?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Polyamorous Musings - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

> Recent Entries
> Archive
> Friends
> Profile
> my rpg writing site

January 30th, 2010


Previous Entry Share Next Entry
04:21 pm - Polyamorous Musings
After talking with a friend about some problems they were having with their own poly relationships, I realized that I don’t do the common poly primary, secondary, & tertiary divide. [[1]] More specifically, I don’t do secondary relationships. In terms of romance & sex, I only have primary and tertiary [[2]] relationships. IOW, I have a few partners who I love and who I wish to spend & share my entire life with – people who I consider the center of my life, and then I have lovers who I see occasionally, who I care about and who are important to me, but who are not part of the relatively small inner circle of my life and who I do not fully share my life with.

In thinking about this issue further, I realized that in terms of friendship, I’m not all that different. I have a small inner circle of people (including, but extending a bit beyond my primary partners) who I share all of my life with. In general, the only reason that some of these relationships are friendships and not romances is that this is what the other person wants. Other than that, I have friends who I see, very much enjoy spending time with, and care about, but who are not central to my life, and who I do not particularly rely upon for support, beyond the distraction of spending time with someone interesting when times are difficult.

Ultimately, this comes down to the distinction between friend and family for me. In terms of romantic relationships, I can’t even really imagine a relationship with someone who I am involved with that is closer than a tertiary relationship and that doesn’t either become a primary relationship or end up being something that I desperately want to become a primary relationship. On several occasions, I have specifically avoided having friendships become romantic, because the result wouldn’t be a tertiary relationship, it would (for me at least) become something that I desperately want to become primary relationship that (for various reasons) wasn’t going to.

In any case, I am curious at finding out what secondary relationships mean to the poly people reading this, and how they manage that – I don’t emotionally understand the idea.

[[1]] Here are explanations of the terminology

[[2]] Another, more common definition for what I define as a tertiary relationship would be “friend with benefits”, with the added stipulation that it also essentially only applies to people who live far enough away that I see them only rarely.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(17 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:alobar
Date:January 31st, 2010 01:12 am (UTC)
(Link)
We pretty much see things similarly on this topic. About the only difference I see is that I used to participate in intense trip circles with a range of people (lovers, friends, near strangers) and the bonding was sometimes intense enough that some people became family to me before they ever became friends or lovers.

I never made distinctions of primary and secondary in my relationships. All were either primary or casual (like someone I connected with at a pagan fest who did not live near me). I have refused to get sexually involved with some people because I felt a relationship with that person could jeopardize my other relationships' stability or balance.
[User Picture]
From:chiashurb
Date:January 31st, 2010 03:54 am (UTC)
(Link)
Not everybody observes the secondary/tertiary distinction. Or in your framework, the primary/secondary distinction. I know people who organize their relationships as "people I owe duties to" and "people I do not owe duties to," or as "people who are in my life" and "casual hookups." I also know people who organize their relationships as "my primary" (singular) and "everybody else."

For myself, I am still working out what structure works best for me, but I find it quite easy to blur the lines between friends and lovers, and feel no particular need to pigeonhole my people. Much more important is to define individual relationships, to the extent that the relationship requires or benefits from definition.
[User Picture]
From:queen_in_autumn
Date:January 31st, 2010 01:07 pm (UTC)
(Link)
You are the second person I've seen post about this recently, and this makes so much sense to me. As always, mileage varies, but it's refreshing to see people who are 'doing poly' who don't try to maintain a strict hierarchical ranking of their relationships.
[User Picture]
From:heavenscalyx
Date:January 31st, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I think you've just concisely stated the way I've been feeling about poly things, which helps clarify them in my head and may explain some of the previous problems I've had with some of our attempts to expand beyond our current pairing.
[User Picture]
From:siderea
Date:January 31st, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Oh, hello, I'm the only person on earth apparently who actually prefers to be a secondary, pretty much exactly as you've defined it. I'd tell you more, but have a date with my sweetie in t-120. Maybe later.
[User Picture]
From:athenian_abroad
Date:January 31st, 2010 05:29 pm (UTC)
(Link)
...I'm the only person on earth apparently who actually prefers to be a secondary...

You're not (entirely) alone! :)

I'm still sorting things out (who isn't?), but I'm increasingly inclined to believe that secondary-style relationships fit both my needs and my strengths as a partner better than primary-style relationships.
[User Picture]
From:siderea
Date:February 1st, 2010 05:36 am (UTC)
(Link)
Heh, we could start a club!

