It’s not the labels, it’s the behaviors that you justify with them.

Some  of the reactions to the guest posts last week about polyamory (intro, courting, rules and guidelines, misconceptions, and wrapup) were really interesting – and perhaps telling as well.

For example, the courting post assumes a hierarchical setup with an anchor partner – and in this case, the anchor partner is presumed to be “primary” partner (though that term is never used).

As the conversation heated up on the Book of Faces, I found myself explaining to a girlfriend why simply having a hierarchy in your relationships was seen as a bad thing by some folks. The advice given in that post seemed like common sense to her.

“That’s because you’re not a jerk,” I told her. “You wouldn’t just barge into an existing relationship and demand more attention than your partner was already giving to your metamour, and you think about the feelings and needs of your metamours when you’re the one in the existing relationship. When you’re told that your feelings don’t matter because you’re ‘secondary’, it can leave a real bad taste in your mouth.”

That’s when it really hit me: The problem wasn’t the relationship structure, it was the ashholes in the relationship. Like the author of this Medium article, I’ve always used the terms primary/secondary/tertiary not to denote how much “say” someone had, but as..

easy shorthands for, in our case, “this is a person i am intertwining my daily life with”, “this is a person i see often and have a strong emotional connection to”, and “this is a person I see occasionally and whom I care about, but our lives do not intersect too much”.

And even if you’re solo poly or practicing relationship anarchy, those are descriptors you’re going to need, and when you have a mouthful to say every time you need to say it (or specialized jargon), it’s a barrier to communication. The terms are useful as descriptors (though not prescriptors – more on that when I hit “rules” next) and we are doing ourselves a disservice by throwing them away because of jerks who used them to justify their bad behavior.

The irony is that if you’re in a non-monogamous relationship, that’s usually the first thing monogamous people blame if things don’t work out… even though monogamous relationships don’t get judged that way. Likewise, hierarchical structures get blamed when the real problem is the people using the term.

Over on More Than Two there’s what used to be the “Secondary Bill of Rights”, but is now called the “Relationship Bill of Rights“.

I’m thoroughly in favor of this change, because these things aren’t about what terms you use, but about respecting other people,

Featured Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

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