Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rule Number 58

In excess of eight months this year, PF and I were dating a fantastic woman. We all had a lot in common and shared a lot of great times.

Towards the end of the relationship, though, she wanted more time that I wasn't able to give her because of my commitments to PF and my work. She wanted something more in her life - something that would endure, around more, and be forward-looking to marriage - and that's not something either one of us could offer. Eventually, she did what was good for her.

I really can't blame her. But that's not going to stop me from over-analyzing it with you.

So here's what I think. The problem for secondaries is neutral buoyancy. They exist in a place where there's probably going to be little forward momentum. This is also a place where asking for too much may be perceived as a "cowboy"-maneuver (you know, a chic coming in and roping herself a new man). If you're seeing a secondary having already a primary relationship, you've already made commitments that preclude the secondary from becoming mondo-awesome - more. That commitment's a known fact, and everybody's in agreement to honor that commitment as to avoid strife and confusion.

So that's a trick: how do you maintain the spark in a vacuum?

In my experience with this, I think I have to come down to the "risk of the single secondary". Yep, this is one of my new rules now. And here it is.

Rule 58: Secondaries should always have a primary of their own.

Ta-da! Why?

Because they're committed to that, too, and they, too, can only offer neutral buoyancy. They have somebody to keep them warm at night when I'm not around; somebody to look forward with; somebody that can look after them; somebody that helps keep them focused on the future.

Woe to those who violate Rule 58 because it's a treading lightly on water thing. The single secondary may want more. They're not otherwise distracted by another relationship or a job. They're pining away somewhere while they know - in their heart - that they're lonely, yet, all of your needs are being pleasantly fulfilled with your primary. That sucks. Yep. A real sticky wicket.

So Rule 58 will figure prominently in my next ride on the merry-go-round. I'm thinking that it's a good rule of thumb for everybody.

What do you think? Do you think secondaries just get the raw end of the emotional stick? If you're a secondary, how do you deal with neutral buoyancy?



Pete Schult said...

Well, I can't say whether Rule 58 is universally applicable, but I think it is a good idea. My first romantic relationship was with a poly woman who had a few other relationships at the time. I was a secondary and still had the idea that I might become her primary. That's what made things difficult, and if I'd had someone else as a primary, things might have worked better. Or if I'd been more experienced, at least :-)

Anonymous said...

I do think it a good idea but... you never know when your secondary's primary might disappear, or become less important. So then you have the sneaky single secondary. Who sneaks in under pretense of being committed elsewhere but isn't really.

lynelle said...

i think you're onto something very important here. it seems crucial to identify what each person wants, and can give, and what each person wants to give, and how those things fit or don't fit.

and yet i don't think a rule is necessarily "the" answer, although it may be what works for you.

for me, whether i am the secondary or have a secondary, i want to choose people who support growth of relationships, even a secondary relationship. not in a way where residence, finances, and parenting aspects shift, and not in a way where existing commitments are broken.

yet in a way where secondaries can also plan, dream, and grow. where they can also take a dyad vacation now and then, have some holiday time together, and have their input heard, valued, and considered. where their voice also matters and prioritizing them, time with them, and enabling them to also plan time with their beloved is also a priority, within the parameters of each person's previous commitments.

i feel pretty strongly about this based on being a secondary (and i have a primary), and still wanting some growth that is available on my end and not seeming so on the other end. in the perfect vision of hindsight, i doubt a rule could have avoided this; yet if i'd let myself see some red flags, it's likely i would have had more internal clarity about that aspect of my criteria, and identified upfront whether the relationship seems viable for the level of connection i want.

those things would vary person to person and relationship to relationship, yet for me,even as a secondary, i'd want to connect with people who have room in their lives to also dream, plan, and grow with a secondary, over time, and if the feeling is mutual.

Unknown said...

I will not dictate what relationships any of my partners will have. He/she comes as they are - and heaven forbid NRE is in the mix for insisting that certain frameworks are there before proceeding.

All of us are in different places in life. All of us dream and hope and wonder what the future will hold - with our primaries and with our secondaries. Relationships are dynamic. Rule 58 sounds to me like a quick fix for complicated things - like people and life.

Dave said...

I think that Alisa's point is a valid warning IF you are going to blindly follow this "rule" as if it were handed down on high.

Ultimately this is about recognizing and setting expectations. Your expectations, to be sure, but mostly your potential new Secondary's expectations about what you have to offer.

I have never consciously stated a "Rule 58" for myself, but what I do have is the awareness of the underlying substance of it, and with my usual process things work out well. Of course my "usual process" proceeds at a glacial pace so there is a lot of time to discuss expectations.

Ultimately, the key is, to clearly communicate your expectations and what you can offer... and to get the same from your "person of interest".

If this "rule" is used as a "hold on here, before jumping into this relationship I need to do some extra communication about this because I'm aware of how this can cause problems", then great.

If it were simply a blanket rule that without any thought you would always discount any person who did not already have a primary, then, well, that seems a bit overly simplistic and self-defeating.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for reading!

I'd have to agree with you. I don't think that every potential partner that I meet should meet Rule 58 criteria; I don't think it's universally applicable. Certainly there are lots of people with lots of different circumstances, and not one size fits all. Yet having now dated three or four women who're otherwise poly and single - without a primary and other commitments – I'm thinking that things would have been a bit more balanced if they had other partners to be with.

I think next time around, I do want to try to have a secondary relationship with a counter-weight (Rule 58 – where the secondary has a primary of her own) just to see what that balance looks like. I also think the benefit of that “balance” would spill over to the relationship with PF, where she'd feel more comfortable with overnights, outings, and so on.


Thanks for reading!

You're right! There's risk in everything, I suppose; hopefully there'd be enough emotional stability in the relationship to help guide it through life changes. If the secondary is lying about their relationships elsewhere – yikes! Honesty is a whole other can of worms, and that sounds like a boiling-rabbit situation. At that time, I'd probably need to check out the malfunction of my picker (grin).


Thanks for reading!

I was thinking about this Rule 58-thing after a recent breakup, and I was mulling over the, you know, “what could I have done to make this better”, self-introspection process. I do believe that there were other conditions and circumstances that would have prevented the relationship from being fulfilling for everybody, but this is one idea that struck me. I've never been in a poly relationship with a secondary where she had a strong primary relationship, and I figured that could be a direction to look at.

I'd love to experience a growth-oriented secondary relationship! I hope it comes my way. I've seen some long-term examples of this kind of growth from a local pod with six people in LTR's … perfect examples of growth and nurturing in secondary relationships. Otherwise, my personal exposure is limited. :(


Grin – Thanks for reading! So glad you found us!

With Rule 58, I don't think I'm trying to dictate conditions for a relationship, per se. I wouldn't use Rule 58 as a deal-breaker for getting together with someone, I'm sure, but Rule 58 will stick-out in my mind when negotiating time, or dates, or balancing children/play. I think Rule 58 – for me – serves as a precaution. Not so much a quick fix, but just an awareness, that I may be introducing someone that needs more attention than I can give. I guess it goes back to PF's discussion on per-negotiation, and being absolutely clear on what time/energy/resources you're able to contribute.


Thanks for reading!

I agree. If Rule 58 were applied consistently for every situation, I also think that there'd miss some missed opportunity. I may be bypassing a good thing just out of the fear of potential imbalance. Myself, secretly – and tell no one... this is just between you and me – I'm afraid of choosing poorly. I'm very afraid that I'll pick a nutball who wants all of my time and is willing to use guilt, sex, lies... whatever kind of tool... to receive more attention, or, disrupt my primary relationship. Paranoia? Yes! Well, probably (Anonymous mentioned the lying secondary, yikes!), and I can see that, but aside from PF and my handful of poly-relationships, I really haven't had a strong track record for picking partners. They usually eat my head. I'm just a mantis-man whose been bit once too often, I suppose (grin).

Thanks yall -

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...this sort of makes single poly people seem rather like pariahs in the world of poly and leaves single poly people with very few options for dating.

But then again, it is something that I came across many times when I was single. The catch 22 of being poly without a primary and nobody who is already poly willing to be available for such a style of relationship.

I also think your post made a lot of assumptions of the emotional state of a person who is poly without a primary (lonely, desperate for company, etc).

Hmm..yeah. If I had been subject to rule 58, I'd probably still be single and wondering if poly was a viable option for me as a relationship structure.

Abby said...

"If this "rule" is used as a "hold on here, before jumping into this relationship I need to do some extra communication about this because I'm aware of how this can cause problems", then great."

Hear hear. There are lots of ways to live one's life that are healthy. I think there's something to be said for a person being their own primary. I have a very busy work, personal and social life, and I can barely keep up with my secondary relationship and handful of awesome tertiaries. I focus on taking care of myself and having a blast first and foremost.

Will I want more in time? Perhaps. And maybe someone new will waltz into my life and sweep me off my feet, or maybe my GF and I will find the time and energy to become a deeper part of one another's lives. But for now this totally works for me. And I think that if something ultimately doesn't crystallize into what you might have hoped for that that doesn't mean it didn't "work", y'know?

polyfulcrum said...

For more recently anonymous poster: Yes, I understand that there is a bit of a catch 22 inherent in Rule 58, if applied universally and consistently. However, that doesn't seem to be much different to me than people that have concerns about dating someone who has a child, or is unemployed, or kinky/vanilla.

Most of us have noticed patterns in our dating lives that don't seem to produce the desired results. If you re-read the original post, Rule 58 seems to be more a strategy that S is looking to apply until he feels like his picker is more refined, and he can discern the differences between a single person who has great skills at being single, and one who is really looking for a level of relationship he currently cannot provide.

My experiences have paralleled S's for the most part, up to and including a stalker, and someone that was ready to move in after a month of casual dating. Those types of experiences tend to put caution flags around similar circumstances in the future, but it certainly doesn't need to define them in perpetuity.

So, for those of you that feel like being "poly single" is a barrier to entry, be able to demonstrate and communicate clearly that you aren't one of the "lonely, desperate for company" types out there. Be the exception to the rule.

Anonymous said...

I do wonder how many of the behaviours you have encountered are due to a person not having a primary or due to a person just being bad at dating. I think there's a difference. I often see people perceiving a causal relationship where there isn't one. I think making assumptions about a person and the motivations of a person based on their circumstances and not on their behaviour can sometimes lead to a confirmation bias about what a single secondary means and what they may want.

Obviously the circumstances one describes about a secondary wanting a deeper relationship and you not being able to offer one is hard, but such a circumstance can arise just as easily with a secondary you may be dating who already has a primary as well. Not everyone approaches dating with the goals of filling in all the blanks. Perhaps the person you dated wanted a deeper relationship because she wanted a deeper relationship, not because she didn't have a primary and wanted to fill that blank in her life.

polyfulcrum said...


While confirmation bias is something to remain conscious about, in this case, I'll defer to what the partners have actually told me. "I need a primary relationship, you don't have that available to give, so this relationship isn't giving me what I need." or "I always want to spend more time than you have available." or other variations on these themes.

When several different dating partners, over several different years, sharing very little in common but the part where they are poly-single, have similar concerns or issues, it seems likely that there may be a pattern emerging.

Patterns are things that I find useful to recognize because I try not to repeat decisions and behaviours that haven't produced a desirable result without making sure that something is different. I also dislike constantly reinventing the wheel.

Having no other partners isn't something to lock in as an absolute disqualifier, but it is a factor that I find requires additional discussion and consideration. See my example in the next post up about my other partner, D. He's otherwise single, no kids, and currently without work. He's also really clear on what I have available to share with him, what factors in my life aren't up for negotiation, and has shown that someone with good communication and relationship skills can make this set of circumstances work quite well.

Anonymous said...

Does the person know they're a secondary? Let's just say being honest from the get, kinda necessary. Usually helps clarify things for all parties involved if the newcomer is aware of what's going on. I came into something completely blind, why I didn't look into it further..I don't know but now I'm paying dearly. Loving her was so easy...but good love always is. Eight or so months later her primary(I'm just learning about all this now, the whole primary secondary...thirdry*grins*) says...We're gonna be a three or it's over!" I was like "Whoa...hold up what...why's that?" Just is she says. Ok...huh%&#@$ I've never done this...quite literally felt like a 500 pound man sat on my chest in that moment and knocked the wind out of me. Over ..what? So I'm in awwwe thinking, she wouldn't just up and leave me, she loves me. Well she did...just like that nothing...all in a days work I guess. I loved her so very much always

Anonymous said...

I liked the post, but disagree about the rule! In a triad relationship you can have a healthy primary/secondary mix where everyone gets their needs met, and no one has to feel left out or lonely. I do agree, however, that it is a delicate balance that requires LOTS of communication. But then again, everything about poly requires communication. ;-)

AR said...

I agree with the others who were basically saying that "Rule" 58 is good to use as a strategy more than a rule. However, I'd like to say that just because the secondary has his/her own primary does NOT mean that they won't do the same sort of thing.

My husband has a secondary who is married. However, she feels that hierarchies are unethical. She also wants a deeper level of commitment from my husband. That might have worked out if she and I had anything in common other than a sex partner. In fact, we are essentially diametrically opposed in most everything else. Not a chance at friendship there!

The tension has led to much drama, hatred, and unhappiness. If I had understood precisely what it was that she needed and wanted, I would have been even more vocal about being opposed to the idea from the get-go, which hopefully would have led to more conversation about what everybody involved was looking for and whether there could be any suitable situation formed.

Racheal Jacobs said...

Do you think any one person can have two or more primary relationships?