Usually it's because a new friend or acquaintance of hers has seen me make a reference to the harem, or watched me flirt, or seen an old friend say hi (I've got a number of friends who believe nothing says, "I miss you" like briefly making out. It's good to be me sometimes).
That is when the dominant cultural narrative (DCN) kicks in. This is our "lowest common denominator" of interpreting the world around us. Looking at the available evidence, DCN says that I'm a cheating bastard, my missus is a Tammy Wynette weakling, and my lovers are homewrecking sluts.
To be blunt, none of this is fucking true. I've never cheated, the missus is an incredibly strong woman and my lovers have done much to strengthen my home. But in the absence of knowledge that yes, we are polyamorous and very much aware of what each other is doing, DCN takes over, and once again it looks as though I'm a cheating bastard.
To doubly subvert that, I'm not in a sexual relationship with all or even the vast bulk of those I'm openly affectionate with in public. So I'm not only not what the DCN thinks I am when I am, I'm not what the DCN thinks I am because I'm not doing what it looks like in the first place.
(Yeah. You read that right. It's the same face renfaire rose sellers who don't know me make after they spout a reference to "my lady" and get back a, "what makes you think only one of 'em's mine?")
Are DCNs wrong? Not necessarily. They are ~simplistic~. They're a part of the filters we use to sift through all the input we get so that we can make our choices and live our lives.
Every moment of every day, we experience a multitude of sensations: sights, sounds, textures, what have you. If we were to pay attention to all of it at once, we couldn't do anything else. Our minds would halt right there, caught in the sensation of experiencing everything.
We do this to ourselves occasionally. When we climb a mountain or step out onto the fresh new snow or experience a new stage in our lives, we take a moment and let all that sensation come in, and focus on all of it at once.
In our daily lives, on the other hand, we need our brainpower to "process" our inputs and go about our lives. This means that our minds artificially cut down our input to minimum levels. When we find ourselves in daily routines like sitting down at the same chair or driving the same car or wandering around the same building, our minds take the bulk of what's being input, labels it "routine," and sticks it aside. It takes a deviation from the norm (like a car bursting into flames in the next lane) for us to break out of "routine" and react as needs be.
DCN is a shorthand we use that breaks down our interactions down to the lowest common denominator. And it affects all of our personal interactions.
Where DCNs tend to fuck us is when we forget the fact that they're a ~probability~ and not a ~certainty~. Yeah, someone shuffling towards you in the parking lot at night is ~probably~ a panhandler. But they could just as easily be someone sore from a session in the gym who needs a jump. Or they could be a carjacker. Relying on DCN screws us in either scenario.
That said, there's two ways to use DCN to one's advantage.
The first is to recognize DCN as just that, a ~dominant~ narrative and not an ~encompassing~ narrative. This takes time, practice, and some humility. After all, we like to think that we know what's what and can navigate the social waters of our lives like the natives we are. Taking a moment every now and then to think "what's not routine?" especially at first encounters and when the tone of a room changes, can go a long way towards keeping us from making unpleasant choices.
The second is to recognize that DCN is, to an extent, susceptible to manipulation. We all do this. It's a reason we dress differently for a job interview than we do for a date than we do to go gardening.
I do this all the time. I come from viking stock, have habitually checked the exits of everywhere I go since middle school, and have resting "I've come for the woman, and your head" face. I'm also fond of salacious t-shirts. Leaving my house in my comfortable, relaxed, DCN state is a good way to get the cops called on me.
So I subvert it. When going to coach chess, I dress in polos, leave my glasses on instead of my contacts, and almost never make eye contact. I look like a younger and slightly befuddled Santa, and nobody questions what the hell a heavy hitter is doing in a school. Going to a gig, I wear tactical chic, tie my hair back, and largely keep my mouth shut. End result: what clients see is a quiet professional.
That said, I realize there's a lot of ways DCN needs to change. But while it exists, knowing how it does and how to use it is still fairly useful.