Why I Hate “True Poly”

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“What those people are doing,” sniffs the commentor, “Is not a true polyamory. You shouldn’t dignify their behavior with the name of our hallowed institution! Why, they’re swingers at best! Or cheaters!”

Don’t get me wrong; I share in their sniffination. Part of the reason my wife and I came out as polyamorous was because there were so, so many dysfunctional relationships waving the poly banner proudly – selfish one-penis polycules, New Relationship Energy junkies, hostage situations where a monogamous partner is forced into polyamory because they can’t bear the thought of their partner leaving.

We saw folks rightfully going, “God, if that’s polyamory I don’t want to have anything to do with it,” and decided to go public in part as counter-programming.

(And our specific dysfunctions probably inspire other people to come out in order to disavow us! It’s the CIRCLE of life….)

But if I’m so down on many common forms of dysfunctional polyamory, why am I not in favor of claiming a “true” polyamory?

Two reasons:
1) The definition never actually works in the wild, and:
2) When it does work, it serves to exclude and alienate valid lifestyles

Let’s break that down. Quick. Who claims to be truly polyamorous?

Answer: Pretty much everyone who practices poly.

If people hewed to consistently labelling themselves, I might be in favor of “true poly” as a concept. But nobody sidles up to you at a party to say, “My wife and I are poly – well, not really poly, we kind of use new partners as playtoys until we decide they’re too troublesome and then we cast them aside, we’re actually only sweet so long as you’re useful to us, wanna fuck?”

Fact is, the only pragmatic definition of true poly is for people to claim they’re it. Everybody’s loving. Everybody’s caring. Everybody’s a beautiful family, until they’re not.

(If it helps, say that in the voice of Dr. Gregory House, MD.)

And they’re not even necessarily lying! This is what “true poly” is to them. Sure, there are conscious abusers – but most genuinely believe what they’re selling.

What’s lacking is not honesty, but insight.

(I do not exclude myself.)

So since hardly anyone will ever self-define themselves (and their relationships) as “fake poly,” “true poly” is not useful as a label. It’s like everything claiming to be gluten-free – if there’s no FDA standards mandating what that means, then anyone can slap a label on some harmful material in an attempt to sell you something toxic.

(Also, TIL that [the FDA did adopt gluten-free labelling requirements in 2013][https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/gluten-free-labeling-foods]. Ah, how quickly you fall behind on news when you stop dating your one partner who had terrible gluten issues!)

So basically, “true poly” doesn’t work when you’re trying to find an actual relationship to love in. So what’s it actually good for?

Well, it’s good for defining who’s doing polyamory right, right? That’s great. That’s….

Usually used to mean “What we think is awesome” and not actually “Whether the people inside the polyamory are in a stable form of happiness.”

I’ve been told, personally, on many occasions that what I have isn’t “true poly” because my partners (in non-pandemic times) only got to see me once every few months. I’ve been told I’m not “true poly” because I don’t talk on the phone with them. I’ve been told I’m not “true poly” because I found other partners when I was already dating enough people, how dare you?

I’ve watched friends get told they’re not “true poly” because they’re in a 24/7 power exchange relationship, or because they didn’t want their partner to live with them, or because they had clear boundaries the other person didn’t agree with.

The problem with people self-identifying as “true poly” is that nearly everyone thinks they’re Doing Poly Right; the problem with people externally applying labels for “True Poly” is that their definitions of a functional poly relationship are narrow, narrow, narrow.

Look. I have a whole (erratic) series on what I call “Perilous Poly Patterns,” wherein I discuss common issues that lead to dissatisfied partners. But the only reason I call them “Perilous” is because people routinely wind up unhappy in those relationships. If you’re in a one-penis polyamory where that dude’s dick is legit the only one you desire? Great! That’s true poly. If you’re a hierarchical couple and the people you date are satisfied, legitimately satisfied, with what they’re getting? Hey, welcome to the club.

And again, the people labelling other folk as “true poly”? Almost to a person, they feel qualified sorting folks’ relationships into the True Poly Bucket (TM) because they live the True Poly. You’ll rarely hear “Well, my partners are fucked nine ways to Sunday, but those people are True Poly.”

Look. I’ll go defining something as “Good Polyamory” or perhaps, more properly, “Satisfying Polyamory” – but I don’t define that by some external standard, but by a mixture of whether they’re currently satisfied and my subjective judgment as the odds as whether they’ll be satisfied in the future. (Which is why I’m uncomfortable with declaring my maaaybe-educated guess as a True Poly.)

But the whole point of polyamory is that it’s flexible enough to suit a variety of human beings, most of which have vastly different needs and wants than you do, and spending time determining which relationships are the Gold Standard of Polyamory seems awfully like trying to elevate yourself.

There’s best practices, sure. There’s common and helpful methodologies. But “True”?

Doesn’t work in the ways people want ’em to, and as such, the true is false.

1 Comment

  1. Hel
    Feb 4, 2021

    There’s gluten free oreos now! I consistently see them at Safeways in the DC area.

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