with a cold wave of emotions and questions.

Over and over, I asked myself: Had she asked me for advice but hidden her real motive? Why would she do such a thing when she could just talk to me honestly? This just didn’t sound like her. I couldn’t see a reason for her to do this and I couldn’t see her, the person I knew, doing such a weird thing. It was a creeping suspicion, the fear of betrayal, yet I couldn’t square it with reality. I also briefly touched, but nearly immediately rejected, the idea that they were already involved, and were coming forward now to mend the mistake. Knowing them both, I knew this just didn’t make any sense.

Then, there are all the fears lurking just below the surface of my life, things like, What if he doesn’t come to join us here? Our plan had been that he would also move and we would continue to plan our future together. Was he seeking a new relationship as a way of anchoring himself there, seeking reasons not to move? This really scared me; the thought of Boyfriend calling me one day to say he’d changed his mind and wouldn’t be moving really shook me and my whole concept of what the next few years would be. It scared me even more because I hadn’t really considered it – I’d started to take for granted that he’d come, and now I was forced to admit I wasn’t sure of anything. This uncertainty was monumental in my mind.

Finally, there was the battle in my heart over the concept of poly itself. I reasoned with myself that there was nothing to fear, that I knew both of them and could trust them. That the beauty of poly was the ability to pursue surprises and romantic experiences just like this. But I was afraid.

Fear takes lots of forms. My fear was jealous, worried and deeply vulnerable and raw.

After a few emotional emails and a long phone call, Boyfriend and I came to a place of understanding, and I was able to make a step that was very hard for me.

My epiphany came, as they often do, while I was in the shower. I wondered, What would happen if I accepted that I may not be able to perfectly trust anyone, and that is ok? What if I accepted that, yet decided to act with perfect trust anyway? Would that allow me to open my heart more? If the real problem in this situation is not whether he dates someone new (because that’s never been a problem in the past), or who he dates (in this case, someone I really like) – the problem is my fear that he will not move, that he somehow does not want our own relationship to continue.

In the end, I wrote my friend a short letter, telling her that at first I felt foolish for not knowing, but realized she would never do anything to hurt me. I told her that whatever happened next, I was her friend, and they had my blessings.

I’d never written a letter like that before. Sending it felt a little like jumping off a cliff. All of the voices of a dominant culture of monogamy whispered to me that perhaps she’d laugh at me, perhaps I was wrong to trust her, or Boyfriend, or anyone, ever.

What happened instead was that she wrote back a longer, heartfelt letter, expressing her gratitude and reaffirming friendship. We talked again that day and I felt as though I could breathe for the first time in days. Of course, who knows what will happen; first she needs to work more with her husband, to see if this will work for him at all, surely a way more formidable task than talking to me! Just shows that humans are so good at building huge towers in our minds, no matter what has actually happened or will happen. We torture ourselves with not knowing, trying to know.

The real source of my epiphany about trust, of course, is Husband. He has been patient and trusting through everything between us for over a decade. Lots of it has been, frankly, ugly and difficult. My own experience has proven to me that falling in love with a new person won’t take away my love for him. I would be far less successful in learning to grow beyond my own immediate reactions of fear and jealousy without his example.

So, back to advice for new polyamorists.

Today, I’d give this advice to new polyamorists. It’s not just for polyamorists; it’s some of what I have learned from polyamory that applies to everyone in every relationship:

Respect and value what you have. Never take anyone for granted.

The person you’ve been with for years still has things to teach you, if you are able to pay the right kind of attention.

Do not torment yourself by assigning negative intentions to people in your mind – ask them and trust them. When in doubt, try to choose the good intention, the positive solution.

Everything can change in a moment, so live fully in each moment. Be real. Don’t lie. Face up. And move ahead.

Invite love. When given the choice, even if it’s complicated, say yes to life.

It won’t be simple or worry-free. But it will be interesting and, probably, completely worth the trouble.

Golden Gate Bridge

This visit to SF has been more or less idyllic. Yesterday I was lying down in the grass in Dolores park, listening to the cacophony of other people’s personal speakers all blending together, having a picnic lunch with friends, thinking about the ways we could spend out afternoon. I was lazy, the sun was warm, my sandwich and beer were delicious. It was very easy to imagine napping the day away. Instead, knowing it was my last full vacation day and I would be happier later if I used it to the fullest, I found motivation to lace up my sneakers and join Husband and Boyfriend for a long and beautiful bike ride.

We had talked a little about riding over the Golden Gate Bridge, something that appealed to me but that I had no idea about. Didn’t know how long it was, what kind of ride I was in for, nothing. H led us a pleasant winding route though the Haight, the panhandle and Golden Gate Park. We stopped briefly in the park to walk through the public rose garden, where dozens of varieties of multicolored flowers were either in peak bloom or just past it, each with their own subtly unique fragrance. Just East of the rose garden was a small valley surrounded by enormous trees, also fragrant, and impressive. We watched a man playing fetch with his majestic, happy dog for a moment, then continued our ride.

The park is relatively flat but the lead-up to the bridge becomes very steep, very quickly. By the time we reached this dramatic incline, I was feeling very worked out already and walked, pushing my bike part of the way to catch my breath. H, having more SF biking experience than I have, didn’t seem to break a sweat. Walking was just fine, though, and I took my fill of misty photos of the views of the city, the water, and the bridge in the ever-shortening distance.

The bridge itself is perhaps a mile and a half long, and an easy ride. The Brooklyn Bridge is a nasty uphill climb by comparison, but the GG is pleasant and easy, if extremely windy. The wind was whipping so hard that around the midpoint of the bridge, I struggled to stay upright on my bike at times, and when I stopped to take a photo the wind was actually raking tears from my eyes. The ride back down was exhilarating and wonderful.

On our slightly less meandering route back home, we stopped to explore the Palace of Fine Arts, the enormous column decorated dome structure, originally built for the World’s Fair in 1915. Situated on an artificially enlarged and landscaped lagoon, populated by many ducks and gulls, a pair of gigantic white swans, and many picture-snapping tourists, the structure and grounds cover a 17 acre area in the Marina District. This charming fake Beaux-Arts monstrosity looks as though it were a fantasy book cover or Romantic landscape painting come to life.

With all of our starts, stops, twists and scenic routs, we estimated about 16 miles of biking for the day: a final vacation day and July 4th well spent.

I went to bed for the night considering a thought that I often return to for motivation: the difference between people who do interesting things and people who don’t is simple. The former group says, Yeah, ok, let’s try that, and the latter group says, Eh, it sounds like a lot of trouble.

Usually it is a lot of trouble. That’s the point. I think that’s why I do a lot of what I do because usually I’m so happy at the end, whatever it was.