About a week ago, I came across a post on Fetlife by a kink educator Shayblondie. She recently taught at the local kink event – and I was looking for something she had talked about during the class – so I went to her profile. The words “Secondary is a Dirty Word” on one of her posts – so I had to read it.
It was like she was speaking my language.
The word “secondary” has never sat well with me in the grand scheme of poly hierarchical structures most commonly referenced. The idea of racking and stacking the people I love into a hierarchy which would then be used to dictate who got preference over my time, who would win conflicts by virtue of status, etc – just feels ugly to me. And the poly examples around me at the time always used the ‘primary’ status to get what they wanted when they wanted it – leaving the ‘secondary’ to feel like they could never get their needs me if the other partner had any say (which they always did because they were primary). Or if the secondary was trying to get more time, more energy, more than the primary. The vying for the time and all seems to be great and manipulative. And the primary (in those situations) felt like their rank should create the automatic no, instead of using relationship skills to negotiate boundaries, amount of time balanced between partners, etc. That the hierarchy was in place to create a do-not-pass-go sort of action.
The built-in conflict that the hierarchy status seemed to create from the start just bugged me. Like having the hierarchy was supposed to be the fire alarm that would keep the primary relationship safe from the evil secondary? That just feels like there are issues in the primary relationship that should be addressed before anything else because, well, if the relationship needs that many rules and boundaries and that hierarchy, why should the secondary get brought into rules and all. Or into a situation where there has to be an escape clause by which they get tossed aside?
Don’t get me wrong – I do know some relationships that are fine with this structure. I know these are absolutes But for me, I never was. Just felt wrong on the tongue calling someone a secondary like they are a lesser person, a lesser love, in my life.
Where this really hit hard is when I started dating and loving SB. I love and respect him so much that there was no way I could call him secondary – make him feel less in my life or with my love when he is quite important to both. And it didn’t help when those around us looked at the fact I’m poly and applied their own poly lingo to our poly situation. “I never thought SB would tolerate being a secondary.” Nothing like using language that could make a dominant man feel less dominate or in less control or less of a person in the eyes of those around us when put in context of our relationship. And I did not like it.
Because here is my thing – in my life, the person(s) that win if there is a conflict are my kids. It does not mean they run all aspects of my life, but if I need to be to a kid event that is important to them, I don’t care what else tries to get my time – the kid has it. If they try to dictate all of my time or how I live my adult life, well, that’s a different problem and they don’t win. But they are – for all intensive purposes, if you are going to apply the poly hierarchy to me and mine – the ones who are primary.
In the end, it is all of our jobs to keep the relationships going. It is my job to communicate (talk and listen)- negotiate time – and do my best to keep everything good and whole. In many ways, it is like anything else in life that is sharing space – to make it work, you have to work. Nothing ever worth it is 100% easy or effortless .
But, as SB likes to remind me – it is fully cherishing and embracing the time we have together that keeps us connected when we cannot be together. While we both hate not having more time sometimes, seizing the moments, making memories, and enjoying the crap out of each other when those moments arise – well, that’s what we should be doing with life in general – with anyone in your life that you love.
And the thing I truly cherish – is how the three of us seem to work in together to make sure everyone gets what they need. There have been times when G is like “you know – give SB a call if you guys would rather talk – I’m just sitting here grading papers anyway….” or SB will make a comment about making sure I know he’s fine if we shift our plans because of G. We ebb, we flow, we flex, we understand, we talk, and we want to all maintain the bliss.
And in that – there is nothing secondary.
Please note that my feelings about the word secondary are mine. While I know some of the language is coming off as judgemental of what others have, it is. I have had others who have had failed or non-satisfying poly relationships try to tell me all the reasons what I have working should not work. In the end, how you choose to define your poly world – language used, etc – must fit the people involved – all people involved regardless of what relationship was existing first. Know there is not a right model for poly. To quote a very smart woman (Andrea Zanin) who wrote on the subject then spoke about it here, poly is 55% owning your own shit, 40% the other partners owning their own shit, and 5% scheduling. (I know I have the numbers wrong so go listen – but the point is the same). Mileage my vary.