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Why Poly Gets A Bad Rap - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
February 28th, 2012
09:49 am


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Why Poly Gets A Bad Rap

When teenagers start dating for the first time, nobody takes them seriously.  This is a mercy.

The first dates invariably involve a rush of Twu Wuv and promises to last forever and poetry so awful as to rival the Vogons.  Then it collapses into Drama as the first breakups show up and then some horrible bitch/bastard is dating YOUR Twu Wuv, and there’s gossip and fights and broken friendships galore.

Thankfully, because we know How Monogamy Works, we tolerate this startlingly stupid behavior because we know the vast majority of them will get their shit sorted out eventually and learn to date like (mostly) human beings.  This is, we think, a teenaged thing.

Except it isn’t.  If you’ve ever known the reclusive guy who gets his first relationship at age 21, you know the Twu Wuv and the ear-raking poetry and the plans of Future Forever are not an age thing, but a First Love thing.  When you’re feeling such intense emotions, surely this soul-strummingly beauteous thing must translate into results.

It’s a vital lesson that depressives in particular learn over and over in life: the intensity of the emotions you feel does not necessarily affect the real world.

Unfortunately, the time most people discover polyamory is when they’re in the early twenties – and while you’d think we’d have all learned our lesson from the monogamous dating scene, no, we have yet another set of embarrassing experiences to go through before we attain wisdom.  Poly has its own set of “just starting out” dumb behaviors, including the This Triad Is Forever promises, the I Can Date Infinite People And Keep Them All Happy fallacy, the Polyamory Is The One True Way smugness…

Problem is, while society looks at the first monogamous relationships and goes, “Well, that’s just teenaged silliness,” they look at the first polyamorous relationships and goes, “These are adults!  They should know better!”  But they shouldn’t.  Doesn’t matter how many advice books you read, it’s different when the rubber touches road and you’re in the driver’s seat, rocked by new high emotions and pushed around by bizarre fears.

So people look at the twenty-something poly premiere disasters and go, “Well, that’s how poly is.”  But it isn’t.  That’s how your first poly is, and it’s certainly how some people continue to do poly (much like how some people never quite seem to emerge from the high school method of dating), but most people learn to do a much safer, saner way of poly if they’re in it for the long run.

So poly gets a bad rap because our stupidity is on display.  It’s like Luke vs. Han; if all you knew about Luke was him in Return of the Jedi, showing up all bad-ass in his black outfit ready to kick Jabba’s ass, you’d think he was the greatest hero since Han Solo.  But no, you saw him back in his whiny teenager days, so Luke’s forever a dumb farm kid.  I bet if we saw Han Solo stealing credits from his mother’s purse and getting “hammered” on Bartles and Jaymes Wine Coolers, we’d be thinking what an idiot he was.

In short: Poly gets a bad rap because a) we go through a public phase of evolution where we learn vital lessons and look like idiots, b) at a time when we “should” know better, and c) society doesn’t excuse such shenanigans as part of a healthy monogamous evolution.

So the next time you see some young idiot gushing about how monogamy is outdated and poly’s the true way, just cringe and move on; he’ll probably be more embarrassed than you are in ten years. Hopefully.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/194649.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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(57 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

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[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 03:21 pm (UTC)
I bet if we saw Han Solo stealing credits from his mother’s purse and getting “hammered” on Bartles and Jaymes Wine Coolers, we’d be thinking what an idiot he was.

That would make a great comic--the adventures of Han Solo in his misbegotten adolescence.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 03:30 pm (UTC)
It’s a vital lesson that depressives in particular learn over and over in life: the intensity of the emotions you feel does not necessarily affect the real world

I know this is a snarky post, but man that line hit home for me. Most of the time I realize that my depression and how I'm feeling in a down period has no effect on the real world. But this past summer I was going crazy and I simply could not handle that the world was chugging along, perfectly fine, while I was in the middle of my worst downward spiral in 9 years. Gah.

