Everyone is doing poly wrong and needs to die in a fire

Why we all need to do a self-check for tolerance and acceptance

There is a phenomenon I’ve noticed in many of the poly communities I’ve visited, and it’s time I brought it into the light so we can all take a good, hard look at how we’re treating each other.

cat_weidLet’s start from the basic premise: those of us participating in online forums, posting opinions on blogs or Facebook and attending conferences with poly tracks are all either practicing or interested in practicing polyamory. Or non-monogamy. Or swinging. Or open marriage. Some of us are into BDSM; some of us are into science fiction; some of us are pagan. Some of us have unusual fetishes. Some of us are disabled. Some of us are white; some are African American; some are mixed race. Some of us are wildly creative and spend our lives making beautiful art, music or film and living in humble abodes. Some of us have well-paying, 9-to-5 jobs and enjoy a traditional-looking, middle- or upper-class lifestyle.

We all have opinions, some of them quite strong. And those opinions are not all the same.

But every one of us has something in common: an interest in polyamory. And because of that, we’re weird. We are not 100% mainstream. Even those of us who have traditional jobs, traditional homes and traditional hairstyles are alternative by virtue of the fact that we are interested in, are enjoying or are openly practicing some type of ethical non-monogamy.

So why are so many of us so vehement in our desire to demean, judge and exclude others?

You’re not really poly

It’s alarmingly common during any given poly discussion group or meeting for someone to come out with a definition of polyamory that condemns, criticizes or excludes some other type of practicing polyamorist. We hear, “you’re not really poly if you don’t all live together” or “you’re not really poly if you practice don’t ask/don’t tell” or “you’re not really poly if your husband isn’t also dating as many people as you are.”

To be fair, I understand why we do this. Since polyamory is an alternative relationship structure, most of us have worked very hard at defining what polyamory is for us. We try poly once and make a mess of it. We try again, and it works better, so we decide that what we did the first time was wrong. We try again, and it works better for us, so we decide that we need to advise everyone coming after us that the way we are doing it now is the right way to do polyamory, and every other way is wrong.

But please, I beg of you, let’s stop judging others so harshly, even after we’ve discovered a brand of polyamory that works for us. Before critiquing others based on your personal definitions of what poly is or isn’t, first perform a quick self-check: would you like it if someone told you you weren’t really poly? Would you want someone telling you that your marriage wasn’t real? Would you like for someone else to define what love or commitment means for you? So let’s not impose our definitions and experiences on others.

Everyone gets to choose her own label

Having the right to self-identify is empowering to the individual. It is neither appropriate nor helpful to try to take that right away from others. We let people choose their own labels for their gender identity and for their kink identity. We don’t argue if a man who has never had sex with another man chooses to identify himself as bisexual. We don’t argue if a person who appears female asks us to use the gendered pronoun “he” for address. We offer people the freedom of gender and relationship identity; let’s please extend that same courtesy to relationship orientation as well. whhha

As individuals, it is our job to find the right relationship structure that works for us. I often say that there are as many types of polyamory (and monogamy) as there are people involved in those relationships. Everyone practices monogamy a bit differently; no two relationships look exactly the same when you delve under the surface.

The same is true for polyamory, for non-monogamy, swinging and open relationships. While there are some commonalities to those definitions, every person or group defines his own polyamory in a slightly different way. We each find a brand of non-monogamy that works for us, and we customize it to our specific situation.

So let’s please stop spending our time looking at other people’s relationships and telling them that they aren’t “really” polyamorous. Let’s give people the courtesy of self-exploration and let’s empower each individual to self-label however she sees fit.

In the BDSM world, there is a philosophy that folks are encouraged to embrace. Since BDSM involves exposure to a plethora of fetishes and kinks that we may only not share but may actively dislike, folks are encouraged to be accepting. Even when exposed to a kink that incites disgust, we are encouraged to embrace the notion of “your kink isn’t my kink, but your kink is OK.” Let’s please do that with polyamory as well. Let’s stop spending our time judging others and telling them they are doing poly wrong and simply agree to say:

Your polyamory is not my polyamory, but your polyamory is OK.

