The general problem of poly people showing themselves processing hard things and the poly community dog piling on them for ‘doing it wrong’ is something I reference here, and will expand on my thoughts as to why this happens.
To understand, I’d like to reference people to two articles: Sex isn’t cheating unless you’re a slave, and I understand why they call it ‘cheating’ now. And to some extent I’m referencing the tone of conversation on a private group for discussing poly issues.
The first blog post is a very theoretical attempt to dissect the word ‘cheating’ without any intellectual references. This is personal processing and thought expansion. The response it garnered was highly negative but surely with some good points… because the second post is a response wherein the author retracts their original statements while explaining new thought expansion on the subject. The ability to calmly respond to criticism however one does so shows strength. I don’t believe that she needed to retract her original statements, but acknowledging the new ones for her seemed to require it so that is what it is.
On my local page, she was mocked for retracting her statements and personally disparaged as a bad example of poly. And though I can’t share the page or quote any of the comments that followed because it isn’t fair to the commenters who were doing so in a private domain and had no expectation for someone to share their comments directly. As humans acting in the world I can react to the tone of their conversation and discuss my response to that.
The commenters display a variety of displays of self denigration, condemnation, and distancing themselves from the ‘bad poly’. There were also a number of thoughtful and empathetic responses which I’m not mentioning because it doesn’t serve my point at this time. There were also a number of empathetic, thoughtful portions of condemnation laden or self distancing comments. The three behaviours I mentioned I’ll describe:
Self-Denigration: There is a startling trend within poly communities to lead off or end posts with a form of preventative self denigration. Because these are all private communities I’m never going to share direct examples but I can paraphrase.
- “I haven’t been poly very long but -insert a personal story wherein the author declares how they processed a pivotal point for them and their advice for how to deal with it.”
- “Maybe this is just my ignorance speaking, but – again insert wisdom and advice from a personal situation.”
- My own “this is just my personal opinion of the situation which in the grand scheme of things doesn’t affect you and you shouldn’t be reacting so personally.” can be lumped into this general trend because I am effectively stating that I don’t matter as a way of deflecting negative response.
- Popular processing methods also include some forms of self denigration (or sneaky denigration of the person with the issue). “I have to own MY OWN feelings.” “You can’t make anyone feel anything, they chose to do that themselves.” Time and time again, I see positive responses to someone blaming themselves for an issue an issue. Even if the positive responses are only to remind that person that they are not necessarily to blame. Self denigrating posts in the poly community are spades more likely to receive a positive response. Now I’m thinking about how to prove this. More on that later.
Distancing: This is the personal drive to express that you are not this way–this being the way expressed that is bad. It is often the precursor or followup to condemnation. People often retreat to repeating what worked for them (bonus points if it was communication) as if the person that is having an issue a) didn’t try, b) wasn’t successful for mentioned or unspecified reasons, or c) was to stupid to think of that in the first place.
Condemnation: More than once there was textual chortling about how the couple in question in the original blog posts sounded like they were ‘bad at poly’. Condemnation is an unfortunate and normal part of human behaviour in groups. But specifically in poly communities condemnation takes a strange turn. Because it is a common experience of poly people to be held responsible for the behaviour of other ‘poly’ people by the general public or friends or family or coworkers… we have, an already referenced, a strong trend to distancing ourselves from people who we perceive as ‘problematic’.
It is rare to see condemnation coming down from a community leader or ‘thinker’ except in extreme cases. More often, condemnation is the providence of ‘middle aged’ poly thinkers. People who are not new, but who are still dazzled by all the new rhetoric they have learned. This stage can last forever but I feel it ends at a point that signifies making steps in personal security and growth.
The issue is not poly at all. This is much rather a very specific issue to our behaviour as a group and our enactment of our own rhetoric.
I’m not sure I can speak for anyone else, but I personally am too burnt out by the lifestyle I have lead that has made me as empathetic and opinionated about interpersonal conflict as I am to engage in almost any kind of calling out of bad behaviour I see. I run a blog and dream about running studies on this shit. That’s the end of my contribution because I refuse to deal with trying to deal with potentially aggressive people that don’t believe they are aggressive reacting to me as if I’m personally attacking them when I’m trying to tone police them because I think they’re clever enough and kind enough in the rest of their life to behave better.
At this point, it is not surprising to me to see the level of personal divestment I see from any perceived ‘distasteful’ expression of poly shown with or without condemnation. As I mentioned before, I and many other poly people have been personally held accountable by some jerk who had a bad experience with a poly person.
What distresses me is the formulaic nature behind the condemnation, distancing and self denigration. I feel it affects how we engage the general public, I feel it cheapens us as a movement and I argue that we are at a point in our poly movement where a LARGE body of us TRIGGERED by any number of experiences, ways of perceiving, and ideas that are ABSOLUTELY COMMON to people engaging poly for the first time.
And so what happens is new people engage a poly community (WHICH ACTIVELY PRESENTS ITSELF AS A PLACE TO FIELD QUESTIONS AND VENT EMOTIONS) and their response is dictated by how they word their question or issue. If they don’t have a level of poly education or emotional intelligence that new people often lack, I will almost always predict a negative response.
AFTER this negative response the original poster realizes the transgressions they have committed and either learns or leaves.
How else do we connect and grow than by sharing our stories and reacting to each others’ stories. But within the poly community there seems to be a very toxic relationship to sharing. Open processing is very important in the poly community, but only if the processing references the right doctrine of poly. If someone is too emotional or vents in too public a manner they become ’emotionally unstable’ a diagnosis that takes a decent amount of time to live down. Poly coolness tends to be dictated upon one’s reasonable and calm reactions to emotional events. If someone is actively struggling they appear weak.
A common thing I see referenced time and time again in regard to someone’s overshare of personal emotions is that the person is venting and a group discussion doesn’t happen well on a post that is just venting. This is true. But it carries an unasked but implied question: “Don’t you have friends you could be venting to?”
Ideally we would vent in person with trusted people… But the poly community expresses itself online often because we are often isolated as individuals in our local surroundings. The poly community ACTIVELY presents itself as a place for connecting with other poly people… specifically for people who might feel isolated. What are poly 101 groups for if not to try and think through our issues?
The reality of how to request help for emotional issues and the unequal response of empathy given to questioners has driven me absolutely bonkers up the wall, tippy canoe mad. More than one person has mentioned to me that they noticed people in their own poly community reacting negatively to strangers with the same or lesser issues than the person describing the situation to me.
Our best practices lack consistency, enforcement and accountability. We have books and discussion groups that can discuss individual’s own personal growth and advancing their best practices for how to behave and live life… but the large body of information, enforcement of ideals and retribution for miscalculated words is enacted by people who have been thinking about the issues just long enough to develop an opinion with a personal attachment to that opinion.
People in the poly community; from time to time, wax poetic about how much more advanced they are than the general populace. The monogamous plebians that haven’t woken up to a new way of being yet.
But from where I’m standing… we’re actually worse than the general populace because we are actively thinking about communication and empathy and still getting it wrong. I expect MORE from my poly bretheren and set myself up for disappointment. … there’s those expectations.