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Old 02-25-2012, 11:40 AM
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Default Is hierarchy problematic or just fine?

There are some discussions about terminology, where the question of hierarchy is sometimes talked about for a bit. The general consensus seems to be usually "whatever works". I am not one who has any interest in passing judgement on anybody, and my goal in starting this thread is definitely not in attacking anybody or their relationships.

I myself do not have a clear opinion about the question I am posing. I myself don't do hierarchical relationships, whether romantic or not, (e.g. my husband is no more important to me than my friend just because he is my husband), but I certainly do not think something is wrong just because I don't do that. Please, do know that it is not my intention to pass judgement or to cause conflict or divisions or to define The One Right Way To Do Poly.

I was just thinking about the statement "hierarchy is not a problem in itself, if it is not abused". And I am not sure I would agree with that.

For example, the Bible says that man is to be the head of household/ his wife. It also says that man is to act responsibly in this role. Now, some think that there is nothing problematic in this for the woman. That it is how it should be. That because the man is to act responsibly in the position of authority, the inequality is not problematic. I think that the inequality is inherently problematic, regardless of the behaviour of the man. It is not relevant to me here, whether the man abuses the hierarchical structure; the hierarchy is the problem.

So, that got me thinking.. is there some fundamental difference with this kind of hierarchical structure and a hierarchically structured poly relationship, which would justify the hierarchy?

I am not trying to argue a point (at least not yet, as I am unsure myself about the issue). I would welcome thoughts.
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Old 02-25-2012, 01:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rory View Post
I myself don't do hierarchical relationships, whether romantic or not, (e.g. my husband is no more important to me than my friend just because he is my husband)...
We've talked about that here a lot. Quite often, the consensus is, a secondary does not have to be second in love or caring, they are just the person you do not share a house with, or finances, or much in the way of childcare, insurance, etc.

Quote:
I was just thinking about the statement "hierarchy is not a problem in itself, if it is not abused". And I am not sure I would agree with that.

For example, the Bible says that man is to be the head of household/ his wife. It also says that man is to act responsibly in this role. Now, some think that there is nothing problematic in this for the woman. That it is how it should be. That because the man is to act responsibly in the position of authority, the inequality is not problematic. I think that the inequality is inherently problematic, regardless of the behaviour of the man. It is not relevant to me here, whether the man abuses the hierarchical structure; the hierarchy is the problem.
Well, its funny. I've talked to a lot of fundamentalist women on a religion board I used to frequent, and even though they gave lip service to "my husband is head of the household," when questioned closely about decision making in reality, their relationships seemed about as egalitarian as any more liberal couple's might be. It seemed only in the case of "6 of one, half dozen of the other" decisions, they'd let the husband have final say and responsibility. Just a way modern Christian couples try to fit today's reality into a template of 2000+ yrs ago, when women were barely considered human, and certainly considered lesser in status and brain capacity.

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So, that got me thinking.. is there some fundamental difference with this kind of hierarchical structure and a hierarchically structured poly relationship, which would justify the hierarchy?

I am not trying to argue a point (at least not yet, as I am unsure myself about the issue). I would welcome thoughts.
Well, in my current situation, I've definitely got a hierarchy going on... I've been with miss pixi 3 years and we spend 4 days a week together most weeks. Both my other lovers are fairly new. The Gentleman, I've been seeing for about 4 months. If pressed, I'd call him my tertiary. I'm fond of him, but not "in love" because of his self esteem issues, mostly. He's entertaining, he's fun, he's sexual, he's generous, but he doesnt seem like a real love match, too many issues with his own self love for me to fully love him.

Now, the Ginger, I've known him 2 months. He and I are a 99% match on okcupid. I'm really smitten with him, he is seeming perfect for me in so many ways. But I see us as secondaries to each other, since my first priority is miss pixi, and Ginger is in a successful 25 year marriage himself, with a house and college aged kids. We generally only spend one full day a week together. So, I am in NRE, I feel there is long term potential there, I might end up falling more and more deeply in love, and he with me, but it's new and we are still feeling each other out. So, secondary, for now, and maybe forever.
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Old 02-25-2012, 02:32 PM
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We've talked about that here a lot. Quite often, the consensus is, a secondary does not have to be second in love or caring, they are just the person you do not share a house with, or finances, or much in the way of childcare, insurance, etc.
Right. Like in another thread I mentioned that some people would rather not use primary/secondary as phrases but still acknowedge that one partner is a "domestic" partner (or legal spouse, if the case). It just works out that way easier for day-to-day living purposes.

Or, even in the case of someone who's still technically single (ie, lives alone), I personally still have one that I see the most. Not because I like or love him more than any other partner, it's just that it worked out that we can see each other more regularly than the others.
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Old 02-25-2012, 03:39 PM
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I occasionally go to my school's website and download articles from academic journals to read. Recently, I was looking for articles on polyamory and downloaded a few interesting ones. There is one that correlates a focus in poly on primary/secondary designations with cheating and monogamy. I found that view really thought-provoking.

