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-   -   Coming in as a "third" or "secondary" -- easier for some than others? (http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showthread.php?t=14745)

AnnabelMore 09-20-2011 06:31 AM

Coming in as a "third" or "secondary" -- easier for some than others?
While reading an old thread, I found that this post of Mono's really struck a chord for me:

"To aproach the idea of being a third from my perspective I use the concept of the supporting actor. I have always preferred not to lead although in my line of work people are drawn to follow me. I find that I am most comfortable when I am supporting a boss I respect essentially. I like being the right hand man and the temporary lead in some cases if they are not available.

I think this is another reason that I feel so comfortable in our "V" as a "secondary" primary. I respect her husband and his position as her husband.

Every movie needs a supporting actor! I like my role and think it suits me well. Redpepper's husband is the lead man in her life but I will do my best to support him. Maybe I'll even get an Academy Award :rolleyes:"

Wow! As it happens, this description fits me exactly. I ended up managing people at my old job and I found I really didn't like it. I prefer to see people as peers rather than being in charge of them, though I'm willing to take a leadership role if necessary and am usually pretty good at it. I am happiest when I've got a boss I really like and respect. I like to follow a strong leader.

Followers get such a bad rap! What's a leader without a follower or two? I think what a lot of people don't appreciate is that a follower can be highly choosy in terms of who they follow, and, once they've made a choice, their competence and loyalty can be invaluable.

My friend Thom and I had a great conversation along these lines about how we are happy to be sidekicks in our friendship dynamics. As it happens, he's the one friend of mine who is also dating a married woman, so he and I talk poly regularly.

Do people like me, Mono, and Thom... people who naturally don't seek to be in charge in other areas of our lives... have an easier time being secondaries or thirds? In other words, whether in a triad or vee configuration, is it easier for us to join an existing relationship dynamic, such as a marriage?

Another point to consider... Mono is submissive in the D/s sense to RP, his partner, who is married to someone else. I also find myself drawn to a submissive role with Gia, my married gf. Thom is not kinky, as it happens. But I also find myself thinking of GG, Loving Radiance's boyfriend. For those who haven't read her blog, LR has a husband and GG is essentially co-primary, but he was still in the position of having to figure out how to fit into an existing marriage. Does an urge towards submissiveness also make it easier to be a third and/or a secondary?

Are the two things -- being comfortable with being a follower or supporting actor or sidekick or however you want to put it and being submissive as a sexual/relational tendency -- two sides of the same coin? And does that coin buy you an easier and/or more fulfilling entrance into a relationship where you are not necessarily first (whether that means chronologically or hierarchically)?


redpepper 09-20-2011 03:34 PM

Its hard work what you describe, for the hinge of a vee. Sometimes not work I want where my two men are co-pilots. Thankfully PN is not a co-pilot but a pilot of his own plane also. Mono is not my secondary, he has to pilot his own plane.

I do not want to be the controller or boss of anyone. I kind of resented that and still do. Secondary to me is based on money, assets and children. I don't want to be co-dependant with my partners and this kind of hierarchy breeds it more than in monogamous relationships I think. I personally would be wary of any partner who wants and upholds a heirarchy that is based on the one described in your post AnnabelMore.

The idea is to walk together, not be owned, bossed around, controlled or made to take no responsibility in ones life. Be very careful with this kind of dynamic. I fear it breeds laziness and lack of personal responsibility. Don't assume your shared love wants to be boss for the rest of her life. That kind of dynamic means she is not independent and if she is anything like me she may just end up feeling smothered and resentful.

Thankfully we made some changes naturally and keep the domming to the bed room. We all have our own lives and it works better for us.

SourGirl 09-20-2011 03:39 PM

I am sure some people have both going on, but more likely its 50/50 or less.

I am not submissive, and I don`t want to be more then a secondary (preferrably less ) role to anyone else.

You will have people who are secondaries or tertiaries due to logistics. They simply don`t have the time for fulfilling primary roles. They happily only engage in secondary or tertiary roles. I can think of a couple of men I know, who are divorced and raising their children. They do not want a 'step-mommy' in the picture. They are not seeking to be, nor desire to have, a primary. Neither are submissive.

