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I am involved in a polyamorous relationship. Currently my wife has both a husband (me) and a boyfriend. We like to go out for normal "couple" type activities like dinner dates, movies, and attending public events.

A couple times a month we run into a person who knows one of us, but doesn't know about our relationship. We are open about this relationship, so when introductions are made I typically say something like:

Ah, this is my wife Mrs. X! And this is her boyfriend Y.

This seems to put many people in an awkward situation. They aren't sure how to respond or what is appropriate. Often times they seem embarrassed (perhaps for themselves or for on our behalf) and find a quick way to leave.

How can we make this introduction more inviting to our friends?

One approach would be not to recognize one of the relationships:

Ah, this is my wife Mrs.X! And this is Y.

However, doing so feels disrespectful to their relationship, which is important to all three of us.

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    Have you talked to them about it? If so, what have they said? If not, why? Are you asking for all three of you? How important is it to you all (particularly boyfriend Y) to be introduced as "her boyfriend Y"? These details will help us give you better answers. :) – Catija May 16 '18 at 2:14
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    @DavidK In the second sentence the OP states that their wife has both a husband at a boyfriend. That strongly implies that their relationship is "V" shaped instead of a triad. If the OP was also dating their wife's boyfriend they wouldn't be saying "and this is her boyfriend" when typically introducing him to people. – sphennings May 16 '18 at 13:21
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    What is a metamour? I've never even heard my poly-friends use that word. – pipe May 17 '18 at 6:52
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    @pipe In a poly context, somebody's metamour is their partner's partner. – Geoffrey Brent May 17 '18 at 11:11
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    What are your goals in these situations? To share the fact that you're in a poly relationship? How people should relate to you or expect the three of you to relate to each other? Your goals will affect your introduction – Wayne Werner May 17 '18 at 20:10
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I'm polyamorous too and, well, this is sort of new for me too (at least in practice) but learning from others I found suitable ways to act.
I've seen that most answers seem to be a little tone deaf on the importance of not making the 3rd partner feel out of place or disrespected.

Damage control

Alleviation strategy:

The alleviation strategy is one of my favorites to address someone who's judgement influence in your lives is unpredictable, which is almost anyone.

Being open about it is great, bravery is appreciated.
I don't think you want people to focus on that too long though, after you introduced your companions, change the topic of conversation to something your audience feels comfortable with. Your audience can be a single person or a group. Steer the conversation to something they know about, something where they don't feel like stepping on cracked unstable ground.

That's the simplest way to maintain the conversation going, a nice friendly social interaction.

Reassurance strategy:

This strategy is necessary when the person addressed is someone who's judgement has an influence on your lives; could be your business partners, your parents, and so on, people with some authority or at least high credibility on your circles.

Prepare something cool and positive to say about your polyamorous relationship, something positive that doesn't cause contrast with your audience's situation. Something neutral like:

Having them in my life is great

You want to avoid anything that brings competition or comparisons with their own lifestyle. This way you are conveying there's nothing to be concerned about, plus, you established both have respect and appreciation from you and it is the best way to induce your audience to respond likewise. But you don't want to get stuck there, follow that by saying something nice about each one of the people you are introducing, not necessarily relating your comment to the relationship, it is better to remind them how they are more similar to your audience rather than different.

'X' works in the same field as you...
'Y' was just talking about that movie you recommended me...

And then make the conversation about that, closer to something your audience feels comfortable with, steering towards the alleviation strategy that I mentioned first. Like a failsafe protocol.

Prevention

A measure to prevent these awkward situations is not only to be open about it but also public, in advance.

The more people in your social circles are informed in advance of your polyamorous status, the least likely the situation you encountered will happen, because when people are approaching the three of you they will process all the possibilities on their minds before making contact.

  • Be sure to inform the most respectful friends first before going public and let them know that it isn't a secret, they will help you to understand the main concerns of people who don't understand in a respectful way.
  • Tell your family and your closest friends first so you are in a position to set the narrative and be on the steering wheel.
  • Going public, don't be afraid to tell gossipy individuals in your circles, the more people know the better.
  • Be sure to attend parties and public events alone and with your partner soon after making your polyamorous status public, this way people will have the information fresher on their mind when they see you and they'll start with the mental guesswork without disturbing you. Some might offer comments on your public status, that's cool, there's no other person present to feel awkward.

