“So I just told them how it all works. I didn’t want to keep it secret because I am really proud of how my relationships work.” Me to Exhibit A, a few weeks back.
I have become friendly with a group of neighbours in the last six months or so. Things started with typical chat about taking in parcels and cleaner recommendations, then someone decided to host Christmas drinks. I thought it would be a couple of hours of small talk, pleasant but not memorable. I wobbled home at gone midnight after an evening of copious wine, raucous laughter and chat that ranged from women’s health in Africa to local running routes to one neighbour confessing her husband tells her off for being an exhibitionist when she stands naked in their bedroom window. Basically, a crowd of people who are right up my street – literally and metaphorically!
One Saturday in April someone pinged the WhatsApp group to see who was around. Remarkably, we were all free! A few hours later we were round a table in a local restaurant, feasting on charcuterie and planning a street party so we could meet even more of our neighbours. Fast forward to the second May bank holiday and we’re having a planning BBQ to finalise party details…
It’s the weekend after Exhibit A and I have been to Luxembourg and the neighbours are asking about my trip. I don’t know if there was something about the way I was talking (I definitely didn’t talk about photos and fucking in musty tunnels!), or whether some penny dropped by chance, but the face of the-neighbour-with-the-big-house-who-always-hosts fell and she exclaimed: “Oh my God! I am so rude. You have a partner and I have never invited him to any of our get-togethers!” I laughed and reassured her it was all fine, thinking it was easier not to get into detail of why he doesn’t regularly rock up to events as my plus one. Then she asked if he would be coming to the street party and I just thought ‘fuck it’!
“I don’t know, I will mention it. I know he and his wife are planning quite a low key weekend but they might want to come.”
Nobody flinched but I could see questions behind eyes so I clarified. It’s ethically open, Livvy and I are friends, I was at their wedding, he loves meeting new people so if any of our street get-togethers happen to coincide with when we have plans I’m sure he’d like to come. Simple statements of fact, a chorus of ‘oh wow’ and ‘that’s cool’ and then onto deciding what games we would put on for the kids. But that straightforward explanation of relationship status when you’re not in a traditional set-up is still relatively rare.
I have written before about being a very happy second and everything I wrote then still stands. I still have zero interest in the trappings of a full time cohabiting relationship. And I still recognise that I thrive from having the security and affection that comes with a partner who means more to me than a fuck buddy does (although I love my straightforward sex dates with fuck buddies too!). But something I have found myself reflecting on over the last year or so is the issue of visibility when you’re a secondary partner living in a society that still doesn’t widely embrace non-monogamous set-ups.
A lot of the time you have to be pretty invisible and it can occasionally make you feel wistful. You have to modify your behaviour, think about what you say, and occasionally lie. Last summer Exhibit A and I went to see a friend of mine do a reading of his work. At one point when EA was looking at his phone my friend mouthed over ‘Is that your chap?’ and shot an ‘appreciative eyes’ look at me. ’No, just a friend,’ I mouthed back. What I really wanted to say was ‘Yes! And I know – hot, eh?!’, but I knew that my friend is friends with EA’s sister. When someone asks how you know them at a party (or a wedding!) you hide your affection and say you used to work together. You spend a lot of time being aware of your actions. I am the most ridiculously enthusiastically tactile person but I once asked whether I could touch EA when we in a pub; he looked at me oddly so I reminded him that we were in Livvy’s sister’s neighbourhood.
Of course, in the sex blogger community there’s no need to hide anything and outside of the community some of my closest friends and a couple of family members know. But broadly speaking a partnership I really value remains largely invisible to the outside world. Nobody is doing anything wrong or intentionally trying to hurt anyone; for many people in non-monogamous relationships it’s still easier, for numerous reasons, to keep things quiet in their wider lives. My situation is in no way unique.
Although I reflect on this from time to time, I don’t dwell on it. I spend enough time overthinking the things I can change without overthinking the things I can’t! But for my own processing of feelings I allow myself to acknowledge that having to hide something that you put work and emotional energy into, and that you’re really proud, of isn’t always easy. Which is probably why the conversation with my neighbours felt like a little victory and why I relayed it with such delight!