I know a female who is poly-oriented, however, makes it clear she only sees her poly partners as secondaries or tertiaries. When the monogamous man, and the white picket fences comes into the picture,..bye-bye secondaries. Essentially she is the 'leader' by design, yet sexually submissive.

redpepper 09-20-2011 03:54 PM

Hey. Sorry, I feel like was putting my stuff on you A. I didn't mean to come across that way. I hope you get something out of what I say just the same. Just some stuff going on here... That is unrelated.

AnnabelMore 09-20-2011 04:10 PM

Hey RP, I checked with Mono to make sure he was ok with the topic of this post and me using his words and life as a jumping off point before posting... I probably should have checked with you too, I certainly don't want to misrepresent your life or call you out in an inappropriate way. So, apologies if I did that.

"The idea is to walk together, not be owned, bossed around, controlled or made to take no responsibility in ones life. Be very careful with this kind of dynamic. I fear it breeds laziness and lack of personal responsibility. Don't assume your shared love wants to be boss for the rest of her life. That kind of dynamic means she is not independent and if she is anything like me she may just end up feeling smothered and resentful."

For the record, my relationship with Gia is nothing like what you describe there, so don't worry. I don't let her make all of the decisions and she doesn't seek to. We both have full responsibility for our lives. If we ever do choose to make D/s a bigger part of our lives, well, power exchange would be involved. But I have faith in each of us, in our integrity as strong individuals who know ourselves and know what we want, so I believe we'd do it in a healthy way.

However, I do really appreciate your warning. Since she and I have not, in fact, negotiated a power dynamic that is other than egalitarian, I have to remind myself... just every now and then, but it happens... not to start deferring to her in ways that are going to give her more responsibility than she wants or make her feel put upon. I think she would identify a lot with your concerns about feeling smothered or resentful, and would also agree that being a hinge is a role that looks like it's all cake from the outside but involves a lot of hard work!

In terms of co-dependence or damaging hierarchy, again, I didn't mean to imply that those things are present here -- I truly don't believe that they are. I greatly respect the life that you, PN and Mono have built. And I see a great deal of health, strength, flexibility and potential for growth in my relationship with Gia. It's not like she's my whole life and I'm just a passing fling to her. But is there a hierarchy? Yes. Her primary relationship, with her husband, takes precedence in her life, for a variety of reasons. She would never leave me just because he asked. But if something came up from the outside... a move across the country for instance... she would do what she had to to preserve her relationship with him versus prioritizing her relationship with me. I am ok with that. Hierarchy seems to be a really dirty word around here, but I see it for what it is and I accept that it's not about levels of love or respect, it's a practical thing.

Some people, though, have a hard time accepting the idea of not being "first" in this way, especially when they're not first with someone who really, really matters to them. I've seen folks ponder that on this board, and struggle mightily in situations where they are either in a secondary relationship, or showed up third, timeline-wise, in a relationship that involves three people and thus are going to have to fit themselves in to an existing dynamic. A dynamic that will, in time, change to accomodate them (assuming the relationship is healthy) but that isn't always so flexible to start.

In both cases -- whether you're in a secondary position or you're a third -- there's a letting go of ego that has to take place. You're forced to see -- and accept -- the idea that "this is not all about me."

I'm not saying that naturally dominant folks can't deal with that. What I was pondering was whether or not it might be harder for them, and easier for people who are used to happily accepting the idea of not being in charge... whether at work, with friends, in the bedroom, or in a D/s lifestyle setting (and don't get me wrong, I'm *not* trying to conflate any of those things, though I realize I may have skirted that line with my "two sides of the same coin" question... I know that you can easily like one or more of those things without seeking the others).

Does that all make sense? I'm open to the idea that I'm totally off base here, but this is actually a set of thoughts that's been brewing quietly in the back of my head for a while now. Reading Mono's two year old post and thinking "YES, that's completely me!" just brought it to the fore.

AnnabelMore 09-20-2011 04:31 PM

@SG -- Thanks for the input. As soon as I put up the original post I thought to myself "I am probably making a connection here with way too small of a sample size, this is kinda silly. I'm sure that people will have plenty of counter examples, buuuuut... I'm still curious." :)

@RP -- Thank you. These are some potentially heavy, deeply personal topics and while your words were strong and took me aback a little, I appreciated that you made it about cautions and concerns, not an attack or a declaration of what my life is like. Best of luck on the stuff you're dealing with!

