Polyamory, bisexuality and maybe even some atheism

“Primary” and “Secondary” September 29, 2008

Filed under: Definitions,Figuring it out,Polyamory — Araliya @ 4:00 pm

Lately, the terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ have been popping up rather more often than usual in the Poly blogosphere (at least in the part of it that I read) as well as in some of the recent discussions I’ve had with people in the community.

In essence, I understand the usefulness of the terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’. Not always, but often enough, a polyamorous setup will include one pair that has had a longer relationship with each other than with any of their other partners, and this older relationship will include shared finances, kids, property, etc. Often, but again, not always, this relationship will have started out monogamous and then become polyamorous over time. With the shift to poly will have come some questioning and reassessing of the time spent by the original couple with each other, shifts in responsibilities, and adjustments of different kinds within the relationship, all of which will have been dealt with in whatever way seemed best to the couple at the time. One way of dealing with it is to set up the original relationship as the ‘primary’ relationship and to count all other relationships as ‘secondary’.*

On the face of it, that’s pretty reasonable – the older relationship seems the most ‘real’ or even ‘grown up’ one given the presence of financial investments in housing and other kinds of property, shared living space, shared family, shared children, shared goals, and the mutual support that all of this entails. This casts a newer relationship as less ‘serious’ because the people involved are only just starting out and can’t really say for sure whether it’ll last or end up filed as a pleasant diversion. The amount of time invested in each relationship is also (usually) in proportion to the number of places where the lives of each pair intersect – the more points of contact, the more time given to (and needed by) the relationship. This then also leads to the conclusion that the first relationship – the primary in this case –  is more important, more worthwhile, more permanent, more serious, etc. than the second – or secondary – relationship.

This bugs me for a number of reasons – some of which I realize are specific to me and my situation. I’m sure the above can and does work for many people and I don’t mean to imply that there’s something inherently wrong or bad with they way they do things. It’s just not, I’m beginning to understand, the way I want to do it.

First of all, in this kind of situation, one relationship will always be older than the other, but I think casting one as less serious and one as more based solely on that is a mistake. Eventually (however far down the track) I think the relative ages of the relationships in question cease to matter very much. Using the sibling analogy, there’s a bigger gap between a two-year-old and a four-year-old than between a twelve-year-old and a fourteen-year-old; by the time they’re reach twenty-two and twenty-four, the gap has shrunk even more, and so on. Each relationship grows and matures at its own pace, but, assuming it lasts, it does get there.

Another thing that puts me off the terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ is the implication that one must maintain this dichotomy and pull back if the ‘secondary’ relationship starts to stray into ‘primary’ territory. Privileging one relationship over the other, while perhaps reasonable at the outset, can soon start to limit the ‘secondary’ relationship unfairly. Obviously, not all relationships automatically bloom into always-and-forever type scenarios, but assuming a connection that feels lifelong is made, I don’t think it makes sense to deliberately stop it from developing. As I understand it, the whole point of polyamory is the ‘many loves’ idea, ie, the freedom to have multiple committed relationships. A primary-secondary setup seems, to my mind, to limit that unnecessarily.

Speaking of privilege, there’s also the assumption that primary partners have a say in each other’s secondary relationships. Again, while that may make sense at the beginning when you’re only just beginning to figure out your desires and boundaries – and is probably very useful in some cases – I don’t think it’s sustainable in the long term. Once begun, relationships can and do take on a life of their own and are intensely personal and specific to the individuals involved. Interference from a third party is just that: interference. To give a third party veto power over the relationship after a certain point is grossly unfair as well as disrespectful to all involved.

No two relationships are identical so you can’t really expect them to be equal in all respects, but you can value each for what it is. Terms like ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ are unnecessarily limiting and impose a structure that may not actually suit the nature of either relationship. I’ve heard over and over that each relationship finds its own level* and I have found that to be true. Sometimes, relationships move levels quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes not at all. And sometimes they end up at the same level quite unexpectedly and it can be something of a challenge to figure out how to make it all work. But I’d rather have the challenge than put relationships into artificial cages and not allow them to grow as they will.

*That may be a quote or a paraphrase from The Ethical Slut.


Coming Out Interview September 22, 2008

Filed under: Bisexuality,Coming out,Polyamory,Sexuality — Araliya @ 9:32 am
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In the comments on my last post, bentcrude asked me to do the interview on her site. I did it, though now I’d like to add a few things to the ‘other words that describe you’ section since Polyamory didn’t get much of a mention. I also don’t know why ‘What did you come out as?’ is repeated or why the second says ‘gay’ since I never said I was no longer interested in guys when I first came out – just that I’d also like to date women. Anyway, I’m sure that’ll get sorted. In the mean time, enjoy reading about all the different experiences on there.