Two powerful tools

When someone is kind enough to share with you his poly situation, it is our job to listen, to ask questions and to offer support if asked for it. Labels are the beginning of a discussion and an invitation to ask more questions, not the be-all and end-all. So when someone says, “I’m polyamorous,” my favorite tool to whip out is:

Tool #1: “Cool! So what does that mean to you?”

I believe it’s not anyone’s job (including mine!) to judge and tell someone she is doing poly wrong. Criticism like that only serves to puff up the speaker with a sense of power and to disempower the person sharing his story. If you truly believe that someone you’re speaking with is doing something horribly wrong, a good way to offer an option without judging is, “My experience has been… ” and share your story. See? No judgment necessary.

Tool #2: “My experience has been… “

One caveat, since I know someone will ask: yes, I do have a personal belief about a “wrong” way to do polyamory based on the dictionary definition involving the “full knowledge and consent of all parties involved.” So if, for example, a person self-identifies as poly and has an additional partner that his wife is unaware of, I personally am more inclined to label that “cheating” rather than polyamory due to the fact that his wife doesn’t have knowledge and therefore can’t consent. However, my response is not “you’re not really poly” but rather, “In my experience, poly tends to work best when everyone involved is honest, open and consenting. Have you tried talking with your wife about that?” to open up a conversation rather than impose a judgment.

Share stories, not judgments

story-lolcatI’m a big believer that sharing stories makes us all stronger. Sharing experiences of love, hope and failure in both the poly and monogamous world help all of us to understand what we are going through better and to feel, if nothing else, that we are not alone in our struggles to understand ourselves and the lifestyles we have chosen. So I believe in the power of sharing stories and asking questions rather than offering judgments.

I’ve read a few assertions from intelligent poly folk of late that claim that anyone who defines poly or poly family as [fill in the blank] is wrong and needs to “die in a fire” because that doesn’t match the writer’s or speaker’s own experience.

I don’t know about you, but I dislike it when someone who isn’t in my shoes and who hasn’t lived my life tries to tell me what my poly experience should be. It brings to mind right-wing extremists who claim that they have the right to define what marriage is for everyone else. Or what “family” or “family values” are for everyone else.

If we don’t want others to define marriage or family for us, let’s not do that to each other. The person who gets to define your brand of polyamory is YOU. No one else. And the ONLY person for whom you get to define polyamory is you. Share your definition with your loves, your partners and anyone who asks for it, but please don’t impose it on others or judge others who have chosen to do poly a different way from you. Offer to listen; offer support; offer discussion,;offer your own anecdotes. But please do not offer judgments or critiques. We have the aforementioned right-wing extremists for that.

If you don’t like it when others judge your lifestyle, maybe you should stop judging theirs.

What is right for you?

If you are lucky enough to have found a brand of non-monogamy, polyamory, swinging or open relationships that works for you, GREAT! Many of us take months or years to figure out what we need in order to be happy and healthy in our relationships. And please do share that with others when asked: many of us are looking for models, ideas and roadmaps that might work for us.

So please, share rather than critique. Listen rather than judge. And communicate your definition as an option rather than imposing it as a rule.

And as a final word, absolutely no person or concept should “die in a fire” or “burn in hell.” Let’s just say “My experience has been… “

32 comments to Everyone is doing poly wrong and needs to die in a fire

  • Greg

    Thanks for this. I agree that IME should probably preface everyone’s every word when discussing concepts that are still in the process of baking.

    How would you approach the words themselves, though? It’s one thing to allow everyone their own experience of poly, but I find it difficult to be accepting when I hear people using some terms interchangeably (eg polyamory and swinging). To me, it feels like I’m having my poly haphazardly conflated with swinging when someone else blithely equates the two. I think swinging is fine, to be clear, just not my way of relating to the world.

    So what’s a compassionate and inclusive way of saying, “Hey! Live it how you want, but please don’t muddy the words themselves?”

