I'd like to come out as pansexual, but I don't want to ruin my current relationship

Polly
asks:
I'm in a long-term heterosexual relationship, and have been questioning my sexuality for many years, but have recently identified with pansexuality very strongly. I'm wanting to come out so I can tell people and celebrate who I am, but I also don't want to hurt my relationship. Just because I identify as pansexual doesn't mean I want to leave my current partner or anything, but I want to be true to myself and everyone around me. I'm not sure how to approach this, and if I even should come out.
Mo Ranyart replies:

First off, it's great that you've found a sexual orientation that you identify strongly with! Regardless of if and when you talk about this with anyone else, it's an exciting and positive thing to understand and accept about yourself, so: congratulations!

When contemplating coming out, remember that you never have to come out to anyone, and coming out isn't an all-or-nothing deal. Many people who consider themselves pretty open about their sexual orientation can probably name people in their lives who don't know their orientation, and it's very common for people to come out to those close to them like partners, friends, or family members before taking that conversation to others. Coming out to your best friend doesn't mean you also have to come out to your second cousin, your boss, or friendly acquaintances you see twice a year. You can, of course, but it's not mandatory. There's really no "should" when it comes to coming out, but if you feel like you want to, and that you can do so safely, then I think it's a good idea.

You sound like you're pretty clear on why you want to come out, from what you've written here, but it won't hurt to take some time to think on things to see if there's anything else you're looking for. Bisexual and pansexual people in monogamous, heterosexual-appearing relationships often feel like their sexual orientation is invisible to those around them unless they make the effort to be explicitly open about it, so you might want to feel more visible as a pansexual person. The reasons you have for wanting to come out in general might help guide you towards specific people it might be good to start with.

If you're feeling stuck on how to come out to someone, an approach I've found helpful is to let someone know what new piece of your identity you're sharing with them, what that means to you, and why you wanted to tell them about it. Adding some context can help the other person know how you'd like them to respond and how they can best support you. For example, when coming out to a friend you could say something like: "I've realized that I'm pansexual, which to me means I feel attraction to people of all genders. I wanted to let you know because I want to be able to be my most authentic self when I'm around the people I care about the most."

When coming out to your partner, you can probably head off some potential stress by mentioning what you've said here: that you don't want to end the relationship but want to be able to celebrate the whole of your sexuality. Your partner may still have questions after that, but starting the conversation with your perspective and intent in coming out is likely to make things go more smoothly.

I can't predict whether coming out to your partner might add stress to your relationship or not, but I do know this: being open and honest about your feelings and desires is generally a recipe for a stronger, healthier relationship, not a weaker one. Some people do respond negatively when a partner comes out, or take a little while to adjust to the new information, andI can't guarantee you won't have any conflict over this. But there is nothing wrong with being pansexual or with letting someone in a relationship know that's what you are. If your partner gets genuinely angry or upset with you for either being pansexual or wanting to be open about it, that's a problem for sure, but it's a problem caused by their reaction, not your disclosure. You can't hurt your relationship by sharing your feelings, but your partner could hurt things by responding poorly.

Sadly, there are some myths about bi/pansexual people that still persist: that they're more likely to cheat on or leave a partner, that they can't be happy in monogamous relationships, or that explicitly coming out means they must be unhappy with their current partner or relationship. If you find that your partner (or anyone else you come out to) holds some of these beliefs, you may have to do some educating or remind them that you are a person, not an embodiment of a stereotype, and that they shouldn't make assumptions about you based on those myths. This advice column I wrote to someone coming out as bisexual may be helpful to you as you navigate this process.

Ultimately, I think that if you feel comfortable telling people about your sexual orientation and it's something you want to do, then that step will likely be a positive one in the long run. I can't guarantee it will be smooth sailing all the way, but I do think most close relationships, whether they're friendships, romantic partnerships, or other connections, can only benefit from increased intimacy and openness about our inner lives and feelings. I wish you the best of luck, and congrats again on coming to this understanding about yourself.