Bi/Poly or Bi and Poly? September 8, 2008

So we told some of H’s family and got a pretty good response. This time, he did the talking, which I think was a good idea given that he’s the reason they’d be interested in the first place and because, by talking about it, he takes some amount of ownership of it. Even though he’s not interested in finding or forming other relationships, polyamory is something that we made a decision about together and something that we are still exploring and expanding together. Neither of us would be where we are if it weren’t for the other.

I also realize that I need to stop using bisexuality as a reason for being poly. It came up when H told his family about A and someone asked, ‘If she’s doing this because she wants to be with women, what’s with the boyfriend?’ Given how we’d framed the whole situation, I think that was a reasonable enough question. I honestly am no longer sure what I said at the time because I’ve since talked it over with several people, but I’ve basically concluded that while bisexuality was the avenue through which I learned about polyamory, it isn’t the reason I’m polyamorous. I am increasingly sure that even if I weren’t bisexual, I would be polyamorous and that I am both is a coincidence, if an extremely convenient one.


Poly and newly-marrieds September 5, 2008

Filed under: Monogamy,Polyamory — Araliya @ 1:40 am
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I feel a strange reluctance to talk about polyamory – to even mention it – to people who are about to get married and want to talk to me, the long-married friend, about it. I don’t know what it is. I personally don’t see marriage as the be-all end-all of a relationship. It’s just another optional step along the way as far as I’m concerned. But I suppose I think that marriage is a much more loaded concept for those about to start one than for most other people and I while I’m happy to discuss marriage and poly as ideas with people who are either single or have been married a while, those on the threshhold seem to have a very emotional, almost brittle, relationship with marriage and I don’t want to stress it any further. Which of course could be a complete projection of my own negative feelings towards the institution and ultimately have nothing to do with the almost-marrieds themselves.


Am I an activist? September 2, 2008

Filed under: Figuring it out,Polyamory — Araliya @ 3:02 pm
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I’m not sure how to proceed. The Poly Old Fart asked an important question a while ago and I’ve been thinking about it since: Why am I blogging?

This is and isn’t a journal. While I’ve outlined my journey from a monogamous to a polyamorous situation here, I’ve left out lots of details, not published a lot of what I’ve recorded elsewhere about each relationship, and attempted to protect other people’s privacy to the extent that I could. I have, however, posted some very personal things that I can’t take back now that they’re out there. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to take them back when I posted them and I’m OK with that. It was important for me to write those things and important for me to know that someone had read them. I needed to get the frustration I was feeling off my chest, as well as the realization that I needed to acknowledge some very basic things about myself – things I had known all along and chosen to ignore or push aside for the time being.

I didn’t expect people to read my blog and then write to me telling me they understood what I was going through or that they were just a few months behind me in the figuring-it-all-out process and that what I’d written had actually helped them along. For me, this was just a space in which to vent, think, and maybe at some point connect with other people in the same or a similar situation so that I could get my head together. The positive comments and support have been wonderful and I’ve learnt a lot from other poly bloggers who’ve been either poly or blogging, or both, for far longer than I have.

I wouldn’t call myself an activist either, but I am a communicator. My instinct upon finding out about something new and interesting and challenging is to broadcast it. Acknowledging that I was bisexual was a big enough ‘event’, if personal, but discovering polyamory and realizing how much potential there was in it was way too much to just sit on. And then, as often happens when one ‘discovers’ something, I found many other people had got there first and were doing a brilliant job of talking about the emotional, political, financial, social implications of being polyamorous. So now I write and I link.

I stop at communication though. I don’t seek to evangelize or convince people that polyamory is the One True Way, mainly because while it is a good fit for me personally, my experience with it is limited. Most of my information comes from the community I interact with, the books I read, and the bloggers I follow online.  I respect experience and knowledge gained through the thoughtful examining thereof and overall, I’ve found experienced poly bloggers do rather a lot of that, which is catnip to this kitteh.

My own poly relationships are going well. A and I are rolling along happily and my relationship with S is growing firmer as we get to know and trust each other. H and I are closer than ever in a lot of ways and his ‘role’ in the community has come as something of a happy surprise all around. We’re all discovering new things about ourselves, our relationships, our feelings, our attitudes, our wants, our insecurities and much more. Everyone’s at a different point, but we manage to communciate over the gaps and even though we don’t have much of a blueprint, we’re building something.

And that is where I reach the next question: what do I write about now? I’m quite protective of all three of them, but particularly of A and S because H at least knows about this blog and that I write about him (the other two know that I have a blog and expect to be mentioned, but that’s it). I want to write about them – about how they make me feel, how we’ve worked things out, who they are, etc – but I want to protect both their privacy and mine. I also get cynical and think, really, how different is any of what I have to say from the millions of other relationships that get started and are built on every day? Just because there are more people involved doesn’t really make it news. So then I think I should take a leaf from the books of the poly bloggers I read and talk instead about the larger issues, the ideas, the conflicts – the learning and the  learning process, really. That’s what’s meant the most to me when I’ve read other blogs and if I’m to do anything with this blog, providing an account of what I’ve learned from being polyamorous is probably what would be most useful, both to others and also to me.