(The last time I saw a call for an email list for secondaries, it was a support group for people struggling with how very awful it was. I asked the organizers if there was any space in the group for someone who liked being a secondary, and they very politely invited me to fuck off.)

I'm still sorting things out (who isn't?), but I'm increasingly inclined to believe that secondary-style relationships fit both my needs and my strengths as a partner better than primary-style relationships.

I'm pretty well sorted at this point: I figured this out about myself about 10 years ago! I was in a secondary relationship with a married poly man, and it was a revelation: "Oh my goodness, so *that* was what I was doing wrong!" After we broke up, I took this important lesson to heart. Seven and a half years ago, I got together with my present sweetie, expressly under the understanding we both were seeking a secondary-style relationship. And here we are, still a going concern after all these years! It has been wonderful.

Edited at 2010-02-01 05:44 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:tlttlotd
Date:February 8th, 2010 06:17 am (UTC)
(Link)
(The last time I saw a call for an email list for secondaries, it was a support group for people struggling with how very awful it was. I asked the organizers if there was any space in the group for someone who liked being a secondary, and they very politely invited me to fuck off.)

Preferred secondaries, unite!
[User Picture]
From:moominmuppet
Date:February 1st, 2010 11:04 pm (UTC)
(Link)
And same here.

Heron, in answer to your question, for me it's Primary/non-Primary/casual (and then everything that doesn't fit those categories, too). Primary is about life entanglement. About plans and intentions to tackle the world as a team. It's about practical cohabitational and life goals, as well as emotions. Serious non-primary are often intensely emotional, even if we don't see each other often, but we don't feel that pull to further entangle our lives. I'm that way with Katy and Tori; I've been with them for seven years now, and I'm still head-over-heels, but as much as I'd rather they lived closer, I wouldn't want to marry them, nor they me. Truly casual are friendly sexual involvements without any real future, usually because the other person is more monogamous or more closeted than I am.
[User Picture]
From:siderea
Date:February 1st, 2010 06:26 am (UTC)
(Link)
OK, I'm back. I may not be your desired audience: I don't identify as poly. I don't identify as not poly. I'm presently in a committed monogamous relationship; I've been in a poly relationship, though I've not been one of the people being poly; I've never had more than one partner at a time, but that isn't a policy decision, just how things played out.

...cause I identify as semi: I'm up to handling about half a relationship. :}

I'm into the emotional-commitment side of things, but I have zero interest in co-nesting.

My partner is my "primary partner" in that neither of us is seeing anyone else, but our relationship is secondary-shaped, because neither of us wants to nest with a partner.

helen99, below has already explicated some of what makes secondary-shaped relationships appealing. Another thing that I really treasure is the high level of intentionality it brings to the relationship. If I am with my partner, it is because I have chosen to see him, and I am being really with him when I'm with him. There's no default just being in one another's company because you hang your hats from adjacent pegs. There's no mistaking colocation for relating. There's no being too preoccupied with whatever for days-weeks-years on end not noticing that you've not actually talked or engaged or been present for the other because it's not like you don't see them every day. Our relationship is built on the bedrock of choosing, over and over, to clear the time to spend with the other, of prioritizing spending time with the other that highly.

This effect is not why I prefer secondary-shaped relationships, and I don't think is reason enough to adopt it. But it sure is a marvelous consequence.
[User Picture]
From:helen99
Date:January 31st, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Assuming all the primary pairings live in one house, then the arrangement of primaries and tertiaries (as you've defined them) seems to be the best way for me go. If one of the primaries lives away, there are some other factors that come into play.

I define a "secondary" to be a primary who lives away from the other primaries, while the primaries live together in the primary dwelling place.

A person living away does not have to deal with seeing the primaries at their worst, or with financial issues, or with housework, etc., that occur within the primary dwelling place. However, emotionally, I think a secondary relationship may evolve to become just as important, if not more so, than the primary partners.

This strikes me as a destabilizing arrangement because without the living-together stress factor, the secondary may be perceived as more fun to be around than the primaries. If a set of primaries opt to have a secondary, much communication has to be taking place at all times - and in that way it could work.

Tertiaries (as you've defined them) are similar to what occurs in my relationship. This is someone the primary(s) spend time with on occasiong and care about. This is not destabilizing at all, and can be very refreshing and invigorating to a relationship.

Here's where it can get tricky, though. People are not static creatures. Their situations change. Suppose a tertiary is working out just fine for one set of primaries, but then hir own primary relationship crumbles. Suddenly, sie is at emotional loose ends. Sie may be more apt to require emotional support. Sie may no longer want to be a tertiary, but may want to become closer. As long as people are flexible and process these changes as they come and communicate much and often, things can still work.

