Hierarchical vee relationship or not

Terrsha

New member
Hi folks,

I'm wondering what anyone's opinion is when it comes to hierarchies in relationships?

I've only very recently become 'actively' poly, and have been seeing a man (J) for a few months. He and his wife (A) have been together 11 years in total. Now, to me, it's only right and appropriate that she 'out-ranks' me, partly because they're married but mostly just because of how much longer they've been together.

I'm also J's first relationship since he got married. A has been struggling with it, and struggling very loudly! However, the three of us went for coffee a while ago to try and begin some sort of friendship between me and A. She said that she was going to do her best to be supportive, for J's sake. She also said that both of them didn't believe in 'hierarchical' relationships with a primary, secondary, etc. I felt that it was very nice of them both to say that, but I couldn't agree with them because, for whatever reason, I've always been more comfortable with the primary-secondary paradigm.

A and I have been emailing, to try to become friends. It's going..... ok.... ish. She has a habit of slipping in some little unnecessary sentence about how she and J had a lovely cuddly night in on Saturday, or how great he is when she's upset, or whatever. I feel uncomfortable with this. I don't know if it's a modicum of jealousy, or if I just feel weird hearing about their private married life together. When I do feel like this, the only thing settles me is to remind myself that, as his wife, she outranks me.

Now weirdly enough, J told me last night that A has been asking for a more ‘hierarchical’ setup, wherein I’ll be called the secondary. I was surprised that she was going back on her word, but otherwise not surprised. I’m also not at all uncomfortable with the idea because as far as I’m concerned, I’m already secondary to his wife of years! But J hates the idea because he feels like it makes his feelings for me out to be less valid.

I’m like a newborn to the poly world and haven’t a notion how to deal with A’s jealousy, my own (kinda) jealousy, and just everything! I get that what’s going on between J and A is between them to sort out, so I’m not looking for advice so much as… insights! I’m very curious to know what people think about this hierarchy thing in general.

Looking forward to chatting with everyone!
 

central

Member
Approaching things theoretically is one thing, but when it comes down to living it, our issues get in the way. Sometimes, time and experience teach us to overcome the insecurities, or find a way to live with them in some way that works for all involved.

I think the key element is for all involved to have a real say in what they want and how they want things to work, and if agreement can be reached, all is good. However, that doesn't always happen, and then you have to decide whether to wait and hope for changes over time as everyone learns and adapts (keeping the conversation going, hopefully, in the meantime), or to move on.
 

Inyourendo

New member
How about he call you his girlfriend? I don't see the need for labels like secondary. To me ot makes it sound like she calls the shots and you get whatever scraps you get. I also don't really feel like it's necessary for you to be involved with her, clearly you are uncomfomfortabke with the correspondence, maybe keep it on the minimum you need to to play nice. She wants the label because it makes her more comfortable being in control and being higher than you have.
 

GreenAcres

New member
I don't do heirachy, but I don't see anything inherently wrong with it if:

1) Evreryone involved agrees
2) The model doesn't abuse anyone, denigrate their needs and value as a person, and doesn't attempt to exert control over one party.
3) Meets everyone's needs

So, if this works for you, then I can't see what's wrong with it. Her jealousy is, unfortunately, not something you can work on. That's on her. And him, a a hinge, to keep you out of. If you don't want to correspond with her, etc., you don't have to. That said, keep in mind that, while it may be your boundary to have no contact with a metamour, it may not be the agreement they come to, so you'll need to decide if you want to be at all flexible, or if it's hard boundary for you.
 

Terrsha

New member
Thanks for your replies everyone. Whoo I needed to get that off my chest!

He does call me his girlfriend but I can’t bring myself to call him my boyfriend. For one thing, I feel it’s a little early for those words even if we were monogamous, but also because to me they are synonymous with ‘partner’ and I find that I can only use that word about just one person. Just how I roll! But anyway she has no issue with me being called his girlfriend - it’s more about, as you say, her getting to call the shots. For example, she’s going through some mental health issues at the moment so she wants to able to call him when he’s out with me and have him come straight home. It sounds unfair on paper but I honestly have no issue with this, partly because I’ve had depression and know how important it is to feel that you have someone who will drop everything to take care of you, and it might really contribute towards her recovery. But J put his foot down about that because he and I don’t get to see each other very often because I work crazy hours. Well, we meet up once a week actually but sure you know yourself when you can’t get enough of the person!!

But anyway. So basically what we have is a vee where both the legs want it to be hierarchical but the hinge doesn’t!

Her health problems are also the reason I don’t want to just cut down on contact between me and A, because she has said that getting to know me is helping her get over some of her jealousy issues.
 

Confused

New member
You can be secondary in practical terms (just meaning less time spent together, lower degrees of life entwinement) without it saying anything about the feelings involved. You can define the word between you as it applies to your situation or make up a new one just for you if you like.
 

Terrsha

New member
Confused, I completely agree and that's exactly what I've been trying to communicate to him. Thank you for phrasing it like that!
 

kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
People tend to frown on hierarchies, and I always used to congratulate myself for being in an all-primary V. But then I realized ... what if I started dating someone new? They wouldn't be considered primary unless/until they were "added to our V." They certainly wouldn't be considered primary on my first date with them!

So, I think that all people practice a certain amount of hierarchical thinking, even if they invent special terminology to avoid realizing it. I think it only matters if the secondary person is objectified somehow.

My suggestion is let J and A work out the problem. It is a "silly problem" because what you're called is less important than how you're treated. I suppose you can refer to yourself as whatever you want. Perhaps you consider yourself "just a friend" for now. It's up to you.
 

GreenAcres

New member
I think "primary" and "secondary" get conflated with "new" and "Casual," as well, which can make things confusing. I don't do heirarchy, but I certainly do new and casual. New or casual is about how I relate to people in my life independently, whereas primary or secondary is about relating to people in comparison to others. Of course someone isn't going to become my primary on our first date (or, probably, on our first 20); but, then again, neither would they become a primary partner for me that quickly if I were single and totally monogamous. It has nothing to do with whether or not I am dating someone else, it's simply that the relationship isn't that emotional and invested, and we're just getting to know each other. That doesn't make them "secondary," just new and possibly casual. In either case, my relationship with them would be independent, not subject to other's will or comparative. They get the same consideration anyone would get as a person I am newly dating, regardless of who else I am dating. It works exactly the same way for me with friendship.

Beyond that, primary and secondary mean different things to different people. They have super negative connotations to me, because pretty much every poly person I've ever interacted with IRL uses them to justify couple privilege and treat the secondary as a sub human, with the primary having veto power and the secondary getting pretty much tossed aside whenever things get inconvenient. So, yeah, I don't do that. As has been discussed on the forums before, though, there are people who use it to mean simply that they have more practical entanglements with one partner, and less with others.

Given that being "secondary" could mean a whole lot of things ranging from not much to incredibly restrictive and dehumanizing, if you think that's what she is asking for, it's probably worth having a talk with BF about exactly what that means to each of you, so you're all on the same page (he may misunderstand her request, as well, or not be clear, which could be part of the discomfort?). As far as what she calls your relationship with BF, who cares? As long as you and he understand and agree on the boundaries of your relationship, that's really all that matters.
 
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AspiringChill

New member
Hey Terrsha,

I had a similar, yet not the same experience in the beginning of my current dynamic. I was the impetus for my girlfriend to open up her relationship with her boyfriend (now fiance) of four years. She, being the wonderful optimistic individual that she is, wanted absolutely no hierarchies, no putting anyone "first" because she loved the both of us. It worked out in theory only.

My girlfriend was already living with her boyfriend at the time and had a busy and fairly unpredictable schedule because of her job at the time. Added to that Her boyfriend wholeheartedly did not want to interact with me on any level so the times at which she and I could see each other and even communicate were limited. Furthermore because she was undertaking the opening up of her relationship a great deal of time and effort was spent by her trying to soothe her boyfriend's feelings.

Which is all to say, even though there won't be a label attached, in effect the existing relationship was primary. Their lives were tied together by greater contact, finanaces, and the plain fact their connection had some length and depth. Even today, after she and I have been together four years, there's still that undercurrent of hierarchy even if it's not being spoken aloud.

The important part, Terrsha, is that you and J are meeting whatever agreements you have made with regards to your new relationship. It can go from slippery slope to waterslide if you start making even tiny exceptions on agreements because A is not comfortable with certain things now or suddenly in the future, mental health or not, jealousy flaring or not. Poly forces you to take a hard look at what you want/need and what you are comfortable with in regards to getting those things fulfilled. kdt26417 is right that J and A need to work out their own system for navigating polyamory, but it's just as important you do the same with and especially without J.
 

Terrsha

New member
Hey AspiringChill,

Thank you very much for sharing that with me! As you say, not the same but similar, so it was reassuring for me to read. It can feel sometimes like everyone but me had it all worked out from the start ;)

I can see that the hierarchy is unavoidable when there are living arrangements/finances involved. J says that time isn’t a factor when it comes to relationships but that’s nonsense! Time is one of the main factors when it comes to both the depth of a connection and the extent to which two people’s lives become joined. I feel like J is mixing up two different elements of relationships and trying to pretend that he can realistically have two equal relationships with his wife of many years, and a girlfriend of a few months! That just makes no sense to me.

Having said that, it sort of reminds me of when I was in primary school and everyone was talking about their best friend, their second-best friend, third-best and so on. And if you had a fight with a friend, you’d say “You’re not my second-best friend anymore, now X is my second-best friend and Y is my third-best friend. You’re only my fourth-best! *raspberry*”


One thing I think I need is to meet someone else, because very soon I’m going to feel uncomfortable with the asymmetry in the situation.
 

FallenAngelina

Well-known member
Having said that, it sort of reminds me of when I was in primary school and everyone was talking about their best friend, their second-best friend, third-best and so on. And if you had a fight with a friend, you’d say “You’re not my second-best friend anymore, now X is my second-best friend and Y is my third-best friend. You’re only my fourth-best! *raspberry*”

Ha! This has got to be a universal girl thing. I had the same experience growing up in California.
 

A2Poly

New member
I feel like J is mixing up two different elements of relationships and trying to pretend that he can realistically have two equal relationships with his wife of many years, and a girlfriend of a few months! That just makes no sense to me.

I feel equal to Djinn. I sure didn't at first, and I, too, was caught up in the 'they share a house and finances and kids' vs. my being long distance. But that just means that my relationship with Mal has a different shape, not that it isn't as committed or as intense. He saw that potential very early on, it took me months to realize what he meant though.
 

Terrsha

New member
But that just means that my relationship with Mal has a different shape, not that it isn't as committed or as intense.

Hmm, that's actually an interesting way of putting it. That's given me something to think about, thank you!
 
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