Poly dating has lots of sides to it. Today I would like to talk about the pros and cons of being the polyamorous secondary partner. I am not the world’s expert on poly dating, but I do have some experience in polyamorous dating, knowledge on the subject, have gone to some poly discussion groups and have friends who are openly poly.
I have been both the primary and secondary partner in a poly dating situation. Currently I am the secondary partner to a man who has straight, primary female partner, who he is not living with. She has a married, straight, secondary, male poly partner who she does not live with. The guy I am dating has been with his primary partner for 3 years and the guy I am dating has had several secondary poly partners over that time.
This is just one of the many, many configurations that poly partnering can take. If you can imagine it, then probably someone has done it.
In college I was in an open relationship with a guy who was my primary partner and who didn’t want to commit. We had a “tell each other after it happened” plan which worked extremely poorly. I would not recommend that plan at all.
In my 20 year marriage, I had an open relationship the last 5 years. Our intimate life was getting to be non-existent and I thought that opening the marriage would help. While it did help at first, despite several typical problems of rule creating and jealousy, it did lead my husband to realize that he preferred men to women. Ultimately we decided to separate and that has been very difficult for me.
I recently met a man whom I really liked and gradually fell in love with. I asked him if he was poly on the first date, just because I had run into many men who were already sleeping with other women and had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about it. I don’t think that policy is ethical. If you are sleeping with more than one person, you have an obligation to tell everyone involved, IMO.
When he told me he was in fact poly I was not thrilled about the fact at all. I thought about it for a long time. I finally decided that since I was going through a transnational phase of separation, being a secondary partner would be OK. I was not at all ready to have someone move in with me and I probably will not be for quite awhile. While I really don’t like having to share my partner with someone else, I do like the part time nature of the relationship right now. Long term however, I don’t think that being a secondary partner will work for me.
I had a long discussion about the topic of secondary partnerships with one of my poly friends recently. He suggested these rules for success as being a secondary poly partner:
1. You are not really a “relationship” person, and part time is just as much as you will ever need.
2. You are in transition after a big break up and part time is all you can handle right now.
3. You have your own primary partner and just want a little more.
I think he is totally right, and I can feel that eventually I will be none of the above and the relationship will have to change or end. I have told my partner this and he is fine with it. The one thing I do love about poly is the openness and ability to talk about everything.
Update: I gave poly the old college try for 8 months and it failed for me. I really wanted it to work. It all looked so good on paper, but the reality was different for me. I read a bunch of books on the topic, but I still could not get past the intense jealousy and loneliness I felt. Breaking up was extremely painful since I still cared about the man I was dating. It works for some people but I am just not emotionally equipped for it. In a perfect poly world I would just stay friends with him. I don’t think that will happen either. It would be too painful for me.
The best book I read on the topic of open relationships was Opening Up.
The second best book was The Polyamory Handbook
I hope you have more luck with it than I did.
After much thought and a few experiences, I decided to give poly another shot. One key factor that was missing in my last relationship was that I never got to meet the other woman. This is supposed to help reduce jealousy and increase compersion (happiness for your partner enjoying the love of someone else). After accidentally running into my former boyfriend and his other girlfriend at a club one night, I contacted my former boyfriend and said I would be willing to reunite if I could contact his other girlfriend. She had a “don’t ask don’t tell policy”, which really made the relationship non-monogamous, not polyamorous. He got her to call me and we had a long chat and text. It did not go very smoothly since she was drunk and angry at him but I think in the long run it will make poly enjoyable for me.
The other key factor that was missing was that I only had one partner while he had two. I am now dating several other men. I am hoping this will bring more fun and less loneliness in my life.
I realized that the reason the relationship ended was that I got vetoed through manipulation by my partner’s other partner (OSO). I am reading a book called “More Than Two” which discusses vetoes and other poly dysfunction in depth.
I also realized the reason I was uncomfortable with the relationship was that power was not allowed to flow from the primary partnership to the secondary partnership over time as I became more involved. This is a common problem in poly discussed in “More Than Two” and it often ends in death of relationships. For example, I was not allowed to see my partner on the weekends unless his other partner was working. I kept asking for a more fair distribution of time and was repeatedly shot down.
So my poly experiment got cancelled due to the high dysfunction of my partner and his OSO. One was a workaholic and the other had issues with drugs and alcohol and also was very manipulative and deceitful. For poly to work, like with monogamy, you need good functionality of everyone concerned.
Update: 6 Months Later
I have met another poly man and ran into the whole primary vs. secondary issue once again. I realize now that it is important to decide what kind of type you want when going into a relationship and to make sure that the other person wants the same thing.
I realize that I want to have both a primary and a secondary relationship now with two separate men. I am three years post separation and am ready for a new primary relationship. I am not comfortable having a closed monogamous relationship anymore.
When my new partner met someone else who was single recently, I felt intense jealousy of her. After awhile I realized I felt that intense jealousy because I wanted him as primary and was scared I would be placed back into the secondary position like I was in my last relationship. While in theory love is unlimited, time is not, and I really wanted someone to spend my weekends with and maybe even move in with in the future.
He has since reassured me that he wants me as primary too i.e. wants to spend his weekends with me and not her. The jealousy seems to have gone away for now.
I found a poly friendly therapist to help me untangle all these feelings. A good source to find poly friendly therapists is the Openlist.
Update: 12 Months Later
I decided I am not really poly. Maybe a 2 on the poly scale. I could tolerate the jealousy when my bi/gay husband went out with men, but could not tolerate it with either of my straight boyfriends. Luckily my boyfriend agreed to go mono so maybe my middle aged dating days are over.