My girlfriend is polyamorous, bisexual, and married to a man. She is closeted both about being bi and about being polyam. For example, she says she’s close with her father and they tell each other everything but he doesn’t know she’s bi or that her and her husband aren’t monogamous (let alone that I exist). I told her when we started dating that I could anticipate struggling with missing out on a large chunk of her life because she is closeted, but at the time it was a non-issue. I’m lucky that I am safely out about my orientation and my relationship structure. I would never ask her to do anything that would make her life worse, but I feel like I might miss out on a closeness with her if she doesn’t come out. How do I deal with feelings of being hidden?
This sounds super painful and I’m so sorry your relationship is making you feel invisible. For those of us that have already come out of the many metaphorical closets, going back in is just not an option. This is a double whammy because you not only have to watch your girlfriend’s traditional hetero relationship be validated by her loved ones, they also don’t know about you at all. There’s a ton to unpack here so let’s get to it!
As much as it may feel personal, it’s important to understand that this isn’t about you. Your girlfriend’s decision to be closeted is hers and not based on how much she cares about you. This almost makes the situation more complicated, right? “If she cared about me, she’d be out!” It’s unfortunately not so easy. Everyone has their own pace for these things, and some people live their whole lives in the closet only for their loved ones to discover the truth in photos or journals left behind. The point being—she may never, ever come out. In order to continue dating her, you have to make peace with that fact now and forgo placing hope onto an outcome. Can you do that?
You didn’t mention the reason that she’s not out and I probably shouldn’t guess, but there’s a lot I can glean just from the few sentences you’ve written. You do mention specifically that it was safe for you to come out and also that coming out would make her life worse, which leaves me wondering what is the threat to her safety? What is at stake? Her current situation that seems to be a hetero marriage with close parental support sounds like a safe landing. Of course coming out as both queer and polyamorous are a threat to that privileged set up. I just am dying to know what there is to lose by coming out? Bigoted family, shitty friends? It’s literally a queer rite of passage—people do this all the time with much less of a cushion. She’s allowing people she is supposedly close with to make assumptions about her life that keep her in a comfortable social status, but also keep you locked in the dark like a dirty secret (unless of course that’s your thing). My spicy take is that it sounds like she’s lacking some integrity?
Every relationship has people coming together from different backgrounds and bringing unique life experiences, privileges, and power dynamics. I think to be in any kind of relationship ethically, the least we need to do is talk openly about these things and at most compensate for them with action. A simple example is class difference. If you have money and your partner is poor, you should share your money. This could be anything from paying the rent to just paying for dinner when you can. With polyamorous relationships, we then have added responsibility to be in conversation about how the dynamics of our other relationships may be impacting each person. Your situation is a great example. Your girlfriend is in a public-facing monogamous straight marriage. Do you talk about how this makes you feel aside from being hidden? Honestly her responsibility in holding this social privilege from her other relationship essentially means that she should be mindful about how to make you feel special and prioritized. Ideally, she’s also acting on making you feel special and prioritized. How can that ever happen if she’s hiding you?
Anyway, let’s get back to you. This is about you! These aren’t decisions that you can ever make for her and asking her or anyone else to come out is absolutely not something you should do. So, what can you do? I always say that the only person you should control is yourself. You can reexamine your relationship, figure out what you need, set boundaries, break up. You have lots of options!
Let’s talk about dealing with the feelings around invisibility and potentially missing out on intimacy that comes along with being folded into her life. When you love someone you want to meet all the people that they love. It’s healthy to want to learn more about someone and be endeared to them through their relationships to others. When that’s not an option, or is being withheld, it can feel stifling or lead to resentment. What do you need to feel secure and safe if you stay in this relationship? Let’s call on our best friend Boundaries. Boundaries are here to support us getting what we need. If you make a list of all the things you deserve in relationships like “I deserve to not feel invisible,” or, “I deserve intimacy,” then your boundaries should support those.
Boundaries for this situation can vary depending on how you feel. You can dial back your relationship to be more casual so that you don’t have any expectations of meeting her family. This may help you feel less invisible, readjust the way you think about intimacy with your girlfriend, and free up more time for you to focus on other dates. You can go a different route and ask to spend more time around people in her life that do know she’s queer and polyamorous (assuming there are at least a few more than the husband) to compensate for not getting to meet everyone who doesn’t know. Do you see how these are different ways of essentially supporting what you know you deserve?
There’s a bigger picture to think about here too, Casper. You could decide after successfully setting boundaries and asking for what you need and getting what you need that it just isn’t enough. You may decide that in order to truly prioritize yourself while not trying to control anyone else that you have to let this relationship go. Beyond the hurt of feeling hidden, so much life experience comes from being out as queer and being out as polyamorous that when one person in a relationship is still closeted it can feel like a serious imbalance. This could thrust you into a role of guide that you don’t necessarily enjoy or consent to. Through this experience, you could learn that a new dating boundary for you is that your partners must be out. That’s a fair boundary and will, at the least, ensure that you don’t get into a situation like this one again.
The options for dealing with your hurt feelings are many, and the path is yours alone. Think about what you deserve in this relationship, and all relationships, then create your list. How can your boundaries support you getting more of what you deserve? How can your boundaries protect you from further hurt? Please remember to prioritize yourself and your needs, detach from outcomes, and that you deserve to thrive.