Then I realized that the author is Pepper Mint, and I saw that the same article is online at his essay site, pepperminty.com. If interested, you can download it there. It's called "The Power Dynamics of Cheating: Effects on Polyamory and Bisexuality." It was written in '04.


Some key passages:
The Conceptual Apparatus of Cheating Enforces Monogamous Standards

Monogamy needs cheating in a fundamental way. In addition to serving as the demonized opposite of monogamy, the mark of the cheater is used as a threat to push individuals to conform to monogamous behavior and monogamous appearances.


... Our culture sets us up with a false choice: we are faithful or we are cheating. Both options are highly scripted and allow the operation of power through restrictions. However, this false choice hides the fact that monogamy and cheating form a single ideological system, and it is possible to step outside of the system...

Because monogamy and cheating are oppositional choices, they are conceptually interdependent and cannot be successfully addressed independently. They represent two sides of the same coin, one shiny and one tarnished...


It Takes Three to Cheat

... In a system of monogamy, any three-person situation is assumed to be unstable and short-term. Therefore, our culture considers a cheating situation to embody a competition between the faithful partner and the other lover. To the extent that the affair is successful or continues, the outside lover is seen as “winning,” and the primary relationship is losing. If the affair is halted, the primary relationship wins, and the other lover loses.

... The role of the other lover is well-scripted by our culture (and not entirely negatively) and therefore forms a real alternative relationship position, albeit one that is simultaneously demonized by the culture that acknowledges it.


The Monogamy/Cheating System and the False Duality Between Couples and Three-Person Cheating Situations

The other lover role, along with the cheater and monogamist roles, forms a lopsided V-structure relationship format... Monogamy gives us only one model for a three-person situation, and it is not a pretty one.

... Any three-person or larger situation is viewed as having unbearable and destabilizing internal tensions, even if no such tensions actually exist. In this manner the monogamy/cheating duality is used to stigmatize any non-monogamous arrangement, even structures that do not resemble the cheating V-structure.


CHEATING AND POLYAMORY

Polyamory and the Monogamy/Cheating System

The maintenance of false dualities depends on their ability to relegate any ambiguous behavior (or appearance) to the negative category. The monogamy/cheating duality is no exception; any behavior that is not clearly monogamy can be considered cheating, even if it does not fit the formal definition of cheating.

This is the conceptual trap that polyamory falls into... At the social (or media) level, people who know polyamorists will typically assume that there exists some level of tension between the various relationships. This assumption is an implicit comparison to the cheater’s V-structure relationship. If there is no preexisting tension between relationships in a polyamorous situation, then this assumption by outsiders constitutes a social pressure to create tension... In this way, the implicit social comparison of polyamory to cheating attempts to recreate the power dynamics of cheating (and therefore monogamy) within polyamorous relationships.

...While polyamorists usually do not identify with the monogamy/cheating system, they can easily internalize the dynamics of the cheating situation. The practice of polyamory requires that poly people constantly resist this internalization.

Polyamorous culture and publications are not necessarily immune to this internalization, either. I consider the heavy focus on primary/secondary arrangements in poly discussions to reflect an inherent comparison with the cheating V-structure.

... Both older and newer poly publications maintain a focus on primary/secondary arrangements, including The Ethical Slut (Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt, Greenery Press, 1997) and Redefining Our Relationships (Wendy-O Matik, Defiant Times Press, 2002).

... The endless discourse on cheating is a culture-wide project, a constant reaffirmation and reconstruction of monogamy itself. The omnipresence of cheating is not only talk, of course. Plenty of people actually cheat. Cheating provides a convenient escape from the restrictions of monogamy, while not actually challenging monogamous assumptions. Through a discourse on cheating, actual non-monogamy is rationalized as transient, immoral, or pathological.

In another paper I downloaded, the authors (Danielle Hidalgo, Kristen Barber, and Erica Hunter) wrote that most of the research into love and relationships which "defines love as necessarily dyadic, also often fails to complicate the ways in which love changes throughout the life course and across different levels of social analysis such as race, class, gender, and sexuality for those in relationships beyond the dyad." It seems that even anthropologists and other researchers in our culture cannot help but think about love relationships as dyads, first and foremost. I wonder if, perhaps, having hierarchical primary/secondary designations could be, in some cases, an unconscious way to preserve the Western societal conditioning that tells us love relationships must remain within a dyadic framework.
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An excellent blog post on hierarchy in polyamory:
solopoly.net/2014/10/31/why-im-not-a-secondary-partner-the-short-version/

Last edited by nycindie; 02-25-2012 at 04:01 PM.
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Old 02-26-2012, 11:01 AM
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Isn't any hierarchy just an expression of preference or value....not system or structure per se.