    • Cunning Minx

      Greg–

      The first question we should ask ourselves is, “why do these definitions matter so much?” Why is it so important not to be categorized as a swinger? I’ll admit to having had knee-jerk reactions for many years to being compared to swingers, and so it was really important to me that people know I wasn’t a swinger. (Your mileage may vary.)

      After a while, I mellowed and realized that it’s no offense to me if someone else compares me to a swinger. Or rather, that “offense” is only in my own mind. Sure, I have my definitions of polyamory, and if someone is open to a conversation, I’ll have it. But it’s not like the world is going to come to an end if someone conflates poly and swinging. It took me years to figure out my own definition of polyamory; why not give others the same time frame?

      But none of that is what you actually asked. :-) If someone is actually up for the differentiation discussion, what I’ll usually offer is that swinging *tends* to be a couple-oriented and event-oriented activity: the couple is at the base, goes to an event, and when they return, the couple structure is still basically intact. And I say “tends to,” because lots of people who identify as swingers define themselves differently. (Ask the Life on the Swingset folks about “progressive swinging”!) And when it comes to polyamory, while it does basically involve long-term, loving relationships with the full consent of all parties involved, that all bets are off when it comes to structure: could be partnered non-monogamy, could be a vee, could be a triad, could be a quad, could be an amorphous poly blob, could involve shared living space and finances or not.

      • Olaf

        Within the poly relationship itself words have almost no meaning.
        But because polyamory is still not understood by none-poly people, then we need to have some “googlable” term that makes friends and families much easier to find everything about polyamory.

        My life was so hard to explain to other people before I ever heard the word polyamory.
        Everyone knew what swingers were, but I was not a swinger.

        Then came that word “polyamory” and the other word “frubble’ and I finally had a word that I could say to people that would make them understand me better when they just use google.
        It made my life so much easier.

        The importance to have words like “polyamory”, “frubble” and “secondary/primary” is not really to the poly people in a relationship. But to the family and friends that will freak out at the mere thought that you have someone else. These people need some googlable terms to understand what on earth that even means. It makes my life of a poly way much easier if I do not have to explain it but they can google it. Maybe secretly.

        I have now an opening sentence when I meet people where there is a chance that it would evolve more. I also use it regularly to my partner.
        The sentence is “I AM POLY”

        It is a short sentence but it carries a very strong message to the potential new partner. The message is: “I am NOT monogamous, and I will not leave my current partner under any condition”
        The message is also “I am polyamorous, I WILL support you when you meet a new potential partner”

        The only problem I have is when the word “polyamory” is mixed with all the none-polyamory additions like New Age woowoo, BDSM, Tantra, …. People start to associate me with wild sex orgies all the time. We already have words for that and lose the focus that the primary drive is “love”. It makes me coming out way much harder than it needs to be.

  • Chantilly Despres

    Thank you. It has long been a contention of mine when it comes to any kind of alternative lifestyle that when someone uses the words “really” or “true” that they have drawn a box around themselves to shore up their own justifications for their alternative lifestyle. Anyone outside that box must be wrong, because, if the person outside those walls are “right,” then the person(s) inside the box would be “wrong.” It is only when we are able to face outwards and look outside our boxes and not be threatened by other’s constructions, are we able to let go of the idea that “my box is better than your box” thinking.

  • It would be nice if “In my experience…” wasn’t one of those phrases that gets ignored.

    I’m 100% for people being able to self-identify any way they like. Fill yer boots, I say! I got no pony in that race.

    However, I ALSO see a lot of really destructive behavior out there. A lot of dehumanizing stuff that results in a lot of heartbreak. As the old saw goes “There may be a lot of great ways to do this, but I assure you that there are a lot of terrible ways as well.”

    This has nothing to do with the power of self-identity — only to do with the actions of the individuals.

    And therein lies an issue I see a lot in some of the online groups, which I think you allude to above. “Sure,” I want to tell some folks, “you can self-identify however you like, but don’t confuse People Suggesting Maybe This Behavior Is Problematic with the People Who Are preventing You From Self-Identifying.”

