Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Fallacy of Equality
Hi Monk,

I have been thinking a lot lately about the intricacies of being poly and handling relationships within that construct, and I was hoping you would allow me to understand how it works for you.

Obviously, your primary partner is your primary partner. My questions come in when you have two or more other partners.

Say you have a secondary partner, and then you become involved with another. Does that person become your tertiary partner? Or just another secondary? And how does this new relationship affect the existing relationships with your primary and secondary. I wouldn't think that your primary partner would be affected much, but would your relationship with your secondary lose some of it's energy? How does that work?


Wow, good question nula! First off, when you have multiple lovers one’s attention and energy does run the risk of being too divided and spread thin. The thing that took me the longest time to learn was that this is not an equality thing, rather there is a hierarchy. Tambo, my beloved primary, gets the lion’s share of my attention and energy. She was with me before I ever had a secondary relationship and will be there long after. So she gets first dibs on my time, attention and affection. She also gets say on whom else I date. Yes, Tambo wields executive veto power.

Next in line comes my secondary, Dancer. Let it be known that I absolutely adore this girl and think she is just the coolest person ever. Now for some poly folks, my self included at one time, the idea is that your secondary will eventually become so intertwined into your life that they will eventually be on equal status as your primary. I call this the poly fantasy. You and your X number partners, all feeling secure in their equality, decide to buy a farm house somewhere and live together as one big happy family. (Yes, even poly people can have those white picket fence dreams) I have yet to meet anyone in my 10 years of being poly who has pulled this off.

Now I should go on record here and just say that Dancer has been by far the best secondary partner I have ever had. She too has been through the whole poly fantasy and also understands that it does not work that way. Also she has a primary who, like Tambo, gets the majority of her attention. Personally I think this is an idea situation. When both partners already have a primary, the majority of their emotional needs and well being are already met. The time and energy you spend together really is all bonus time. I would describe it as “all the fun of falling in love with out the stress of wondering where the relationship is going.” (Now that is a good topic for another day) She also has veto power when it comes to who I play with next.

Now this brings us to the meat of the matter. What happens when there is a third lover? In the past I have tried to have 2 secondary lovers, tried to treat them as equals and did my best to divide my time and attention equally between the two of them… and failed miserably. Invariably one’s needs were not being met sufficiently or I found myself torn between them, spread too thin emotionally and unable to meet either of their needs effectively. So rather than fall into that trap again, I fall back to the hierarchy model.

Knowing that my primary gets the lion’s share of my attention and my secondary gets the rest. Any new individual that finds her (or his, let’s not be selective) way into my intimate life first understands that they are getting only a VERY small percentage of my attention.

Secondly I do not consider them to be my “tertiary partner”. The word “partner” to me implies a longer term commitment and emotional involvement. Rather, they are someone I enjoy getting naked with from time to time. If I were still active in the swing world, I’d call them a “club date”, someone you take to the club and play with only there. By keeping the sex in an encapsulated bubble like a swing club or public dungeon, you set up some well defined borders. This helps to keep the energy requirements at a manageable level.

Am I being a hard hearted bastard here? Only giving this new lover a tiny bit of attention and limiting what I am willing to do with them? Perhaps, but one must look at the hierarchy and ask, are the needs of those most important to me being met? Is Tambo, my primary and most important partner, happy and feeling secure in my love for her? Yes. Good then I can spend my extra attention on Dancer. Does she feel special and wonderful and beautiful? Great! Anything left over? Yeah, a little? Then let’s see about setting up a play date with a cutie sometime.