I started to write a reply to a post by NTempest, but as it expanded in my head I realized I really needed to make it a blog post of its own.
NTempest made this post, “But I still don’t want to be poly…” which you can read if you’re on Fet, but in a nutshell: he’s been w/ his partner for many years, recently added a new (poly) boyfriend. At first this was clearly defined as a secondary relationship… but now they are re-evaluating that language, what it means, and if it’s appropriate.
First: Thank you, NTempest, for posting this. I thought it was very honest and rewarding to think about. Poly isn’t easy. Even if you’ve done it for years like Shdwkitten and I, you still – always – have obstacles to deal with. That’s true of a relationship between 2 people, so of course the more people you add the more complex it grows… and the more room for misunderstandings and such.
For many years, Shdwkitten and I have had a way of doing things. She has had many other partners, but one of our rules was that they always had to understand and accept that I am her primary. Even when she “married” her (now ex) girlfriend, her then-“wife” still had to accept that I was Shdwkitten’s primary partner and there’s was always going to be a secondary relationship. This (everyone knowing that Kitten and I are primary) was one of the few “non-negotiable” items I insisted on… and for many years that’s how things worked w/ us.
Recently, Ma’am (like NTempest) has grown less comfortable w/ the vocabulary of primary and secondary relationships… and I will confess that this has led to some pretty emotional moments between us as I try to deal w/ this shift and figure out what it means.
Ma’am (as I understand her) seems to have two reasons why she no longer likes saying primary-secondary. One: she says that her relationships w/ each of her partners are so different, and she gets such different things from each, that trying to “rank” them feels like apples and oranges. That’s understandable in-as-much as I think that’s why those of us who are poly, are poly. I think very few people meet ALL their partner’s needs and wants. (On the other hand… I’m not sure that contradicts the notion of setting priorities, but…)
What NTempest wrote struck a familiar cord w/ me b/c part of it is almost exactly what Ma’am has recently said to me, and that’s her second reason for growing uncomfortable w/ the primary-secondary vocabulary. Namely: It makes it sound like you’re promising to ALWAYS be willing to abandon plans w/ partner No 2 anytime that partner No 1 says so.
Now, to me, I think that’s clearly not the case. That’s not what “primary” means to me. I would hope Ma’am would know that I would not play some “trump card” on her other partners just to be a dick. “I know you want to go visit X, but I want you to go to a movie w/ me and I’m No 1, so I trump X.” That’s dickish, and I would never do that. NTempest wrote: “I also had to point out that even before KZ came along we weren't always each others' priorities in every decision. I'm guessing this is true of most couples who are honest about it. There have been times when I have needed him, and he went with friends instead. I'm sure I have done similar.” Of course that’s true. I don’t think saying “Emrys is partner No 1” means “My every decision and every choice must ALWAYS revolve around him.” That’s silly.
What I’ve said to Ma’am all along is that when she dates other people and when she falls in love w/ other people, I’m okay w/ that… but I need her to be able to look them in the eye and say, w/o and prevarication or hesitation, “Emrys is my No 1 partner. He’s my husband – my life-partner. He’s my soul-mate. He’s the love of my life. We will always be together, and if you want me in your life, Emrys is part of the package.” It’s very important to me that all of her significant others know that. And I want that for their benefit as well as mine – I don’t want anybody getting any false hopes…
For my part, anyone other than Ma’am I get involved with, I have no problem saying to them in an instant, “The Kitten is my No 1. Nobody else comes close." Doesn’t mean I can’t have other people in my life, but they will never be in the same level as my relationship w/ Ma’am. And if someone I were involved w/ thought for a moment they might replace Shadwkitten as my primary partner… sorry, Charlie! I know that in some ways things are somewhat easier on my side b/c I wear Ma’am’s collar and wedding ring: two very clear, obvious, tangible signals to one-and-all that I belong, body, heart, and soul, to Shdwkitten. I guess the fact that Ma’am doesn’t wear such obvious symbols (she can’t wear a wedding band anymore b/c it seems to trigger some kind of arthritic reaction in her knuckles) makes it, I guess, all the more important to me that she is so very upfront and categorical w/ other people she’s dating about who comes first, foremost, and forever.
Of course you get different things for different relationships w/ different people. I get that.
Of course nobody is ALWAYS going to be the center of your attention or (obnoxiously) “trump” everybody else’s needs. Such a person would be either narcissistic or insecure… and in either case you wouldn’t want to be in a relationship w/ them in the first place.
But I, personally, still want everyone involved in the wacky chain molecule that makes up our family to know that Shdwkitten is my primary and I’m hers. Does that make sense? Is that fair?