Last Monday I had the rare joy of driving an hour each way to corporate headquarters for utterly pointless training. I carpooled with one of the ladies from the bed rooms department. All I really knew about her before we set off was that my part-time numbers beat her full-time ones, and that she’s old enough to be my mother. We navigated the awkward part of the conversation where she tried to engage me in a discussion of the hot current reality TV shows and I replied to jokes about being allergic to legally acquired TV that didn’t come on a DVD. I asked polite questions about the real estate license she keeps on the side and grunted interestedly at the appropriate bits. I pointed out amusing construction road signs and shared the horrific tale of my wrongful traffic ticket conviction. She asked me if I had a boyfriend.
Six or seven years ago I routinely answered that question with, “Uhm, I’m polyamorous,” and the hour-long explanation/witnessing self-important logical me felt was necessary to respond correctly to that most boring and shallow of questions. I was aware of how very creepy come-to-Jesus-like I’d get, but didn’t really care because hey, it’s hard to be the only poly person you know. Definitionally, even. It took a long time even after finding kindred spirits for me to get out of that habit. What finally did it was the first time I dropped “polyamorous,” and the person asking goes, “Oh. Do you do the primary/secondary thing or is it unstructured?”
Two years ago one of the ladies I worked with, after we’d driven to Chicago and back together several times and talked about everything ranging from politics to religion to my deep hatred of children, askugs me if the off-mentioned roommate is my boyfriend. “Uhm, not really,” I say. “It’s a little complicated and I don’t want to try explaining it in the five minutes we have. Another time?” I think she took it as a brush off because she never did ask me again, though she did ask a mutual friend for the score a couple months later.
So what did I say to this woman I barely knew? “I don’t really do that.” There’s a long awkward moment of silence. I debate trying to explain. Ultimately I decided that I don’t want to, but will if she asks. She doesn’t actually care about my sex life. I don’t care whether she’d be happier with a non-monogamous lifestyle if only somebody would suggest it.
Finally she breaks the silence. “That’s okay. Not everybody has to do that.” She then breaks into this story about giving away her hot tub for free on Craig’s List to anybody who will do the work involved in moving it. A burly Wisconsonian man in mini skirt and halter top, wearing gobtons of makeup, answered the ad. He brought six burly Wisconsoniam men in jeans and flannel shirts to help him. It’s her stock, “I’m in touch with alternate sexualities,” story. If she didn’t find amusement from the wrong parts it would even have been really cute.
That anecdote as an answer was so bizarre to me, such a complete non sequitor, that it didn’t even occurr to me until today that she probably thought I meant, “Date men,” not, “Date.” Telling me a story about a flamboyant man she assumes is gay makes perfect sense if I’ve just come out as a lesbian to her. So now she thinks I’m a lesbian. I don’t care if people think I’m a lesbian. But now I’m wondering about closeting. Is being imprecise to the point that people make incorrect assumptions closeting? I’m definitely way, way past the proselytizing stage re polyamory, but I’ve gotten so quiet about it that there’s been confusion even in my social circle outside the people who practically live with me. I’m not remotely in danger of harm physically, socially, financially or mentally so I have absolutely no excuse to be closeted, nor do I have any desire to be closeted. I’m just tired of explaining, “I expect the people I’m having sex with to work with me to maintain a disease-free closed circle and I expect my friends to be grownups who aren’t dicks to me or each other. Those are my only rules for my life, social and romantic.” I’m not pleased with my oh-so-clever self enough to keep going on about something that’s too obvious to me to make an interesting conversation out of.
Do I need to reevaluate my stock response to that most boring of small-talk conversations? More importantly, am I obligated to?