I have been an out atheist for many years. I have been open about being polyamorous for some time as well. I don’t hide who I am because I feel it is important to be a face for things that are controversial, because I feel like our culture is not ideally healthy, and controversy often comes from the sickness rejecting some remedy. There have to be people willing to take the social stigma away, over time and with patience, so that future generations will not have to consider the balance of social stigma to living fulfilled and authentic lives. Granted, this balance will probably always be a part of the human experience. but if we can mitigate the actual discrimination due to alternate worldviews and lifestyles, it will be a step in the right direction. I want a future where the argument that keeping quiet is better for your career, social life, and family life is rare. I want atheists, poly people, and other “abnormal” people to feel less insecure about being who they are, openly.
All of this implies that their still remains a cost to living openly as an atheist or as polyamorous. I have certainly experienced this in my life, and it has effected relationships with people I know. Now I’m not going to pretend that the alienation I’ve experienced from friends and family is always due to my being an atheist and being polyamorous. I have made mistakes in my life which have strained relationships with people I once thought of as friends, but it is also true that having strong, outspoken opinions about people’s beliefs makes you come across as unfriendly, overly-critical, and perhaps even a dick. I accept this outcome, because I understood the ramifications of living as I do. And while I do sometimes lament what I have lost, I am also finding that there are positive things gained that may have otherwise remained unfound.
One thing that happens, and I believe this to be a common observation that all people notice as they begin to mature, is that the people who stick around even after we make poor decisions, come out as some socially awkward minority, or proclaim some controversial opinion consistently and loudly are your friends. They are especially your friends if they tend to disagree with you. I don’t want all of my friends to merely be people with whom I agree, after all. Further, the people who shy away from you in times of stress and courage to stand firm in the face of such social stigma are not your friends. They may remain as acquaintances, but it is often best to cut off your losses with people who abandon you with nothing more than a passivity of intercourse.
But those people I still call friends (and this is not a word I use lightly), are people who know me as I am. They may not agree with me or understand me completely, but they are willing to live among my life without it affecting our relationship. And as I ride this thing called life I occasionally meet people with who I can ride along with; people who have qualities which complement mine and with whom I can enjoy my time. The friends that you meet after finding what has meaning to you are different kinds of friends, but nonetheless friends they are. Alternatively, the people I knew as a child, the friendships that I maintain that are decades old, are special and important because we know each other well in a way that transcends specific adult interests. And while not all of those relationships have survived the journey, the ones that have are especially meaningful. They are people who will be friends for life, most likely, and they keep you tied to where you came from, even we drift further from the safe shores of mainstream culture.
And family is similar. As I ponder the reality of marriage, which implies a wedding with guests, I ponder the realities of family seeing me as I am, not as they knew me as a child. They will see a ceremony devoid of god-talk, vows devoid of promises of exclusivity, and assuming my new relationship survives until then (and I truly hope it will dwarf that time-period in length) they will see two people marrying each other while being in love with other people with whom we shall dance, kiss, and celebrate with at our party. And they will not understand. And they will judge. And they will think us lost, perhaps.
They will miss the unrelenting beauty of reality that we dance upon with genuine joy and appreciation. The beauty of a world devoid of gods, but full of complexity and wonder beyond our ability to comprehend. They will miss the depths of love and intimacy which is shared beyond the artificial limitations of monogamy. They will miss the wonder that is my life, even as it sits before them, beautified and smiling.
And yet some will understand, even at a level that is not quite articulate even to their own ears. And this is the reason I live the way I do; many will not see, but some will. I live my life to experience the many joys of reality, and reality is awesome. I will not apologize for it.