sex, love, and relationships for those of us who don't quite follow the rules


9 days. The count-up has been running since I sent my mother the email: the one where I said that while I’m sorry it upset her to see me snuggling with my boyfriend instead of sleeping on the separate bed she’d prepared for me, I’m not willing to apologize for failing to respect her values. That in fact I don’t respect her values, although I acknowledge her right to enforce them under her own roof, and will not transgress on that right in the future. That in fact I’m carrying around a fair amount of anger for the damage I have suffered as a result of my blindly accepting those values in my younger days. And oh yes, by the way, that my boyfriend and I are not monogamous and probably never will be.

I said it much more sweetly than the above might imply. My mother is a wonderful, beautiful, inspiring person, and I feel my family ranked in the 90th percentile for Good Families To Grow Up In. My parents’ excellent marriage is something of a modern miracle, and I recognize that it’s founded on those very values I resent and decry, and I said all this too. I would hate to make either of them feel that I don’t appreciate the family they’ve created.

I am privileged with a capital P. Besides all that white wealthy educated American stuff, I have warm and happy relationships with both my parents and three siblings. I need more than two hands to count the friends who are also like family to me, who I know will always care about me and who I wouldn’t hesitate to call on in a crisis. These are rare blessings, even for white wealthy educated Americans, and I’m deeply grateful for them. But no blessing is unmixed, and mine have this qualifier: they make it very hard to rock the boat. With so much love, so much warmth, so much harmony, and — let’s be completely fair — so much acceptance for a great range of differences, it’s very, very hard to be the one who holds up a hand and says, “Actually, this isn’t quite working for me. Here, this is my boyfriend and our girlfriend. Can we all come home for Christmas this year?”

That last is a hypothetical — Shaun’s and my outside relationships are all still quite casual. I could pass for monogamous without too much strain, and in a lot of places I do. My plan, in fact, was to continue to do so with my parents as long as that was the case. I wasn’t going to lie, I just wanted to keep them on a need-to-know basis. I figured it would be easier for everybody that way.

This worked great as long as I wasn’t actually around them much. When we visited my hometown, though, I found a host of tensions and discomfort arising. Probably the worst part was feeling like I was closeting my beloved Shaun, who has worked hard and sacrificed much in order to live honestly and openly.

I don’t think I’m a naturally honest person. If I’d grown up in a more hostile environment, I can easily imagine being one of those people who creates elaborate personas, different ones for different situations, who finds honesty and consistency across relationships almost impossible. I’m keenly aware of the way I “spin” myself depending who I’m talking to. I don’t particularly like this about myself, though it’s a useful skill. I’m trying to do it less. It’s a scary thing. In that interest, I’m starting to write under my real name, and give my boyfriend his (all other people I write about will still get their pseudonyms, unless they request otherwise.) I want to take steps to unify the slightly-fragmented identities I present to the world. It feels a little bit like an adventure, or a roller coaster. All this identity-management business, for me, is mostly about control: I like to think that I have some control over what people will think of me, how they will receive me, by managing what I tell them about myself. It’s bullshit, of course. Being closeted, in any way about anything, buys control at the cost of freedom, and of the two I prefer freedom. But letting go of control comes with some thrills and chills. It’s been nine days since I wrote my mother; I got a brief acknowledgement, and reassurance that she loves me, but I’m still waiting for a real response. I feel like I’m hanging on to the bar, waiting to see where this ride will take me. I’ll let you know.


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