Feelings, Rules, and Hierarchy
The underlying basis of a hierarchical system of relationships is, essentially, a power imbalance in those relationships - the “higher up” relationships have greater power than the “lower down” the pecking order relationships, and some power over them, usually. One of the reasons that this can be snuck into a system that claims to be non-hierarchical is that these imbalances are often more subtle than the stereotypical (and obvious) veto power held by a primary partner.
These more subtle ways of “sneaking things in” can be things like accommodating one partner’s fears with rules that another doesn’t want or fully agree to. A ‘primary’ partner who has a fear of particular STIs or a trauma-based reaction has a valid fear or a valid trauma - because all feelings are valid - but all actions and all treatments of other people and relationships aren’t valid or ethical. If we’re trying to make our non-monogamy ethical, we’ve got to examine our choices. If everyone comes in eyes open, and all rules are consented to by all parties, that’s one thing, but imposing post-hoc rules on people “from above” because of primacy (or being secondary when they’re tertiary or a comet or what have you on the outskirts of a system, rather than letting them negotiate a relationship directly with their partner) is a kind of sneaky hierarchy that deserves a “throw the whole relationship away” gif being sent to you by your best friend when they hear about it.
I talked last time about taking your partners’ concerns into account - I meant all your partners, and not in a way that denies you final choice over your relationships, if you read carefully. Autonomy is important. You may have noticed I’m a fan of non-hierarchical relationships who likes words way too much to ever be a relationship anarchist. (They can put that in my obituary - one of my obituaries; I’ve left careful instructions to be as mysterious as possible about my life, including multiple misleading obits in different papers.) This means that I don’t mind how you define your relationships, but I’m more likely to have nesting partners and anchor partners and boyfriends and lovers and fwbs and “ah yes my partner who loves books even more than I did in university” and comets, and less likely to have primary, secondary, and tertiary partners.
Our concerns, our feelings, our considerations, as I said on Monday, should matter to our partners (as well as to ourselves - as a recovering people-pleaser, I know what it’s like to have a list of people whose opinions are more important than mine in any major decision)but that doesn’t mean that we should allow those concerns to impact the different relationships we’ve entered into. If we’re with A, D, and F, F doesn’t get to dictate any terms for A or D, nor D for A or F, nor A for D or F, and none of them, separately or in committee, for any new relationships we enter into, despite the fact that I think they can help us take off rose colored glasses before we start a new relationship so that we can see red flags where before there were just… flags.
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