Monday, 1 October 2012

Poly Means Many - Hierarchy and Labels

When thinking about what to write for this topic, I was reminded of a journal I used to keep when I was a teenager. I wrote an entry when I was 18, trying to define the relationship I had with my first serious love. I bemoaned the business tone of 'partner', the informal overly sexual tone of 'lover', the 'junior-high' feel of boyfriend/girlfriend. 11 years on and I'm afraid I still have not quite got a grasp on labels.

In polyamory, there is a pretty broad swathe of labels and terms commonly used; metamour, primary, secondary, etc. Now, I am not inherently anti-label. In fact, I find them rather useful, and I often find myself hung up on them as tools of 'expectation management', but the truth is, they really only work if there is a shared understanding of the definition of these labels. 
Many think that holding on to these labels is like holding on to trappings of monogamy, and I don't disagree. These labels allow us to classify our relationships in the framework of the monogamous world that we live in and until we live in a poly utopia I think that they have a place in our venacular.
For the last 10+ years that I've have been 'doing' ethical non-monogamy, I have always been in a specific 'style' of relationship set up, that being having a long-term partner that I lived with, and one or more additional partners that I saw on a regular, but less frequent basis. In this model, the terms primary (meaning the partner with which I have been with a while, live with, share life entanglements, etc) and secondary (partner who I see a lot less often, don't live with, most frequently started seeing after the relationship with my primary was started and settled, etc) fit quite well. 
This is the bit where I need to clarify what seems to be the most misunderstood thing about these labels: Primary does not mean more important or more loved. Secondary does not mean 'less-than'. For me, these labels clarify the domestic framework, not importance or level of commitment. They certainly don't put quantity or quality of love on a hierarchical scale.
This past year, I have been in a slightly different model of poly relationship which has kind of shattered these labels for me. I live on my own, and have one partner who, for all intents and purposes, fits the 'secondary' label. Essentially, I'm a secondary without a primary. Whilst is has been challenging at times, this set up has offered me many great things, not limited to: amazing personal growth, a clearer definition of what I want from relationships, time to peruse my education, other friends, hobbies, and most of all, time alone with myself, being me.
Do I miss having a primary partner? Yes, I sure do. I've always been a 'white picket fence' kind of boy. I enjoy living with a partner, and the stability and comfort that brings for me. But for now, I'm enjoying the unique challenges and personal growth that is coming from doing things a bit differently.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Eachmonth seven bloggers - ALBJ,DelightfullyQueer, An OpenBook, More ThanNuclear, Post ModernSleaze, Rarely WearsLipstick, and The Boy With TheInked Skin - will write about their views on one of them.