Fellow poly Clevelander Ferrett Steinmetz recently published a post called “I’m Married to Her, but I’m Not Her Primary.” What renders him secondary, Ferrett writes in this post, is his wife’s commitment to her children from a previous marriage and how she (understandably) prioritizes that role over their relationship.
It’s a nice piece, and it got me thinking.
I instinctively agreed with the title and felt it applied to my relationship, even though neither Skyspook nor I have any children. Skyspook and I are one another’s anchor partners. We’re seriously committed. Legally married. We live together and make most of our financial decisions jointly.
But we’re not each other’s primaries.
Instead, I’m my own primary. And he is his.
Polyamory Turned Me Into My Own Primary
Prior to discovering polyamory, I had never given much thought to autonomy. When I had monogamous relationships, my partner was the center of my universe and I, theirs.
Women especially encounter a lot of societal pressure to sacrifice ourselves to take care of others. Even women who don’t have children are expected to put our romantic partners first. And many a romance popularizes the notion that if you love someone enough, there are very few sacrifices that are too much. Maybe none.
In Poly Pocket’s excellent interview with Aden Carver about being polyamorous while in recovery, Carver makes the following observation:
When I’ve been in monogamous relationships in the past, it’s been very easy for me to be swallowed whole by them. To lose myself completely in trying to make that person happy and ignore whatever is going on in my own body and mind. Also relying on one person to meet my emotional and physical needs was very ineffective, causing me to feel I was too much and too demanding.
Polyamory really helps me to focus on myself, what I really need and want. And also forces me to communicate that, since there are no givens.
I had a similar experience to Carver.
When I was monogamous, I was utterly consumed by the love I felt for my partner. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for them. Even if the sacrifices I made were unhealthy. Or made me miserable. Or led to profoundly self-destructive outcomes.
I didn’t sign up for polyamory looking to change this behavior. But you bet your sweet patootie that polyamory nonetheless had that effect on me.
I Couldn’t Say Yes to Everyone
It wasn’t until I experienced multi-commitment as a busy poly hinge and discovered my previous level of self-sacrifice was untenable that I started to figure autonomy out. What it meant to me. To tease apart complete dependence from complete independence and foster a sort of healthy interdependence in relationships.
Because while my normal instinct when monogamous had been to just go along with what my partner wanted, as a busy poly hinge, I couldn’t do that anymore. I ran into situations where I couldn’t say “yes” to everyone.
And rather than self-destruct on the spot like a robot stuck in a logical paradox, I was forced to appeal to a higher court to help break deadlocks: What I found reasonable.
And after circumstances forced me to do this enough times, I gradually came to do so instinctively.
Secondary to His Self-Preservation
Skyspook is similar. He’s his own primary.
And it follows that I’m secondary to Skyspook’s relationship with himself.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As Ferrett writes in his piece, if you’re doing it right, being secondary is not about always being in an “auto-lose” situation.
Every single one of my actual needs aren’t automatically ranked lower than Skyspook’s most frivolous fleeting desires.†
But if push came to shove in some dire hypothetical situation where Skyspook could either sacrifice himself to save me or ensure his own escape? I’d want him to get the Hell out of Dodge.
†Poly Pocket even more recently posted an interesting interview that tackles these concerns of balancing one person’s needs with another’s desire. They’re doing great work.