E and I are pretty terrible about binge watching shows. L is pretty “about” it too, but with them in Florida it is just me and E. One of the more recent shows we consumed en masse was Showtime’s Polyamory: Married & Dating- a two season documentary about a poly-quad (the same one for both seasons) and two poly-triads (one each season). It shouldn’t take you long to watch if you commit to three or four episodes every night :).
We loved “hate watching” this show. I will only go into details that are relevant to the discussion below so maybe there will be relevant “spoilers” but I certainly won’t give away the goods in every episode. There are plenty of polyblogs out there that talk about the show in a love/hate way and I agree with a lot of the stuff (too much sex, not enough POC, class comforts, they are all so fit…). I wanted to talk about somethings about the show that resonated with me and my unique experience of entering into a relationship with E who had L.
I think two of the most interesting things this show brought up for me was the idea of primary partner entitlement and what cheating means. But both of these things are long things so it will be a two part blog (though each part can “stand alone” as they say.)
Primary partner entitlement…
I feel like entitlement is kind of a harsh word… I don’t like it personally because I think a lot of people confuse entitlement with privilege and that makes my marginalized identities very nervous. I am not trying to imply that being a secondary partner is oppressive- sure it can be but it isn’t always (just like everything else).
I use the word entitlement in a seniority way. The primary partner has “been around longer” or “put in the hours” or “was there for…” this, that, and the other. It upsets me to think about this as E’s second-to-arrive partner.
In the show there was a lot of discussion about the married partner seeking priority from the shared partner they are married to. This “priority” came in a number of forms in the show- one partner wanted more time from the other, one partner wanted the other to include them in their other relationships, one partner wanted to be sided with in arguments, etc.
I don’t think I have a right to judge these wants too harshly but I do have feelings towards them. I started my relationship with E six-ish years behind L and E’s relationship. And that was really hard for me to wrap my mind around. There is a lot of years and a lot of habits and a lot of inside jokes and a lot of … stuff there. Early in our relationship I felt two ways about that history: 1) I felt like I had to compete with it and 2) I felt second to it.
Being me I don’t like feeling second to anything. I am a “I don’t need people I want people” type- exerting my independence by making it clear to people that I will never come to rely on them. Good or bad that is how I do it. But that is not the attitude of someone who is willing to be second.
I am also non-competitive by nature. I have been known to not do something (even if I have to do it) simply because it was presented to me as a competition. My older sister took the brunt end of this most of my life… How do you determine who is first and who is second when the competition does not exist?
I learned very quickly that this second-ness was only in my head. As I developed a partnership with E and a friendship with L I came to understand that neither of them considered their six-ish year relationship the “entitled primary” in this way.
Well… it was hard to wrap my mind around being second… but it was also hard to wrap my mind around E and L not assigning the entitlement to their relationship either. I couldn’t figure it out. How do people who have been together for years not set deep stakes in those years. It was like I didn’t want the hierarchy to exist but couldn’t understand how it didn’t…
Then I learned somethings about E and L that made it all made sense.
E is unyieldingly independent. What do I mean… I learned that E likes to make all his own choices about everything… everything… if you even come close to sounding like you have made a choice for him crab-pinchers come out. Me I am pretty indifferent to a lot of things (all things are good options more often than not) so it felt strange to encounter this person who embodies polite autonomy.
L is also unyieldingly independent. L is one of the most woke persons I know. They have invested a lot of time into understanding systems that oppress or enslave or marginalize. And I think that in all of that work L discovered something about the world that other people could stand to learn. I learned from L’s wokeness- that no one is entitled to anything about anyone… not information, not their time, not their space, not their name, not their pronouns, not their thoughts… nothing… no matter what prerequisites you might claim to have. In turn, I think they enforce that for themselves.
D- independent because I am worth being first in my life and second no where.
E- independent because his choices are his own- always.
L- independent because no one is entitled to anything from them- or each other.
That is how we can do it. That is how we can surpass the primary partner entitlement. Because in our own ways we have refused to let entitlement exist in the first place (all of my marginalized identities collectively sigh in relief).
So this show…
This seems to be a fundamental differing of philosophy … and their beliefs set up their poly in the way depicted on screen and ours sets ours up this way.
I think it is good to watch these shows and investigate why something is the way it is. Even if it is “good.” It reminds me of some things I love about E and L. It reminds me to appreciate why it is good. It reminds me that people can come to the same place down very different paths.
It is also good to digest why people living their lives might set you on edge. I observed moments in time from the lives of people whose way of living … generated distress inside me. But now I know why. I have accepted their life because I remember what I have accepted… deemed acceptable… for myself.
PS: If you can’t accept someone’s life- investigate why and be kind about letting them live it on anyway.