Poly People I Can Do Without
(aka "The Warning Shot Over the Bow of The Ship Of Fools...")
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
"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
- "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
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
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
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
I'm tired of poly people who always make it the OTHER
person's responsibility to make the first effort even discuss or
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
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
"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.