PQ 11.7 — Will the term secondary be applied to my relationship, and if so, do I understand how the primary couple is defining the word? Am I comfortable with the definition?

a very complicated flowchart that is of hierarchy without a company structure, many smiley faces of various colors are connected by a vast network of lines. nothing is really labeled
Image by Jurgen Appelo / CC BY

PQ 11.7 — Will the term secondary be applied to my relationship, and if so, do I understand how the primary couple is defining the word? Am I comfortable with the definition?

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A new thread appears in one of the poly discussion groups I’m in.  Asking people for their input on what the terms “primary” and “secondary” mean when applied to relationships.

I have thoughts but hold back. I want to see what other people want to say.

And when I check back later in the day, I’m not disappointed. Plenty of folks have replied. And I’m shocked to find one of them is my boyfriend CC:

I guess I fit a bit of this definition, being in a relationship where I’m somewhat secondary to a partner who has a husband (shares house, finances, etc.). I know, for instance, that if her husband were to fall incredibly ill that I would likely have to step aside if she no longer had the time/money/emotional bandwidth for secondary relationships. And that wouldn’t happen the other way around. That doesn’t mean it’s less fulfilling to be in a relationship with her.

Secondary doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re just some fling for a couple in an open relationship. It could, but there’s a lot of variance between what secondary means for a lot of people.

I smile.

I don’t agree with everything CC has  said. Because if my husband Skyspook fell seriously ill? CC would probably be a real boon. If anything, CC would be the type of person who would step in and help me. I can’t imagine setting things with CC aside for that reason.

Now, I imagine that I’d be preoccupied and our time together quite different. But even as a caregiver, I don’t think I’d shut down the rest of my life.  If anything, I’d need those other social supports more.

The biggest primary/secondary split for me in reality is this: If Skyspook had to move far away for work, I’d go with him. And if CC had to move far away for work, I’d miss him.

But I get what CC means by his post. And I’m happy that I’ve never made him feel less than.

And it occurs to me, by his hesitance to claim the label that I’ve never explicitly labeled him secondary. Any hierarchy is subtle. Descriptive, not prescriptive. Invisible to observers.

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This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.

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