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.
That's the ballpark I'm at with it for using those words.
I think it's moot though because for who it MATTERS? It's the people I'm involved with and what OUR vocab preferences are.
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.
This does not compute in my world. Why would anyone sit around feeling inferior instead of going simple and speaking up to clarify? Get the word so you can let go of the emotion that is ugh. You don't pick what to feel when you feel it. You get to choose how to respond to the feeling -- manage it, process it, clear the air. REACT to emotion or ACT WITH INTENT? I prefer to act.
"When you SAY ____, does that mean ______? Clarify, verify please." (sit with feedback, come to conclusion, report.)
"Ok, I see how you mean it. I am ok with it. You can call me that." OR "I do not like the word ___. Please call me ____ instead. Thanks."
When I was open, I didn't have a huge poly vocab. I didn't even know the word "polyamourous" til after I was living it. I was young, the world wide web was barely getting moving. I had few to little sources, and by the time the first edition of "Ethical Slut" hit the bookstores and I finally met another poly person to friend it was like -"I want to be closing down to marriage space time now. Where was all this when I could have used it better when I wanted to be in open space?"
I used to call my then BF/ now DH "my lover" or "my boyfriend."
"Lover" was a clear vocabulary word for what he was to me to anyone else. This is a person I have sex with, this is a person I date. "My boyfriend" was clear about the dating, ambivalent about lover but after a certain amount of time people assume.
To him, because he was in our inner circle of 2, our initial agreement was "sweetness and light for a year. Friends with benefits, lover, boyfriend person. No past, no future. Just enjoy the now for a year. Then we see what we see."
I had decided my wants, needs, and limits and just put it out there in my dating life. He signed up. A few others did, one other made it to long term rship. The rest decided it wasn't their scene after all. Fair enough. There was ugh moments, but nobody could say I hadn't been honest.
- Do not lie to me. It's a deal breaker. Hard truth it to me. I can take it.
- I am not exclusive right now. No interest.
- I am ok with you seeing other people. I expect to see others too, so fair is fair. Don't date me if that's not your scene. We can be friends.
- Just keep it clean and give me the heads up if it will go loverly so I can make an informed decision about my health BEFORE you go there. No unplanned babies or cooties. I feel this is reasonable expectation. Do not play with me if you can't hack that. Lies of omission are LIES.
- If one of yours is changing, I can check out and we can be friends or we can see about renegotiating with the new person if this is going to be some overlappy thing. But just TELL me the news. I will tell you mine.
- I do not need to know every little thing. I only get excited when it is time to get excited. Just tell me someone new is in the picture. After that tell me when there's something to get excited about like it is looking to go lover. All the rest I don't need to know if you don't want to tell and some of it I don't want or even need to know. I figure you on same page unless you tell me otherwise on my others. We can fine tune specifics there.
- Repeat -- do not LIE. That's the quickest way to get me all excited in way you DO NOT WANT. Hard truth it to me or don't even bother to play here.
Over the years it's become this.
But it is much the same style.
A framework, adaptable. Our conflict resolution style is another thing, but really? He became husband over the years because we fly well together.
My other boyfriend (and back then he went by NAME, because I had no idea of the word "Secondary" and I articulated only to then BF/Now DH that there was this person in the picture and it was functioning on LDR basis) also flew well despite some bumps. But he was not destined to be rship of a lifetime. He was a long season -- spanning a few years and it was lovely, and I have good memories. When the season ended, unknown to me he contact my then BF/now DH to look after me well because I was precious. DH agreed and they left it knowledge to themselves for a long, long time.
DH told me about it years later. I was stunned. It was touching compersion moment even at the end of a season. (Didn't know the word "compersion" then but there were many other compersion-y moments like it).
I had no expectation of them to interact at all much less go THERE -- regular evidence of compersion-y. I just thought I was lucky that the metas (who didn't even have that word to describe each other) played so well without too much jealousy FLAK going on -- they knew the other existed, they knew how to get in touch, I figured I did my job and what they made of it was on them. Maybe it was because I was clear in my wants, needs, limits? And pushed them to articulate theirs? We had stormy weather but most of it? Was the sweetness and light.
And we did it with no "official poly vocab."
So to me it isn't about vocab. It's more about the willingness of the person to speak their truth to their people and be in right relationship with each other.