A replacement for “primary/secondary”

It seems that every polyamorous practitioner universally dislikes and finds inadequate hierarchical terms such as “primary” and “secondary,” but we often default to using them for lack of anything better.

I like to refer to “entering a existing couple,” rather that referring to myself as “secondary,” but the word always seems to slip out at some point. And in seeking relationships, it seems positively crass to admit to wanting something substantial and involved enough to be considered “primary.” In fact, I’ve heard people say in an accusing tone, “She’s looking for a primary.” You know, kind of like you’d say, “She’s desperate for a husband to support her and give her babies.” Blech.

But today, a poly-friendly OKC date asked what I wanted. And I answer as I always do, “Truly what I want is one person in this world who gets me. An anchor. Two or three people would be great, but really, everything after one gravy.” And this is true–two or three friends or lovers were great, but that was almost an embarrassment of riches. I just need a person or two I can be myself with, and I’m good.

I always found that I was much better at accepting the nature of relationships when I had an anchor person, someone who was there for me emotionally and who understood me on most levels, and whom I understood and supported as well. The nature of the relationship is less important than that one aspect: needing to be understood.

And that’s when it hit me. I’m not seeking a primary; I was never sure about that, anyway. I’m seeking an anchor person of some sort. Kinky? Emotional? Spiritual? That’s all flexible, and less important than the rest of it. And I can have two anchors or three, and they might all be friends, lovers, live-in partners or various iterations thereof.

I like “anchor” because it implies support without exclusivity (more anchors is better) and a state of connectedness without implying a sexual, live-in or hierarchical arrangement. My anchors could be a long-distance friend and an in-town lover; two live-in partners; a long-distance lover, an in-town friend, a partner and a metamour; or any other combination.

So I offer this to you: instead of a “primary” polyamorous relationship, who is/are your anchor relationships?

17 comments to A replacement for “primary/secondary”

  • K3

    Good article! I am currently going through the working out of primary/secondary and this puts a great new perspective. Sometimes the need to be labeled primary seems like a comfort/insecurity, reaching back to society’s definition of a couple. Like you said, the more people that get you, the better. Thanks for posting!

  • MGW

    Wow…I LIKE that concept. Thanks for thinking out loud.

  • staci

    as much as I wish I could say it was my boyfriend, really he’s not that stable. my “anchor” is a set three of my closest friends. they form the most stable triad I’ve ever seen, and it’s to them i go when the rest of the world hurts or overwhelms me, when i just can’t take anymore, when i need to be held and accepted. Note: i’m NOT romantically involved with any of them..how’s that for a “YMMV”?! :P

  • I LOVE this! My anchors are my only current lover, my best local friend, and (here’s one for ya) ME. Yes having outside anchors is very important, but remember to be your own anchor too!

    Love & Strokes!
    Sarah Lily
    aka adeadlittlegirl on lj

  • Any thoughts as to what non-primaries would be in this schema? Balast?

    I know nothing is going to work for everyone, but this imagery doesn’t feel right for me and my life. I know anchors can be used less literally, but being restrained by an anchor feels very counter to being in an open relationship of any sort. My partners feel more like harbors to me. More casual people being docks maybe? I’m not too familiar with sailing, really.

    Though whatever floats, or anchors, your boat.

    • JJM

      I could easily be misinterpreting this, but as I read the article, Anchor could in fact be a replacement for both of the inferior terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary,’ which I very much like, because I never *thought* of myself as ‘secondary.’ Indeed, I felt and continue to feel more like someone being anchored and anchoring in turn, now that it’s been crystallized a bit into that word.

  • Interesting. I’m certainly unhappy with “Primary” as a term.

    I have a serious sweetheart who is the hinge in a poly V; the three of us own a house together. It’s an emotionally, intellectually, and physically intimate relationship. We have a presumptively lifetime commitment; it’s impossible to imagine what would break that relationship. That’s close to what folks imagine when you say “primary.”

    I also have a nonsexual best friend. We were sweethearts a long time ago, but definitely won’t be going there again. We’ve lived together off-and-on, though since she’s bought a house with her serious sweetheart we presumably won’t be doing that again either. We see each other very frequently, and it’s undoubtedly the most intimate and important relationship in my life, even more than with my sweetheart. I sometimes refer to her as my “soul sister,” to parallel “soul mate.”

    I’d also note that my relationship with my soul sister stabilizes and makes possible both of our relationships with our sweethearts.

