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Poly People I Can Do Without

(aka "The Warning Shot Over the Bow of The Ship Of Fools...")

by

In exploring and living a polyamourous lifestyle over the years, I have experienced long term primary relationships, meaningful secondary relationships, long distance secondary relationships and "casual" sex (though I found the casual sex was a big mistake, and really didn't really work for me.)

I have written about what poly means to me and there has been plenty of discussion on what polyamory means to various members of the community. This is a post about what polyamoury is NOT to me. These are things I have experienced or witnessed with more than one "polyamourous" person, and I see as unfortunately endemic to a part of the poly population.

Nobody is perfect, and I know I've made my share of mistakes, and god knows, I'm STILL learning... But as part of that path through poly, I have discovered that there is a segment of the poly population I can do without: The people who label themselves "polyamourous", and forget the "amourous" part, or think it means "sex"; People who find the concepts of "ethics" and "values" detrimental to their pursuit of self-gratification. Note that these are MY opinions, values and beliefs, and I am not afraid to state them.

Now I have nothing against casual sex and the people who enjoy and practice it *responsibly*. The "poly" people I can do with out are the ones who want to be able to do WHAT they want, WHEN they want, with no regard or consideration for the feelings of their other "partners". And I'm not talking about the occasional time that we ALL do something that we didn't realize would adversely affect a partner - I'm talking about people who USE other people for their own gratification and don't CARE if something they do is hurtful to another. They think that by using the word "poly" to describe their behavior, they can somehow legitimize discourteous, disrespectful, careless, and self-centered behavior. The worst of these types will be courteous and considerate so long as nothing impinges on THEIR want of the moment, leading a partner to trust and believe in them. But the moment they want something that might adversely affect a partner, consideration and caring are conveniently discarded as unnecessary burdens. And any bad feelings a partner may experience as a result of this behavior are also treated as excessive burdens which THEY don't want to have to deal with.

In justifying this behavior, the hallmark phrase of these "poly" types, is "Your feelings are your own. I'm not responsible for your feelings." While in the truest sense of the word, we are all responsible for our own feelings, in order to have REAL emotional intimacy, one must show CARE and consideration for a partner's feelings. While you can't be responsible FOR them, you can be responsible TO them. One must NURTURE and feed the feelings of your loves, for to be truly emotionally intimate with someone is to be vulnerable. This is NOT the same as "being responsible for another person's happiness", it is about the kind of bond of intimacy and genuine caring that builds a truly deep, meaningful relationship.

"As people involve themselves in a growth movement, at first, they often develop a "Screw you, it's YOUR problem" attitude. This misinterpretation of the concept of individuality reflects a misunderstanding of power, aggression, and assertiveness.

The 'It's YOUR problem' philosophy is an attacking, aggressive position which doesn't allow for real listening and sharing of wants, needs and thoughts. While assertiveness is also a non-passive position, IT does permit listening and encourages understanding. Assertiveness is the ability to create and maintain the conditions you want. It is a process and not an end in itself. This kind of power permits choices without losing sight of others."

- Dr. Melvyn A. Berke

If someone is just into casual sex without regard for the feelings of their partners, then I'd call the behavior "swinging" or "fucking around" rather than "polyamoury" or "responsible non-monogamy" - because to me, the word "responsible" in the latter phrase means more than just wearing a condom. (And some folks can't even be responsible enough to do THAT). "Responsible" means being responsible to/for more than just your OWN feelings:

  • "Responsible" means KEEPING relationship agreements and sticking to your word, even when you really WANT to do something different - in other words, not sneaking around behind a partner's back just because your committment is now uncomfortable.
  • "Responsible" means being honest and mature enough to sometimes change your plans (delay gratification) to show care and consideration for how your actions might affect a partner.
  • "Responsible means talking to a partner in advance when you KNOW that something you are about to do is going to adversely affect them. (and willful ignorance just doesn't cut it in my books).
  • "Responsible" means *talking* to a partner when you HAVE made a mistake, apologizing, and genuinely showing consideration and compassion for the partner's feelings as well as attempting to repair the damage and help heal the hurt.
  • "Responsible" does NOT mean invalidating a partner who has been hurt by your actions as if somehow the very fact that they have expressed any pain is an unreasonable infringement on your "rights".
  • "Responsible" means telling your partner the TRUTH when you are having uncomfortable feelings instead of encouraging them to do something, and then complaining that it hurt you after the fact.
  • "Responsible" means being HONEST and not having a hidden agenda. It means talking to your partner OPENLY about expectations. It means telling your partner the same thing you are telling other people.

