How I Understand Couple Privilege, Despite Being Partnered
I met Angela the first day of kindergarten. She lived 3 stops down the road on my bus. But on our rural trucking route. No sidewalks. Speed limit of 45 miles per hour. Which meant people drove at least 60. No budget for cops to ticket anybody. You’d get creamed as a kid if you decided to do something foolish like walk or ride your bike anywhere.
So Angela lived right down the road but was a virtual stranger.
Same light skin and dark hair as me. We looked related. Her mother walked her onto the bus. Angela couldn’t stop crying.
“It’s okay,” her mother said to the driver. “She’s just shy.”
As Angela came down the aisle with her mother, I saw Angela eyeing my seat. I scooted my bag over, patted the empty space. “Sit with me.”
Angela thought a second and then did. I waved bye to her mom, who smiled and stepped off the bus.
“Hi,” I said. “You may be shy, but I’m a unicorn. That’s weirder, right?” I pulled out drawings I’d made. “Well, half unicorn, half yeti. You ever watch Jonny Quest?”
“N-n-n-o,” she said.
“Me neither. My brother does, but He-Man is better.”
She loved He-Man, too.
We chatted for many stops. It was probably about 20 minutes, but in kindergartner time, that’s half the length of an ancient Chinese dynasty.
At Pea Cove, another little girl stepped onto the bus. I didn’t even register her, so engrossed in my talk with Angela. But she saw us.
“Angela!!” she cried out.
“Shannon!!” Angela replied.
They slid over to another seat together.
“I’m sorry,” Angela said. “We’re friends, but Shannon is my best friend. We went to preschool together.”
Over the years, I continued to hang out with Angela and Shannon. And while they were generally close friends of mine, there were many occasions when they would gang up on me and be mean, seemingly without cause.
Shannon in particular worried I’d steal Angela as her best friend.
In middle school, they would initiate sexual play with me in private and in public start rumors that I was a lesbian. And when the bullies called me a “stupid dyke,” broke ink pens on my clothes, and threw my lunch in the trash, Shannon and Angela would sit there, placid and silent, with little smirks on their faces.
Briefly, couple privilege is the phenomenon that heterosexual, monogamous marriage is idolized, legitimized, and socially sanctioned in a way that other relationships are not. You know, people are riding the relationship escalator and are winners according to its norms. In polyamory, this means that free agents, triads, quads, and other forms of poly relationship systems aren’t perceived as legitimate and are often stigmatized. Maybe they’re even forgotten. Or prioritized behind competing “more acceptable” forms.
Couple privilege is totally a thing. But it’s not Everything. I’ve previously written about how it’s easy to overstate the impact of couple privilege. Couples have their own challenges, too, that stem from opening up. Skyspook has been a great source for me. He was solo poly when I met him (our partnering up so seriously was a surprise to us both). And he has also opened up an established relationship that had been monogamous. He says opening up as a couple is harder than being solo poly was. Sure, it’s only one guy. But he’s the smartest guy I know.
Today is a devil’s advocate to that piece (“It’s Not Actually Easy”). Because while I may be part of a couple these days and surely understand that I benefit from it, I had this formative social experience that helps me to understand feeling as though your relationship is illegitimate from a different perspective.
If you want to read more on couple privilege from other poly writers, you can look here, here, and here.