When you think of polyamory, do you picture a husband and wife who—when feeling a little uninspired in the sack—decide to branch out and get a little something on the side?
This does happen, but it’s not the only way to do polyamory.
If you’re looking to join an existing relationship, you can choose to be the no-strings-attached secondary partner, or you can opt for an egalitarian dynamic wherein everyone has equal and unrestricted rights to intimacy and decision making.
Should You Become a Secondary Partner?
Before jumping in, ask yourself these questions to see if being a secondary partner is right for you.
How much of an emotional investment do you need?
Secondary relationships are more casual than primary ones. They are often sexually focused, though not always. Sometimes they’re platonic, or interest based, but in all cases, they are less emotionally involved than a primary partnership.
Be honest about what you need long term.
Being a secondary partner can feel appealing in the beginning because it’s less risky from an intimacy standpoint, but consider your relationship history: Are you good at keeping things light? Do you prefer it that way? Or do you fall hard over time, expecting that your partner will do the same?
How do you feel about last-minute changes of plan?
A primary partner’s needs take precedence over those of secondary or tertiary partners in hierarchical relationships. This often translates to plans being cancelled or changed with little notice.
If you thrive in chaos or have so much going on in your life that keeping a date night schedule feels burdensome, hierarchical polyamory might be right for you.
If, on the other hand, you crave consistency or feel anxious or angry when asked to make frequent adjustments to your social calendar, you might wish to go the egalitarian route.
Do you need to meet your partners’ friends and family?
Some hierarchical poly relationships are out and proud, but many are private or even secretive.
Do you need to be acknowledged as your partner’s romantic interest? Would it sadden you to never get an invite to your lover’s family barbecue, or would you rejoice in the fact that you could glide beneath the surface of their life, never having to make small talk with people you have no interest in knowing?
It can be thrilling to engage in a “forbidden romance.” But being a secondary partner can also feel limiting, depending on your needs.
Are you comfortable taking a back seat to others?
Being a secondary partner is ideal for those who don’t rely on romantic connections to fuel their sense of self-worth and who prefer to keep things light and breezy. It’s not—as some assume—an “easy, noncommittal way to try out the whole poly thing.”
It really comes down to this: Are you cool with being sidelined? If so, you might wish to consider a hierarchical poly dynamic. If, however, you need to feel prioritized by your significant other(s), egalitarianism is the way to go.
How do you feel about being a secondary partner? What type of role or poly relationship is most satisfying to you?