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Why be a secondary?

This post has been brewing in my mind since Sunday when Cw asked me, in short, "Why be a secondary?"  We talked about the idea a great deal.  Yes, we are in a hierarchal relationship.  Nw and Cw are the primary couple.  I am the secondary.  Their relationship is primary, my relationship with him is secondary.  That means that when push comes to shove, what's best for them wins out.  Them's the breaks.

So, during our conversation, we covered a LOT of territory.  We discussed the benefits and responsibilities of a secondary.  We discussed the down-sides to being a secondary.  We discussed unicorn hunters and why I make a habit of avoiding them like the zombie apocalypse.  I've been thinking over that discussion and fine-tuning some ideas about it in preparation for a post.  This morning, I found that tacit had made a fantastic post about Couple Privilege.

Now, I've been reading Tacit's stuff for probably more years than is safe to admit to without facing stalking charges.  I enjoy his posts and OFTEN I think he just hits the nail on the head.  A major difference in our thinking exists thought.  I am completely ok with hierarchal relationship structures.  He's not so much so.  It's all good.  He still gives me food for thought, and his thoughts offer me the change to find weaknesses in how I explain my POV, and strengthen them.  He brings up objections that I would not think of on my own, and I take the opportunity to think over how I would handle that objection if brought up to me in real life.  Amusingly, he probably has no clue he has been quite so involved in my mental processes.  I'm just a reader, not a friend. *lol*

Once again, there's a lot of things in the post that give me reason to stop and think again.  Yet, I still can answer, with all the reasons people can come up with to NOT be a secondary, I can still explain why TO be a secondary, and that is what I will do... explain why to be a secondary in a world with all the benefits skewed to the primary couple and none towards the secondary relationship.  I'll start with the reasons I most often hear against being a secondary.

I can't handle being a secondary, I'm just as important as everyone else!

Yes, of course you are!  You are important, your wants, needs, emotions, thoughts, spiritual growth, and all the rest are just as important as everyone else's!

Being a secondary doesn't mean that you're not important.  Being a secondary doesn't mean that your needs won't get met.  Being a secondary means that you have to talk to the primary couple and express your needs.  Now, true, if you're one of those people who has a melt-down because your beloved isn't glued to you, you may have issues in a poly relationship, but I'll get to that issue in a moment.

Many people think that the needs of a secondary are just not met.  The secondary is little more than a plaything to the pre-existing couple and the secondary will ALWAYS have to bow to the whims of the primaries.  The reason people think this is the way it works is because there are plenty of people who ACT like that.  There are poly couples who treat newcomers that way.  There are newcomers who act that way.

Attention people considering a relationship with a pre-existing couple or a member of that couple: People will only treat you as badly as you let them.

Poly relationships are no different than monogamous relationships when it comes to "fit."  Have you seriously never been on a monogamous date and thought to yourself "Wow, this person is just NOT going to work out for me!" ???  Really?  There's some odd expectation that the first poly person you meet, you must be involved with.  Absolutely not!

Poly dating works like mono dating.  You look until you find the right fit.  Maybe it looks great at the outset and a few weeks in you realize, this isn't going to work for you.  Then in that case, you break up and you move on.  They move on.  You don't HAVE to stay forever and ever amen!  If they aren't treating you right, then you should NOT stay!

The right poly primaries will treat the secondary, even a potential secondary, as a person with valid needs, desires, hopes, wants, dreams, and expectations.  They will take time to know the new person and to ensure that yes, everyone is compatible in the ways necessary for the relationship to grow.

What about when the primary wants x? That means I can't get what I want!

Ok, so Cw and Nw and I have already faced this one down.  Long story short, yes, the primary trumps.  Nw does, and for the length of this relationship will continue to outweigh me.  If you seriously can't accept that, without making it about you, then don't get into a relationship like this one.  But before you run screaming for the door, shouting about how it's so unfair, let's step back and see how this really plays out when people are being respectful of one another.

A few weeks ago, Nw simply wanted to take a weekend with Cw.  She wanted him all to herself.  Her reasons aren't important, nor did I ask what they were.  She's the primary, she wanted additional time with him.  Cw let me know days in advance that she had asked for this and that he would be cancelling our plans for the upcoming weekend.

I wasn't thrilled about it, no.  I was sad that I wouldn't see Cw that weekend.  I felt a *little* slighted because at that time I saw him perhaps 5 or 6 hrs total, alone, each week.  I didn't *enjoy* giving up the time with him.  I also didn't have a melt-down.  A friend of mine who is poly, and who is in a primary relationship of her own, was absolutely furious.  In her eyes I had just been shoved aside because Nw had "snapped her fingers" and I was being treated disrespectfully.  Her view is the view of many people in the poly community, and certainly in the monogamous community.

Here is why I wasn't all butt-hurt about the matter.

