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Priorities and Hierarchy

Let's talk Relationship Anarchy, priorities, and hierarchy.

Those of you who are even a little familiar with relationship anarchy (even if only here at the blog, not from elsewhere in the world) have some sense that it is an anti-hierarchical philosophy. This is one of the defining points of relationship anarchist philosophy. In the very first tenet of the RA manifesto, it says "One person in your life does not need to be named primary for the relationship to be real." That is to say - you don't need to have hierarchy to add meaning to your network of relationships. In his book Relationship Anarchy, Juan-Carlos Perez-Cortes says "To start with, relationship anarchy is opposed to relationship hierarchies. It is as far removed from the monogamous structure (which is hegemonic in th capitalist West and in many other places) as it is from religious or traditional polygamies associated with equally normative structures (both polygyny and polyandry) that can be found in different cultures (for example, in the West, as with Mormon communities). It is not a question of establishing comparisons or awful cultural supremecisms but rather defending the secular, non normative nature of the anarchist framework." Perez-Cortez continues for several paragraphs and comes to the conclusion that what relationship anarchy is is inclusive, regardless of whether folks have trauma, abandonment issues, etc; the goal being to build networks of collective care that uphold each other without coercion.

Today, on Instagram, I saw a post from Plura (@heyplura), who are doing a series on definitions of non-monogamous words. In it they define Hierarchical Polyamory as "a style of polyamory where some partners are prioritized over others." This immediately struck me as too broad and an inaccurate definition.

"But Laura," you might say, "It's how you start your own definition of this concept." Yes. And over time, I've come to an understanding of this in practice where the second half of that definition - where a primary partner is given rule-setting power around secondary partnerships and what the limits of those partnerships are - to be the real difference between whether we're just talking about where our time is spent, which is not actually hierarchical, or inhabiting a hierarchy.

Priorities can shift all the time; things that are not partners may actually be our highest priorities at any moment and we may be equally prioritizing (or not, depending whom you ask) our partners at any time. We also may be highly prioritizing parts of our lives that involve one or two partners (like children, or a home renovation) and not all of them - and just like someone who works 70 hours a week and doesn't see that changing for 3-5 years needs to be honest about their bandwidth so that folks can opt into dating them, folks with a nesting partner who they have small children with need to disclose the actual priority time that takes. The average working woman with kids spends about 18 hours a week on housework and childcare outside work hours; the average working man with kids, about 15 hours. (A little more when the kids are smaller.) It's easy, in the throes of NRE, to convince ourselves that we can do it all, no matter what. But so long as we don't over-promise to new partners, and we're honest about what we're offering, they can then opt in or out with us. And if the partner who we're most entangled with isn't making top-down rules about the new relationships (no "veto power"; no setting curfews on dates or defining a ceiling on your partners' interactions with their other partners that they don't create themselves), that's not a hierarchy no matter what language we feel like using about it.

If we want to say primary and secondary for a situation where, as in the example above, we have a partner with whom we're highly entangled and others who we're less entangled with, we can. Language is a tool! We should use it to do what we want it to! So if you think your point - that you have a lot of priorities in life that will come before a particular relationship - will be really well served by calling it secondary, do that. Or, if you know someone who, like our guest poster here, loves being secondary because they're almost at saturation, you can use that term to both your comfort. But generally these days, hierarchy is viewed as a pretty capitalist, commodifying way to look at human relationships, and it's fallen dramatically out of favor in the polyamorous community as a result. The influence of RA-style thinking on the polyamorous community can be seen in this, in the examination of mononormativity as a concept, and in folks's deconstruction from various normativities that intersect from relationships they may be in when they start polyamorous journeys.

So, for me - a hierarchical relationship exists if you're giving partners CONSISTENT priority, AND ALSO rule-making power around other relationships. Our day-to-day priorities may shift and without rule-making and veto-style powers these are at best descriptive labels (which you can feel free to use!) not prescriptive ones that give us an idea of how the relationship functions.

Come hang out with me and Annie Undone on 4/24 for a class on normativities and the relationship escalator: "I'm Out!" Stepping Off The Relationship Escalator

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jane Lily
jane Lily
May 09

Maintaining a blog can provide a range of benefits. I really loved reading your really helpful piece. gacha life


After many lines, Perez-Cortez concludes that relational anarchy is inclusive, regardless of a person's history of trauma, abandonment issues, etc. The idea is to create networks of mutual support where people may support one another without compulsion. Read: hill climb racing


Glynn _
Glynn _
May 06

Great distinction between hierarchy and more of a 'priorities' based structure. Always looking for language to help define my relationships and their distinctions, I'll certainly be working "entangled" into the mix.


This highlights the impact of RA-style thinking on the polyamorous community through an analysis of mononormativity run 3


Perez-Cortez continues for several paragraphs and comes to the conclusion that what relationship anarchy is is inclusive, regardless of whether folks have trauma, abandonment issues, etc; the goal being to build networks of collective care that uphold each other without coercion. drift boss

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