Recently I was discussing my poly lifestyle with a potential amour, who is not poly. They struggled to understand how, as a secondary partner, I was able to compromise on things I’d expect in a normal relationship, and be ok with it. My simple response was that it is the price we pay to have the people we want in our lives, and most of the time, it’s worth it.
Anyone who has been a secondary knows the things I am talking about. Things like dates being cancelled last minute, not being able to talk to your sweetie when you want to, having to negotiate everything you do with the primary metamour or even living under the dreaded veto. Anyone who has been round the poly block a turn or two also knows the primary metamour can make your life wonderful, or hellish. A good primary metamour is secure in their relationship, open and honest about wobbles they have and is friendly and civil to you at the very least. A bad primary metamour can totally trainwreck your relationship with your sweetie, pulling strops and tantrums at the last minute, guilt tripping the mutual partner into cancelling dates, being unreasonable about what is and isn’t acceptable or just vetoing it abruptly.
Even the most confident and secure person has wobbles of insecurity, bad days, bad moods and days they got out of bed the wrong side. It’s natural. Shit happens. In poly, that effect is compounded as the complicated interlacing of loves and feelings can cause small things to ripple out along the lines of relationships. Sometimes it’s unavoidable – none of us live in isolation from each other, and part of sharing someone’s honey means you have to be considerate of that.
By virtue of the fact that your relationship is secondary to the main one, everything takes second place at the very most. The primary is universally accepted as priority – and that’s totally fine. I don’t have an issue with hierarchical poly relationships; even in a poly circle or family, some relationships are closer/older/legally bound/have children and result in a prioritising status. So as a secondary partner, you have to accept that in the best of circumstances, you can only have a slice of your partner’s life: their time, affection, love and attention. Hard as that can be to deal with in the throes of NRE, deal with it you must, or you will run headlong into problems.
Being the secondary partner means there are things you should kind of expect to happen to you from time to time. Things like dates cancelled last minute because the primary has fallen ill, or some life issue has arisen, and your sweetie needs to put them first. Things like not necessarily having your partner with you on special days like Valentines, birthdays or Christmas, because they are with their primary or family. Things like restrictions on what you can and can’t do in your relationship. All of these things suck. When they happen, they can hurt. They can make you angry, resentful, scared. But they are all facts of the life of a secondary, and no one is to blame if they occur. If you can’t accept them as facts of life, being a secondary isn’t for you.
The greatest thing a secondary worries about is that they are easily dispensed with. Whilst the primary has by virtue of the primary status more security in life and love, a secondary relationship can be ended as easily as you snap your fingers. It could be that you worry constantly about the dreaded veto, where the primary can pull the plug on your relationship with your mutual partner, and you are left wondering what the hell happened, licking your wounds wondering what the hell you did wrong. Similarly, the fact you are secondary means your relationship is generally viewed as more transient than a primary one. I don’t know many people who view any of their secondaries as life partners – if they do, they have generally formed some kind of poly group or family to give their relationships a feeling of equality. And so there is always a worry that you’ll be pushed out in favour of a new and shiny person, forgotten to the throes of NRE and left to patch up your broken heart.
So why do we do this? Why do we risk heartbreak, compromise on what we want, and constantly live in the shadow of the primary’s importance? We do it because being polyamorous means we have to share. That means we cannot always come first, even for us primaries. Being a secondary means we rarely come first, and it is the price we pay for having our partner in our lives at all.
Are there ways to make life easier? Absolutely. Not getting involved with newbies to poly, or people riddled with issues is a good start. That way, people aren’t learning this difficult shit on your relationship, and your heart. Be nice to your metamours, and be considerate and respectful of their position and grateful of the fact they are sharing their loved one with you. Accept there are times your position means you will feel neglected and unimportant, and realise that it doesn’t mean that you are.
Be fair and reasonable, understanding and compassionate, but don’t think that means you have to be a doormat. If you feel you are being treated unfairly, communicate that.Ask for what you want. Be prepared for the answer to sometimes be “no”. Accept that in the perfect world, you can only ever have a portion of your sweetie’s time, and don’t try and get more than has been agreed. Communicate your wants and needs to your partner (and the metamour if you talk directly) and be prepared to either compromise, or walk away if something is a deal-breaker for you.
To me, good poly involves a whole lot of honest talking, compromise and empathy. That coupled with the right people can result in some of the best times of your life, where you can experience true feelings of comperison, love and companionship. Being a secondary may mean that I am never a priority to my lover, and that my relationship may always feel easily dispensed with, but it also means I get these wonderful people in my life, even if only part time. It means I can love people I would not otherwise have the opportunity to. That makes it worth it.