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Polyamory for the Practical

Secondaries are People Too

The Goddess of Giggle Speaks:

Sometimes poly people really don’t like the whole hierarchy system of relationships. Primary, secondary, tertiary. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes relationships do fall into a continuum of priority and we must decide where our time and energy goes. Certainly, we may choose to treat all of our loves with equal time, attention and fervor of emotion, but this is not often the case. The thing that I find a little upsetting, however, is when I see “secondary” relationships treated as dispensable. And worse, the person who is the secondary relationship being overlooked as a human being!

People take big risks by becoming secondary lovers. Why? Because there seems to be, in the polyamorous community, a general acceptance that secondary relationships are somehow less important. Excuse me? We are talking about polyAMORY, no? The idea here is to let ourselves love freely and openly with as many people as we choose, right? Love does not allow for second rate treatment.

I’ve seen it happen many times. Greg is married to Cynthia and starts dating Peggy. Peggy is smart and outgoing and independent, but she falls head over heels for Greg anyway and greatly enjoys the time she spends with him. Cynthia had ideas about just how far Greg’s “outside” relationships should go, but she never really spelled it out for Greg. She only told him that any relationship outside of their marriage was to remain secondary. Greg feels quite strongly for Peggy, but he realizes that his priority is his wife. Still, he doesn’t see anything wrong with spending two nights a week at Peggy’s place. Cynthia disagrees. In fact, she’s starting to feel quite threatened by Peggy’s love-goggled praise of Greg and the big grin he gets when she calls. Cynthia decides that it is time to call in her veto rights and demands that Greg end the relationship… “It is just a secondary, after all. Right?” Greg is now caught between rock and a hard place. But being that he is devoted to his wife, he breaks it off with Peggy. Peggy is despondent. She doesn’t eat for a three days, she sleeps every moment that she isn’t working and she’s stopped calling her friends. Peggy was perfectly happy with the two nights a week that she had with Greg. She was too busy with work and her hobbies to devote much more to the relationship, but the relationship was fulfilling, enriching and deeply treasured just the same. Greg is also crushed but he hides it from Cynthia so that she will not think he is unhappy in their marriage.

Something is wrong with this picture! Secondaries have feelings too. And while Primary relationships do need to be considered first, the primary partner has a responsibility as well. That responsibility is to remember the feelings of her partner and the person that he or she is involved with. The primary has a responsibility to analyze her feelings of discomfort regarding the secondary relationship and to work out anything that is purely self-centered. Is it jealousy? Is it greed? Is there a possessive aspect to this? Even if you dislike the secondary partner, is this really reason to break your primary’s heart? Do you have to be best buddies with everyone that your partner loves? In any relationship there are going to be two completely different human beings that need different things from other partners. There is a good chance that the person that your primary picks for a secondary will be very dissimilar to you in many ways. This is a good thing. It enriches your primary’s world. But it can also mean that your primary’s secondary partner may not see eye to eye with you on everything. That’s ok. They don’t have to. Just like your primary, their secondary is a unique person capable of loving very deeply.

Because secondary relationships are often treated as disposable, secondaries may develop a sense of insecurity. They may fear that their lover’s primary may at any time “veto” the relationship. This is an understandable fear in the current climate of polyamorous relationships, but I think that this can change. Secondary relationships, in their own way, are every bit as important as primary ones. They should involve just as much commitment and devotion as a primary relationship. The difference lay in the ground rules. Secondary relationships may be limited to one weekend a month, or perhaps it merely means a non-live-in relationship. But this does not limit the emotional connection or physical attraction that the secondary partners feel for each other. Whatever the rules are, once that relationship is established, it should not be so easily cast aside. Further, I think the only one who should make the decision to end the relationship is the person directly involved in it.

There will be, of course, instances where it is necessary for the primary to voice concerns. If the concerns are valid or even potentially destructive to the marriage, the partner involved in the secondary relationship needs to consider them carefully. For instance, Sue and John have had a secondary relationship for eighteen months. Sue’s husband Mark gets a call from John at work. John is very drunk and tells Mark that it’s only a matter of time before Sue knows who is really best for her and divorces him. Mark tells Sue about this conversation. If Sue is smart, she will either end the relationship with John or make darn sure he is clearly informed that she has no intention of divorcing her husband, and that the status of hers and John’s relationship is unlikely to change from secondary, before she continues her relationship with him. What would not be fair is if Mark demanded that Sue end the relationship. Sue loves John; any choice she makes at this moment is going to be difficult. She will be the one that has to deal with the fallout, so she is the one that needs to make the choices. Now, this requires a level of trust on the part of Mark that Sue will make decisions that will not harm their marriage. That level of trust is important in a poly relationship.

Secondaries may or may not be part of the primary’s “family view”, but generally they are part of the family view of the person involved with them. It is very important to always remember that love is a deep and powerful thing and should never be cast aside easily. Secondary partners are valuable members of our primaries’ lives and their loving network. They bring their own unique world view into our partners’ lives. If we devalue our partner’s secondaries, we devalue our partner as well. We must appreciate what a gift those loves are to us, as well, because they enrich the life of the one or ones that we love so dearly.

I think we need to declare National Secondary Appreciation Day! Who’s with me?

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