“Have you written much about anchor partners?” he asks me.
“Yeah, a few times,” I answer, thinking of this (on dating someone you’ve been with a while) and this (7 ways to make an old relationship feel new).
We’re commiserating on how little room there is in our lives for anything new and serious. I’m inspired by some outrageously good boxed pinot noir to bemoan compatibility. It’s like a differential equation.
“I could do something casual. But more than that? No way,” he says. “I have 3 anchor relationships.”
“That’s a lot,” I agree.
And then I catch what he’s said. Three? He has 2 partners. Who is this mystery third anchor?
It’s at that moment that the baby monitor broadcasts a peal of laughter. One of his partners putting their child to bed while we chat in the living room.
Of course. The kid. He’s counting parenting as an anchor relationship.
And why wouldn’t he? It’s a major commitment.
Still, it occurs to me. As a non-parent, a Forever Auntie, I’d neglected to factor this in.
Sure, Stress Polysaturates You, But So Does Commitment
I previously wrote about the ability of stress from non-romantic sources to polysaturate a person and quick. In that piece, I talked about how my stressful job made it tough to date.
But speaking with my friend, who is a proud and happy father, I realize that it doesn’t have to be stress that monopolizes you. Because while fatherhood has its stressful parts, that’s not how I see it playing out with him. Instead, I see that it’s a commitment to this child. A devotion. A loyalty.
And yes, there’s always a function of time.
But no matter what other new variables enter the equation, the limits of his love life are defined by his preexisting partners and his child.
Anchoring Tethers the Part of Us That Wanders
Anchor partner has largely supplanted “primary partner” in recent years as the preferred term in polyamory to describe highly entangled relationships, largely because it doesn’t imply that there can be only one serious relationship at a time. And because it stays away from an ordinal ranking of people: Primary, secondary, tertiary. One, two, three. Because when it comes to love, it’s weird to give a bronze medal.
But I’ve also appreciated “anchor partner” for its poetry. When I think of love that endures, love that defines, it’s often one that tethers the part of me that wanders. That grounds me. And yeah, anchors me.
And that’s how I see my friend and his partners with their child. Each of them is one-quarter of a stable support structure. A beautiful poly family.