1) They are the primary relationship.  The health of their relationship directly impacts the ability of my relationship with Cw to remain healthy.
2) I wasn't stood up on the day of our time together.  I was informed well in advance and was able to make other plans for myself.
3) My life doesn't revolve around Cw.  If he isn't present, I do not sit and stare glumly at the walls and mourn the lack of his presence.

That last one is really important.  We tend, in this ever-so-monogamous society, to think that loving someone means you have to be glued ass to ass for life.  Parting for work is horrifyingly painful.  Parting for the company of someone else means the relationship is about to end.  Anything that isn't done that creates a bubble where you and your partner are the only two important people in the world is deemed uncaring, and unacceptable.

My thinking was more like this:  "This really sucks because I wanted to have that time with him.  I knew this was a thing to expect when I signed on in this relationship though, and now it's time to step up and show that I meant what I said when I told them that I could handle that happening sometimes.  I need to find something else to do this weekend, or maybe I should rest, I'll have to think on that.  It sucks that I miss him so much, but we'll have group time next Tuesday, and maybe they'll give me a ride home sometime between now and then so I can get a hug and a kiss."

I did these steps:
1) admit it if you don't like it
2) accept promises given or even insinuated, and honor them.
3) find something else to do because if you're a healthy person you're not giving up your entire life just because you met someone, poly or not!
4) Think about when you will see them again.

There ARE examples that contradict this though.  For example, when I was with J and T, if T said she wanted to do something without me, J dumped plans with me and took off with T.  That happened a great deal.  (Please refer back to people only treating you as badly as you let them.)  That isn't a healthy poly relationship.  That is someone being treated badly, and if you're being treated badly, you should leave that relationship.  End. of. story.

I did, for the record, get what I wanted in this particular example.  Cw checked in with me via IMs a couple of times over the weekend, and gave me a ride home every night after work that week, and when he brought me home after group time, we had a few minutes together then that we don't normally have.  I wanted to feel like I was still important and like I was worth more than a couple hours a week.  He met that need and I didn't even have to ask.

That's another thing, if you have a need and it conflicts with the needs of the primary partner, there is NO rule against you asking for what you need or offering up an alternate solution.  If Cw and I had made plans that had involved tickets purchased, etc, I'd have said something and suggested an alternative.

Maybe you won't get what you want RIGHT THAT SECOND OMG!  But aren't you supposed to be an adult?  Didn't you learn ages ago that you don't wal

What if I don't like both people in a pre-existing couple?

This gets into unicorn hunters.  Yes, I admit freely, the instant I see unicorn hunters, I run away.  I run sooooo far away.

The majority of unicorn hunters I've met fit the following profile:

1) One partner wants to be poly, the other is going along out of terror that they'll lose a spouse.  (ie: straight women suddenly become bi... as if other bi women don't recognize when the woman they're with has no clue?)
2) The couple has a rigid set of expectations and they expect that any new person they meet will have to adapt to those expectations.
3) The couple has some strange idea that the new person will upend their entire lives to fit in with the shared life of the couple, including, but not limited to, social engagements, time with friends, time together, taste in TV, movies, books, games, etc.
4) The couple expects that the new person will be "perfect."  They usually have a detailed image of everything the new person will be, including physical characteristics.

There is NO requirement, no "Polyamory Rules and Guidelines" that says that ANY one person must like BOTH people in an existing couple.  The reality is, most triads out there didn't start out with unicorn hunters.  Most triads just sort of happened.  Kind of like how most relationships "just happened that way."  The majority of people in the world who are more mature than the average 12 yr old understand that you can make a list of anything you want, but when you start dating, you're dating real live people.  Unicorn hunters aren't looking for a person, they're looking for an ideal.  That ideal may be sitting under their noses but because they require that she go for the husband, when she's currently really only into the wife, they'll miss out on what could have grown.

I've also seen and experienced unicorn hunters who were willing to wade through the poly community breaking and bashing anyone they met (after getting them into bed of course) for the sole reason that they "weren't the right one."  What made them "wrong" for the couple might be that they have a job that isn't on the same schedule as the jobs of the existing couple and that means that time with them has to be scheduled instead of being free to happen at will.  (This also implies the assumption that the new person would have been waiting breathlessly for the couple to appear and save them from their poor sad lonely lives with nothing to do.)

Seriously, for anyone thinking about becoming a secondary, there's no requirement that you like both people.  There's no requirement that they must both like you.  Just be honest about whether you like someone or not, and to what extent.  If a couple you're talking to starts insisting that you like them both, thank them and keep looking.

But I want to (get married, have children, not be a secret/other socially acceptable daydream)!  I can't do that if I'm the secondary!

You can't?  Says who?