I'm tired of people who pay lip service to "personal responsibility", saying that they "take responsibility" for their actions, but then refuse to do anything about any resulting pain or damage those actions cause. What they are REALLY saying is, "I take responsibility for the EXECUTION of my actions, but I take no responsibility for the EFFECT or RESULTS my actions may have on you or others." And there you have it folks, Personal Responsibility Lite (tm). Tastes Great, less filling! All of the lip service, none of the work! Any expectation of true acceptance of responsibility will have them parading themselves around as "victims" of your unreasonable expectations.

Actually CARING for a partner means fessing up and fixing up when you fuck up. If a responsible person broke something accidentally at a friend's house, that person would either attempt to fix the item or offer to pay for a new one - they would try to repair the damage. People's feelings are no different, but somehow there is a segment of the poly population that thinks the only "feelings" that are important are their own.

Another classic responsibilty cop-out line, used by the "Personal Responsibility Lite"-polys is "What happened, happened. There's nothing I can do about it now.", as if the very passage of time absolves them of all responsibilty for restitution. There is ALWAYS something you can do about a mistake or action which caused a partner harm - the question is HOW MUCH effort are you willing to put into fixing your fuckup? The worst of it is that these people don't even want to put any effort into NOT MAKING THE SAME MISTAKES OVER AND OVER AGAIN.... It's just so much (hand at brow, *sighing*) WORK!

I'm tired of "poly" people who go on and on ad nauseum about "communication" and how IMPORTANT it is, but then go on to snipe, backstab and otherwise attack others and reject any offer of open face to face dialogue.

I'm tired of poly people who would rather play the VICTIM and seek sympathy from others, rather than CONFRONT a problem or issue head on and DEAL with it like an adult.

I'm tired of double standards: People who want consideration for THEIR feelings from other partners, but then don't want to make the same concessions and consideration for OTHERS. Someone who identifies as "poly" actually said to me "Taking your feelings into consideration means I wouldn't get to do what I WANT".

This is not about changing fundamental behavior and sacrificing basic NEEDS - this is about people who cannot delay gratification for a WANT long enough to take someone else's feelings about their behavior into consideration. They will imply that *any* expectation of consideration for how their actions might hurt someone else is "manipulative" and "controlling". And I'm not talking about mono/poly paradigm issues here, I'm talking about people who call themselves "polyamourous" and have "poly" partners, but think any expectation of modifying behavior to take someone else's feelings into consideration is unreasonable. They call themselves "polyamourous" as an attempt to legitimize ego-centric behavior, or because they can't trust themselves to be honest or faithful. This doesn't meet MY definition of "responsible" and it sure as hell doesn't do anything with the "amoury" half of "polyamoury"... Ironically, these are the FIRST people to get upset when someone ELSE doesn't take THEIR feelings into account. And if you can't trust yourself, what the HELL are you doing encouraging other people to trust and believe in you?

I'm tired of people claiming to be polyamourous when all they really want is a "guilt-free" opportunity to get their rocks off with whomever is available when they're horny, without regard to the consequences to the other person, OR their other partner(s). Why not just say you are monogamous but you want the opportunity to fuck around when it suits you? The net effect is pretty much the same.

I'm tired of "polyamourous" people who misrepresent their intentions and their desires for relationships. If you have been moaning that you don't want casual sex and fuckbuddies, you want a committed long term relationship, but then jump into bed for a one night stand when the hormones are raging, you won't get any support from me. And if all you want is something casual, then don't mislead your partners into thinking you want something more serious so that you can get them into bed.

To that end, I'm tired of narcissistic "poly" people who do the "romantic" thing, who prey on other's deepest desires, just to evoke adoration, stroke their own egos, and to get a rush from someone "falling" for them, but they don't want to be responsible for the consequences. Especially those that KNOW full well what they are doing, and still continue to do it, all the while complaining about the *inconvenience* of the after effect:

"Some of the problems I bring about by vamping, pumping up the emotional content of a situation. Of course that's easy to do with a new friend. I have a stock of techniques and behaviors, tested. I'm also inventive ... so I pick up new techniques fairly quickly...

It's just I'd rather enjoy the "romance". It comes naturally to me. I enjoy doing it. It's also a head trip for me, with my poor self esteem, to have someone so taken with me. I like the first results, the joyous feelings, the elation, the euphoria, just not where it leads."

These people give their partners mixed messages - the actions imply romance and love, but the words (especially when called on the behavior) backtrack quickly to "friends" and "casual" and "nothing serious"... They want the "head trip", not the relationship. When the expectations and demands for real emotional intimacy surface, they quickly become cool, and refer back to their "words" around the relationship expectations, denying any culpability for the fact that their actions were often seemingly in direct contradiction to those words.