  • JJMA

    Amen. Many years ago, when I was in a ‘monogamish’ marriage, I encountered this phenomenon and it really turned me off most poly forums. Some people seemed to try to ‘out-poly’ everyone else in what I thought was an ego-driven way. Thank you for stating so eloquently what I’ve long felt and encouraging more constructive communication.

  • “I ALSO see a lot of really destructive behavior out there. A lot of dehumanizing stuff that results in a lot of heartbreak. As the old saw goes “There may be a lot of great ways to do this, but I assure you that there are a lot of terrible ways as well.”

    “Dehumanizing” is the word I keep ending up at, and the reason that I’m currently not sure I can identify as poly. Some of the expectations I keep running into, especially as an outside partner, seem so hurtful and widespread that what I want poly to mean (egalitarianism, communication, openheartedness)is starting to seem like an unreachable ideal. Though I’m not sure that my own polyamory is a choice (probably it isn’t)I know I can only do so much to define it for myself–the gap between what most ethical folks see as the kindest, most compassionate way and how I’m finding poly actually practiced is pretty wide.

    I’m not sure if I have a point, other than to wonder what we ACTUALLY mean when we say we’re poly.

    • Minx

      Pretty–

      Hey! Nice to “see” you again. And you know you don’t have to identify as poly if you don’t want to. :-) In fact, if you want to make up a new word/phrase (“Compassionately non-monogamous”?), you go to it! Just because polyamory or swinging or whatever has negative connotations for some people doesn’t mean we have to accept those negative connotations–but it does mean we’ll probably have to have more than one or two clarifying conversations about it.

  • Kurt Boyer

    This essay has already been written a thousand times. And I always disagree with it. And any time I speak out, people in the poly community react as though *I* should die in a fire. :-)

    It’s not wrong to examine certain things logically and draw conclusions. When I see a BDSM blog about “My wife’s place is beneath me” and how the guy craps on her and tells her she is worthless as a “consensual kink,” I feel strongly that those two individuals have some issues that go deeper than the bedroom. An individual’s sexuality doesn’t simply spring out of nowhere, it’s a reflection of who we are. Sure, a person can *consent* to a 24/7 slavehood where they reject the use of their own name (“this slave”) and talk about their partner as an infallible god (who craps on them), but what does that consent reflect about the slave/submissive? When mean-spirited, shallow, patriarchal attitudes are reinforced & glorified through “kink” I can’t help but conclude that those individuals have a mean-spirited, patriarchal attitude about life.

    It’s comparable in a way to televangelism. The people in the audience are *consenting* to buying a guy’s b.s. pseudo-religious-capitalist book for the special low price of $49.99. We all know the guy is a sleaze, but the audience does *consent*. Closet-atheist televangelists will argue privately that they are simply selling fairy tales to people who are “happier and more comfortable” being customers of them. On a temporary, spurious level, they might be right. Does that make televangelism “okay”? Does it make the obvious, exploitative commercialization of religion okay b/c people consent to it?

    I’ve spoken to a lot of Doms & Subs privately who agree that sexism/humiliation fetishes come from a bad place. “If people want to bring that into the bedroom they got some issues that go beyond the bedroom.” But if you speak out about it, you’re Intolerant Poly Guy. You are shunned. The philosophical paradigm behind current poly bromides is that there is no real reality, only opinion. The Greeks would disagree, and they made the technology possible wherupon we can sit at our computers and say that there is no right or wrong vis a vis sexuality or relationships, only consent or non-consent.

  • B

    On the cheating vs poly identification.

    I think it’s important to differentiate between the nature of a person’s sexual identity and the relationship. A person can be poly in a monogamous relationship. However, I would argue that a relationship can’t be poly without the knowledge and consent of all involved parties, simply because you can’t have a relationship with someone without their consent. A person can’t unilaterally decide that they are in a polyamorous relationship with someone without their knowledge, any more than they could decide they were in a relationship with them at all.

    If, however, I am wrong about this, I hereby declare myself in a passionate, non-exclusive relationship with Jennifer Lawrence. She just doesn’t know about it yet.

