Reasons For Caution

Vulnerability

As outlined in the introduction and on the misconceptions page, polyamory emphasizes genuine positive emotional connections and ethical behavior. These components make it seem like an ideal way for people to engage in romantic relationships.

Unfortunately romantic idealists tend to be vulnerable simply because they are romantic idealists. However that doesn't mean that with a little help they cannot recognize some of the warning signs that things may not always be what they seem.

Wolves In Sheep's Clothing

With poly people, the idea of being free to love and develop relationships with whomever their heart is drawn to is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately there are wolves in sheep's clothing types who use lies and deception to get close and exploit poly people for their own selfish reasons.

I first learned about the wolves in sheep's clothing types in the poly community when I decided to try the popular dating site OK Cupid. I had run across the profile of a woman who indicated she was in a polyamorous relationship with another member, so instead of contacting her first, I decided to see what the guy she was involved with was like by visiting his profile.

He described himself as being rather shy and personable, and invited anyone with questions or comments about polyamory to contact him. It turned out that the two were married. As is covered on the Polyamory & Marriage page, there are some ethical issues surrounding that situation, and I felt that his opinion might provide another perspective or help me see something I was missing.

I was unpleasantly surprised by the response. Instead of dealing with the issues in a friendly intellectual manner, he replied with a scathing and unsubstantiated personal attack that was coarse and hateful.

After several exchanges it became apparent that his wife was substantially younger than him and that what he was really doing was creating as unpleasant a situation as he could for anyone who might be interested her in order to maintain his exclusivity, while at the same time using polyamory to facilitate his own extramarital adventures.

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It Gets Worse

At least the couple above were both aware that they were in an open relationship. However there are also people who claim to be poly, but are actually in mono relationships where their partner is completely unaware of their activity, and only after being discovered do they reveal that they are polyamorous, as if that's supposed to make everything okay.

If that should happen to you, don't believe it for a second. They are using polyamory in an attempt to justify their dishonest behavior. It's not what polyamory is about, and all it does is give genuine honest poly people a bad reputation.

In a discussion about this with a number of people who admitted doing this, several actually took pride in their ability to keep their indiscretions a secret from those they were involved with, including their poly lovers. So it's not only their mono partners who stand to get hurt, but also the poly people they have been selfishly using to simply satisfy their own desires. It's deplorable.

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Gaslighting

Another type of wolf in sheep's clothing are those who use a type of psychological manipulation called gaslighting to convince someone that what they believe isn't right in order to make it easier to exploit them for their own less than honorable purposes.

Gaslighting typically employs lies, deception, and subtle bullying of a psychological or physical nature, combined with well timed positive reinforcement that over time bends the subject to the will of the perpetrator.

Gaslighting is entirely different from trying to illuminate the truth for someone in order for them to be able to make their own well informed decision. However those highly proficient at gaslighting will make it difficult for their subjects to tell the difference, so that in the end their subjects think they've agreed to participate of their own free will.

Gaslighting may be employed by anyone in any kind of relationship, but poly people are particularly susceptible because they want to believe that poly relationships are honest and loving, and therefore are open to additional partners, which increases the risk of being deceived by someone who claims to be poly, when in fact it's not an honest loving relationship they're really after.

Perhaps the most vulnerable are those who have never heard of polyamory and are faced with someone, perhaps even their current spouse, who suddenly claims to be poly. Are they really? Or are they simply using it as a tactic to lessen the consequences of cheating?

One way to tell if someone is truly poly is to request full and uninhibited disclosure of your partner's thoughts, feelings, and behavior. This type of communication is a cornerstone of truly poly relationships. So evasiveness, deception, lies, or hostility when asking personal and probing questions are strong indicators that not all is what it seems on the surface.

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Other Posers

Posers aren't limited to individuals. It can also apply to groups. In the Discovering Polyamory section I outline a disappointing experience I had on a social networking site called Meetup. I've also checked out dating sites that purport to be for poly people and ran into similar problems.

The root cause for most of the problems has been some sort of personal bias that leads people to define their personal views on polyamory according to what they want it to be. This is discussed in some further detail in the Exposing Bias section.

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Physical Health

Increased exposure to multiple lovers increases the risk of disease and pregnancy. It's a simple formula, and although poly people recognize and advocate that special attention be paid to these realities, posers can't be trusted to do the same. Because they see the poly community as picking grounds, truly poly people would be well advised to exercise discretion for their own safety and the safety of others in their community.

After all, as covered the Dispelling The Myths section, being poly isn't all about the sex. Therefore emphasis should be on forming an atmosphere of trust and familiarity upon which a relationship can be built before jumping into bed.

So don't be afraid to do some digging first. It's fine to ask deeper personal questions and keep tabs on what's going on with any partners you may be involved with. Truly poly people will be fine with it, while posers will be impatient and evasive.

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Summary

Clearly there are reasons for caution. The ethical issues with wolves in sheep's clothing types cannot be reconciled, and there are added health risks. Truly poly and newly poly people need to be wary of these concerns and address them accordingly.

The safest approach is to establish an emotional connection before a physical one, communicate deeply, use protection or avoid sex with new additions to a relationship until full trust is established via experience and the sharing of information from regular medical checkups.