No, if the couple you get involved with is legally married, you can't get legally married.  You CAN however:
-Sign articles of incorporation together
-Have a wedding ceremony
-Grant limited power of attorney
-Name one another as beneficiaries in a will
-Have children and even list one another on the birth certificate
-Be as out as is safe for your career/children.

There is actually a LOT that people can do to legally cement their relationship and protect one another.  The LGBT community has been doing it for decades.

If you want to be out and your partner is a teacher though, you might want to think about their needs instead of your own.  Certain careers and communities WILL cause trouble for anyone not living the picket-fence nightmare.

In my case, Cw is not *exactly* closeted, given that he is affectionate with me and with Nw in public, but he's not truly "out" either.  Nw is out to a couple of people of her own choice.  I am out to my family, friends, office, and Facebook.  True enough, when a member of Nw's family was around and I was introduced as "our friend" instead of simply "This is E" (obviously I'm a friend, they're moving in?), it stung.  It was strange as hell to not be able to hug or kiss Cw and be myself around him.

That isn't MY choice to make though.  If Nw isn't ok with being out to her family, then so be it.  That is HER family, HER life, and HER relationships with those people in her family.  I don't care if suddenly I woke up and I was Cw's primary, that's not ground I get to have a say in.  That's her choice.  My place is to accept that choice, regardless of whether she's primary, secondary, or what.  NEVER force people to be out.  If you want to know what a bad idea that is, go hang with the LGBT community a little bit and talk to some of the people who were outed without consent.

It's not fair that the OTHER person gets veto rights!

Ah, veto, thou strange, double-edged stirrer of pots.

It's not fair hm?  So, what is fair then?  Is it fair to watch your partner walk off with someone else because the other person is abusive, manipulative, and causing issues?

I've had veto rights in the past.  I used them one time, ever.  The girl was honestly insane and I told my then-husband so an dropped the veto.  True, I dropped it before their 3rd date.  However, what if a veto IS dropped at a later point?  Maybe you've been dating a member of the couple for a year and that veto comes flying out of nowhere, knocks your reality on it's end and leaves you with a broken heart.  Don't go thinking you're the ONLY person taking a risk here!

The primary partner takes a risk dropping a veto.  What if they drop it and their partner says no?  What if they drop it and their partner spends the next year mourning the loss of your relationship?  What if they drop that veto and then figure out that all they really needed was a little reassurance of their place in their partner's life because he was spending too much time with you and not enough at home?

Vetos are usually seen as a bad thing, a protective endeavor from the primary relationship, and a sign of insecurity.  I've heard people respond to couples with a veto clause who sounded like I do about unicorn hunters!

There's a completely simple, mature response to the "I don't like someone else having that much say in a relationship I am in."

Don't get into a relationship that has veto rights then.

-----------------------------------------
I imagine by now, anyone still reading is saying "OMG! Why bother!?"

This is what I think must lead others to speak so strongly against being a secondary, and to eschew relationship models that engage in hierarchal assignments of position.  There's all these arguments against it.  The rebuttals to those arguments are, I think, perfectly sound and developed from a place of self-confidence and self-acceptance.

So why do it?  What are the benefits of being a secondary?

YOU set the pace for the relationship, when a pace needs to be set.

You read that right.  You don't set the pace because you're just showing off that you can, but you do set the pace in most instances.  For example, when I started seeing Cw, I wasn't ok with spending more than a few hours a week with him.  I have a life and I was not willing to just give up my life to be with him.  So, in that sense, I chose to continue paying attention to my life in general and see how things went with Cw.  There were a few times he spoke up, but even when he asked if I'd be ok with being referred to as his girlfriend, I had the say there.

You get all the happiness of a relationship, and if you want to be alone, you can send them home!

That might sound horrible, but think about it.  Have you ever just been in one of those days when you're not really fit for human companionship, and you can NOT get your partner to GO AWAY?  It's kind of like having a niece or nephew.  You can go out, have fun, and you don't have to do the "dirty work!"

Feel the need for another partner?  You can do that!

Again, avoid the unicorn hunters and their expectation that you'll only date them.

Remember to use protection, discuss things with your current partner/s before beginning to date and when dating.

The reality is, most hinges will have two relationships at most.  The majority of people I've known can't keep up with more than two relationships.  Personally, the most I ever had was the husband, live in boyfriend, and girlfriend who was married and lived in her own home.  The girlfriend and I only got together every couple of weeks as a couple though, life was too busy for more.

But, being secondary, especially if you live alone, means you can still bring a date home without them having to "meet the family" or "pass inspection" on the spot.

You don't have to give up any aspect of your life!

Oh, I know people LOVE to say that they don't have to do this in monogamous relationships, but seriously, let's get honest.  Everyone who has been in a monogamous or a co-habiting relationship knows that you give up cooking fish because the other person gets ill at the smell.  Everyone knows that your love for country and his love for metal means you're neither one going to be able to walk around playing your music at top volume.  Odds are you're going to invest in headphones or stop playing music altogether.