    • Minx

      B–

      I don’t really disagree, and I hope you and Jennifer Lawrence are very happy together. :-) I suppose I’m not arguing that everyone is doing poly 100% right, any more than everyone is doing monogamy 100% right. I’m just hoping to fight the compulsion to TELL people they’re wrong and replace the poly policing response with genuine curiosity and compassion that will spark a conversation rather than initiate an argument.

      I do believe there is a way to listen and converse rather than police and judge in which an informed conversation can happen without either party walking away thinking, “What a prick that guy was. I’m never going back to THAT group.”

  • Jeff Polier

    I realized very early in our poly relationship that our style was far from common. We’re a committed poly triad. All three of us love each other and I don’t consider either of my partners a “secondary.” I recognize that this seems to be quite rare within the poly community. One of my partners (the one that I’ve been with since 1997) does have a secondary outside of our triad and that’s A-OK with my other partner and I. What we’re doing or others are doing isn’t “wrong,” just different.

  • […] of days ago, Cunning Minx posted an article on polyweekly.com which I read yesterday, entitled “Everyone is doing poly wrong and needs to die in a fire.”  The post was about how we need to step back and be more tolerant of differences in evaluating the […]

  • […] So searching around on the net I found this Great blog by Cunning Minx over at poly weekly the original blog is here […]

  • Dave

    I’m beginning to look at Poly to see if it fits me, and I really appreciate these frank and open discussions. I’m learning a lot from them. Thanks!!!

    The way I function on the inside can be characterized as striving for a practice of non-judgemental and radical acceptance. The approach I try to use to get there myself is to explore things with curiosity and wonder… “what’s that like? How’s that feel in your life?”, and communion.

    I’m glad to see it’s not just me.

  • Olaf

    Polyamory for me means these rules:
    1. Love is the primary driving factor, not sex.
    2. All your partners know about each others existence and gave their consent.
    3. You give the freedom to all your partners to have multiple partners too.

    There is nothing wrong if you do not follow 1,2 or 3, but don’t call it polyamory.

    In my opinion, polyamory does not define how many partners you currently have.
    It also does not define how you spread the attention between your partners. The interesting part of polyamory is that you do not need to give equal attention to all your partners.
    It does also not define if you live together or even have sex.

    • Megs

      Ah! Someone who didn’t read the article, or at least chose to ignore it. What about “Everyone gets to choose their own label,” and “Share stories, not judgements,” didn’t you understand?

      • Olaf

        So reply to my judgement with a judgement?

        • Megan

          Not judgement.

          Let’s go back to one of Minx’s key tenants here that she wrote in red. “Your polyamory is not my polyamory, but your polyamory is OK.”

          You say, “There is nothing wrong if you do not follow 1,2 or 3, but don’t call it polyamory.” I recommend reading what Minx wrote again and trying to see why telling others how to label or not label themselves is problematic and why telling people how they should do poly is not in any of our best interests.

          Minx- great, compassionate article. Thanks.

          • Olaf

            Assume situation:
            I am a 45 middle aged man and I meet you, a girl and tell you that I am polyamorous and my wife is OK with it. This is my telephone number, but don’t call me, I will call you. I will only visit your house during working hours, and you are only allowed to visit my house after you warned me during the working hours.

            Or this situation:
            I am a 30 year hot polyamorious massagist that will come at your door to give you the hottest massage you ever had. I will come together with my lesbian Girlfriend.

            Or this situation.
            Hi I am a 50 year old male and open for polyamorous contacts. I am only interested in hot girls that are single.

            On this one:
            Hi I am a polyamore male with 10+ girlfriends. There is no need to know who these 10 other girlfriends are and please don’t contact my wife.

            Now tell me, do you want to associate people with polyamory?

    • Anna Lisa

      Olaf,

      I completely agree with you. I don’t care how people practice poly, but if you aren’t interested in open, honest, and loving relationships, that just isn’t polyamory. Just like if you aren’t interested in being romantically (romantic emotions) and sexually involved with one person, that isn’t monogamy. I saw a profile once that said a guy was in a “monogamous” relationship with one woman….and also in a “monogamous” relationship with ANOTHER woman. Sorry, but I do believe that’s a warped view of monogamy.

