“So they’re your main partner, then?”
“Which is the most important relationship?”
“If you really love them you put them first”
These are words I frequently hear from my monogamous friends when we’re talking about my non-monogamous relationships. The script tells us that that humans should be part of a couple – one, romantic/sexual relationship/partnership. My friends can accept that it might be possible, desirable even, to be open to other sexual partners – a bit of honest, open, fun on the side – as long as there’s one primary ‘life partner’ to build a life with.
So does this mean that if you’re happy living alone – or if you don’t choose to intertwine your romance with your day-to-day life stuff – if you’d rather not share all your meals, holidays, family- life, washing up, and life plans with one special person – you’re somehow missing out?
I live with my two children. To the outside world I look like a single parent, maybe dating. And I am in several, committed, long term, romantic relationships – very not single – ‘solo poly’. I don’t have that one life partner my friends expect to see – I have a combination of friends, lovers, colleagues, family, acquaintances and partners that are involved in different parts of my life and fulfil many of my relationship wants and needs. And amongst those, one or two who know and care about the daily narrative of my life, who are completely in my corner, there when I want someone to lean on – committed, loving, connected, supportive – their presence feels like home. I have prioritised and nurtured those relationships – and they have prioritised me. Yet it isn’t a hierarchy – it is flexible, not fixed – nobody is ‘the most important’.
I have several friends who are committed solo polyamorists – they have chosen to invest in their autonomy and personal space, and if they put any relationship first, it’s the one they have with themself. One of my friends actually married themself, in a ceremony celebrating self love – something many of us could own and celebrate a bit more, when we feel it.
I am solo poly more by circumstance than choice. I would be pleased to share a domestic space – with a partner, and/or friend, and/or metamour*, and/or combination of people that all want and choose that kind of companionship. If it is in my future to live with a partner again, I will continue to resist the assumption that the partner I live with is ‘the most important’.
Resisting hierarchical assumptions isn’t always easy. Immersed in the social scripts, the idea of being someone’s special one person – being ‘the most important’ – can be seductive. We all want to know we are valued, we are a priority, we are loved. Yet the notion of ‘most important’ is largely meaningless, because each relationship is unique, and no relationship is static. When when there’s no script to follow, then relationships evolve in all kinds of directions, morphing around the interaction of both partners’ wants, needs, feelings, circumstances, energies and passions.
Exploring those possibilities, and committing to the authenticity of a relationship means you don’t place rules or limits on your partner’s choices. Instead, you practice acceptance. You can’t make another person feel or want something – you can express your feelings, wants, needs and boundaries, and you can ask them to express theirs. Then you can choose to work together to find a way forward, or sideways, or in wild zig-zags and spirals. You can choose commit to keep doing that with them – and you can choose to stop.
I’ve found myself in situations in my relationships where there have been imbalances of priorities. These can be due to life circumstances (factors such as a change of job, health, location) and they can be due to the ebb and flow of my partners’ other relationships.
It’s perfectly reasonable for your partner to prioritise other people sometimes, whether they be other partners, or friends, family, colleagues, etc. The script tells us that when we’re de-prioritised we should feel jealousy or envy towards what/whoever has greater priority. These feelings aren’t ‘wrong’ and neither are they inevitable.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard someone question if they were ‘doing polyamory wrong’ because they weren’t feeling **compersion and joy. Unlearning the script can be hard work – and poly wobbles are very common!
Whether you’re in one relationship or more, it can feel easier to follow a script, not really exploring deeper, more authentic wants, needs and boundaries, just assuming that you’re both on the same page so it’s OK. It’s challenging to question whether one and only ‘life partners’ can really always feel, act and behave like each other’s ‘most important relationship’ – we all need other human connections, and sometimes those must take priority.
Loving off script, I’ve sat with my own feelings and listened to my heart – and I’ve got better at recognising and expressing what I want, what I need, and where my boundaries lie. I’ve got better at recognising when someone won’t or can’t prioritise me, and making sure that I prioritise myself. Sometimes, for a while, I will be someone’s no1 top priority, the ‘most important’ in the now – and sometimes I wont. I really don’t want to be stuck in that ‘primary’ position, at the epicentre of someone’s world, unable to choose my own path. And I won’t fix anyone like that in my world. I will love them, with a fierce commitment to be truthful to that unique love, whatever shape we make the path we walk together.
When priorities become imbalanced, as long as my needs and wants are being met, my boundaries respected, I can find acceptance.
Practicing that acceptance has brought me increased self awareness, self esteem, peace, and deep, authentic love.
It is what it is, and what it is, is free.
*metamour – The partner of one’s partner, with whom one does not share a direct sexual or loving relationship.
**compersion – The feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another – contrasted with jealousy.
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