Sorry to get my angst in your snark, not exactly two great tastes that taste great together.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 05:44 pm (UTC)
Ferrett's really good at saying extraordinarily profound things in the least expected places. It's why I read him.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 03:39 pm (UTC)
Now I am having a horrible vision of a young Yoda acting like Jar-Jar Binks.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 07:06 pm (UTC)
Even better: imagine Yoda's people and Jar Jar's as the Sharks and the Jets.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 03:44 pm (UTC)


Except it isn’t. If you’ve ever known the reclusive guy who gets his first relationship at age 21, you know the Twu Wuv and the ear-raking poetry and the plans of Future Forever are not an age thing, but a First Love thing.


And it's actually kind of worrisome.

Fifteen, sixteen, you get stupid over love with someone who's really not worth your time...most of the time it fizzles out, maybe your grades drop for a while and you spend a couple weeks really annoying everything around you*, but you bounce back. You probably can't or won't get married, your parents won't let you move across the country to be with your Twu Wuv, you don't have a job to quit, and if you alienate your friends...enh, odds are you'll lose track of each other in four years anyhow.

Doing the blind-and-dumbass first romance thing when you're out of college...man, I've seen that fuck up more people. You have a life to wreck then. It's not okay.

*Reason #21 I shouldn't have kids is that this conversation would totally happen:

Hypothetical Daughter: "Oh, Mom, I'm so sad! My boyfriend dumped me!"
Me: "...yeah, that'll happen. For about ten years, if you're lucky. Except for the times you dump him, which are kind of worse. Bourbon's over there."
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 08:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Tangenty

Not only that, but you can wreck other people's lives, because they expect you to be better at relationships than that.

I've done that, and I really wish I hadn't.
Date:February 28th, 2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you; I think I needed to hear this just now.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 04:54 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 03:58 pm (UTC)
You know, maybe I'm still an adolescent, but I do hold out hope of eventually actually being Happy. You know, not "good enough to get by," not "oh well there are ups and downs" but "I AM FUCKING WINNING." At the moment, I do have that in my love life. (I don't have it in my academic/professional life, but I guess a WINNING ALL THE TIME romantic life is still better than most people get.) Is it idiotic to hope for better than just "bearable"? I've had intense emotions that didn't correspond with reality -- all the freaking time -- but somehow I don't want it all tamped down into "yep, another normal day."
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
Ever added a pet to your family? Where there's a honeymoon period of excitement about a NEW PUPPY/KITTEN/BIRDIE/ETC then as the days tromp by you get more used to your pet? You never stop loving them. You never stop thinking they're an amazing animal. But you learn that that puppy is a chewer -- that that kitten sometimes disappears for hours on end and you have no idea where that cat is, or that that bird likes to obsessively dismember your jewelry.

Over time they adapt to your life -- maybe the dog the puppy becomes stops chewing (but occasionally slips up!), you learn that the cat hides inside the couch, and you don't wear nice jewelry around the bird and give them plastic beads to play with. They're your friend, a part of your life, and you wouldn't trade them for any other pet in the universe. Most of the time you don't actively dwell on how amazing your love for this animal is -- because that love has become a baseline, a staple in your life. You know that even if no one else is interested in standing by you, you can count on that dog to be beside you, giving you its love.

It doesn't feel exciting all the time. But sometimes, when you're just laying there looking at them you note how perfect their little features are. Sometimes exciting things happen. Sometimes upsetting things happen. You hopefully can work through the upsetting things. Occasionally someone gets a pet that just isn't compatable with them or their lifestyle and they have to rehome them (which is always very sad -- particularly if pet and owner are still fond of one another). But often enough people find one that fits and you have many happy years together.

A person is obviously not a pet. But the experience of essentially bringing someone new into your family -- be they an animal or a human being -- does follow a... pattern. Your love for that someone doesn't go away (most of the time). But it does change, does mature. A relationship with a person is much harder than a relationship with an animal*. Compatibility can be much harder to find. And even if you do find someone who's life is compatible with yours, and who loves you, it's still work. It's work for the life of the relationship. It never stops being work, whether you've been together 3 months or 50 years. The challenges change, but, no one's ever told me that it got magically easy.