    “Anchor” is an improvement over “primary” from this standpoint, sure, but does it sound a little too close to “ball-and-chain”?

  • Scott Campbell

    I like “anchor” okay as a replacement for primary, but what I REALLY like in the original article is “gravy.” Gravy is something nobody needs to survive, but everybody loves. It’s not necessarily nutritious, but man, does it taste good! No reductionism involved, and a pleasure-filled, joyful connotation, which is the point of polyamory as far as I’m concerned. Who would object to being introduced at a party, “And this is my gravy, Melissa”? Certainly not me, even if they called me Melissa.

  • Cunning Minx

    Wow. Thanks for all the comments! Seems like “anchor” will work for some, not for others. But “anchor” + “gravy”? Now that’s just a weird image! And I would actually object to being called “gravy.” That just makes me sounds messy and carnivorous. :-)

  • davids4250

    I like the term “anchor”. I realize that I too amm looking for an anchor. Another person or two would be nice, but one is all I need. Finding that one is rather difficult, though.
    As for gravy being messy – if everything is done right, isn’t it often messy? ;)

  • My partners and I tend to avoid hierarchical terms altogether and just call relationships what they are. We have life partners, partners, lovers, boyfriends/girlfriends, and so on. None of them are inferior or superior to any other, but they give some idea of the level of intimacy and commitment.

    In our naming scheme, it is also perfectly valid to say “I don’t know what this is” in reference to a relationship. As we all know, not every romantic bond fits neatly into a predetermined category.

  • I love this, actually. My girlfriend and I broke up when she moved out of state, and while we are no longer in a relationship, we are still somewhat romantic, and still committed to each other as friends. It works perfectly to say that while she is no longer my primary, she is still my anchor.

  • Mickey

    I really like this, and am blogging about it (under my poly-friendly friends-lock on LiveJournal). My husband is definitely my anchor in SO many ways, so I really like this idea.

    I would propose “satellite” as a replacement for “secondary”.

  • Stochast

    I’ve taken to using “primary” and “non-primary” in my relationships.

  • I guess I’ve never really understood the “struggle” in the first place. In general, I use first names, or pronouns such as “we.”

    There is no one I talk with about my romantic relationships who is both privy to the details of “who is responsible for what” AND ignorant of who plays those roles. If they continue hanging around and get to know me and those close to me, they’ll start seeing how it all works and I they STILL have questions, they can also ask using first names, I would suppose.

    That aside, although I appreciate the mental image of someone being an “anchor,” I don’t think of myself as someone who is so flighty and out-of-control that they NEED an “anchor.” An anchor is something that keeps you in one place, that drags you down, that you can’t shake off if you want to do things.

    My partners and I form a group and we remind each other of who and how we want to be. I don’t WANT anyone feeling as if they’re an anchor, as if they have the responsibility (tacit or otherwise) to stay in one place and provide some sort of emotional/mental/whatever stability to the group. We already ARE emotionally, mentally, and physically stable (or else we wouldn’t BE in the group for long).

    Nor am I willing to lay MY responsibility for maintaining my stability on anyone other than ME. I’m my own “anchor.” The other people in my life are reminders of the kind of life I want to be a part of, and they are ALSO moving in and of their own lives as well, and I am a reminder to THEM of the same thing.

    Kind of like a school of fish. Or, er, sharks. Heh.

  • Marina Smiles Joy

    In our little family we try to avoid terms that include priority & status. That same “top-down” system destroys community at the root. (Even a BDSM “Top” or “Bottom” is in a relationship of equals.)

    So, the idea of descriptive terminology really appeals to us. “Anchor” is nice. Words like “Bridge” & “Spice.” I have friends, for example, that are only “travel buddies,” and never see them except on vacation. There are also people that are “Sledgehammers” or “Glue.” Also, usually people fit into a number of these descriptions, like an “Anchor, Bottom, Satellite.”

    There’s gotta be some book out there that gives words & definitions about these relationship positions. (The book “Tipping Point” does something similar.)

    Thanks for the wonderful discussion!
    :)

  • My partners and I tend to avoid hierarchical terms altogether and just call relationships what they are. We have life partners, partners, lovers, boyfriends/girlfriends, and so on. None of them are inferior or superior to any other, but they give some idea of the level of intimacy and commitment. In our naming scheme, it is also perfectly valid to say “I don’t know what this is” in reference to a relationship. As we all know, not every romantic bond fits neatly into a predetermined category.

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