The hardest thing about trying to figure out your shit, is that it comes in waves. You can spend a ton of time thinking through one issue, and land somewhere you think makes sense, only to realize later that you need to give it a second look.
Things with Papa Bear and I have been going better. We aren’t being interrupted during our time together, and if someone requests an interruption, they are told no. Yet something about it has still felt “off.” We have been trying out a new schedule where we only see each other once a week, for a solid block of time on Saturday or else a sleepover from Friday evening to late-morning Saturday, and while this has been better than what we had before, it isn’t perfect.
I realized some things about myself that I shared with Papa Bear, and he also had realizations that he shared with me. My realization came first. It was triggered by something so petty I’m embarrassed to even mention it. Every Sunday Papa Bear is incommunicado from breakfast until dinner. This is the time that The Wifey had decided should be “their” time. Generally they go to the same heritage park and spend a few hours there, and then they come home and hang out together and maybe have company later in the day. They also post pictures of them kissing every Sunday, pretty much without fail.
Now I’ll admit I’m biased, because I hate gratuitous Facebook bragging. I think its weird and self-absorbed at best, and insensitive and crass at worst. I do not do it. I don’t know if their posting pictures of their from-scratch breakfast and of themselves kissing on the ferris wheel in all their smug couply-ness constitutes bragging. Maybe it doesn’t, but I think it might.
So anyway, having to see this week after week for months on end has just kind of grated on me. It’s not just the couple bragging, obviously. It’s me seeing my boyfriend and his wife during a time that I am banned from. As a rule. I know its petty, but it has started to bother me to the point that every time I see it I immediately hide it from my feed so that it’s not there staring me in the face every week. Call me petty, immature, insecure, whatever–I do what I need to.
I Googled “feeling left out” and “polyamory” and I didn’t find a lot for “Secondaries”. Everything was about the jealousy that a “Primary” partner feels, and nothing much addressed the feelings of the non-primary partner. This bothered me too, and I kept thinking back to all the times we’ve talked about me being “secondary,” and my issues with it. Something clicked, and in frustration I Googled, “I am not a secondary.” Jackpot.
Every time I hear the term secondary used, especially in regards to myself and my relationships, I inwardly recoil. I read a few articles about why some people, even if they are the second, non-live in partner, refuse to consider themselves secondaries. I identified with them strongly.
Being secondary implies that at all times, in all things, someone’s needs come after those of another person. That just isn’t okay, and its not a healthy way to have a relationship. If one of your lovers can never be a priority, then why are you with them? It might be fine for people who are just casually dating, but that isn’t the case for Papa Bear and I, and it isn’t okay for me.
The other issue is that it means you are defining one relationship in terms of another relationship. That, again, isn’t okay with me. Each relationship needs to be able to be what it is. My relationships are separate–my love for my husband doesn’t define how much I can love my boyfriend, and vice versa. No one is primary to me. Each relationship is its own thing, with its own needs, and has to be treated as such.
When I realized this, I told Papa Bear that I am not okay with hierarchical poly. I am not okay with the way he relates to me having to be first filtered through and compared with how he relates to The Wifey. I am not a secondary. I am not a relationship status or position, I am a person.
Now, to be fair, aside from the rules (which mostly center around ensuring that Papa Bear is with the Wifey at certain times on certain days for certain activties, each week), I do not feel like a secondary. Not really. If I need to be with Papa Bear, he will do his best to be there for me. He has taken an emergency day from work when I was having a personal crisis. He has picked me up from work when I have late meetings so I don’t have to walk in the dark, even if I am going home instead of out with him. He has paid for medication and medical procedures. He loves me, and I know that in his heart, I am not a secondary.
However. When issues come up where The Wifey and I are in conflict, I feel like the labels of secondary and primary give her the upper hand. I feel that she believes that since she was there first, she has a say in any and all changes that are made to their relationship due to my relationship with Papa Bear. And while that might make sense from her perspective, I believe that polyamory is all about freedom. Not the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want to, regardless of who it hurts. But the freedom to define, and re-define, all of your relationships and how you conduct yourselves in those relationships.
It is a chance to escape mono-normativity, and it requires getting rid of mono-normativity. If a person truly believes that they need to run everything they do with their girlfriend or boyfriend by their spouse, then that person should not be poly. If someone truly believes that they should be able to control the relationship their spouse has with their boyfriend or girlfriend, then that person should not be poly. It is one thing to express what you need from a relationship. It is another to have those needs impact the rights of the person you are with, to be free.
When we were having this talk, Papa Bear said that sometimes, when he and The Wifey are out on Sunday morning, she says that she’s a little upset because she knows that he would rather be with me. And that sometimes, he is thinking that he would rather be with me. Because The Wifey is absolutely free to express her needs and desires in a relationship. She is free to set boundaries around herself. But she doesn’t have the right to tell another fully-functioning, adult human being how he has to spend every Sunday morning for the rest of his life until the day he dies. She is only free to decide how she wants to spend her Sunday mornings.
It is Papa Bear who linked the idea of me being secondary–which he says is something he does not consider me to be–with the rules. He does not view me as his secondary, but because of The Wifey’s difficulties in thinking differently about marriage, that is the role I have been pushed into. There is no other way for me to be, and no other space for me to occupy, if she feels that she must always come first.
Meanwhile, Papa Bear has been thinking about his needs and boundaries. As someone who has never put himself first, in his marriage or in his life, this is honestly the first time that he has given his own boundaries any thought. And he said he realized that a major boundary for him, is having his time scheduled.
This surprised me, because when I broached the subject with him in the past, he became very defensive. And for awhile, he tried to get me to agree to have a schedule–he said it would be easier. I declined, because I need more freedom in my own life and more spontaneity in my relationships than that. But recently, when it seemed like we were on the verge of collapse, I conceded that a schedule might be the only way to ensure that our time is not interrupted, because the Wifey would know ahead of time that this is “our” time. It worked, to an extent. But in our recent discussion, Papa Bear told me that it is not working for him. At all.
He feels trapped. He feels resentful. He does not want to feel like he has no choice in what he does on a Sunday morning. He wants to take his wife to breakfast on Saturday before she works, because he wants to, not because he has to. He wants to be able to decide to hang out with me on a Sunday before 5 PM, if that’s what he feels like that day. He says he feels like he is just putting in time when it comes to “their” time–and who can blame him? How does he even know he wants to spend Sunday mornings or date night or Saturday breakfast with his wife, if he has no other option?
I thought he was just exploring the idea, but it turns out he is pretty serious about it. He says he cannot continue this way. I, of course, support him. I hate the schedules and I hate the rules–they are disingenuous and inorganic and controlling. He says he is done with them, and I want to believe him.
While we talked about it, he held me for a long time. We were doing our weirdo thing where we park in the middle of nowhere and snuggle in the back seat. We saw a rainbow. We saw a deer. I don’t believe in omens, but if I did…
Oh, and then we had crazy hot sex in the backseat!
Tonight is his date night with his wife. He says he is going to tell her that he does not want his life scheduled for him anymore. I was worried about it. I was terribly anxious that it was going to cause a huge fight. I was afraid that she was just going to say “No,” and things would just stay the same. And that’s still possible I suppose.
Today, though, she sent him a link to an article about Polyamory Without Rules. The article explains that rules are just a way of getting your needs met by controlling another person, and that the best way to get your needs met isn’t to tell your partner what to do, but instead what you need to feel and experience. Maybe this all came together at the right time. Maybe she is starting to realize that her way isn’t working. One can hope.