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Old 07-19-2012, 12:04 AM
Tonberry Tonberry is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Canada
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Default Primary and Secondary: could there be other terms?

I realise the primary/secondary issue has been discussed a lot, but I saw this in another thread:

Originally Posted by Marcus View Post
The whole "primary/secondary" classification is not something I've really thought about until I came onto these boards. I have been acquainted with a couple of triads and folks in open relationships and have heard these terms but I hadn't put much thought into it. It seems that everyone gets a rank in the hierarchy, primary is the relationship that matters and secondary is the relationship that doesn't. Sugar coat it all you want, but that is the truth of the matter as far as I can tell (if it isn't, you guys might really consider using language that is not explicitly hierarchical).

I have no problem with people being in relationships that make them happy, but if these boards have a story to tell it is that these "secondary" relationships tend to have some real frustration. I can't blame them, I wouldn't enjoy being classified as secondary (or primary, for that matter) and would see myself to the door if I found that's how I was being thought of. This idea of assigning rank to relationships seems very dogmatic to me, archaic even. Why would I ever tell someone that I loved "I love you, but your life and feelings are not as important as my primary, get used to it"? That just seems cruel to me.

To find out how it feels to be a secondary partner you need only read through these boards. The general consensus, as far as I can tell, is that it feels about the way that it sounds... like being secondary.
And I wanted to talk more about it.

First, for me "primary" and "secondary" are badly worded descriptions of stages. You can have several primary relationships, or you can have none. Same with secondary relationships. To me a primary relationship is the kind where you live together or share responsibilities in raising a child, or share finances, etc. Secondary relationships are less involved into each other's lives. Some people also talk about tertiary partners, which as far as I can tell means casual and/or very rare (once a year or less) encounters.
To me, these are different stages, and I wouldn't expect anyone I date to start at a primary level. But I understand how the root and numbers (one, two, three) are misleading. It sounds like a ranking system.
Sure, I know you can have two secondary partners and no primaries, or two primaries and no secondaries, for instance, and so all partners are at the same "stage". It's not like you can only have one of each.

While I don't like the idea of stages that much, either (it gives the impression that a secondary relationship is less evolved, or that every relationship ends up being primary at some point), I feel like it makes it more apparent that it's something that can evolve and change, and not something fixed. I'm all for people keeping the words "primary" and "secondary" when they have rules in place about who can be what - as much as I think it's pointless to try and decide how relationships are going to turn out rather than let them develop on their own - but I definitely like the idea of other terms for when it's a description.

We have many people on these boards. Maybe we can come up with something. It doesn't matter if it's only used on the boards, I think it could still have its benefits. Of course, nobody is required to use any labels to begin with, and sometimes just describing each relationship, although it takes more time, might be the best way to go.

I think what is typically considered a primary relationship has as a major factor a commitment outside the relationship. That is, if the relationship was to suddenly end, there would be something left to deal with: a child to raise together, a place that is still being shared, a joint account, a marriage in place. So I think we could use a term that reflects that, although I can't think of any.
For secondary relationships, I can't think of any way to describe them except saying it's "in the dating stage", but I'm worried it sounds less important than it might be.

Of course using this previous description, we could say "relationship with outside commitment" and "relationship with no outside commitment" but that's kind of a mouthful.

I realise it's often pointless to try and find new terms or redefine existing terms. But this specific issue has been there for a long time. There are lots of misunderstandings about what primary/secondary might mean, and it can be off-putting for someone to know they'll be "secondary", when if it was described as "You don't have to move in with me or help raise my kids", the partner would be happy about it rather than feel inferior because of it.

Going back to the idea of stages, I guess we could define Stage A, Stage B, Stage C or something (with letters rather than numbers, because they don't necessarily come one after the other), but that would not explain much I'm afraid.

Personally I also find the "boyfriend" or "husband" distinction useful for that purpose, but the problem is that people give you weird looks when you talk about husbands in plural, and that many people seem not to want to say "husband" (or wife) about someone they're not legally married to.
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