*Animals often give their love unconditionally. Human beings... don't. Which is a good thing! Unconditional love can be a dangerous thing in human relationships. Basic conditions like 'doesn't abuse me' or 'treats me like a person' or 'respects me' should be required in any relationship. People who stop requiring those things from their partner often open up the door to abusive or deeply incompatible relationships and can get very badly hurt.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 04:36 pm (UTC)
Like so many others, I had a difficult time during my first foray into polyamory. My partner at the time actually looked at me and said something to the effect of, "well you've been around so many poly people, you should know how this works."

Except I didn't. I had no idea how this worked when it came to actually doing it. Instead of support and understanding that this was my first time, I got the above reply. Didn't take long for that relationship to end :)
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 05:49 pm (UTC)
kitanzi refers to this transition as "putting theory into practice". It's definitely something one needs to take slowly and carefully, regardless of how much second-hand exposure they've had to the concept. It can take time to recalibrate your brain.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
Why does poly get a pass? This behavior happens in a wide variety of circumstances.

You have the new religious converts of every stripe:
"Have you heard the word of Jesus/Hecate/the Tao Te Ching?"

Orientation: "Hey, GIIIIRL!"

Food choices: "You might eat all meat/veggies! Bread/meat will kill you!"

Subcultures: "Do you know Steampunk?"

Media "X is the best Y! If you don't like X you have no taste or culture!"

It's behavior that probably connects to particular personality traits or maturity levels rather than specifically polyamory, though I'll grant being poly may attract those personalities, yielding a higher correlation. I just don't see why doing it with polyamoury should be considered less of a faux pas.
Date:February 28th, 2012 10:14 pm (UTC)
So, basically, people are idiots in all facets of their lives?
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
poetry so awful as to rival the Vogons

oh gods no. ... anything but that.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 05:23 pm (UTC)
"Actually, I thought it was rather good." ;-)
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 05:20 pm (UTC)
I'd just like to say, as someone slowly and tentatively going from a monogamous relationship* to something more open, I do like reading your poly entries. Sometimes they hit a nerve and bring out the fears I have (and I wail to myself about how if this really IS what it's like for people who do poly then what am I getting myself in for when my fears will become reality?!?!!11eleventyone), other times they just gently nudge me to think about it some more and give a different perspective from someone much further down the line of discovering it than me.

I've been aware of poly and seen examples of it working well and blowing up in horrible drama-filled ways for some years, but I'm only really trying to do it myself in some form in my late twenties. I don't think that makes me any less likely to mess it up though!

As well as my issues surrounding jealousy (the main problem I'm encountering so far in all the thinking I've been doing and the conversations with my partner and trusted friends), I do have some concerns that I'm going to do something ridiculous and drama-filled and terrible and embarrassing, and that my actions will end up hurting people. I hope to commit my newbie failures in small and private ways without affecting anyone else too badly or causing any hurt, but it's all uncharted territory at the moment. It's like the talk of, don't be someone's first poly experience... I AM that someone, and I feel like I might be about to come stomping along all over someone else's emotions and leave mad drama in my wake. My partner is at least experienced and sane in the ways of poly, so I'm hoping this will help a lot. I think I'm either well aware of or unlikely to commit any of the examples you gave, but I'm sure there will be others!

* (and almost wholly monogamous past history, barring that one time I was casually and openly dating a couple of people who had other relationships, and that time when a "mono" relationship had fuzzy boundaries concerning activities with other people, until it unsurprisingly blew up and went a bit wrong when I took liberties and excused myself based on not having concrete rules saying I couldn't do that... I've learned a lot since that one thankfully!)
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 05:29 pm (UTC)
Plus we have those moments when we fight among ourselves in the poly community because we handle things in so many different ways. There's the "YOUR way at poly sucks!" stage, wherein two people who believed they were otherwise compatible realize that their methods of relationships just don't mesh.

