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Old 12-11-2012, 01:52 AM
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rory rory is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: Europe
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Despite this being a thread intended for thoughts and experiences more than a discussion, I'd like to address this

Originally Posted by WhatHappened View Post
Honesty requires, in part, admitting that the egalitarian ideal works better as a theory than as a reality.
the reason I disagree with this is not because there aren't people who claim to live by that ideal and fail to do so (whether intentionally or not). The reason is that this line of thought lets them off the hook way too easy. It is not the ideal that is at fault, it is the person who isn't able/willing to put the work into what they say they will. I.e. being honest about hierarchy doesn't mean saying "it's probably impossible to reach an egalitarian situation", it means saying "I am not willing/able to prioritise my relationship with you, or your feelings, to have those difficult talks with my other partner, or to go through the challenges of making changes that would make things more fair towards you". It's not because the ideal can't work, it's because making it work requires hard work.


Do you believe couple privilege exists? How would you define it? (Or how would you adjust my proposed definition?)

I do think couple privilege exists. However, I am unsure how much to include within the concept. I definitely see it encompassing societal and cultural support, recognition, and financial benefits to individuals in a specific kind of relationship. I am more on the fence about specific activities those individuals choose in relating to other people.

An example from mainstream culture: a married woman cheats on her husband with a friend. Circle of friends find out, and the affair ends. The husband forgives the wife, and both stop talking with the lover, as do all the people of the friend circle. I would say the reason why the lover is ostracised and the wife is not, is definitely couple priviledge. However, I am unsure about the other aspects, the choices made by the people in the original couple. They do exist within a context of couple privilege, which also influences the likelihood of certain decisions over others. However, I am not sure if the definition of privilege allows defining individual's decisions as privilege, isn't it more that individual decisions are made in the context of privilege..?

That is, I am not sure the word can bend to all uses without the concept loosing its usefulness/clarity. I am not familiar with the concept of "invoking privilege", is that used by writing that has to do with privilege in other context (gender, race, etc.)?

Is couple privilege harmful, neutral or beneficial in poly/open relationships, or in the poly/open community? Why or why not?

I think it is useful to approach privilege as something that simply is. Pretty much everybody has some kind of privilege, and mostly you can't really get rid of it even if you wanted to. I, for example, cannot wish myself to be non-white. I guess I could end my marriage in order to no longer have couple privilege, but don't really see that as a valid reason... I do consider it an ethical responsibility to be aware of privilege so that one doesn't harm others. Privilege is not always necessary for causing harm, rather, it makes specific kind of harm hard to notice because it's culturally sanctioned.

To use a poly example, a married man starts dating a woman. His wife is initially fine with this, and the V is in existence for some time. However, at some point the wife starts to feel threatened and demands the husband breaks up with his girlfriend. The shared partner chooses to preserve his marriage by dumping the gf. Now, he might do it for whatever reasons, but couple privilege affects the situation in many ways. Firstly, the choise of divorce is less likely than breaking up with the new partner, since the former carries more social consequences. Secondly, in the ultimatum situation there's this narrative which makes that "the right thing to do". He can feel like he has to do it. Even the girlfriend may support it, because she doesn't want to "break up the marriage". This is the way in which the harm done to the non-primary partner becomes invisible. The whole belief system rests on couple privilege: the issuing of ultimatums to prove own position as most important, the obscuring of the husband's responsibility in the choices he makes and shifting it onto the "third" who came to disrupt the couple, the preservance of marriage at all costs, the perception of "the third" as less important...

(Btw, sorry about the hereronormative examples, it's just that I didn't wish to make things more complicated with straight privilege and using same gender for all makes it confusing which he/she I'm talking about )

How would you like to see couple privilege addressed in the poly/open community at large?

I would say there is a need for a deeper challenging of couple-based assumptions and practices. More awareness of couple privilege as it is in poly, and even more as a cultural phenomenon. And avoiding support for couple privilege in our own personal life as well as privileging couples over solos in poly spaces. Not imposing couple-centric or hierarchical relationship models on other people's relationships.

If you eschew hierarchy and/or labels in your poly/open relationships, how do you “walk that talk” regarding couple privilege?

This is an incredibly broad question. I will share some of my experience. I met Mya about 1,5 years ago. Both of us had a long-term partner, both original couples were open but not poly. With the consent of all, Mya and I started a relationship, and so we became an N. Later, the situation evolved into a V with me in the middle (non-poly-related reasons). Throughout the poly relationship, I have lived with Alec. Mya and I were first in an LDR, and she lived with her partner. She now lives alone, and the three of us live in the same city.

Being in two relationships, I started with the aim of equality, which I largely (subconsciously) equated with sameness. Not maybe as "everything has to be the same right now" but as "the eventual aim is symmetry". I think this was valuable at the beginning of poly in terms of being open to changes. However, at some point it started to become increasingly clear that the aim of symmetry was not always something that aligned with what the people involved actually wanted. Also, it seemed that the aversion towards hierarchy (plus some internalised relationship-escalator-as-measure-of-serious-relationship assumptions) was something that caused pressure towards equality. So, the aim of equality as symmetry moved aside, and was replaced by more flexible decision making based on what all want.

I think there are some aspects that have been incredibly helpful. Firstly, I don't view my poly life as something separate from other aspects of my life. Secondly, I used to have an autonomous relationship when monogamous, and I have not changed this since becoming poly. These tie in together, and I will try to illustrate.

When monogamous, I would make decisions concerning the ways in which I spend my time autonomously. Obviously, I want to spend some time with my partner, so that fact will be factored into the decision-making, along with any preferences he has expressed in the past. But if I want to see a friend, I will make plans with my friend and let my partner know about it. If he has any wishes, he is free to express them - e.g. "I have Sundays off and would like to see you then" - and I am happy to consider them in the future, but I will not cancel plans with other people once I've made them. When opening up, there is no reason to change this method - i.e. when making plans with another partner, I will not start asking for his permission, or even checking with him in advance, any more than I do when I'm making plans with a friend. He is as free to express his wishes as he's always been, and I am happy to take them into account in the future.

Poly is not separate from life. Romantic relationships are relationships. I will make my own decisions autonomously as I've always done. If my partner expresses wishes, I will consider them based on their reasonability, validity, and my own judgement; not based on some hierarchical status. I would not cancel plans with a friend simply because my partner asked me to, and I will not cancel plans with a newer partner because older partner asked me to. I would not give up a friendship simply because my partner wants me to or doesn't like my friend, nor would I break up with a person for those kind of reasons. You get the picture. None of these situations have ever happened. I doubt any of them will ever happen, because there is a mutual respect for each other's autonomy, which recognises that unreasonable demands don't become any more reasonable in romantic relationships. That is not to say that we are above that - more that we all know ultimatums etc. would not be met with compliance, because, eventually, none of us want the kinds of relationships where they are used.

Egalitarian relationships are a process. We have established a relationship life and routines that work for us. However, there is a need to remain open to change in order to take into consideration potentially changing wishes. That is the key; consideration. Doesn't mean you need to change everything, or accommodate everything your partners want, or compromise everything. It means to take seriously the wants and wishes of all people involved, whatever they are and become.
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