In my last blog post I wrote about the benefits of dating married people. Namely that dating isn’t always about finding someone to marry, but finding joy in relationships regardless of their potential for long-term commitment. Being a secondary also means that the relationship can focus on pleasure, and not on parenting, finances, housekeeping, and other mundane obligations that married couples have to tend to. Also, you can have a wonderful relationship with someone you would not want to live with or be married to. Polyamory enables us to have rewarding relationships that would not be allowed under conventional circumstances.
While I have enjoyed relationships in which I was a secondary, I also struggled with feelings that such a position engendered. The secondary does not have the luxury of a marriage bond to help them feel secure in a relationship. If things do not work out, it is more likely that the married partner would break up with the secondary rather than with the spouse. The married couple is also a unit approved of by society, so their relationship is supported by their family and friends while relationships with secondaries have to be kept secret or explained to friends and family members.
I am not discussing swinging, monogamish relationships, or other arrangements where the secondary is a diversion or casual encounter, and the secondary partner is ok with that. I am talking about situations where a secondary is nearly a primary partner, or would like to be if circumstances allowed. In these cases the term “secondary” is problematic, as it implies lesser status. People who do not want to give their partner inferior status sometimes use the term co-primary. But co-primary implies equality in all things, which is not the case if two partners are married and the other is not, or if two partners live together and the other does not, or if two partners share children and the other does not. But on a basic level, a secondary is someone who enters a relationship with the mutual partner after the primary. So from now on, I am going to call this person, the second, or #2.
The married (or otherwise primary) couple has many privileges granted to them by society as well as reinforced internally which are not shared by seconds. Disadvantages /inequalities include
- Because I don’t live with my partner, I don’t get to spend as much time with him as does his spouse. I am not able to enjoy everyday life with my partner, such as going grocery shopping, cooking dinner together, or waking up together every morning.
- While I may be able to devote all my available relational energy to my partner, my partner must devote a portion of his relational energy to his spouse. I am not able to see my partner or talk to him anytime I want because his availability is constrained by obligations to his spouse.
- If my partner comes back from a long trip, or has important news to share, his spouse and children will be the first to hear it.
- If my partner decides to have another lover, I will have to sacrifice my time with him, and not his spouse.
- Feeling that the needs of my partner’s spouse come before my needs. For example, if my partner’s spouse has a bad day, he can put our plans on hold to comfort her. If I have a bad day, his obligations to his family will not be put on hold for me. If I want to talk to my partner while he is spending time with his family, our conversation will be put on hold until his family decides that they no longer need him.
- Not feeling as needed by my partner as I need him. While my partner is my sole source of fun, companionship, and emotional support, he already has others who fill those needs for him. This creates an imbalance where a withdrawal of attention from my partner has a greater impact on me than a withdrawal of attention from me has on my partner.
- My partner can easily end our relationship, whereas he cannot easily end his relationship with his spouse.
- If my relationship with my partner no longer pleases his spouse, she has the ability to make it more difficult for us to continue our relationship.
- While I am alone when I am not with my partner, my partner is not alone without me.
- No matter how much I love my partner and invest in our relationship, I can never have the security, commitment and interdependence that he has with his spouse.
- My partner and his spouse share history, property, and children that strengthen their bond in ways that are not available to my relationship with him.
- My partner is able to be public about his relationship with his spouse. He can kiss her in public and post pictures of himself with his spouse on Facebook. My partner can refer to his spouse as “my wife,” whereas he refers to me as “my friend” when we are with others who do not know our relationship.
- My partner’s spouse is treated with importance and consideration by his friends and family. I am treated with less consideration because I am not even a potential spouse.
- When it comes to major holidays, birthdays, or vacations, my partner’s spouse and family has priority.
- In the event of an emergency, my partner’s spouse will be the one who is contacted and given access to my partner, not me.
- If my partner dies, his spouse will be the one who receives money, casseroles, bouquets, hugs, and sympathy cards. No one will know or care about my loss, even if I am equally devastated.
For some seconds, this extensive list is by no means exhaustive. For individuals who cohabit with both of their partners, the disparities may be much less. For the uninitiated it may feel like why would anyone want to be a second?
But for those who are a second to a married couple, or contemplating entering into such a relationship, what are ways to deal with these disparities, or even turn them into opportunities for spiritual growth?
Photo: The Duchess, Director Saul Dibb