The time I tried hierarchical polyamory

My first adult experience with polyamory started when I met my ex-fiance when I was seventeen and had just started college.  Now a lot of folks venture in to the polya life as a couple with a hierarchical model of polya, and I wasn’t all too much different.  Ex-fiance was a monogamous fellow, and I freaked out a little when I started falling in love with him, cue a few instances of pushing him away because I thought I would end up hurting him.  It was all very melodramatic really, but I eventually had a conversation with him about making our relationship “official” and all.  My two questions for him, before I agree to it were A) Would he have any problem with the idea of me getting gender reassignment surgery later in life (and I didn’t realize I was trans until seven years later how???) and B) Was he completely and totally certain he was alright with a polyamorous relationship.  He said yes to both, and so we became a couple.

We didn’t negotiate a strict hierarchy that I remember, but we fell into one easily as though it was the “right thing to do”.  As I ventured into dating other people, I always reassured him that he came first, he was always my priority.  I would check in with him constantly, “are you sure you’re okay with this? But are you really sure? No, are you really really sure that you’re sure?”  I don’t recall him every really asking for hierarchy, though I believe there was some assumption of that, since he seemed to assume a relationship escalator style relationship that ended in marriage and potential podlings and all.  I thought hierarchy was the way to go though, even though I did feel some vague discomfort with it, because after all, I was making a huge ask of being polya at all from someone who self identified as mono, so I better toss in some concessions to make him feel okay about it.  That my friends, was a mistake.

There is no story here of how eventually hierarchy didn’t work for me and it resulted in things blowing up terrifically, because there was a web of complex issues that I can guess caused him to cheat six years later and then walk away.  I won’t even know all the reasons, because we didn’t communicate well.  I don’t think he ever fully explained them, and if he did, I wasn’t about to grasp it at the time between the betrayal, the drinking, and the bipolar swings I hadn’t yet gotten under any semblance of control.  I would say though, that while I do remember him giving a half reason here or there, it was something we never did fully unpack, because we both had different flaws in our abilities to communicate in healthy ways.

Here’s what happened with the hierarchy though.  I shut people out in a lot of ways.  In elevating ex-fiance above everyone else, I made an effort to keep other people at arms length.  There was other trauma mixed in there, I was sexually assaulted my first year of college as well, which led to some persistent trauma that evolved into me being pretty touch averse, something I’m only now just starting to heal.  The way I shut people out though was definitely a harmful factor in that. I denied myself resources that may have helped in healing from that, and created an island of myself and ex-fiance, which grew into an intense co-dependency. In fact, having a hierarchical dynamic at all was a huge player in me becoming so codependent.  Structures and titles matter, they can shape out expectations in ways we aren’t aware of, and the ones I put in place caused my to depend on him as my sole source of support.  That codependency was one of the most unhealthy addictions I’ve ever had, it rivaled my alcoholism in things that nearly destroyed my life.

Finally a few years down the line we had transitioned from strict hierarchy to more of a descriptive hierarchy.  “Well two primaries could totally be a thing” could have been my catch phrase.  I was at that time still reassuring ex-fiance that he would always be -one of- the most important people in my life, and I refused to call any relationship secondary, but I still used the word primary for the ones that tended to have the extreme life integration we did, I just also accepted that other folks might join him in having that place in my life.  It wasn’t until he was gone for a while, taking a semester off school, working down at his mother’s workplace, and never around, that it happened though.  I met Cat, and I don’t know if ex-fiance being gone allowed me to let Cat in to that extent, but once I did, he became one of the greatest loves of my life, and my intensity with him on a romantic level could not compare to any dynamic I had ever had before, or at that time.  That opened the floodgates, once it was real to me, that was when the hierarchy truly started to crumble.  After that I went on to meet Kelev, and not too many years after ex-fiance left (and Cat was gone as well by that time), and by that point I was firmly on egalitarian polya/solo polya ground and running full force towards relationship anarchy.

Looking back I wonder often why I ever tried hierarchical polyamory.  It really isn’t in my nature, and from day one the idea of some people being “secondary” galled me.  I am not even sure how I didn’t recognize a more relationship anarchist mindset early on, why I spent time idealizing romantic relationships above all others when I even at the same talked about how my best friend and sibling growing up, River, was as close to me as any partner ever was.  Hell, I had written long rambling tomes that read like a teenage description of a Utopian society combined with the relationship anarchist manifesto back when I was a young teen, so you know, it was all right there from the start.

What I did learn from hierarchy is that it just plain didn’t make sense.  It does not work to decide that life is going to be a certain way, it just doesn’t.  To say that your relationship with one person fits in this shiny special box, and all other relationships are in smaller different boxes, and that is just how things are and will always be.  Think of it in terms of jobs, or kids.  You can expect a certain thing, you can work towards a certain thing, but life is gunna throw you a curveball and fuck up all your neat little plans and you’ll end up with something entirely different, but also potentially even better.  There are very very rare people who truly choose to single-mindedly stick to one path in life and follow it, and manage to do so completely, still coming out in the same place on the other side after every bump in the road.  Hierarchy is like that, it works, until you realize how much it hurts a secondary you love deeply, or until you find that with the billions of people in the world there actually is one you may love and be more compatible with then your husband, or you get tired of fucking rules.  I don’t want to choose one single-minded path and come out in the same place after every bump in the road.  I want my life adventure to be a free roving journey where the bumps deposit me in new and unexpected places, and where I may have a few destinations in mind, but if I end up somewhere else entirely I’m going to dust off my trench coat and forge ahead with a grin, ready for something new.

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