  • You know, as a monogamous man that was just thrust into the Poly world after 10+ years of marriage (wife realized that she was A. Bisexual and B. Poly-ish (hence the name of my blog), and recently having been working to facilitate a conversation between my wife and our secondary (we’re doing this together…. think of it as a triad), I posted about it on my blog and WOW I was blasted by someone for saying I essentially was a polygamist trying to have as many wives as possible. What the poster who said I’m doing it all wrong was missing is that my wife spearheaded all of this. But it’s all good because we’re communicating and making it work.. for us! So again, thank you so much for this post!

  • Thanks for this post. I have a few friends that believe what Luke and I choose to do is downright cheating, but they have no idea what Poly actually is. I have to remind them that we both consent to it and no one is hiding anything. People prejudge based on a word more than they realize.

  • Last week I saw a great documentary on polyamory, and I although I was a bit baffled at first, it was also very fascinating, so I decided to make a free social network for all polyamorous people. I launched the site last Sunday and you can find it here http://www.polyamorynetwork.com

  • On the other hand, let’s be clear on distinguishing when someone is making a public proclamation to the world and when someone is engaging in a private rant to a small, closed group of people. Sometimes people just need to get things off their chests. (And sometimes, granted they make poor choices about whom to disclose private thoughts to.)

    • Cunning Minx

      Eve–

      Thanks for commenting! Agreed that sometimes, we just need to meet with a trusted friend and have a non-PC rant about stuff. We all do that. And it’s true that one of your rants, among several other experiences I’d had that week, was the onus for writing this post. So while the rant did make me feel pretty awful about being judged harshly for the way I do poly by someone I respect, I should thank you for giving me the motivation to write, something I don’t often do.

      I do believe it’s important to realize a few things:

      (a) that nothing published on the internet is really private and WILL be used as a reflection of your beliefs in EXACTLY the way you don’t want it to be. As they say, “You are what you write on the internet.” In fact, for some people who only meet us in passing, the totality of who we are is what we write on the internet.

      (b) some of the people you are speaking to may hold dear the very belief you are critiquing. This is kind of like making a Polish joke to a small group of friends and then realizing that some of them are Polish but too embarrassed at the situation to admit it.

      I certainly have my own failings on both these counts. The first one I ran into early on in my internet career. I was using LiveJournal as an actual journal (silly me!) and wrote a blog post about my true feelings about an acquaintance of mine I was frustrated with trying to help. The entry was posted to a closed group of friends, but she somehow found it, unfriended me and then proceeded to out me online and post about how I should die. Fortunately, I was able to repair the damage and learn my lesson. :-/

      The second one I’ve run into a few times, but I’ve been blessed to have both a fairly non-confrontational writing style (I am terrified of confrontation) and friends who call me out when a rant does come across as unkind. That being said, I’m sure there were a few silent unfriendings I’m unaware of due to something I wrote thoughtlessly or carelessly without realizing my audience wasn’t 100% with me.

      At any rate, your comments and two other conversations I had that week did end up being great motivators for me. And while not everyone agrees with me, I do feel better for having taken the time to share my thoughts and start this conversation. Truly, I’m honored to be among such smart, well-spoken, compassionate people.

  • Eve

    I just saw this post yesterday. I am the person (or at least one of the people) Minx wrote this about, and I just for the record, I want to say that I feel I have been misquoted.

    1. The post this was responding to (which used the phrase “die in a fire”) was a personal rant, labelled as such, posted to a screened, limited audience of people. I admit that it was a mistake to include Minx in that audience, since I did not know her well (I actually don’t think I was aware that she was included in the list I posted to; I’ve since fixed that and carefully reviewed the list.)

    2. I never said any PERSON needed to die in a fire. I was referring to a specific *idea*, one that I had seen been used as a tool of abuse and cause serious harm—especially (and ironically, given Minx’s post), when applied as a cultural norm and used to shame and control people who don’t comply with a default expectation.

    Admittedly I did not express that eloquently in my rant; I didn’t think I needed to, because it was a personal rant in a personal space. I was venting. I used inflammatory language that I expected people I trusted to at least excuse, at best understand. Had I tried to talk about the same thing on a public blog, I would have used much different wording.