I'm sure many people date others and enjoy the company, care about deeply, are sexual with but would not say they are in love with. How would that be described. Meeting once a month in hotel for a sleepover isnt the same as being in the trench the other 29 days ..24/7. Investment matters. Or should matter.
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Old 02-27-2012, 05:55 AM
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Impact across a broader spectrum creates varying levels of individual importance. This creates a natural hierarchy . In the case where a person is a 'single poly' for lack of a better term, and basically has the same level of involvement with multiple partners then I would imagine their perspective would be different than that of a person who is married with kids or a house and other joint endeavors beyond a romantic conection.
Hierarchies exist everywhere in the world. Why would relationships be any different.
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Old 02-28-2012, 12:21 AM
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Spell check exists as well but apparently I haven't figured that out yet :-P
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Old 02-28-2012, 12:29 AM
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For me it's fairly simple.

Descriptive hierarchy ("This is my life partner, Sue, we live together and are raising children and share a primary relationship, and this is my girlfriend, Rhoda, we see each other when we can and share a secondary relationship") that uses terms to describe the shapes different relationships end up taking is perfectly fine and natural, prescriptive hierarchy ("No you can't come to Yule, Rhoda, I don't share holidays with people with whom I'm in a secondary relationship...") that uses terms to limit one type of relationship, often so as to "protect" another ("...because otherwise what would be special about my relationship with Sue?") are problematic.
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Old 02-28-2012, 02:59 AM
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I guess I didn’t realize there was SUCH focus on primary/secondary relationship structures in the poly community, as stated by the article nycindie referred to. One of the first things I found on this forum that really resonated with me was the comparison of a descriptive secondary vs a prescriptive secondary. I can see where being told, “No, your relationship can only be THIS,” would be neither desired nor healthy, while being in a descriptive hierarchy, because that’s what the situation that everyone involved wants happens to look like, is not a problem. In the Bible example, to me that is a prescriptive hierarchy. The man and woman are each being told they have specific roles and what those roles encompass. There’s no discussion, no choice. Hardly a situation I personally want to get in to! But it is completely possible to have a descriptive hierarchy that respects and involves EVERYONE. MC and I have the kids, house, financial entanglement, etc. There are decisions made that, while we are more than willing to talk to TGIB about them and consider how the decisions impact him, are ultimately ours to make. And TGIB is FINE with that. He doesn’t want more familial responsibility than he already has with his own kids, and he has decisions to make regarding them and his job and living situation that don’t involve us. If that level of involvement was NOT what TGIB wanted, the three of us wouldn’t be in this relationship, because what we want/need would not mesh.

One thing I’ve noticed lately is that for every person here who says they follow the “whatever works” philosophy of poly, there’s another person (and sometimes the SAME person!) who makes some fairly blanket statements about what “does” and “doesn’t” work in poly. Recently these comments (in other threads) caught my attention:

Quote:
Yes there are many people that don't subscribe to the point of view that one partner is deserving of more love, time, energy and support over another. Some hierarchies exist and are declared valid due to children, shared assets, marriage etc. That can work for some but usually poly people discover that while they have these ties that bond, love is love and does not follow an agenda. Over time, most poly people grow out of the hierarchal system and theory and let love become abundant and ever growing. This can take time, patience and much experience. The experience comes from separating from couple-centric, co-dependent modalities and embracing committed autonomy with partners.
and
Quote:
Thoughts on this included that it reduces the risk of hierarchical thinking and could reduce the emotional impact of that hierarchical thinking.
So, my relationship structure is “risky”? I wasn’t aware that choosing to honor the previous commitments I made to MC and our family while also having a lasting and satisfying partnership with TGIB could have a (negative) emotional impact. Perhaps when people are making statements that either imply or outright state that hierarchies are for people who are emotionally immature or co-dependent, they could clarify that they’re talking about prescriptive hierarchies, because descriptive hierarchies, if that is “what works” for all invovled, are hardly problematic.

(Annabel put it a lot more succinctly!)
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Old 02-28-2012, 07:08 AM
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Originally Posted by AnnabelMore View Post
prescriptive hierarchy ("No you can't come to Yule, Rhoda, I don't share holidays with people with whom I'm in a secondary relationship...") that uses terms to limit one type of relationship, often so as to "protect" another ("...because otherwise what would be special about my relationship with Sue?") are problematic.
I recall beating the fine dividing line between descriptive and prescriptive around the bush a while back as well, and I still find it to be as illusive to put any more generalizations about prescriptive being any more problematic than hierarchies in general. Especially when couched in an obvious protectionist context.

But what is so wrong about trying to protect an existing relationship? I digress.

I would venture that even prescription does have it's place. In your example of Rhonda, the question that needs to be asked is why are secondaries not a part of Yule?

Possible Answers include:
1. (The probably assumed version) Yule is important to Sue so it's just for us so that she is not threatened by your presence in my life.
2. We want the kids to appear to have holidays like "normal" families, so we keep it to just family.
3. Holidays involve a lot of family, and we're not "out" to them yet, so we just suck it up to play the part as a conventional couple.
4. <fill in own excuse here>


None of these reasons, or a hundred others will necessarily assuage the hurt, anger, rejection, etc. that Rhonda might feel about the situation, but there should be some difference in the accusations of protectionism and couple-centric co-dependency about Rhonda and I depending on if the prescription was due to reason #1, or #3.
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