I’ve noticed some talk on the polyamory discussion boards talking about fundamentalist Mormon polygamy and how it makes the polyamory community look. Because polyamory is hardly on the general public radar, there is some concern that any non-monogamous relationship will be mentally lumped in with groups we might not admire.
Well, true enough. I am sure many of my readers, especially the ones who live in poly families, have their lives compared to the HBO series “Big Love”.
The sad truth of the matter is that the media cannot portray our lives with sympathetic accuracy, nor is there really any motivation to! Sex sells, friends, and drama sells better. Sensible, together people don’t make ratings and sell the laundry detergent.
What makes it worse is that there are some serious unethical excesses portrayed that poly families might be in danger of.
“We’re not a cult!” I hear you shriek.
Okay, you’re probably not. But, how do you know? I’m quite serious. What are the signs of a cult that you’re so sure you’re not in one? If you had a friend in a poly family that was not healthy, could you spot it?
In my famed generosity, I shall post some <grin>. You knew that was coming, didntcha?
Warning signs you might be in a cult:
· Social Isolation
Do you have friends outside of your family circle? Tragically, if you live in an alternative family, you might find yourself incredibly shy about socializing in the “real world”. You might be estranged from your family of birth, either by choice or not. To protect yourself against some of the dangers of cult-like issues, make sure you have social contacts outside of the context of the polyamory community. I hammer at this one a lot because it’s really important. You live in a big world, even if you live in rural East Nowhere. Make sure you have a range of friendships. (Like so many things, this is not poly-specific. It’s not good for anyone to limit their contacts to church, family or in-group no matter what!) You have interests other than polyamory, after all. Pursue them.
· Ethical double standards
Is your in-group “allowed” to do things that the “common herd” isn’t permitted to do? Ferinstance, the FLDS church considers welfare fraud against “Babylon” (what they call the mainstream world) perfectly okay, because they’re “better” and “chosen of God”.
· Control of your money
I am not trying to say you cannot choose to join a commune or ascribe to the “common pot” theory of polyfamilies economics. They’re fine choices if they work for you! Just check and make sure it’s equitable. In a commune, the standard of living will be the same among all members. In a healthy family, you’re not going to have a member allowed to go to Paris while another catches hell for going out for a beer.
· Behavioral control
How’s that freedom of choice going? Is “for the good of the family” used as a control technique to make you give up personal goals important to you? Are there unspoken rules about how you must behave with heavy penalties if you break them?
· Groupthink – pressure to remain in the group
Groupthink is a big danger for an in-group and even one that is otherwise healthy. Because OLQ could come together like a well-constructed tank when it was needed for family goals, I would say that we could fall danger to a certain level of groupthink sometimes. Useful as it can be (our ability to tag-team in negotiation did get us called a cult when buying a car once!), watch out! There’s a line between useful and giving up your own thoughts and identity. Don’t cross it!
· Use of stress to break down logical thought
Interventions on behavior that’s negative can be necessary. Impromptu “interventions” can be more like brainwashing sessions. If they’re happening without a professional counselor to keep things in line, be afraid. Be very afraid. If you have more than one of those sessions in year, you’ve got other things to look at, anyway. Don’t participate in intervention-like sessions unless they’re actual interventions with clearly-defined goals, preferably with the aid of a professional counselor. They come just awfully close to brainwashing techniques and may cross the line.
What it really boils down to at all times is your level of freedom of choice. It’s okay to choose to live in a tightly-knit family. It only becomes not okay when you’re threatened if you want to leave, or if you are losing your own sense if identity, or if your children are being harmed.
This is where Mormon polygamy is dangerous. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having long hair or dressing modestly or living in a plural marriage (I’ve been a plural wife, have long hair and habitually dress about as modestly as your average FLDS wife). The problem is the lack of education and lack of free choice. Before all the sympathy goes to the women, though, do take a look at the men in this culture. Simple mathematics should point out that if one man has six wives, another man will be permitted none (in this culture, the marriages are arranged). Even if a man has wives, if he does not toe the line, the leader can take his wives and children away from him — either for himself or another man. Imagine having a really pretty wife in that setup!
A few people are concerned that we’re going to be compared to the FLDS. Yeah, it’s going to happen some. I’d say the biggest defense is not to behave as they do. Don’t be controlling, don’t allow yourself to be controlled. Don’t isolate yourself from the world. Don’t abuse children. Don’t “marry” people underage. You don’t have anything to hide, really. I mean, sure, maybe you don’t want to discuss your sex life with non-intimates (I sure don’t!). That’s okay. In the “real world” you probably don’t know about the sex lives of non-intimates, either, right? You can hold people to the standards of the “real world”, and be doing the polyamory community a big service in the bargain.
What we really want people to see is that yeah, poly people are just “real people” with all the foibles, failures and joys of the rest of the world.
Don’t go the route of the FLDS and avoid the “world of dust”. Joyfully “join the dust of the world”.