September 3, 2013 by aggiesez
A common myth about polyamory is that it defaults to hierarchy — which means that if you have any partners at all, then at least one of them must (or at least should) be your “primary.” That kind of presumption probably reflects ingrained monogamous thinking, which is hard for anyone to shake in this culture.
But many poly people (especially lots of solo poly people) don’t apply hierarchy to their network of relationships. It is totally possible to have several partners — even long-lasting, deeply committed relationships — yet none of them are “primary.”
Some people believe (consciously or not) that relationships must hold an acknowledged rank or status in order to feel or appear truly important, valid or meaningful. That’s not wrong: If that’s really the way you feel or what you really need, that’s OK. It’s a valid choice. Of course, on its own, a label can’t guarantee the strength, health, quality or longevity of a relationship. But as long as you’re not mistaking form for substance, go for it.
For others, importance is not signified by labels or defaults, but rather by how you focus your emotions, attention, and energy on a day-to-day basis; how you balance priorities in your decisions (ideally without throwing anyone under the bus). From this perspective, hierarchical labels can seem at best a distraction, and at worst potentially sabotaging. Not defaulting to a hierarchy provides flexibility: priorities can shift collaboratively in response to circumstances — which means no one partner automatically “always comes first.” Ideally everyone gives a little, and gets a lot — just not all at the same time.
Surprisingly, I stand a bit on the hierarchical side. I actually do have a primary partner: ME!
Considering my own needs and goals first is what allows me to be a great partner, lover, friend, and family/community member. That doesn’t mean I believe what I want/need should always trump what others want/need. But it does mean that I have a commitment to knowing and not ignoring or devaluing what I want/need, and to speak up for myself. Because when I know and accept myself, I then know what I can realistically offer others. Then, I’m really able to negotiate in good faith.
So yeah, being my own primary partner is a label — but for me, it’s a useful one. (YMMV, of course.)