|Image courtesy of Paolo|
My partners, however, do have relationships like this. Both of my boyfriends have what is often called a primary partner: someone who fits some or all of the above descriptions.
This means that, quite often, the picture they present to the rest of the world doesn't include me. People who think they know my partners well have no idea I exist. People's assumptions about what must be true based on what they see in my partners' lives leave no room for me.
This can be incredibly challenging. Imagine how you would feel if someone who knows your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend would be not only surprised to find you exist, but shocked and suspicious as well. My relationships with my partners could threaten many things in their lives, from their incomes to their homes to their other romantic relationships.
It takes a tremendous amount of effort to be "out": not only is the risk significant (people have lost jobs, homes, and children because of it) but it takes a lot of work to overcome the assumptions most of society makes about romantic relationships. Even if people who know my partners see me with them, they will most likely conclude, unless told otherwise, that my partners' other relationships have ended, rather than that we all love multiple people. Although explanation can overcome this, there is a risk of upsetting and alienating the person you explain yourself to. Further, sometimes you just want to have a nice dinner out and not discuss the complexities of your personal life, you know?
I know my partners don't try to keep me hidden. I know they love me and value their relationships with me. But that makes it no less difficult to see, over and over, public support for their relationships with their other partners, and not for their relationships with me.
And the worst thing is, you can never escape being part of this system. If you have a primary partner, people see that relationship and no others. If you don't, people don't see your relationships as "real." Our society just doesn't accept people who aren't coupled up. Even if I did have a primary partner, I'd still encounter these same problems with the other people I date.
My partners and I are open within the poly community, with folks who understand that we love many people. I truly value the support of other poly people more than I can ever express. And, because I am out to everyone I know, people in my circles outside the poly community know I have multiple partners.
But there are no groups my partners associate with who see their relationships with me as equal to their relationships with their other partners. Outside of a few people my partners feel can be trusted, I am, at best, not really discussed, and, at worst, actively kept secret.
I try not to let it get to me, but sometimes I can't help it. I don't find fault with my boyfriends for not making me more visible. I do understand what a colossal effort that is, and just how hard it is to integrate it into life. I just wish the world understood us better, and that my existence didn't require risk and explanation.