The poly community – part 4/4: What is Lovebombing?
The punishment of unwanted behaviour until it is refrained from is not the only way a social group can control its members. A second, just as effective method is Lovebombing: The desired behaviour is excessively rewarded by using exaggerated affection and exaggerated positive attention towards the person over which the group wishes to obtain control.
These forms of affection are based on secondary motivations: The aim is not support or friendship, as the affection would suggest, but an attempt to get the targeted person to exhibit a desired behaviour. The targeted individuals don’t usually notice this at first and feel accepted and welcomed by the group. In general, the desired behaviour, however, is of use to only particular members of the group and either not useful or even harmful to the targeted individuals. If a targeted member wants to act upon impulses that go against the group philosophy, or shows actions which are not exploitable for the desired purpose, the seemingly positive attention is used as a threat:
“We really value each other in this group. You do value us, too, don’t you?!”
If the targeted individual continues to display behaviour other than that desired, all forms of attention by other group members are withdrawn at once. Most of the time, manipulation strategies such as Lovebombing develop and stick within a group unintentionally and unconsciously. Only particular individuals who are experienced in power dynamics can use this method on purpose to control a group, which, however, they only succeed to implement if there are enough toadies within the group who unconsciously accept the manipulator as a parental figure.
Everyday life with my polycule became stable and pretty much drama-free briefly after we decided to romantically close our polycule, and thus no longer fell prey to the polyamorous fallacy and its energy-draining dynamics. We now share the occasional misunderstandings and conflicts of every healthy relationship.
When I shared the good news of my closed polycule with my (supposedly) good friends and other (supposedly) nice people that I knew from poly events, the atmosphere of the poly meet-ups and events I attended changed drastically. Many people stared at me in an annoyed fashion, some even pointed fingers at me and my partners while giving us nasty looks and whispering to each other. People who had used to greet me enthusiastically suddenly pretended they didn’t know me when I talked to them.
On several occasions, we faced even open hostility: People were trying to actively separate us as a triad or even as couples in order to restore our previous romantically open behaviour, that is, our availability for romantic suitors. We were told several times not to sit together, not to “show so many public displays of affection” (because it was “triggering” – of course…) while the same people had never complained or even expressed happiness about similar displays by other people. My girlfriend and I were subjected to special treatment by straight men who presented as “Prince Charming”: As soon as our boyfriend stood a few metres away, they basically jumped to stand between us. One guy with whom I had been in a few cuddle piles crept up on me to suddenly hug me from behind (which was new) seconds after Nemo had gone to get drinks, apparently as a “This is mine”-gesture towards my boyfriend.
Most straight men acted in a particularly hostile manner towards my boyfriend – not only by the usual microaggressions, but also by derogatory remarks. They apparently perceived him as the only reason why I was no longer romantically open, and, as a consequence, did not join cuddle piles any more. The fact that my girlfriend and I had also made the decision for a closed polycule – which we mentioned repeatedly – was obviously uninteresting to them. We think this was because of their half-conscious misogyny that is rampant in the poly community:
“These are two attractive, bisexual women. Why are they talking so much instead of pleasing *me*?”
In the course of my year in the poly community, there had been regular poly events and private gatherings to which I had always been invited, and where people had been asking me in advance “whether I was going again.” When I asked to bring along Maitri and Nemo as my “plus 2”, my partners were not invited. I received the feedback, however, that if I liked to come alone, that would be fine – to an event of a community about multiple romantic relationships. Hosts from other gatherings just stopped notifying me when new events were scheduled, because, as I found out later, they had decided that I “did not fit the concept”.
Due to these experiences, we stopped going to poly events for entertainment and only continued to attend a workshop which we had already frequented before we became a polycule. Shortly after we attended as a triad, however, the workshop, previously with a free choice of seats, suddenly had a lottery system to allocate seats to people. “We want to avoid the same people always sitting together”, the workshop leader remarked while looking at us. Naturally, the couples at the workshop had always been sitting together, without the same leader opposing this in any way.
Some (supposed) friends approached me to convince me that my new relationship status constrained my “freedom” and suspected my decision to be closed was a result of blackmail or coercion by Maitri and, above all, Nemo. For me, this was the most revealing moment: Precisely those people who had complimented me for a year (and were now dropping me like a hot potato), wanted to persuade me that Maitri and Nemo, who had reciprocated my feelings without games, had offered me fair agreements from the beginning, and had cared for me when I had been ill, were somehow oppressing and exploiting me.
So it became obvious that none of the people I had seen as fellow nice polys or even friends because of their (supposedly) benevolent actions over weeks or months, had actually meant their affections seriously. Instead, I had fallen for Lovebombing, that targeted me as a young, attractive, liberal woman to provide free attention and sex to cowardly straight men who did not want to give the same in return.
I have since left the poly community, and I can only advise anyone to withdraw from this extremely toxic environment as soon as possible!
Update, October 2019:
The Netflix series You Me Her – the first TV series that revolves around a polyamorous triad – features an episode where the three go to a poly workshop (Season 4, Episode 5, “Santa Claus Rides Loch Ness Monster into Atlantis!”). The workshop leader and the participants shame them because “they commit poly fouls”, and try to pressure them into being romantically open, among other harmful “advice”. While the depiction may seem like a caricature, I have watched or experienced most of the poly tropes in the episode in real life, and I thank the writers John Scott Shepherd and Alex Koplow for such a faithful presentation!
Update, August 2020:
The Australian musician Tones and I has released a song titled Ur So F**king Cool. Although the song doesn’t mention polyamory, it coincidentally describes my feelings in the poly community, and why I left.