Even WORSE, they continue the relationship KNOWING full well that they are not ANYWHERE as deeply emotionally involved as the other person. They use excuses for USING this other person, like: "Well I TOLD [person x] that I'm not as emotionally involved, and there's no chance for a long-term relationship. If she still wants to see me and have sex with me, well, she's an adult, so who am *I* to say anything? SHE knows the score. It's HER decision." They will imply that by taking any action themselves, they might be "patronizing" to [person x]. It's a clever manipulation of psychobable that CONVENIENTLY glosses over the fact that [person x] is EMOTIONALLY VULNERABLE, and is very likely NOT operating from a very healthy place. This "It's YOUR decision" behavior (which is very close to the "it's YOUR problem" behavior mentioned above) abdicates any responsibility that the USER might have to NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE of someone who is clearly vulnerable. Invariably the vulnerable person gets hurt MUCH worse than if the USER had broken it off the moment the imbalance in expectations was uncovered.

RESPONSIBLE Poly's do NOT continue relationships with people where there is a clear imbalance of feelings, expectations, or ability to meet needs. They don't take advantage of emotionally vulnerable people because they happen to be a convenient sex partner.

I'm tired of poly people who claim "lies" are "mistakes" as a way to expect instantaneous redemption for unethical, dishonest, discourteous behavior. Lying is a conscious act of will. You have to CHOOSE to lie. While someone may regret lying to another, the lie itself was not some "accidental" mistake bourne out of misunderstanding; lying requires intent. I'm talking about making promises and then breaking them, but not telling a partner; sneaking around behind someone's back; or breaking a safe sex agreement (and then lying about it to compound the hurt and confusion). I am tired of poly people who don't want to face up to the consequences of actions, so they blame the fact that they lied on the other person. Your act of cowardice and moral lassitude is nobody's responsibility but your own.

I'm tired of "poly" people who lie, betray or otherwise use and abuse their partners, and then think that nothing more than the words "I'm sorry" should resolve everything. The act as if those words are supposed to be some magic incantation which will wipe the slate clean and erase the past and the pain their actions have caused. People who "apologize" but are not willing to actually FACE the other person and deal with the legitimate hurt and anger their actions have caused, are NOT "accepting responsiblity" - they are using the apology as an attempt to assuage their own guilty conscience and buy themselves closure and absolution on the cheap. Without any willingness to do real work, to DEAL with the consequences of their actions (and those consequences are very likely dealing with a hurt, angry and upset person), it is a confession, not an apology. If you want that kind of easy-out, you are better off joining the Catholic church.

"Powerful and sneaky people use apologies as end runs around repentance. They betray a trust; and, when they have been found out, they say they are sorry for "mistakes in judgement"... They get by only because we have lost our sense of the difference between repentance for wrong and apologies for bungling... We should not let each other get away with it. A deep and unfair hurt is not a mere faux pas. We cannot put up with everything from everyone; some things are intolerable. Whem someone hurts us deeply and unfairly an apology will not do the job; it only trivializes a wrong that should not be trifled with."
- Lewis B. Smedes, "Forgive and Forget"

I'm tired of poly people who encourage, subtly, overtly, or by turning a blind eye, their friends and partners to be rude to, and inconsiderate of other friends and partners. These people ENABLE and CONDONE by their SILENCE.

I'm tired of poly people who won't "call" a partner, or so-called "friend" on unethical, rude or inconsiderate behavior - Not because they don't think it's their place, not because they think that it is wrong to take a stand on their values and assert reasonable boundaries in relationships, but because they want to reserve the right to pull the same self-centered stunts themselves at some later date. They think that by fence-sitting, they have somehow exempted themselves from the label of "hypocrite", and they do it at the cost of their own integrity. Invariably, their rice-paper "values" only apply to how other lovers/friends treat THEM, and not to how they, or their partners treat other friends/lovers. It wouldn't be so hypocritical if they didn't get so indignant when THEY are the object of the disrespect, however.

I'm tired of poly people who ignore or try to hide from the fact that when push comes to shove, you have to make a CHOICE about WHO comes first in your life. You can't be in two places at once, and you can't do something KNOWING it will hurt another partner without being willing to accept the consequences of that (like the loss of the relationship). They do something damaging, sneak around and even lie, and then blame the loss of the relationship on the other person for having unreasonable expectations or "issues" (like wanting honesty and consistency or commitment). It is a colossal cop-out.

And in a similar vein, I'm tired of "poly" people who fence sit in difficult situations that require a CHOICE to be made, and then cry "poor me!" when a picket gets shoved up their ass. Life is full of difficult decisions. Declaring onesself POLY does not grant you some kind of automatic exemption from having to to make difficult and sometimes painful choices.

I'm tired of poly people who think that just because I am poly, it means it's open season for them to hit on my partners and close friends. Especially the sycophantic types that immediately target/come-on to any new partner I get involved with.

And I'm especially tired of poly people, who loudly proclaim their "polyness" and speak about it at dinners and "poly" events as if they are the very paragon of poly, and yet are abysmal at the very *foundation* of poly - communication when it counts: with their PARTNERS.

I'm tired of "poly" people who would rather snipe and gossip behind someone's back than sit and have a REAL conversation with that person about problems.

I'm tired of poly people who always make it the OTHER person's responsibility to make the first effort even discuss or "resolve issues".

I'm tired of manipulative poly people who insinuate that any open statement by a partner about expectations and needs is being "manipulative", "demanding", or "controlling" because it forces them to actually FACE up to their behavior and make choices. (Some times you just CAN'T have your cake and eat it too.) These people find it so much easier if their partner doesn't say anything, because then they can claim plausible deniability when they behave badly. If the partner actually SAYS something, however, they can't get away with it as cleanly. I'm tired of the types that subtlely or overtly try to browbeat a partner into NOT expressing feelings of hurt or anger, because they don't want to deal with the consequences of their own actions.

In my journey through poly over the last 8 years, I have met some of the coolest "good" people ever, and I have met some people who taught me what kind of "poly" I never want to experience again. And yes, that's a judgement call, but hey, it's MY judgement, and I reserve the right to call 'em as I see 'em. You have to "judge" people by their behavior to determine if they are good for you or bad for you -- the same way you judge how fast that car is approaching, and do you have time to cross the street...? I like this definition of "safe people" from a pamphlet I have on Boundary Management:

Safe People: People who draw you closer to who you were meant to be spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. They encourage you to be your most loving, growing self.

Polyamoury - the loving kind, isn't an easy road to travel. It requires immense amounts of communication, honesty, trust and WORK. For me, I would add that "Safe Poly People" are people who don't AVOID problems by dishonesty and betrayal of trust, but have the strength of character to work (and yes, suffer) THROUGH a problem in order to solve it. They don't copout and blame their inability to deal with a problem on the other person's "anger" or because they "fear confrontation". They don't blame others for their fears, problems and mistakes. And they don't play the "martyr". They exhibit the following characteristics:

"What are these tools, these techniques of suffering, these means of experiencing the pain of problems constructively that I call discipline? There are four: delaying gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and balancing. As will be evident, these are not complex tools whose application demands extensive training. To the contrary, they are simple tools, and almost all children are adept in their use by the age of ten. Yet presidents and kings will forget to use them, to their own downfall. The problem lies not in the complexity of these tools but in the will to use them. For they are the tools with which pain is confronted rather than avoided, and if one seeks to avoid legitimate suffering, then one will avoid the use of these tools. Therefore, after analyzing each of these tools, we shall in the next section examine the will to use them, which is love."

-(from The Road Less Travelled, by M. Scott Peck, MD)

I have looked inside myself, and know that I am still fundamentally polyamourous, despite bad experiences with unsafe "poly" people. It hasn't changed my belief in poly, but it has made me more cautious and more assertive about what boundaries I will maintain now and in the future. For me, the inviolate boundaries are around honesty, courtesy, consideration and respect. I require that from/for my partner, AND from/for my partner's partners.

In fact, I highly recommend anyone interested in learning about living life responsibly and growing spiritually to pick up and read a copy of "The Road Less Travelled".

If you are on a quest for understanding poly, there *are* genuinely caring, responsible people out there. Unfortunately, the marginal types are really good at "talking the talk" so it takes a tremendous amount of awareness and trust in our own gut instincts to separate the wheat from the chaff. It's important to note that the unhealthy ones are the first ones to accuse you of being "judgemental" when you start asserting healthy boundaries and confronting them on their bad behavior...

Oh, and in my experience, anyone who tells you they are poly, and is also dealing with Bi-polar, a history of depression, or any other kind of psychological disorder, for which they have not gone through YEARS of therapy and can demonstrate REAL progress, is someone to stay FAR away from if you want to maintain any kind of sanity. (And "acknowledging" the disorder isn't the same as having done the real work of healing.). I have learned the hard way that people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), make people around them crazy and are REALLY UNSAFE people to be involved with in ANY kind of relationship. Unfortunately, it seems that poly attracts BPD's (and those suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder) because they think they can get more of the attention they crave through multiple relationships.

Responsible Poly takes a inordinate amount of work, emotional stability, internal and external honesty, and self-awareness. Sadly, far too many people suffering from mental illnesses are drawn to poly largely because of their fear of intimacy, fear of committment, self-esteem issues and need for attention. They use multiple relationships and drama to avoid doing the work of their own healing, and ultimately cause harm and emotional damage to those who get close to them.

Of course, my opinions are my own, and your mileage may vary...

For another really enlightening article, you might also want to read How to F*ckup a Relationship.

Forward this ARTICLE to someone who needs to answer the CLUE PHONE


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