There First: Hierarchy, Loyalty, and “Dibs”

a black cat sitting on a white chair with a red sweater draped on the back
Image by Ben Salter / CC BY

“Just so we’re clear,” Don said. “You’ll never be as close to me as my wife. Not that there’s anything wrong with you. You’re lovely, don’t get me wrong.”

“Okay,” I said.

“No one will,” he continued.

I wondered why he was even telling me this. It had come out of nowhere. Still, he had piqued my interest with this whole line of conversation, and now I was curious. “Really? Why is that?”

“She got here first. She has a head start on everybody else,” he said.

“Good to know.”

We sat and watched Dune for a little longer. My husband Seth came inside, having finished his cigarette. Don’s wife let us know that dinner was ready.

I brought it up during the meal, what Don had said about being there first and that meaning nobody could get as close. The other two were in agreement.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just don’t think about it that way.”

They set down their forks.

“What do you mean?” Seth asked.

“It’s just… not that simple, that’s all.”

Something very much like fear flashed across their faces.

“I’ll get dessert,” Don’s wife chirped, rising quickly.

*

It wasn’t the first time I had felt like the odd one out.

My lovers and metamours were Unsettled Down. They’d followed the social script – you meet someone, commit, marry, settle down, and… happily ever after ensues. Except surprise, it doesn’t.  There are a lot of boring stretches that are edited out of the movies, much like bathroom breaks and long waits. And you’re left with an unsettled feeling, that despite what you’d been told about the key to happiness, to Movie Magic Romance, something is missing.

And yet, despite the fact that they had all found polyamory and started dabbling in the complicated, they couldn’t seem to get away from what was, to my mind, very simplistic thinking. Staying primary, top of the heap, was solely a matter of seniority.

No, it was a comforting lie for the established partner. And patently unfair to potential new lovers — like advertising for a new position with absolutely no path to promotion.

The social capital of a relationship seems much more complicated than that. I think of it more like a credit score. Sure, “age of accounts” is a factor, but it’s only one factor. There’s also amount owed, payment history, accounts in collections, types of credit, new credit, etc.

An imperfect metaphor, to be sure.

But loyalties, entanglement, and passions are definitely more complicated than “dibs.”

After all, Seth and I are now divorced.

*

I am not a particularly loyal person.

I’ve often wondered if I’m a bad friend because I’m just not as good at the unquestioning loyalty piece that some others seem to assume is part of the gig.

In my book, you can absolutely think your friend didn’t handle something well. And to feel this way and further to even speak of it, I don’t consider that a betrayal.

A lot of people say that they want friends who will tell them when they’re out of line, but I find that the same people will fly into a tizzy when you deliver the requested constructive criticism.

I don’t think championing everything your friend does, even when they’re out of line, is inherently virtuous. And this includes everyone in my life, even my husband Skyspook. I want to give my friends the benefit of the doubt, especially when it’s ambiguous and I wasn’t there for whatever happened, but standing by your man or bestie or whatever Tammy Faye Bakker-like in the face of overwhelming evidence? Or feeling like you can’t say to the ones closest to you “Hey, so you know I love you, but I didn’t like how that went down, and here’s why…”?

It’s just not for me.

The trouble is… as much loyalty is demanded in friendships, the expectation for ROMANTIC relationships is even more so.

At this point, I’m utterly spoiled by the kind of loyalty that I’ve mysteriously managed to foster with Skyspook. He is a person of the highest good judgement, not to say that anyone’s is perfect, but he is an utterly reasonable, intelligent, and disciplined human being. Not only that, but we have developed the kind of rapport where we easily call one another on lapses of judgement in a way that not only does not undermine our relationship but reinforces our mutual respect. It’s stunning to me. Our values started out quite in line, and as the years have gone on, we’ve melded together even more, all the while raising our ambitions as we have progressively became more comfortable.

But this is loyalty that makes sense, that arose naturally from how we both behaved.

I don’t expect to come first just because I’m his wife or because I’ve been with him longer. The only limit on what he can feel for others comes from the nature of those relationships, not this one.

It’s not a competition. We’re talking about love, not riding shot gun.

And I love him madly.

 

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