    In fact, we did have the pleasure of hosting a very compassionate and eloquent guest post on exactly the same topic of my own intemperate personal rant:

    http://www.morethantwo.com/blog/2014/01/guest-post-on-zero-sum-family-and-consent

    Also, I never said anything about anyone or any thing “burning in hell,” though I did use a few other (I hope more creative) phrases. But perhaps that came from someone else’s post.

    That said, I do believe that there are ideas that need to die in a fire. The idea that it’s okay to sterilize black women in prison against their wishes, for example (happening now in the USA). Or how about the idea that if someone doesn’t say “no” they’re saying “yes”? How about just about everything ever written on Return of Kings or http://www.reddit.com/r/TheRedPill?‎ There are plenty of horrible, toxic ideas that cause real harm and really do need to die. It’s okay—and in fact necessary—to call those bad ideas out.

    And inevitably, some really bad ideas relate to poly relationships, or relationships in general. Hey, in fact, here’s an excellent list of wrong ways to do relationships—mono or poly:

    http://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_types_signs_causes_effects.htm

    Please, let’s not start trying to say that the things on that page are just one person’s identity or personal approach to relationships. Please. Just don’t. (Of course, some people inevitably will. Because “no wrong way,” right?)

    Does that mean the people who hold destructive ideas—or the people who do harm with those ideas—don’t deserve compassion? Of course not. And of course if we’re trying to teach them or change their minds, they need to be approached with patience, understanding and compassion–no matter how abhorrent their actions, or their ideas. (Though in the case of Return of Kings and RedPill, I don’t think any minds are going to be changed.)

    I work in science communication, where we have to deal all the time with wrong and harmful ideas held by perfectly decent, well-meaning people (paging anti-vaxxers & climate deniers) all the time. As someone from that circle once said, we need to “Be ruthless with ideas but kind to people.”

    Unfortunately, a lot of people have a hard time telling the difference. When you personally identify with an idea, it’s hard to accept a critique of that idea as not being a critique of your self. Still, it doesn’t mean all ideas should get a free pass.

    At the same time, that doesn’t mean that we’re intolerant or elitist or “poly police” or whatever if we get frustrated and need to blow off steam every now and then in our own personal space.

  • Joe

    I think words are only useful to the extent that they convey meaning. I have a thought, I choose a word to express it, you hear the word, and you understand my thought. If we can’t agree on the meaning of a word, we can’t use it to communicate. Thus, I think we need a common definition of polyamory in order to make the word useful.

    I think we mostly agree that the word “relationship” has many meanings, but at its base is the concept that people interacting are in some sort of relationship, whether as passionate monogamous lovers, or clerk and customer at a store. Both of those are relationships, ove deeper that the other, of course.

    Polyamory, to me, and hopefully by agreement, means many (or at least more than one) loves. It doesn’t have to mean anything more than that. Multiple loves can take many forms. All of those forms are polyamory. The poly community has discovered through our collective experience, things that make poly relationships go smoothly and things that make them fall apart, but to me at least, if you love more than one person at a time, you are poly, and nothing you do behavior wise changes or invalidates that.

    Swingers are people who engage in recreational sex. I think that’s as good a definition as we are likely to agree on. If they love their multiple partners, they are also poly. Some do and some don’t. Poly people may have sex with their partners or not, but if they love them, as far as I’m concerned, they are poly.

    I find it useful to agree on word meanings when trying to communicate, and frustrating when we don’t agree on definitions. Note that I have said nothing whatsoever about any thoughts, feelings, or behaviors being right or wrong. I’m just talking about the communication utility of agreeing on what words mean.

  • Tara Shakti-Ma

    There are many forms of open and honest non-monogamy. Not all of them are polyamorous….which doesn’t make them better or worse, right or wrong, but at some point we need to be able to distinguish what offers the hallmarks of polyamory, and what essentially boils down to other forms of non-monogamy.

  • […] Great article about people’s attitudes that some kinds of poly are right, some wrong. […]

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