I am Not #1 in His Life
And I am OK With That
Stefan closed the door behind us and placed the keys in the lock box.
“Sally will come by later to get the keys.” He said. “She’s coming over to clean and stay the weekend while I am gone.”
“Oh, I didn’t know she comes by like that.” I replied, only mildly surprised.
“She has a very small room and too many flat mates, so why not stay here when I’m not around? She can have more room and privacy.”
Since I’ve known him, Sally has been a quiet presence in his flat. Her dog’s bowl on the kitchen floor and his chew toys in the corner by the couch. The very same corner where I used to carelessly drop my clothes until I manifested itchy red flea bites all over my thighs. Her toothbrush sits side by side, blue by yellow, in the bathroom cup next to mine, and my all-natural salt deodorant and her shampoo for blondes both adorn the shower shelf.
She’s known him longer than I have. Both of his other partners have. My not quite two years with him, while it’s my longest current relationship, is less than each of their time with him.
Sherry, his girlfriend and mother to his delightful toddling daughter, is also from the US and currently lives with his parents in the Brandenberg countryside. Their lives are fully integrated and he spends his weekends being boyfriend, daddy, and son. I love catching up with his little girl’s antics each week when we’re on our date. He proudly pulls out photos and videos and regales me with her newest words, latest escapades, and milestone accomplishments.
My relationship with Stefan isn’t integrated into his life, at all. He would never invite me to his parent’s home or give me the keys to his flat. I was even surprised when he kissed me in public recently. (Read that story here.) Our relationship is intimate, comfortable, and incredibly sexy. It has evolved into a relationship that isn’t sustained only by that sexiness. If one of us is tired and not in the mood for sex, we still spend our weekly evening together; naked, phones off, cuddling, talking, laughing, and sleeping in each other’s arms. (When we have sex? Off the chain amazing!)
The only time I’ve ever wanted more from our relationship was for my one year “Berlinaversary” party. My other partners were going to be there, and I wanted them to meet. I wanted to be in the same room with the men I love, their partners, and the friends who make living here in Berlin so special. I REALLY wanted him there. But the party was on a Saturday. “If it were a Friday…” he said. Weekends are daddy, boyfriend, son days. Coming back to the city for a Saturday night is an improbable ask.
When he finally, officially said he wouldn’t be coming, my heart sank just a little. I mean, I get it, daddy weekends trump all, but I had gotten my hopes up (just a little.) In response, I asked for what I needed in that moment; acknowledgement that he cares about me even though he would’t be there.
It may seem like nothing, but for me, it was everything. It was me learning to ask for what I need. It was him, giving me that simple acknowledgement. We don’t talk a lot about our feelings for each other, so it was just right at the time.
I am completely ok with my relationship with Stefan. I believe in letting a relationship find its own level. I no longer subscribe to the “Relationship Escalator.” My relationship with him suits us perfectly and has worked well for almost two years.
Relationship Escalator: The default set of societal expectations for intimate relationships. Partners follow a progressive set of steps, each with visible markers, toward a clear goal.
The goal at the top of the Escalator is to achieve a permanently monogamous (sexually and romantically exclusive between two people), cohabitating marriage — legally sanctioned if possible. In many cases, buying a house and having kids is also part of the goal. Partners are expected to remain together at the top of the Escalator until death.
The Escalator is the standard by which most people gauge whether a developing intimate relationship is significant, “serious,” good, healthy, committed or worth pursuing or continuing.
- Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator by Amy Gahran (Read a Medium article by Amy about The Relationship Escalator- Here!)
BUT, that conversation about Sally getting the key and spending the weekend in his flat? It triggered something in me, as I tend to say, “I have feelings about this.” But why? I was telling this story to a friend of mine, who happens to be a psychologist, and her response was a loud, “DAMN societal norms! Always getting in the way of our reality!”
I am totally content with the beautiful, intimate, private, sexy, trusting relationship I have with this man. Yet, in that moment I felt less. I felt like the last, the third, the lowest on the totem pole. In that brief moment I felt all the pressure and expectations of the relationship escalator. I felt this need to be integrated into his life. I didn’t like that feeling at all.
One of my favorite things about being polyamorous, about being open to possibilities is that, in my world, relationships don’t have to follow a plan or a script. I can adore this man. I can be committed to him. I can love him in my fashion.
Why would you want me to?
And what would it mean to say,
That, ‘I loved you in my fashion’?
-Sting “Why Should I Cry for You?”
When I realized I was having these “feelings,” I took a moment to assess them. I took a moment to be realistic about my expectations. I took a moment to remember how amazing my relationship with Stefan truly is. I took a moment to shake off all the societal norms I was raised with. It is, after all, 40+ years of conditioning! I can love myself and remind myself that’s not who I am now. I give myself grace to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and I’ve only been living a poly life for a short time.
I am in a different relationship with him than he is in with his other partners and, at the end of the day, that is exactly perfect for us.