Polyamory Etiquette: Running into a Poly Partner in Public

Life was even crazier than usual last month, and in the craziness I completely forgot that I’d been going to get in depth on how to handle unexpected encounters with poly partners, metamours, friends and family. With that in mind, this today we’ll be looking at how to handle it when you run into one of your poly partners in public.

But first, a quick review:

Running into a poly partner when you don’t expect to can be amazing or awkward depending on the circumstance and whether or not you are both (all) out of the closet. With that in mind, be prepared–

Know if your partner(s) are out or not (about being poly AND about any other parts of the identity that may cause them problems at work/school/home)

Know how they want to be addressed in public–this includes both their public name and their public gender

And if you don’t know these things, play it safe. Assume PDAs are off the table, avoid gendered pronouns until your partner has a chance to clue you in. (Luckily, English doesn’t have gender for second person pronouns “you” can be any gender.) Generally assume that outting them can ruin their lives–because depending on person, place and circumstance, it might.

Hopefully, you and your partners all know how you prefer to be addressed in public and if you are out or not. So we are going to look at three different scenarios: if you are both (all) out, if one of you is out and one of you isn’t, and if neither (none) of you are out.

Everybody’s Out!

You and your partner are both loud and proud about being poly. You may need to avoid mentioning that kinky play party you went to last weekend, but you don’t need to worry about hiding your relationship.

Wandering down the grocery aisle, you see Partner
You: Hey, Partner!
Partner: (You)! I didn’t know you shopped here.
Hugs, kisses, handshakes, whathave you

Continue as you would meeting any friend.

Some Are Out, Some Are In

You are out about your relationship style, but your partner is keeping things on the low down. Maybe a few trusted friends know, but no one else. Let the person who is the closet set the level of interaction.

In that grocery aisle again
You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or not politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: (waves back)

Or maybe
You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or nod politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: Hi, (You). Nice seeing you again.
You: You too. I didn’t expect to run into you here.
(Continue as if acquaintances who know each other to talk too)

You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or nod politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: (Grabs you for a quick hug) Olee, olee in-free! I never shop here, so it’s safe if we’re careful. God I’ve missed you!

In the US, medical professionals need to follow the HIPAA law. According to HIPAA if a doctor sees a patient in public, in order to protect their privacy the doctor needs to act like they don’t know the patient. If, and only if, the patient approaches the doctor (thus “outting” themself) can the doctor interact with them. When you run into a closeted poly partner out and about, this is a good rule to follow.

Possible exception: if you have a non-poly related connection

Back in that grocery store
You: (See partner who is also a classmate) Hi (Partner), we missed you in class last week. How was your trip?
Partner: It was good. I’m really feeling that missed workout, though. Was it the usual routine or did the instructor start something new?

It’s A Crowded Closet

You and your partner are both in the closet. It’s probably best to be discreet. It may be a safe spot for you, but you can’t be sure that your partner’s co-worker isn’t in the next aisle over.

You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or nod politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: (Same)

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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