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Poly Marketing: Secondary Relationships

A couple weeks ago, I was reading an LJ entry about the importance of being sensitive when seeking support from a mutual friend of both parties in a troubled romantic relationship. The entry then went on to describe how the situation is particularly difficult when the mutual friend is one member of a primary couple and the romantic trouble is between another primary and that primary's secondary. I was surprised at how negatively I viewed parts of the commentary. I was particularly surprised because if I removed the description of primary/secondary dynamics and just read it as a description of why it is particularly difficult when you are drawing on your lover's other lover for support with romance difficulties, I completely agreed with what was said.

I know that I don't like the term secondary, but I didn't realize that I had that strong of a reaction. I'll admit that fully 50% of my problem with the term was a initial misunderstanding about what the poly community means by secondary relationship. However even as I have grown to understand what is meant, I've had a deep-seated negative reaction. I think I'd feel more comfortable being described as someone's fuckbuddy than as someone's secondary. I don't particularly see myself in a relationship based on sex without emotional connection, but if I were, fuckbuddy is at least starkly accurate. I think that if most people from the poly community considered my relationship with Margaret, they would describe me as her secondary. However the term (and that way of thinking about things) doesn't suit either of us. As I began to consider my reaction I noticed the following link in the original entry to a site on being a secondary. That page is wonderful both because it does an excellent job of showing the reasonableness of core concepts behind a secondary relationship and showing why I find the term so problematic. The term secondary relationship emphasizes the limitations rather than the nature of the relationship. This is bad for the secondary because it is too easy to think of yourself as less important and to trap yourself into the belief that you and your needs don't matter. This is bad for any primary partners because it focuses so much on safety through boundaries that it is easy to forget the importance of compromise and love. If you're trying to sell a loving relationship, and you find you need to write a Bill of Rights expressing basic human dignity and respect in terms of your relationship concept, you need to rethink your marketing and message control. Terminology does matter and it influences how people think about things.

This introspection was useful to me for another reason. I can completely understand the appeal of the concept behind secondary relationships even if I don't like the term. A lot of what I do even fits within that concept. However for myself, I cannot reconcile hard boundaries like the idea that if it becomes necessary to choose between the primary and secondary then you choose the primary with my concept of building a loving relationship. Conflict is hard, but I have not found it improved by hard boundaries. I can see commitments like always agreeing to support your family and I can see how such commitments could come very close to being these hard boundaries. There is a key difference though that I'm still working through. Anyway, this was a wonderful introspective experience into what I'm looking for and how I'm going to view my relationships with others.

Comments

However for myself, I cannot reconcile hard boundaries like the idea that if it becomes necessary to choose between the primary and secondary then you choose the secondary with my concept of building a loving relationship.

Did you mean "you choose the primary?" Because that's the usual way it's considered to be, although my personal experience wouldn't match. *heh*
Yeah, I think there was some European guy who studied that sort of transposition; I'll have to see if he had anything to say about this situation. :-)