Since the lifestyle is still kind of taboo, I think people look to other people in the community to see how it's SUPPOSED to work, only to eventually realize that what other people are doing may not work for everyone. Unfortunately, those people who are often the most vocal about being poly aren't necessarily the most stable about being poly, so it's easy to find bad examples.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
Only "moments"? Seems around here that's SOP!

"You're not REALLY poly, because you ______!"
"You should/shouldn't thing1/thing2"
"We're so much more EVOLVED than monos, I just feel so BAD for them!" (the person whose version of poly looks suspiciously to me like a cross between swinging and cheating)
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 05:30 pm (UTC)
Your discourse is based on the idea that poly only occurs after the monogamy stage. While that is likely prevalent in parts of the country I do not think it need be the norm, nor should it be assumed to be.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 09:19 pm (UTC)
But that is almost certainly more the norm than the exception.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 07:46 pm (UTC)
I think part of it is also the exponential nature of poly. Assume a peer group of adults with reasonable maturity, but who aren't always honest with themselves, particularly about what they want in a relationship. Pair them off monogamously. The relationships won't work, because the people aren't be honest with themselves, so they won't get what they want. Being reasonably mature adults, the relationships will end, sometimes dramatically, but probably not outside of expected Drama Norms.

Now take that same group and make them poly. All of their issues will compound, because now they're not just ignoring their needs with one person, but with multiple people, and with the bonds those other people have with each other. Emotions will run higher, issues will compound. Friends will see multiple facets of the same dramatic outbreak, rather than single-shot episodes that they might see in their monogamous friends.

Therefore, I suspect that poly gets a worse rap than monogamy for these dramas because poly, by nature, effects more people. I also suspect that part of the bad rap is that poly is outside of current societal norms, and therefore people look for the ways in which it is "wrong"... and therefore, poly drama gets more scrutinized than monogamous drama.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 09:18 pm (UTC)
I'm with you something like 90%.

you’ve ever known the reclusive guy who gets his first relationship at age 21, you know the Twu Wuv and the ear-raking poetry

And see, I think that for generations born after 1950, 21 is still pretty much an older adolescent and I would expect that kind of behavior. I expect that kind of behavior is 1st, 2nd, 3rd and pretty much any love up to about age 25 or so. (And this is reason #569 the thought of being a cougar makes my skin crawl).

I suspect the bigger issue is not about young people who are trying to figure shit out but the older people who seem hell bent to drag everyone into their sturm und drang. People expect a bunch of 20somethings to live from drama to drama (watch The Real World). It's when you see your friends and neighbors, who you always figured were kinda like you, start behaving batshit crazy that a bad impression is sealed.

My sister had some poly drama that went down in her neighborhood. It ended up involving 6 kids, 3 houses, 2 divorces, a varying number of affairs (depending on who you ask), 3 or 4 police visits, 1 sheriff's visit (to enforce a court order) and 3 dueling private detectives. The only thing missing was a partridge in a freaking pear tree. The worst part of it was that the kids who suffered the most.

It's not people like Raven, Wolfe and Misty all living together in a student apartment that make me avoid the word "Poly" with my family, it's people like her neighbors.
[User Picture]
Date:February 28th, 2012 10:50 pm (UTC)

A request

Hi theferrett

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on the ideas of those, perhaps yourself included, I'm not sure, who believe that polyamory is an a priori genetic condition that suggests predisposition ala homosexuality.

Edited at 2012-02-28 10:56 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:February 29th, 2012 12:02 am (UTC)

Re: A request

The idea that homosexuality is a "genetic condition" is not exactly "a priori". There is strong evidence that environmental influences are actually more important than genetics in determining sexual orientation.

The idea that homosexuality is not a choice is not equivalent to it being a genetic condition.

Polyamory has even less indication of having a genetic component. There are certainly people who function better as poly, and may consider poly a core part of who they are, but all that has nothing to do with whether genes are involved.
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