Glass Closets

I was at a client’s office recently, and was recognized from driving around the city at some point. The person who recognized me indicated that she saw me with someone, “probably my girlfriend or wife”, and given the time frame… I couldn’t be sure which girlfriend or person-I-was-out-with-who-is-probably-not-a-girlfriend-really she saw me with.  I made a noncommittal noise and talked about the area we were seen in by way of changing the subject.

It’s made me realize that I’ll probably have to be “out” as nonmonogamous at some point, even in the workplace.  It’s a small city, and I run into clients and coworkers all the time.  The latter aren’t really a problen; there’s one guy who will make stupid jokes if he finds out I’m seeing other people, but everyone else is fine.  I’m already out to at least one person there.

Clients are more complicated.  I’m a consultant, so my “office” is just a central base I spend small amounts of time at. The vast majority of my week is spent at various other offices around southern New England, which have a wide range of cultures and attitudes.  The place with the gal who saw me with my “girlfriend or wife” is someplace that it would probably be fine.  Other places might go so far as to ask me not to come back, I think.  Most are in the middle, where it would be uncomfortable knowledge but probably wouldn’t seriously impact my client relationships.

It won’t serve not to explain, though, I’d imagine.  Otherwise, I will just get pegged as a cheater rather than someone who openly sees other people.  I’ve mostly avoided casual discussions of my love life, but people make small talk, and it at least comes up that I’m living with a significant other.

None of this is a huge problem.  I’m an upper-middle-class white fellow, and I tick off basically every category of privilege out there, so people might look askance but I wouldn’t expect serious consequences.  It’s an angle I hadn’t considered, though; given that I’m not going to, say, hide away the non-Carrie folks that I’m seeing, I’m probably going to have to explain myself.

Also, I may have to tell my doctor, because I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m cheating, too.

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8 thoughts on “Glass Closets

  1. Yeah, tell the doctor; fwiw, my ob/gyn was fine with it. I’m out to anyone I’ve had a conversation with, basically, but exactly how this works for my partner is ongoing, and a little hard to figure out sometimes (for us both, I think). As a person who’s the non-wife and yet SO, that whole “is our relationship being acknowledged in this context” thing can be *really* hard.

  2. Do you feel weird about being seen in public with platonic female friends? Both of us mainly have friends of the opposite gender. Why, when you really are sleeping with somebody, do you suddenly feel as if it’s obvious? How much of this is the judgment of other people and how much is the conditioned shame response that you’re trying so hard to get over?

    It’s amazing, by the way, how universally and stubbornly people assume that the opposite-gendered person you’re with is your significant other. Doesn’t matter if someone is twice your age, half your age, clearly gay, or on the phone with their real SO at the time. Even when I was prop shopping with Troy in a giant work van and openly talked about the same workplace, people would still assume he was my husband. There really isn’t a lot you can do about that, short of stating something to their face. And unless you’ve been blatantly making out with someone on the street, you can turn to the client you’ve just run into and introduce the person you’re with as your friend. Which hopefully is also true. Don’t seem ashamed and don’t avoid them. You’ve got nothing to hide.

    Were it me, I’d just avoid making out with people in the streets. They may not believe you when you imply that you’re not sleeping with this person, but that should at least be the same old problem you’ve had for years. There’s only so much you can do.

  3. Also, Liz, I do wonder how much of an advantage we have saying stuff like this as women. I absolutely buy that your gynecologist would be fine with it, believe you, and just roll, but I also think there’s a public perception that men who say the same thing are lying. Both may be lying in equal parts, but women are more likely to be believed.

  4. “It’s amazing, by the way, how universally and stubbornly people assume that the opposite-gendered person you’re with is your significant other. ”
    Wow, I haven’t really come across this. I wonder if it’s influenced by the culture of a location.

  5. @oedalis, I’m sure it’s influenced by the culture of a location, but considering that I’m talking about some of the most liberal social contexts that exist on earth, I don’t think it’s just a matter of living somewhere that people don’t make conservative assumptions. For the record, it took me a really, really long time to realize that people were doing this because it’s not something that most of them say out loud. Older people are far more likely to just come right out and call your co-worker your husband, while younger people tend to check themselves before they get to that point and remember that they shouldn’t assume people are *actually married,* though they generally continue to assume that you’re a couple unless otherwise indicated. I’ve found out on numerous occasions, generally much later, that people just assumed I was in a sexual relationship with the male friend I’d carpooled to the party with, or was walking with when I ran into them on the street. If they actually *pause to think about it,* they realize that it’s a dumb assumption and figure you’re only very likely to be in a sexual relationship with them, but most people don’t give it even that much thought unless it’s somehow an issue for them.

    Including myself. That was the kicker. Shortly after I realized people were assuming this about whatever male I was seen with, I noticed that it was also my own default assumption about people I met or saw. I realized that when I saw a male and a female having dinner together at a restaurant, say, or just walking by and talking to each other, I immediately assumed they were a couple. And I have extremely liberal sexual ideals and the social context to go with them. If I’m assuming people are married just by looking at them, most people probably are.

  6. Hmm. Historically, I’ve done plenty of date-like activities with my friends, who are usually guys, but I don’t think my acquaintances assume that I’m dating any of them. This is due to the prudish persona I’ve crafted / gotten stuck with, combined with that acquaintances see me more than once, probably each time with a different guy. In the best case they’re forced with the choice of whether I’m a Dona Juanita, or I just have a lot of guy-friends. I’d imagine that some random person, given a single snapshot of me with a guy-friend, might assume that I was dating said guy-friend, but people who knew of me wouldn’t think this way.

    Reading this over, it actually doesn’t seem so different from what Nick writes, except that I’m inclined to think that people think of me as a non-sexual being.

  7. Liz, I’ll tell the doctor if he asks, and I’m sure he’ll be fine with it. Otherwise, I think I’ll just answer the questions posed.

    Do you feel weird about being seen in public with platonic female friends? Both of us mainly have friends of the opposite gender. Why, when you really are sleeping with somebody, do you suddenly feel as if it’s obvious?

    I’m sure it is apparent, if not obvious. I have no doubt that my body language changes when I’m romanticoseuxally involved with someone compared to a platonic relationship, regardless of whether we’re making out.

    I’m not really worried about it, though, so much as I am thinking through what my response will be when someone sees me with, say, L, and says “Oh, is this your girlfriend?”, or, better yet, “Oh, is this Carrie?”

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