Of course, someone could get hurt in any relationship.
[User Picture]
From:dancinglights
Date:January 31st, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I define a "secondary" to be a primary who lives away from the other primaries, while the primaries live together in the primary dwelling place.

A person living away does not have to deal with seeing the primaries at their worst, or with financial issues, or with housework, etc., that occur within the primary dwelling place. However, emotionally, I think a secondary relationship may evolve to become just as important, if not more so, than the primary partners.


This is essentially my relationship setup currently. And as people have grown and changed and our situations have, it has gotten quite complicated, though not necessarily 'destabilized'. We are all aware that my living-nearby partner and I would make godawful screaming fight roommates, as much as we love one another, and that knowledge and acknowledgment actually keep things stable. just, well, complicated.
[User Picture]
From:helen99
Date:January 31st, 2010 08:11 pm (UTC)
(Link)
That's a factor I hadn't thought of (the screaming fight roommate factor). Now, however, I am trying unsuccessfully to banish the chibi version of said fight from my doomed consciousness...
[User Picture]
From:amberite
Date:February 1st, 2010 01:49 am (UTC)
(Link)
I define a "secondary" to be a primary who lives away from the other primaries, while the primaries live together in the primary dwelling place.

That's pretty close to how I feel about it. A secondary partner meets the essential characteristics / is as emotionally important as a primary partner; the distinction comes in householding or not householding.

There's some amount of hierarchical task/function handling that goes on: issues with primaries come first because of the living-together factor. (Although helping a secondary partner with a serious problem would come before helping a primary partner with a minor problem; it's only one of many factors in organizing my life.)

This strikes me as a destabilizing arrangement because without the living-together stress factor, the secondary may be perceived as more fun to be around than the primaries.

I know the judgment error of which you speak, and it's a compelling fallacy to fall into, but there are counterweights to it. For example, the considerations like - if I get sick, my primaries will almost certainly be the ones to care for me. Similarly if I can't make rent some month. Or, as has happened this year, I'm unable to handle my share of household chores due to overload on other work.

There's a back and forth on these types of things, but there are practical day-to-day benefits as well as day-to-day stress. And on an emotional level that holds true, too; more immediate affection.

A secondary relationship may not have the kind of built-up irritations that develop in a primary relationship, but also doesn't have that kind of built-up relational credit. I feel the same pull of love and loyalty with each, but interpret it through different lenses.
[User Picture]
From:bodlon
Date:February 1st, 2010 03:47 am (UTC)
(Link)
It's been a while since I had an opportunity to have an additional relationship, but this makes sense to me.

In practical terms, I've had a primary who's a primary because he's the person I share a household with. Those I've dated besides him have been, for obvious reasons, secondary or tertiary, but some of them stayed family in ways that go beyond dating.
[User Picture]
From:cusm
Date:February 1st, 2010 01:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Breaking tradition somewhat, my "primary" of 6 years lives about 5 minutes away, with no plans of cohabitation in sight. I suppose you may consider this a "secondary" style for that reason, though we are primary in every emotional sense. We just keep our own households, and spend time at one or the other different days of the week.

Who I consider "secondaries" are a few who live out of town who would be an important part of my life to a similar level if they were as accessible.

My "tertiaries" are friends I am occasionally intimate with, regardless of distance away.

So being as how my primary does not cohabitate, you may see this as a secondary style. I suppose I consider cohabitating to be "living in the same city" for purposes of these rankings.
[User Picture]
From:rjgrady
Date:February 2nd, 2010 10:59 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I'm not dissimilar. I pretty much define a relationship as either

Primary + (description of level of intimacy achieved)

or

Peripheral + (description of preferred activities with partner)

Being with Alison, I don't have other relationships of each type for different reasons. I don't have other primaries because (obviously apart from lack of opportunity) any new primary relationship would have to fit with my life with Alison (who has a relatively high attachment to heterosexual and monogamous paradigms compared to myself). I don't have peripheral relationships because (again, aside from lack of opportunity) I don't have the time/energy and because Alison finds the impulse alien, which would mean persuading her in each case that the relationship is helpful to the relationship I have with her in some way, at least indirectly.

The idea of a "second best" kind of lover is just not something I can get my mind around. If someone really mattters to you, they deserve your loyalty. If they don't have your loyalty, then they deserve relative independence. I would never want to make someone feel like a fallback plan or an almost.

> Go to Top
LiveJournal.com