I tend to get some rage happening when I hear people condemning hierarchical polyamory like there’s something ethically wrong with it. Because to me what they’re doing is making some inherently very privileged assumptions about the people involved. To name just a few:
That a) they have the standard amount of energy;
That b) they have relatively stable mental health;
That c) they are relatively affluent (in the sense that their ability to pay the rent and bills and remain in stable accommodation isn’t consistently in question).
Why do I say this? Because I am poly, and I practice what I guess you could call hierarchical poly (I have a primary relationship and all other relationships are secondary to that). And I do so not because I believe the romantic couple relationship should be privileged, but because I am trying to survive — because survival is a daily battle for me — and this is the only relationship style, right now, that enables me to survive.
I have ME/CFS, so my energy levels are *extremely* limited.
I have multiple mental health conditions, so my ability to tolerate the anxiety of uncertain relationship boundaries is limited.
Yes, I do a LOT of work on myself in this area, but I am what I am — and again, my extreme lack of energy limits the AMOUNT of work I can do in this area. Anything that disrupts my mental health has a knock-on effect on my physical health. And my ability to work is so limited, day-to-day — and thus my ability to keep a roof over my head and food on the table is so limited — that I cannot take risks with my mental health, just as I can’t take risks with my physical health.
I am financially tied to one partner. We share a flat, we share bills and grocery money. I have a roof over my head and food on the table because I am in that living situation. I am not able to live alone because I can’t afford it. I am not able to houseshare because of my health. If I wasn’t living with my primary partner, I would be in big trouble (and in the past, I have been).
So my survival depends on my primary relationship continuing in a stable form. I love my partner and I want to be with themand I take great delight in their company — but those facts don’t prevent me taking risks with the current structure of the relationship. My need to materially survive prevents me taking risks with it. And we don’t even have children.
If my partner and I were in a position where we both had the health, and the financial stability, to open up in a non-hierarchical way — maybe we would do that. If the predominant relationship structures in society were different, then I am sure that the usual ways of living would be set up for non-hierarchical poly exploration in a way that didn’t threaten our survival. But in the society we’re in (especially given that there is barely a benefits safety net for disabled people in the UK now), it’s not an option for us. And that doesn’t mean we’re oppressing single people. It means we’re surviving in the only way we currently can.
Obviously, I’m completely clear and transparent about how this works for me with anyone I get involved with. Obviously I completely understand and respect the fact that getting involved with me on these terms wouldn’t work for some people. That’s all good. In the same way, some people (many, actually), can’t even be my friends because they can’t handle the way my health makes it necessary for me to live my life.
And of course I’m not saying that means no poor chronically ill person can ever do non-hierarchical poly, but I suspect there are many of us for whom it just isn’t an option. I also understand the concept of ‘couple privilege’ and do agree that it exists. But the assumption that everyone could choose to operate otherwise, given the society we live in, says a lot about the unexamined privilege and intersectional gaps of anyone who makes it.
Another piece on the same theme, that I really loved:
Polyamory and Mental Illness - Polyamory on Purpose
Hey folks. This week we're starting a new posting series about the intersection of mental illness and polyamory. We'll…
A fantastic piece from a different perspective that I also thought made a lot of sense: http://coffeeandkink.me/2017/06/10/hierarchy/