Have a routine on weekend mornings that doesn't involve other people?  Yep, you can keep that too!  Just let them know you're not available until whatever time.

Like going to hang out with your friends once a week and have a set appointment with them, no partners allowed?  NO worries, your new partner also has another partner with needs.  Your social commitments keeps the pressure off!

Secondaries have responsibilities as well.  They have a responsibility to maintain their own lives, as an independent individual.  (Yes, primaries should have that commitment, but we already mentioned that our society is dysfunctional.)  They have a responsibility to keep a pulse on the primary relationship and step back a bit to allow the primary couple to work things out without getting involved.  They have a responsibility to treat the primaries with respect (you know, by not texting when you know they're on a date, not showing up when they weren't expecting you, etc).  But really, the responsibilities of a secondary are no different than those of a person in a mono relationship.

Over time, it may be that a secondary and a primary will have nearly indistinguishable roles in life.  Put two people with a penchant for being home-makers in a house, and soon they'll both look like they're running the place, and possibly even appreciate one another more for not having to do it all alone!  The primary will always be the primary, the secondary will always be the secondary.

Don't be a secondary as a stop-gap while you're looking for something better.

Don't be a secondary if you're not willing to accept the realities of the position.

Don't EVER be a secondary if you don't think that, as a person, a secondary isn't as important as a primary.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
ladythmpr
Apr. 9th, 2013 05:13 am (UTC)
I was a secondary in many relationships for a long time. It worked, mostly because I had several relationships and a busy work and social life besides. My needs were met, and I generally didn't feel second-class. Being secondary was not without its heartache; there was one relationship where I was vetoed after 6.5 years and if there was to be a marriage, I had to go.

Personally, I don't do primary/secondary, even though I have been in relationships where I was a secondary. In my current life, I have partners I live with and partners I don't live with. (In my world, living with someone does not a primary make.) I could and probably would be a secondary again, if I were to find a new relationship; toddlers don't leave a lot of extra time!
(Anonymous)
Apr. 13th, 2013 02:09 am (UTC)
This! So many times this! Thank you!!
I have a similar mindset to yours. My husband's girlfriend has a similar mindset to Tacit's. It causes many issues.

Recently, I learned that GF is annoyed that I don't show the same respect for her relationship with my husband as I show to the relationship between my boyfriend and HIS wife.

I figure that's an obvious. I respect my BF's relationship with his wife as a primary relationship. It is much like what you describe in your post. There is a lot of negotiating and oftentimes quite a bit of give on my side. I don't feel that I get that kind of respect from the GF.

Meanwhile, I feel that I do respect my husband's relationship with his GF. The respect that I have for their relationship is similar to what I'd want to see from my BF's wife, in regards to my relationship with her husband. In other words, I respect it as a secondary relationship.

I don't treat the GF like shit. I try to consider her schedule when scheduling with my husband. He is usually at her place at least three nights a week, so she gets tons of time with him. He functions as a part of her family.

Her evidence for my disrespect of their relationship was that I do ask my husband to be with me for major holidays, when we are visiting my parents (I'm not out to Mom!) or hosting a party at our home. I immediately suggested that she ask him about spending Valentine's Day with her, and I let him know that I had made that suggestion.

I'll admit to being ignorant about her needs, but I wouldn't call it disrespect.

As far as I can tell, GF needs all of her relationships to be primary-styled. That would be all very well if she wasn't trying to have a primary-styled relationship with someone who was already in one, or if we could all get along in one big happy family. But given clashing personalities, that was NEVER in the cards.

The disconnect between my hierarchical mindset and GF's non-hierarchical one causes a lot of tension and instability.

Meanwhile, the GF insists that in about 20 years, she's never seen a hierarchical relationship that worked for anyone but the primaries. Given the secondary relationship I have with my BF has been stable and secure for over 2 years, RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF HER, I think she's full of confirmation bias. ;)
lifemovingfwd
Apr. 14th, 2013 02:49 pm (UTC)
Re: This! So many times this! Thank you!!
Oddly, this has come up recently with a friend of mine who is poly. Her wife has begun dating, having finally met someone she connected with. My friend is just about ready to strangle the new girl though because she doesn't respect that my friend is the primary.

This is the part that backs my stance against NOT recognizing primary/secondary status....

My friend swears she doesn't believe in primary/secondary hierarchy.

Yep, same as always, no one thinks that's the way to do it until they feel that their pre-existing relationship is being threatened. Then they become primaries in a hurry. *chuckle*

Not making light of the dilemma of my friend, but wow, doesn't it just make the point?

For me, being the secondary works just fine. I don't have an issue with the terms, respecting the primary relationship, or anything else about it. I know where I fit, and that's a pretty comfy space for a relationship to grow from.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )