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The Geek Social Fallacies of Polyamory

In the unlikely event that you may not be aware of them, the Geek Social Fallacies are a list of flaws in reasoning about relationships which are altogether depressingly common in geek social groups.

It's not surprising that they exist; though it's less true now than it was, say, twenty years ago, it's still a fact that many self-identified "geeks" grow up as social outcasts, and create communities that express their own quirks and dysfunctions because of that.

I've been pondering some pondering thoughts about how the same idea might apply to polyamorous people, and I think there is a loose correlation between the Geek Social Fallacies and the Poly Social Fallacies. Don't get me wrong; the poly community, by and large, is awesome, and I scarcely form close friendships with anyone outside of it any more. But we are prone to our own social quirks and dysfunctions. So, here's a first stab at drafting the Poly Social Fallacies:

Poly Social Fallacy #1: Polyamorous People Don't Get Jealous

If we were to meet someone who claims immunity to an emotion like, say, disappointment, or sadness, or frustration, or doubt, we'd probably look at her like she'd just sprouted an extra head or two. Yet when people in the poly community claim an "immunity" to jealousy, often we'll just nod and say "Yes, that's awesome, you're a Good Poly Person."

Even when they feel jealousy but refuse to acknowledge it for what it is. Which is, I have to admit, something I've been guilty of myself when I started doing the non-monogamy thing.

Jealousy is merely a feeling, nothing more. Like all emotions, it's part of the normal and varied landscape of the human condition. Some people may feel it more easily than others, and some people may go through long periods of time without ever encountering a situation that triggers it, but that's not the same thing.

As with all emotions, it's a way for the parts of our brain that don't have language to communicate with us. Sometimes, what those bits of our brains are communicating might be "Hey, there's an inconsistency here; there's something hinkey that might mean my needs aren't being met" and other times it's "RAAAARGH! PROTECT TERRITORY! MUST SMASH INTERLOPER TRYING TO TAKE MY PROPERTY!"...but it's not something that being polyamorous somehow confers an immunity to, any more than being into motor sports magically makes one immune to disappointment.

Carriers of this fallacy can do all sorts of destructive things, from acting out in passive-aggressive ways while refusing to confront the reality of what they're feeling, to attempting to impose all sorts of micromanaging controls on their partner's behavior in the name of "setting boundaries." A better solution is honesty: "Hey, tI'm feeling jealous. That doesn't mean I'm a bad person, or that you have done anything wrong, but it does mean I'd like to talk about this."

Poly Social Fallacy #2: Polyamory Is More Evolved

This particular fallacy isn't unique to polyamory; members of any sexual or relationship subculture often feel like they Have It Figured Out, and that if only their particular thing could be recognized for how brilliant it was by the MainStream Culture, everyone's lives would be better off.

This is often a reaction to being marginalized by mainstream culture. When you've grown up not fitting in with the people around you, finding a community where you DO fit is such an overwhelming relief that you want to spread the joy you feel far and wide.

And, to be fair, the poly community does espouse many values--communication, honesty, communication, problem-solving, communication, negotiation, and communication--that would benefit anyone in any sort of relationship. (Just imagine how much better off the characters in any romantic comedy would be if they would only talk to each other!)

But carriers of this fallacy run off the rails in two directions: first, by assuming that just because someone is monogamous, it must mean they don't have these skills; and second, by assuming that just because they are polyamorous, it means they do.

It'd be marvelous if membership in the poly community came with these relationship skills. And some folks do seem to feel that that's how things work--woohoo! Im polyamorous, and poly people are good communicators! That means I'm a good communicator! Go me!--but even a casual look around the poly landscape will show that it doesn't quiiiiite work that way.

More to the point, there is no single relationship model that works for everyone. Just like monogamy doesn't work for all of us, polyamory doesn't work for all of us either. There are monogamous people who are monogamous because monogamy is the most natural fit for them, not because they're knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who are merely accepting cultural defaults because they have not yet received the blessings of polyamorous Enlightenment.

Poly Social Fallacy #3: The Core Relationship Before All

Valuing relationships is a reasonable thing. Wanting to protect a relationship is a valid measure of respect for the value it brings. Believing that it's OK to do anything, commit any act, or hurt any person so long as the core relationship remains is unhealthy.

I recently encountered a great example of this fallacy in action. A woman declared that, because she had once been in a situation where her partner didn't take care to meet her needs when he started a relationship, she realized that the only ethical way to have relationships was to abandon any new partner the moment her husband expressed the slightest discomfort. Her reasoning, you see, was that it is unethical to hurt people, and therefore the only right thing to do was to end any relationship that she was involved in the instant it looked like her husband might have any problem with it at all--because she would never be so cruel as to hurt someone else.

Carriers of this social fallacy venerate their existing relationship to the point where they either don't acknowledge or simply don't care about anyone else's pain. Any new partner is an expendable commodity; any amount of hurt or heartbreak inflicted on any number of people is justified if it "protects" the "primary" relationship.

Sometimes, learning new skills and adapting to new situations is uncomfortable. Sometimes, it's necessary to accept that a bit of discomfort is OK; it doesn't mean the End Of Everything. And ethical behavior always recognizes that callously inflicting pain on others--any others--is something to be avoided wherever possible.

Poly Social Fallacy #4: Relationships Are Transitive

This particular social fallacy can take two forms, each pernicious in its own way.

The less common form it takes is the notion that if my partner is sexually or romantically involved with someone, that means I have a right to be involved with that same person, too. It's sometimes seen by established couples, especially couples new to polyamory, as the perfect solution to jealousy; if I am having sex with the same person my partner is having sex with, then there's no reason to be jealous, right? (We should all live in a world where emotions like jealousy are so rational...but then they wouldn't be emotions, would they?)

The more common form is "My partners should all be friends with each other." While it's nice when that happens, and it's definitely true that the members of a poly group should be able to be in the same room with each other and to interact pleasantly without bloodshed, it's not necessary that everyone be best friends merely because they fancy the same person.

Both forms of this fallacy, taken to their (il)logical conclusion, lead to a creepy place that denies people their own autonomy: If you are to be involved with person X, you are now obligated to like/be intimate with/be friends with/have sex with person Y." Eww! People make their own choices in friends and lovers for their own reasons; it's rare indeed that someone will be okay with being told how they must relate to someone merely because they fancy someone else. Trying to dictate how people relate to one another is inappropriate social behavior, regardless of whether we're talking about friends or metamours or lovers.

Poly Social Fallacy #5: Partners Do Everything Together

Relationships almost always need a certain amount of alone time if they are to grow and thrive. When we first start out in polyamorous relationships, having a partner go off and spend time alone with someone else can feel threatening; it can feel like an exclusion. So why not simply do everything together, all the time?

Unfortunately, this can constrain a relationship. It can also create Drama, when someone feels that his or her needs for intimate, one-on-one time aren't being respected.

It is rare in the extreme that two different relationships develop in the same way and the same direction at the same rate at the same time, even in situations where three people are all romantically involved with each other. It's reasonable that there will be times that two of the three will do something on their own, whether it's have sex or take a walk in the garden, and this is not a reflection on, or an exclusion of, the third person.

Taken to its extreme, this social fallacy can lead to some pretty bizarre places, like "I know I get home from work an hour later than you two do in the evening; I don't want you doing anything interesting at all (or even "I don't want you spending time together") until I get home."



( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 26th, 2012 08:48 pm (UTC)
ooo, excellent stuff to chew on here. Thanks, tacit!
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 26th, 2012 10:11 pm (UTC)
"Social Fallacies I See In My Fringe Peer Communities Are In Some Way Special To Those Communities" is geek/poly/kink cognitive fallacy #1.
Sep. 28th, 2012 06:48 am (UTC)
"They haven't even seen you naked..." hahaha!

guilty. darn. :)
Sep. 26th, 2012 10:11 pm (UTC)
Poly Social Fallacy #3 is Poly Marketing Strategy #1. The mainstream culture absolutely requires core-relationship-above-all for poly to be even marginally accepted and not considered some kind of horror. (Because, y'know, the mainstream culture is all about valuing whether a relationship is stable over whether it's, for example, mutually beneficial, survivable, or in any meaningful way preferable to marrying a rabid wolverine.) For people who subscribe to it it's a major hook they hang their "justifying how we are good people despite eschewing the conformity that ordinarily defines goodness" hats on. Which in the end is all about marketing.
Sep. 27th, 2012 06:26 pm (UTC)
mmmmm. Wolverine.
Sep. 27th, 2012 07:50 pm (UTC)
You like guys with hairy backs and anger issues, do you? Man, have I got the hookup for you.
Sep. 27th, 2012 10:31 pm (UTC)
heh heh
Sep. 27th, 2012 12:31 am (UTC)
conceptually a good approach, just not sure about the way it was done
1. immunity does not imply (to me!) that one is not affected by whatever-one-is-immune-to. Rather that they body/psyche/mind/etc can address it before it has a significant effect on the body/psyche/mind/etc.
Also, it would have been good to define what you MEAN by jealousy; yeah it is an emotion, yeah, it CAN trigger some of those things you mention. Is it your opinion that jealousy is intrinsic in human make-up, or it something that is learned?

2. You are equating in your argument "polyamory is more evolved" to a list of some values that many in the community espouse. Associating a structure of relationships to traits and values just doesn't do it for me. I think your 2nd fallacy is more focused on those traits and how they exist in the poly community vs the 'normal' communities.

3. While I have also seen some poly people that behave as 'core relationship above all', I haven't seen it as a dominant trait and also haven't seen it espoused as a desirable trait in general. I mostly see primary/secondary used more for its measure of commitment, time together, marriage, etc than to assume that the secondary is a commodity or disposable. YMMV...

4. We all know about the unicorn hunters; some of them are even 'successful'. The general approach, which seems to work for many people, is that, as you say, 'should be able to be in the same room and talk pleasantly'. I am not sure about tossing in that it should be the 'entire' poly group (whatever that is). There is nothing wrong (IMHO) with wanting some sort of contact with the others who are involved with the person in question at some point; same room? at any time? Yes, it CAN be a problem taken to extremes, but I wouldn't think of that extreme as a common social characteristic. up until that point, I think it is 'different strokes' and is more like a trait than a problem... Am I missing something?

5. This is more relationship style stuff, until you get to the extreme aspect that some could take it. I also would contest that it is really all that common of a trait of poly folks. I could see people nodding their heads about the first few traits you speak of, but I really doubt that many would say that 'poly partners do everything together' is among those head nods...

Are you including the extreme examples of these to be a parallel with the 'geek list'?? (I haven't looked at it, so that might answer my question)... I guess my point is that focusing on the extremes doesn't do much to show how illogical these concepts are.
Where is Spock when we need him??
Sep. 27th, 2012 01:36 pm (UTC)
the anonymous post is mine... dunno why LJ lost my ID...
May. 8th, 2015 12:50 pm (UTC)
how can jealousy possibly fRe: conceptually a good approach, just not sure about the way it was done
How can jealousy possibly be learned?,you can not learn a feeling.If jealousy had no biological basis we wont have felt it ,its just impossible. To suppress jealousy is a different matter just like we can suppress any other emotion it does make them learned.
Sep. 27th, 2012 02:22 pm (UTC)
Can you add #6 "Because one person just isn't enough?" Bleh.
Sep. 27th, 2012 05:41 pm (UTC)
Sep. 27th, 2012 05:46 pm (UTC)
I see myself in a lot of those points - not because I've necessarily been guilty of them, although I have been guilty of one. That one was the part about wanting my partners to be involved with each other as well as with me. It still kind of is an ideal I keep in my mind, but at least with experience I've learned how nearly impossible it is and that I shouldn't ever push for it. I'd be content at this point just be happy with whomever I'm with, and hope not to make anyone else unhappy in the process.

The last point, though, I think it applies to just about everyone, ever, including in relationships that are not romantic. Like family bonds, friendships, that sort of thing. Some people may be extremely social butterflies who can't stand being alone, but I think the majority of people need some alone time in order to be mentally healthy. Never being alone, never wanting to be alone, is a trait that would cause me to worry about a person's mental stability.
Sep. 27th, 2012 06:29 pm (UTC)
hmmm. . . . I don't think not needing or enjoying alone time = mental instability. Not *being able* to be alone, or becoming very stressed by alone time would be.

--signed, an extrovert who'd rather have people around than not, but who is perfectly capable of being alone
Sep. 27th, 2012 09:59 pm (UTC)
I suppose there should be that distinction. I find it hard to understand extroverts, I'll admit.
Sep. 27th, 2012 10:30 pm (UTC)
:) You must not have one of us in your close circle. If I weren't surrounded by introverts, I would probably have trouble understanding their perspective. With a son and several partners. . . OK, *all* my partners. . . who are introverts, I've learned how to flow with their needs.

it seems that I <3 Introverts, even though I'm not one.

Sep. 28th, 2012 12:28 am (UTC)
I definitely don't have one in my close circle - I know some, and they're exhausting. They're the friends I call up once in a blue moon when the extrovert mood hits me. :-) Also, I call them when I feel like getting plain stinking drunk, because that's the only time I'm ever truly extroverted.

Don't worry...I admire you people and all, but I can't handle your brand of awesome. :-)
Sep. 28th, 2012 08:12 pm (UTC)
Ah, I worded that badly. By "alone time" I mean "dyadic time"--time which each couple in a group relationship can share together without the rest of the group. It's been my observation that no matter how close Bob, Cindy, and Denise might be as a triad, each of them will probably, at some point, want to spend time with just one other person, without all three of them having to be together all the time.
Sep. 28th, 2012 08:48 pm (UTC)
that's definitely a completely different issue.

I really do need "alone time" with each of my partners. I had such a struggle with one of my sweetie's desire to have everyone all together all the time, and his wife's discomfort with me asking for alone time with him. He got frustrated, and she felt snubbed. I don't know that either of them ever understood that I was only asking for something that they got every day with each other.

Getting along and being together is something I value. I'm even open to getting sexual with my sweeties and their other partners. But "alone time" is one of my most basic needs in a relationship

Sep. 30th, 2012 04:41 pm (UTC)
Everyone get their groan ready and hold on to it for a sec.

Even pre-poly, even as a child and a young adult, I've never been a jealous person. Maybe that's a side effect of growing up in a large family. I'm the 5th of 7 born to my mother and have multiple step sibs. Maybe it's just a part of who I am.

Jealousy doesn't exist for me though. What DOES exist is a feeling of being excluded. That one is a rough one, but it's not because I want what person X had. It's because I want something that results in the same sort of feeling, or because I wanted to not be left out of something fun/interesting/etc. Now, some can say "Well that's jealousy." But I say it isn't. It's a feeling of having been, or even the fear of being, excluded. Typically, I talk to my partners and the item at hand is addressed and life moves forward with relative ease.

Jealousy, to me, is a cop out term. It's one word we use to describe, for example:
-Feeling territorial: which is usually driven by some deeper item.
-Feeling excluded, due to real, perceived, or feared events
-Feeling lonely
-Unmet needs
-Repressed or hidden anger over something

The list could go on and on. Jealousy, to me, is just a term to avoid addressing the real issue. As a responsible adult, and yes, this is a learned skill for me, I have to first figure out what I am feeling, and then take responsibility for that feeling. If I need something, part of that taking responsibility is to speak up about what I need without making it my partners fault that the need isn't met. ESPECIALLY if it's something I never told them about before!

So no, I don't get jealous. Sometimes I just have to look more closely at what is troubling me than I do at other times.

Just my $.02, for whatever it's worth.
Oct. 1st, 2012 03:19 am (UTC)
I make the distinction between jealousy (the fear that someone will take something away from me) and envy (the desire to have what someone else has). I don't know a one-word term for the fear of loss, but I see that as distinct also, as it doesn't imply some outside force being responsible for the loss, the way that jealousy does.

I think many of the items in the list you gave (and then some) can manifest as either jealousy or envy, depending on the details, but in one case, a person has something that they're afraid to lose, and in the other case, a person sees others having something that he or she wants to also have. It sounds like you're more likely to experience envy than jealousy.

I am also, btw, more likely to experience envy than jealousy. And, at least in my own life, envy seems easier to address - "you are doing X. I want to do X. The solution is for me to do X, either with you or without you (depending on the circumstances), not to prevent you from also doing X."
Oct. 18th, 2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
I make a big distinction between jealousy and envy, and I define it the same way you do, joreth.

I've dealt with both from time to time, but I'm generally much more likely to be envious than jealous -- and the answer to that is sometimes "Hey, when you took your other partner out dancing, I wished I could do the same with you. Wanna go dancing sometime?" . . . and sometimes it's "We live on different continents, so I accept, as a condition of our relationship, that I'll never spend as much time with you as you do with your live-in partner -- but since our time together is good and has been for many years, and I knew we lived on different continents when we got together, I'll accept some envy as the price for having this relationship."

I almost never have the "You have X, and I don't want you to have X" jealousy, although I'll admit to the occasional cranky wish that someone more deserving could wind up with my health woes. (Nothing to do with relationships or poly, I should add!)

Fear of loss is something I've really struggled with, though. I think I'm doing okay at this stage in my life, but it certainly took a number of years of self-work to get there. (Doesn't help when you normally are of the belief that you shouldn't compare partners against each other because each person is an individual, but there are *always* going to be things that almost any partner of my partners are going to be able to do that I can't, because of my disability. So there's the worrying-about-measuring-up thing, especially during a time of really persistent poor health.)

Even so -- I love and am loved, I'm happy and content, I'm dealing with some Life Stuff that is frustrating and disappointing, but my loves are amazing and supportive, and that's a pretty good situation, all told.

-- A <3
May. 8th, 2015 12:53 pm (UTC)
Am confused u said u never felt jealous then u list all the feelings associated with it.
Jun. 12th, 2015 04:24 am (UTC)
Jealousy is the umbrella term. The terms I listed are not "jealousy" because that is not an emotion that exists. It's a word people hide behind rather than investigating the individual feelings that they are feeling. It's a socially acceptable defense against all manner of horrible behavior and bad treatment of other people.
Oct. 1st, 2012 03:12 am (UTC)
What would you say about the Frankenpartner Fallacy? The idea that we just add up a bunch of people to make one perfect partner?

Or how about the fallacy where someone thinks "My partner is always off with his/her other partner, & I'm not used to being alone so I'll just find someone of my own to keep from feeling lonely"?

Both are, I think, related to your post about relationships as need fulfillment machines.
May. 8th, 2015 12:54 pm (UTC)
But is that what polyamory is all about,using people to fulfill ur needs
May. 9th, 2015 01:08 am (UTC)
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )