Polyamory, Hierarchies and Veto Power

The last day or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about relationship mapping and hierarchies. Awhile ago I had decided that I was not in any position to be having hierarchical relationships. Part of my thought process in deciding that was realizing that I don’t want various partners to feel less special than other partners in my life, and likewise it doesn’t make me feel very good to be one of the less important partners. It really sucks being a secondary when every interaction with your partner must be petitioned, evaluated and approved by their primary partner. It sucks. But. Being that primary partner and doing all of that negotiating is also exhausting and even sometimes just fuel for more drama. Other times, these “requests” for time spent with another partner actually bring up important things that need to be discussed, and that help the primary pair grow closer. Still, I think that if everyone is communicating in ways that are respectful, timely, and bravely honest, then these kinds of dramatic discussions would be obsolete.

This is all coming out sounding extremely idealistic… and just as a disclaimer, I’d like to note that hierarchical terms like “primary” and “secondary” are problematic to me. Perhaps it is only natural that we have deeper connection and stronger fondness and greater desire for some people than others, but does that mean we care for and/or love them to varying degrees? In my case, I feel confident in saying that I have a baseline equal love for everyone. But my degree of connection, fondness, and desire for my partners can vary drastically. I’m starting to understand that the place where hierarchies become most apparent, or most useful is in the issue of time. There is only so much time in each day, in each week, and in each life. Hierarchies are relevant because they influence how we choose to spend our time and who is “deserving” of our time. It would seem reasonable that we should devote the most time to any person or persons with whom we are “building a life together.” I mean that in the most simplistic sense. These are people who we expect to factor strongly in our future, and those who hold the greatest mutual responsibility, whether they are our legally or socially recognized spouses or not. The task of doling out our own time is affected by a variety of concerns, though I think it comes down to our own personal desire. We should spend whatever length of time we want with whomever we want – and we must expect that those desires will reveal things to us about ourselves and our relationships – maybe even things that we have been hiding from ourselves or our partners. What happens if we want to spend more time with our so-called “secondary” partner than we want to spend with our primary partner?

I have been in situations as a secondary where the person I’m interacting with has to literally drop everything and run home to their primary partner because they just happened to have a disastrous emotional crisis during the three-hour time slot in which I was scheduled for quality time. I don’t mean that people should try to manage their crises so that they fall at a convenient time, but it becomes suspect to me when it happens repeatedly. Alternatively, after a few dates, the primary partner may begin to feel that they are uncomfortable with the arrangement, even though I had received “approval” from them up to that point. It really sucks to be told, “I can’t spend time with you anymore because my primary partner won’t let me.” Is that fair to any party? From that perspective, veto power sucks. On the other hand, what if the other person your partner is interacting with is a low-life, a drama queen, or for some reason you perceive that interacting with them would be a bad idea? So maybe, speak up and voice your opinion, keeping in mind that your opinion may or may not affect your partner’s actions. But isn’t it a warning flag if you can’t trust your partner to (a) interact with quality individuals, (b) if they do have concerns and go ahead with it anyway, to still own their decisions and accept the risks? Who am I to say that my partner shouldn’t date a particular person? How do I really know if my own motives are pure? I would rather entrust that evaluation to someone who doesn’t have a dog in the fight – a partner’s trusted friend, for example.

There are a lot of things that I still have to release. Philosophically, I have a problem with veto power, although, letting go of that power, or any power one might wield over another person, is a solemn undertaking.  Still, I don’t think it’s fair to say “you can’t have veto power over me, but I can have veto power over you and others.” You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. For me, it is coming back to trust. A polyamorous relationship that is free of veto power cannot be successful without profound trust and fearless, explicit honesty. You can’t be too polite. You have to just say your words and be prepared to truly hear the truth that will be spoken to you.

I still think that hierarchies and veto power are shrapnel from monogamy that remain lodged in the places where polyamory is vulnerable, but things are also more complicated than that. And maybe a little scary. And definitely not for the faint of heart.


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