I spent several hours trying to write out my thoughts on Relationship Anarchy vs Poly, and hierarchical poly vs non-hierarchical poly. I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of label best fits me or what roles I would consider under which circumstances. I was having a really hard time figuring it out- but I’ve come to a conclusion.
I don’t give a fuck at the moment. There are so many if’s and but’s that I cannot sufficiently cover them all to narrow it down to which one I prefer the most and which I would never consider.
What I do care about is this:
- My needs as a partner need to be met. If that’s not happening, then the type of relationship system doesn’t matter. If my needs are being met, then it doesn’t matter then either.
- I need to be free to explore relationships with people as they come up, and to explore my sexuality and kink interests. Unless these activities and relationships directly affect or threaten my partners in some way, they should not have veto power over any of it.
- I am not comfortable when other people’s relationships affect mine without my direct involvement and decision-making input as an equal. It raises my anxiety, makes me feel devalued and ignored, I feel betrayed, and I do not feel safe or secure in my relationship afterwards. I don’t trust people easily, I’ve been burned too many times before. When major decisions that affect me or my relationship are made without me being involved, it makes me very upset because that’s my life or relationship being affected too. When this happens and I’m already feeling like I cannot control anything else in my life, it can seriously exacerbate my anxiety levels. If it’s just an oversight and I wasn’t intentionally excluded from the decision-making process, that I can understand as long as it’s acknowledged and remedied soon afterwards.
- I am not comfortable with role or titles that make me feel inferior or lesser in importance. If the role has a bad association for me, then it’s probably not being presented as a very stable or desirable option. If it’s presented in a way that sufficiently meets my needs and makes me feel desired and respected, then perhaps I’d consider it.
Here is partly why I am so wary of considering secondary or non-primary roles. My insecurities regarding these roles are not without valid reason.
Our society is set up to venerate and support primary relationships — while ignoring, trivializing, or vilifying non-primary relationships. According to society, non-primary relationships by definition are not supposed to be “serious.” This creates inherent obstacles for any significant non-primary relationship; but especially for those where at least one partner is also part of a primary couple.
The result: too often non-primary partners end up not getting treated very respectfully or fairly in the long term. This usually does not spring from conscious neglect, disrespect, or malice. Rather, the people involved usually are inventing how to manage their non-primary relationship as they go along — typically with scant support, few positive models, and tons of ingrained baggage from standard social models of relationships that don’t fit (indeed, that are designed to avoid) their very situation.
The problem, in a nutshell: There’s an overwhelming social narrative which says that anything other than monogamous life partnership is wrong or invalid — which in turn casts the perspective of non-primary partners as less important. This discourages people from developing skills to nurture healthy long-term non-primary relationships — and also to end or transition these relationships honorably. It also makes it easy for people who have (or desire) a primary partner to unilaterally write their non-primary partners out of the script, or at least recast them as threats or minor characters, when uncomfortable issues arise. This is why, very often, non-primary partners get summarily axed or shafted when a pre-existing primary partner gets insecure, or when a non-primary partner decides they want a primary relationship (with you or someone else).
Yeah, that sucks. But that’s just how social conditioning works, despite good intentions or deep feelings. Also, it sucks for everyone — even people in primary couples.
We need better models for how to conduct non-primary relationships — especially in the poly/open community. Because sadly, right now polyamory (or any approach to significant non-primary relationships) simply isn’t a very safe place for non-primary partners; not in the long run.
That needs to change — and it can change, through the conscious attention, goodwill, and courage of non-primary partners and the people who love us. (More here)
Of course many people make non-primaries and all that work, but it involves a lot of hard work, immense amounts of open and honest communication among everyone involved, and very high levels of of trust that not everyone is able or willing to facilitate. So it’s a much scarier situation for many of us to consider.