Nice people will make an effort to dissimulate their own awkwardness and will focus on normal conversation, curious people with a lesser sense of tact will ask things because they had never before encountered the ongoing scenario where they had the chance to ask about this real life situation (even if their timing is not adequate).

My experience with all of this was to start by writing on my personal blog and calling my mother and having a conversation with her to prevent her from being weird with my bisexual girlfriend, and I was very clear:

you will have to get used to see me with more than one girl and treat them with the same respect you treat me

The conversation was a bit more broad and tactful as you might expect but that was the main idea to get across. I also made sure she understood:

this is what makes me happy and it makes my partners happy, it is an agreement and no one is suffering, no one is being taken advantage of or anything like that, all the opposite, we are even more happy, the three of us together

It helped explaining how on contrast other relationships had made me unhappy or even miserable because bisexuality isn't uncommon at all and more than a couple previous girlfriends had been bisexual, which lead to unnecessary drama and neither party had dared to propose trying the polyamorous way to include one or two lovers in our lives and for them to include us likewise. I personally prefer someone stable though, and my girlfriend does too, that contributes to both our happiness and satisfaction. Mom remembered how miserable I was during the time of one of those relationships I mentioned and now that she understood why and that she understood I didn't want to be fooling around, she became if not encouraging, at least sympathetic and supportive (which was surprising because she's a conservative and religious person, it's hard to go against happiness).

Everyone in my circles is already gossiping about it and their conversation shows they are sort of avoiding to talk about it but already prepared for the situation.

This doesn't mean it won't ever ever happen, I know there are people with things they can't keep to their own, for whatever reason, curiosity or disapproval, I'm prepared to address their concerns, but timing is much more important as you have already noticed. An "avoiding to talk about it" attitude as the first impulse is exactly what you want, to avoid the awkward explanations during an inappropriate time. They will be able to approach you at a better time if they so desire.

Best of luck.

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    After a bit of field testing, the "alleviation" strategy worked for me. Adding a call to action to the introduction has worked. For example at a farmer's market, "This is my wife, Mrs. X, and her boyfriend, Y. We were just going to the lemonade stand. Would you like to join us?" The listener can respond to the call to action while the process the rest of it. – paperpapaya May 19 '18 at 19:54
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    Masterfully handled, and while the bunch of you walk to the lemonade stand the person is processing the nicest way to act. Good call. – J A May 19 '18 at 19:58
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Straight out saying "Ah, this is my wife Mrs. X! And this is her boyfriend Y." is only going to evoke awkwardness and/or negative thoughts from third-parties. That statement is a huge BANG to the typical dweller of the Western society we all live in, used to monogamous relationships.

Introducing them with a:

This is my wife X, and this is Y.

without the 'her boyfriend' just avoids any unnecessary complications as many people will just stop at that. However, if the person asks something between the lines of "Oh, is Y a friend of yours, or maybe relative?", you can go with:

Oh, no, we have sort of a special/peculiar/different relationship.

If you are not willing to go into further detail, try to be vague, accurately vague as to make it explictly implicit that you don't want to continue the topic.

Then, if the person insists, you make it clear that you are starting an actual explanation and continues:

Have you ever heard of polyamorous relationships? [Yes] So, blah, blah... so we three blah, blah... Simply put, X is my wife, I am her husband and Y is her boyfriend.

The 'Have you ever heard of polyamorous relationships?' helps here because the person already starts the conversation with a more familiar image in her head, leading to less or no shock.

QUESTION:

If you don't indicate that OP is aware with and ok that their wife has a boyfriend and the wife then engages in a public display of affection with the boyfriend, you've now created a situation where people are left unsure whether to report this potential infidelity to the OP. How would you suggest dealing with that?

ANSWER:

The other two are not mere dolls/NPC's just doing what they are 'programmed' to do. If OP is introducing them, they are obviously present, so the two must be aware of the situation and will therefore try to prevent confusion. However, if the two display affection and OP is not present; well, that's unavoidable, since OP will definitely not explain his preferences to every and each of his acquaintances. If someone walks to him and say 'X is cheating you with Y', it should be made explicit that he is polyamorous so that others don't think he is being cucked.

It is indeed true that some acquaintance of OP might walk by and see X and Y alone in a date. That can be avoided if OP just skip to step 3 (the third blockquote/yellow strip/yellow line) everytime, but that would be very tiring to do. It would mitigate the misunderstanding, but not by a large extent, since, by probability, there are more acquaintances of two people in common (OP and X) then three (OP and X and Y). A person who is acquainted with OP and X might see X and Y in a date, and OP would not be able to do anything about the aprehension the passing person might feel, as he didn't even get the chance to explain himself on the grounds that the individual doesn't even know Y in any way.

Thus, it is worthier to just do step1 -> step2 -> step3 always if OP is not feeling like spending too much energy.

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    If you don't indicate that OP is aware with and ok that their wife has a boyfriend and the wife then engages in a public display of affection with the boyfriend, you've now created a situation where people are left unsure whether to report this potential infidelity to the OP. How would you suggest dealing with that? – sphennings May 16 '18 at 10:51
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    Treating Y's relationship with X as taboo, or omitting it because people may be uncomfortable, is a slight against both X and Y. Pretty big hole in the logic there. Answering without any actual experience with the subject tends to lead to these logic holes. – apaul May 16 '18 at 21:59
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    @apaul That's not logic, that's an assumption of yours. OP has all right not to feel like justifying the atypical relationship the three have, there are other two people there who can do the job of explaining as well; not even close to a slight. Plus, if we were to wait for someone with experience, this thread would have 0 answers. – user12404 May 16 '18 at 22:02
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    Actually, that's my experience, having had poly relationships. People tend not to appreciate being treated as secondary, or being treated as if their other relationship/s are secondary. Granted there are a lot of variations in style, but folks that are "out" usually don't appreciate being placed in the closet by others. – apaul May 16 '18 at 22:11
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    @WilliamLio Speaking as someone who has been in this situation, not being identified as romantically involved causes a lot of additional awkwardness. Since other people aren't made aware of my involvement I'm put in a situation where either I need to not be affectionate with someone I'm dating or I run the risk of having someone I care about be seen as unfaithful. This also puts everyone around us in the awkward situation of needing to decide whether to bring up what they observe (someone being affectionate with someone else's wife) or to keep quiet. How would you suggest dealing with this? – sphennings May 17 '18 at 15:38
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Plenty of people are uncomfortable with polyamorous relationships.

If your primary goal is to avoid awkwardness, the best approach is probably to just introduce them by name without any mention of the specifics of your relationship.

I would avoid only mentioning one of the relationships, as this might make the other person feel neglected (unless they agreed to this beforehand).

This is X and this is Y.

A common response to this might be "how do you know each other".

  • This pretty much puts you back where you started, but this way you at least sometimes avoid the awkwardness.

  • Some public displays of affection between the three of you might help avoid this response, since people tend to avoid questions they don't want the answer to. As long as it's mild (e.g. hand-holding, light touching that some could interpret as platonic), this might be less awkward for them than giving the specifics, as that leaves some ambiguity. Admittedly this might not work if you're not intimate with both of them.

  • Changing the subject right away would likely avoid this response (but this may just lead to you being asked the question later instead).

  • If asked how you know each other, you can take your pick of the other answers.

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    What are you basing this answer on? Do you have any relevant experience? Have you actually done this before? – apaul May 16 '18 at 19:44
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    @apaul This answer is based psychology and logic. I haven't personally tried this. – NotThatGuy May 17 '18 at 7:34
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    If you haven't tried it, why do you think this is a correct answer in this situation? We need to understand why this will work. If you're basing it on psychology, please cite sources for your answer so that we may understand it better but do recognize that this site does require answers to support themselves with either personal experience or actual references. Failure to do so may cause your answer to be removed. – Catija May 23 '18 at 1:16
  • @Catija I say plenty of people are uncomfortable with polyamorous relationships because I've seen plenty of people imply this through their actions and words. Avoiding mentioning the type of relationship is the logical next step. I have encountered many scenarios where someone felt bad after having something about themselves they care about discounted. The possible response is based on many conversations where that, or a similar, question is asked. The bullet points mostly follow logically from the rest of the answer. I don't see how adding any of this to this answer will improve it. – NotThatGuy May 23 '18 at 8:03
  • @Catija Related. – NotThatGuy May 23 '18 at 8:26
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The edit to your question's title actually suggests a possible route to make your introduction "more inviting", which I am assuming means that you don't mind explaining a bit for folks who aren't familiar with polyamory.

Part of the awkwardness of "my wife and her boyfriend" is, as others have mentioned, that this leaves ambiguous what your relationship to the other man is. Of course seeing the three of you interact after the introduction will probably indicate the correct relationship (you aren't angry or jealous and so forth), but at the point of that initial introduction the only way to clarify any of the questions running through people's heads would be to ask directly, which is likely to feel too nosy to most folks.

So, instead, consider saying something like

Ah, this is my wife Mrs. X! And this is my metamour Y.

This situates both people in relation to you, which makes sense when you are making the introduction and should help clarify the congeniality of your mutual relationship. This is similar to the difference between "this is my wife, her sister's daughter, and my wife's father" versus "this is my wife, my niece, and my father-in-law"—it's subtle, but puts you more firmly within the web of relationships, rather than as a hanger-on.

Of course, metamour is (right now) a somewhat obscure* term outside of poly communities, but that obscurity can actually help you here.

  • First, those who know what it means will instantly understand, and will be able to respond appropriately.
  • Second, it's rare enough that it is reasonable for people to ask for an explanation if they want to. Where "So...is that OK with you?" and other clarifying questions about Y's boyfriend status might be perceived as rude and nosy, a response like "I don't think I've heard that term before" or "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?" is quite neutral and gives you an opening to explain in as much or as little detail as you feel is appropriate.

There will still be folks who just give you a glazed smile and nod, but with this approach you will have been honest and open about your relationship and have left the door open for the other person to inquire further.


NB: I am not in a polyamorous relationship, so haven't made this introduction myself. I am basing this largely on 1. The "analogous" situation mentioned above: I have found that introducing someone in terms of their relationship to me is generally less awkward than introducing them in terms of some third party; and 2: Introductions relating to other aspects of my identity. Specifically, I'm a person of "ambiguous ethnicity" living in the US, and find that using a highly specific term that is familiar within my ethnicity has similar effects to those mentioned in the bullet points (folks who are down with my ethnic identity will know exactly what I mean; folks who don't know but are interested have a graceful way to ask questions; and folks who would rather not be bothered can just ignore the strange-to-them terminology).


*In spite of the term's overall obsurity, the root "amour" is probably transparent enough that some folks will figure out that you mean some kind of romantic relationship. Whether this increases or decreases any awkwardness will depend on the individual you're addressing, but I wouldn't expect it to be greater than the awkwardness you're experiencing now.

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If you're in the mood to explain, I would do your normal introduction

This is my wife X and her boyfriend Y.

Then I would explain that you are in a polyamorous relationship. If the person you are talking to doesn't know what that is, explain it to them. Depending on how open you are, you can even encourage them to ask questions.

One of my gay transgender friends does a similar song and dance, explaining he is both a transman (female-to-male) and gay (into other men). Some people get it and accept it right away. Some take a while. Others never accept it.

Unfortunately, you might be stuck doing this until knowledge of polyamorous relationships spread more.

  • What are you basing this answer on? Do you have any relevant experience? Have you actually done this before? – apaul May 16 '18 at 19:58
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    @apaul Yes, to some extent, I have explained particular relationships to people who could mean well, but are ultimately inexperienced in this area. I'm mixed race and I don't look anything like my father. When I was a child, people used to flag my father and I down and ask if I was being kidnapped. I then had to explain to this person that I am mixed and the man with me is my father. The polyamorous scenario could be generalized to explaining uncommon occurrence in that region such as mixed race and LGBT. – jcmack May 16 '18 at 20:28
  • But what if they're not in the mood to explain? That seems to be sort of what the question hinges on... not wanting to have to go into a deep discussion of their relationship. Can you please expand on your answer to address both possibilities? – Catija May 23 '18 at 1:18
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What's worked best for me is to not include relationship status in the initial introductions at all and let people discover the details at their own pace, and to whatever degree they are comfortable with, either trough normal conversation, or by proactively* addressing misunderstandings or unspoken questions when they arise, depending on what I know of the other person and their body language.

For some people, suddenly confronting them with a relationship model they're not used to can feel like you're oversharing. People might act embarassed because they need time to process, or because they consider this kind of info too intimate to just casually share with strangers. In addition, if it's the first thing they learn about you, that detail might overshadow the rest of the interaction in their minds. The same is true of a lot of things, say, sexuality, religion and/or gender identity.

I would agree that downplaying a relationship always comes with a risk of hurting the other person(s), and to me, at least, it would also feel dishonest. The right balance between not hiding or downplaying anything but also not "oversharing" might take some practice to find, but "just act naturally" is probably a good starting point.

*There are two scenarios where I'd recommend "thinking a few steps ahead" and addressing your relationships without being asked. Obviously, when e.g. flirting with someone, or when you notice someone is interested in a partner or metamour, letting them know about your relationship status early can avoid a lot of embarassment and heartache. In addition, while acting supportive when signs of affection are shown can go a long way, some people need a quick "It's fine, we're open" or something along those lines to get that yes, it's really fine, you're ok with it.

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There is no guarantee that things won't be awkward. What you can do however is signal that you don't expect the situation to be awkward. By doing this you will place social pressure on the people you're talking with to not be the ones to make things awkward.

The easiest way to make the introduction of your metamoures feel like just another introduction is to make it just another introduction. Try to match your cadence so that saying "This is my wife and her boyfriend" is said the same way as how you would introduce your wife and her (platonic) friend. It's less about the specifics of what you say but how you say it. If you try to quickly change the subject, or pause and wait to see how people respond, people will pick up on that deviation from the normal flow of a conversation and assume that the deviation is relevant.

Depending on how out you want to be you can also prime people in advance by talking about your metamoures when it's conversationally relevant. This will spread the potential awkwardness out, but it will make any introductions you make after the fact a non event since there isn't any revelation when introducing them. All that's happening then is just putting a name to a face.

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I can't speak to this precise situation, since I'm not polyamorous. But I am a Mormon, and depending on the circles this might be equally awkward (especially since some people still believe we practice polygamy).

I think the awkwardness that you perceive has to do with the fact that, generally speaking, a monogamous (usually?) married lifestyle is the mental model that most Americans have. Depending on the locale this may be more or less intense (for instance, in Arkansas where I live there is definitely an expectation of marriage and monogamy for most people, even though many people probably don't actually live that way. Maybe even most).

In your conversations you have to help people overcome and reset their expectations.

In my case I may be in a situation where drinking alcohol is socially expected (e.g. at a bar or out to dinner with co-workers).

When I'm offered alcohol my response is, "No thanks, I don't drink." Sometimes I have to state, "No thanks, I don't drink - but you go ahead!" And when they ask why, "I'm a Mormon."

That statement helps them to reset their expectations around me.

You may want to try to set their expectations as part of your introduction:

Hi Bob, good to see you! I don't know if you're already aware, but I'm in a polyamorous relationship - this is my wife X and her boyfriend Y.

By prefacing your introduction you avoid any ambiguity. If I had someone come up to me and say

This is my wife X and her boyfriend Y

That leaves room to guess. In the South at least you'd go through your expectations:

  • They're married and she's cheating. That's weird that they're here at the movies together.
  • They're divorced and she has a boyfriend. That's weird that they're all together here at the movies. And that's weird that he still calls her his wife.
  • He's using those words, but I do not think they mean what he think they mean.
  • Maybe they're swingers. That's really weird that they'd be out to the movies like this.

It might not even enter my mind the possibility that they were polyamorous.

However, if someone said either

We're in a polyamorous relationship - this is my wife X and her boyfriend Y

or

This is my wife X, and her boyfriend Y - we're polyamorous

That would set my expectations. I might still find it awkward at first, trying to suss out how the relationship(s) work, but I'd have a name to put on it and at least have some level of understanding.

You should also be prepared for a variety of responses. Because your response will be different depending whether you want to discuss and explain polyamory and the mechanics of your relationship(s), talk about other things, or get on with the rest of your evening.

If you want to get on with the rest of your evening, you might say something like

... and her boyfriend, Y. We're here for , so we'll head that way, but it was good to see you!

Or if you want to talk about something else, to borrow J A's example

... and we're poly. We recently watched that movie you told me about and we thought it was great! Hey Y, what was your favorite part of that move? What about you, X?

Or if you're open to talking about being poly

... and we're poly. It's been working out great for us! I know a lot of people can be confused or feel uncomfortable about it, but if you've got questions, we've got answers!

Or maybe you'd be open to talking about it later, but not right now, so just change the above to

... if you've got questions, I'd be happy to answer them tomorrow on our lunch break/after the game tomorrow/on our ride to work, but we should make sure we get our dinner reservation/find some good seats/get in line.

  • I really like your idea about "resetting expectations". And I appreciate you couching this in terms of your own experience with a similar problem in an entirely different context. – paperpapaya May 17 '18 at 22:00
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In comments, you mention wanting to be truthful. That isn't always the best plan of action. It is typically more important to be sincere.

If you read Deborah Tannen's book That's not what I meant, she has a large number of examples where apparent truthfulness actually lead the other person astray. I highly recommend reading the book if you expect to have to navigate difficult conversations like this. (I'd quote examples, but I don't have the book on me).

What is more important is that you are sincere. You are not trying to deceive them in the introduction. You are simply trying to say what is needed to open the communication channels.

So what is important? What information actually needs to be conveyed. What information can be conveyed? Honestly, you probably wouldn't need to even say "This my my wife, X" unless you think it's important that they are aware of that relationship. However, in standard social settings, this sort of information is common place. This is information a listener would seek in an introduction. So there's no harm in putting it in there.

"And this is her boyfriend, Y" is different. As you noticed, that raises eyebrows. It stalls the conversation, and that can be a heavy price to pay. What do you get for that price? If you are actively advertising polyamory as a successful way of life, maybe this is a good way to go! However, in most situations, that sort of advertising simply isn't necessary or expected any more than you if you were introduced to a Mormon at a party only to have them introduce themselves as "Hi, I'm Brother X and I'd like to share a message with you."* No. They're smarter than that. Yes, it's reasonable to expect they want to share their religion (generally speaking, that's what religious people do), but they are smart enough to understand that there is a time and place for such advertisements. Instead, they'll introduce themselves as "X" and you guys will have a great time. Later in the night, they might find the conversation indeed steers to religion and then they may advertise a bit.

And indeed, that would be my recommendation. As others have said, start with

This is my wife X, and this is Y.

Maybe add some minor tidbit about Y to get the conversation going. If the listener is a big college football fan, maybe Y's alma mater is useful intel.

And then, wait. Find out what happens. We actually can't tell you how this will go, because it really depends on the relationship between you, X, and Y. One of the joys of polyamoury is a lack of written rules specifying precisely how you are supposed to act. If you and your family prefer to keep the intimacy inside the house, X and Y may never actually do anything which calls for an explanation. If you prefer to be more open, then the listener may start to pick up on Y doting on your wife, and start to have cognitive dissonance. In this case, let them bring it up.

And when I say "let them bring it up," I mean simply let them make the opening move. You may have the kinds of friends that actually take you aside and say, "Dude, he's hitting on your wife. Didn't you notice?" Those are the easy cases. You can explain your relationship then. The harder cases will be the ones which ask with their eyes. They'll make an eye contact with you trying to figure out what the heck you know, and what's going on. That would be your invitation to explain that you guys are poly.

  • What are you basing this answer on? Do you have any relevant experience? Have you actually done this before? – apaul May 16 '18 at 19:48
  • @apaul I am basing this answer on Dr. Tannen's book – Cort Ammon May 16 '18 at 21:03
  • Is the book directly related to the subject, or are you just assuming that the methods mentioned there apply here? – apaul May 16 '18 at 21:11
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    @apaul It is a book on how people, commuicate, miscommuicate, and how to frame speech to avoid unnecessary awkwardness and embarrassment of others. – Cort Ammon May 16 '18 at 21:35

protected by NVZ May 17 '18 at 17:34

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