AnnabelMore 09-20-2011 06:00 PM

I guess another way to frame this could be -- for some people, do the same qualities that lead them to often be happy playing a supportive role and not necessarily being "in charge" also help them handle certain types of poly relationships? But at that point we're getting so broad that I'm not sure there's much to say.

I'm reminded of the thread I started a few months ago about bipolar and poly, when I thought I might be seeing some kind of correlation there. I guess it's a natural human tendency to look for trends to try to understand our world and our lives. The danger of course is that we can mistake a blip for a trend, or simply extrapolate too far.

I greatly look forward to the day when social scientists consider poly an exciting field of research and actually do studies on questions like what tends to make poly relationships work or fail and related questions. :)

opalescent 09-20-2011 07:16 PM


Thanks for creating this interesting thread. Beloved and I are struggling right now and one of things we are trying to work through is what is a partner. (Partner for us means primary in this context.) Primary means that person and that relationship come first in my priorities - before all others. I'm good being a tertiary or secondary interest when I have my primary ducks in a row. Part of being a secondary in my world is that it is organized in part by not being a primary relationship - the two terms rely on each other to be fully defined. (This works for me - I know others do things differently.) So as long as things are defined well, and change when it happens is managed, then I do well as a secondary or tertiary. I understand the roles I play in other people's lives and I'm generally fine with that. I'm a switch - my sexual interactions depend greatly on the energies of the people I am interacting with - and that can vary greatly from moment to moment, day to day. So I doubt that submissiveness leads to better acceptance of secondary-ness although I also doubt that it would detrimental either. Likely neutral in the end.

SourGirl 09-20-2011 07:46 PM


Originally Posted by AnnabelMore (Post 103022)
I guess another way to frame this could be -- for some people, do the same qualities that lead them to often be happy playing a supportive role and not necessarily being "in charge" also help them handle certain types of poly relationships?

This is the part of your question(s) that has me wondering. You seem to naturally equate a secondary role as 'following'.

You can have people who only lead themselves. By design of time and structure the role is secondary. This does not mean they take a subservient role on delegating tasks, final say, etc.

Compare this to a race.

To one person , 2nd place is the first-place loser.
To another person, it might be a fantastic finish, that exceeded their expectations.

Both are cases of people competitive, and with a desire to win. Neither is a subordinate due to a 2nd place finish. Their attitude on the outcome is what makes them different.

I know you know this. I just think it`s hard for people to come to a general conclusion about how 'easier' it is to be a secondary, based on people having submissive tendencies or not.

It has far more to do with the application of knowing what you want, and your expectations being in line, with what is being offered to you.

If those things are not in line, then people struggle. Fear grabs a hold of them, and hurts and pains feel greater.

If someone has done enough self-analysis to know they are submissive by nature, then it stands to reason, they have done enough analyzing to know what type of role they want with poly relationships.

While others, who may not play in a bdsm, 50`s lifestyle, or anything else that provokes a self-labelling, might get into a situation of being a secondary, only to realize through experience, they do not want that. Live and learn, so to speak.

Regardless, there is a whole lotta difference between bottoms, subs, slaves, and 'taken-in-hand' concepts. So much, that I would guess the opposite.

The wife that desires a take-in-hand relationship feels she has offered a gift, and would refuse to take a backseat to someone else. ( For example.)

redpepper 09-20-2011 10:26 PM

Thanks A :) I get where you are coming from now and the usage of the quote. I don't think submissive and secondary go hand in hand really, but maybe for you they do. And Mono too maybe. Although its been changed up due to negotiating when I feel good about being dominate and when I don't and won't.

There was no need to ask me about the quote, although I appreciate your consideration. Mono and I don't agree on everythjing and this topic is one of them. Its really a none issue to m$e as it isn't my quote.

The best part about being poly and in the kind of relationship dynamic we are in (its not really about poly, but I find poly people choose a similar path to me relationship wise. Besides it works well with poly) is that I don't have to agree with him, take on his belief system, do as he does or back him up because I am not him and he does and thinks stuff that I wouldn't. Sure I support hom but not to the detriment of my own beliefs. :)

Anyway, good luck with this interesting topic.

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