Monday, 1 October 2012

Poly Means Many - Hierarchy and Labels

When thinking about what to write for this topic, I was reminded of a journal I used to keep when I was a teenager. I wrote an entry when I was 18, trying to define the relationship I had with my first serious love. I bemoaned the business tone of 'partner', the informal overly sexual tone of 'lover', the 'junior-high' feel of boyfriend/girlfriend. 11 years on and I'm afraid I still have not quite got a grasp on labels.

In polyamory, there is a pretty broad swathe of labels and terms commonly used; metamour, primary, secondary, etc. Now, I am not inherently anti-label. In fact, I find them rather useful, and I often find myself hung up on them as tools of 'expectation management', but the truth is, they really only work if there is a shared understanding of the definition of these labels. 
Many think that holding on to these labels is like holding on to trappings of monogamy, and I don't disagree. These labels allow us to classify our relationships in the framework of the monogamous world that we live in and until we live in a poly utopia I think that they have a place in our venacular.
For the last 10+ years that I've have been 'doing' ethical non-monogamy, I have always been in a specific 'style' of relationship set up, that being having a long-term partner that I lived with, and one or more additional partners that I saw on a regular, but less frequent basis. In this model, the terms primary (meaning the partner with which I have been with a while, live with, share life entanglements, etc) and secondary (partner who I see a lot less often, don't live with, most frequently started seeing after the relationship with my primary was started and settled, etc) fit quite well. 
This is the bit where I need to clarify what seems to be the most misunderstood thing about these labels: Primary does not mean more important or more loved. Secondary does not mean 'less-than'. For me, these labels clarify the domestic framework, not importance or level of commitment. They certainly don't put quantity or quality of love on a hierarchical scale.
This past year, I have been in a slightly different model of poly relationship which has kind of shattered these labels for me. I live on my own, and have one partner who, for all intents and purposes, fits the 'secondary' label. Essentially, I'm a secondary without a primary. Whilst is has been challenging at times, this set up has offered me many great things, not limited to: amazing personal growth, a clearer definition of what I want from relationships, time to peruse my education, other friends, hobbies, and most of all, time alone with myself, being me.
Do I miss having a primary partner? Yes, I sure do. I've always been a 'white picket fence' kind of boy. I enjoy living with a partner, and the stability and comfort that brings for me. But for now, I'm enjoying the unique challenges and personal growth that is coming from doing things a bit differently.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Eachmonth seven bloggers - ALBJ,DelightfullyQueer, An OpenBook, More ThanNuclear, Post ModernSleaze, Rarely WearsLipstick, and The Boy With TheInked Skin - will write about their views on one of them.


Anonymous said...

I love the opening paragraph. <3 This post also makes me quite happy. :)

lipsticklori said...

"For me, these labels clarify the domestic framework, not importance or level of commitment" - Totally agree! Must be interesting breaking out of that standard framework though. I'm glad it's been a good experience for you.

I just had to quote myself in this month's post, with my education analogy. You were quoted in that post too, with your mention of primary relationships being the foundations that other relationships rest upon. I guess your primary relationship is with yourself right now. (I mean that in the nicest possible way!)

InkedSkin said...

@Lori: Very wise! I hadn't really thought about that, being my own primary. What a great thought. I often have 'date night' with myself, I could definitely extend that notion.

MoreThanNuclear said...

This is a lovely post. I've met other people who've talked about the benefits of having a secondary relationship without a primary. Primary relationships do tie you down, and make it more difficult for you to make decisions about your life, because there is always at least one other person to consider. For monogamous people, having this freedom usually means being single. It's great that you don't have to give up love in order to have this!

fermentation femme said...

hi! i've just started reading your blog and very much enjoying it.

this post, among others, inspired me to explore hierarchy on my own blog, if you're curious then check it out!

i'm really interested in the different ways that people use and understand language, and appreciated your take on the whole "primary" idea. for me using that term, even if it's meant as "domestic" or something else, gets me into too much of a hierarchical mindset which fucks me up. i'm fascinated by how differently people can interpret and come to terms with language that is culturally imbued with meaning.
ramble ramble ramble, if you're interested in my thoughts on it read the above :)