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A Joke About the Difference Between Polyamorous Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Relationships

·510 words·3 mins
Polyamory Relationships

There’s a joke that goes a little something like this:

Q: What’s the difference between polyamorous primary, secondary, and tertiary relationships?

A: When you move, your primary says, “When are we leaving?”

Your secondary says, “When am I visiting?”

Your tertiary says, “It was nice knowing you.”


My girlfriend tells me this after I break the big news, that I tell her that I’m moving out of state. We’ve been sipping the best rum I’ve ever had for about an hour.

When I’m about to tell her, I try as hard as I can to get to the Big Reveal as quickly as I can. I don’t want to be that person who’s circling the truth for ages, filling the person I’m talking to with anxiety as they try to fill in the blanks.

But try as I might, she guesses what I’m about to say right before I say it. That the dream job I’m describing is out of state.

There’s something in my tone, my severity. Something that’s tipped her off.

And the first thing she does is tell that joke. I nod, having heard it before, laugh.

And then she adds, “Good thing I like to travel.”


Over the following weeks, she gets more excited about visiting. I tell her there are a lot of cults that started in Texas. And therefore a lot of weird things to visit related to them (as well as other non-cult-related things, too — I guess).

She seems sad sometimes when we’re talking about the move, but she tells me she gets it. That it’s clearly the right step. That this is something that wouldn’t make sense to turn down.

And then I’m churning through a million responsibilities. Packing, cleaning, renovating the house for sale, coordinating logistics in Texas, flying back and forth.

I’m covered in bruises. Crash into bed every night, exhausted. There are days where I work from 7 am to 2 am. Writing for a few hours in the morning when I wake up, switching to packing through midday, renovating the house in the evening and early morning.

Knowing I’m only here for a limited time makes her want to see me even more, but I have less time for her than ever, pulled in all of these directions.

None of it is fair to her. We haven’t ever used the term “secondary” to describe one another or our relationship. But the joke, and which bucket we fall into, hits on the truth. And we both agree that it’s the only choice she could see herself making if she were in my exact position.

But it doesn’t make it easy.

For now it gets to be hard.  Easy comes later. Happiness comes later. Comfort comes later. The visits will come later. Whatever happens next, it will come later.

But now gets to be hard.


My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).


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