That conversation made me think about how I usually explain my relationships to others. It would go something like this:
"T and I are married. I have a boyfriend. He has a girlfriend."
If pressed, I might also add that she's got a boyfriend of her own. Or I might add that we also flirt with other people, on a more casual level.
But this hasn't actually been an accurate representation of "us" for quite some time. I just haven't thought to re-define it.
Here's how I've usually thought about "us":
T and I are like the hub of a wheel, and I explain everyone else's position based on how they relate to that central core that is "me&him". In the above model, I also have a really clear idea of who T's involved with at any time, I know their level of connection and type of relationship. And he does the same for my relationships. In the above model, T and I also have the theoretical veto right of each others partners. In other words, in the above model there are many rules and regulations in place, to safeguard the primary couple.
Now, this is a fairly accurate representation of how we practiced, and thought, and spoke about polyamory three-four years ago. But in my mind it isn't accurate anymore. The above model has some serious weaknesses:
-First of all, the entire poly network is larger than this. Beauty has a boyfriend, and so has at least two of T's other persons of interest.
-Secondly, it's much more fluid than this. Swede and I had some sort of relationship, and we'll meet again this summer. I'm not sure exactly what we are now, or what we'll be then, but we're something. T also has other relationships, and where a casual fling ends and a serious relationship begins is not something that is easy to pin down. I'm not exactly sure how he and Beauty define themselves these days, and his other persons of interest I'm even less certain about. I just know they're all something.
-Third (and I'll get to this in a later post), Saint doesn't occupy such a secondary place in my life anymore. Having him outside of the "primary box" feels wrong. He feels like my family now, almost as much as T does.
-Fourth, why is there even a box there? Sure, some connections have lasted longer than others or are more involved than others... But that doesn't mean other people are forever excluded from entering (or leaving) that box. Again, this model feels too rigid.
Basically, I'm deluding myself if I try to claim this to be some sort of objective image of the entire network. It's not. It's only a representation of my own small slice of it, with me in the center. Not only that, but I also try to define other people's relationships for them. I don't know what T's other relationships are, or how they define them. I'm not even certain how many of them there are, or where to draw that line. And doing so is not my place. It should be up to them.
Sure, no man is an island. We're all interconnected. For example, when Saint and I are having issues, I confide in T, who draws emotional support from his other relationships. It's all a daisy chain of emotional support. Likewise, when T is experiencing NRE because of some new fling, his positive energy affects me and his other relationships, which in turn can affect the next link in that chain. But T and I have no real veto right anymore.
We could do interventions, sure, if one of us felt that the other was doing themself harm. We could voice our concern, and ask whether this other relationship of ours was such a good idea in it's current form. But to outright veto it? No, there is no such right anymore.
Where does this faulty/outdated model come from?
I think partially, we did develop our poly network from the basis of a primary couple. So it's a natural development when we went from monogamous to polyamorous. However, I also think that much of the blame is mine:
Ever since I entered into my very first relationship (at 15), I've always defined myself through my relationship. I've always been just a part of someone else. I've been very malleable, shaping myself, my behavior and interests, to my partner. For example, I adopted some very varied interests for styles of music and types of art through my teen years, because my partners at the time liked specific things. Same goes for hair colour, and clothing, and lots of other things.
This isn't solely a bad thing, of course. Empathy and adaptation/compromise are good traits to have in a relationship. But there is such a thing as overdoing it. To a certain extent, I've been erasing my own personality and substituting it with theirs.
When T and I got together, he was made aware of this and we've specifically worked to counter it. Even so, it's been really hard for me to admit that he likes things that I don't really like as much. And it's been hard to do / learn /experience something that T has no interest in doing / learning / experiencing. I've steadily been getting better at this, but it's taken me a long, long time to develop some sort of personality and field of interests separate from his.
I feel like I'm at a point now where I need a more individual model for my relationships. A more fluid model, that doesn't play at being a complete and permanent image. A model where I bloody well stop defining other people's relationships for them, and realise that I have a highly subjective perspective. A model that doesn't even TRY to encompass the entire network (because again, where should you draw the line?).
Above is pictured an attempt at a new relationship model. I say attempt, because I'm sure it will change as I discuss it with others.
-First, notice that I've not even tried to define T's other relationships. I acknowledge that he has them, but there's basically just a big question mark there. It's not my place to count or define them.
-Secondly, notice that the model is no longer centered so much on The Couple. It's centered on me. I feel this to be more honest, though also a lot more scary. It feels like I'm being selfish, somehow.. Egocentric (which is literally what this is) feels like such a bad word..
-Third, notice that the total number of relationships aren't actually numbered. I don't know what my maximum number is, or what form other relationships might take. That's why there's an "Others?"-box. Relationships are fluid, and they don't (all) have to follow the progression of the Relationship Escalator.
-Fourth, there is no longer a clear hierarchy here. Sure, some relationships have lasted longer than others and are more committed (represented by thicker lines), but there's no "us vs. them". No borders.
At the same time, I'm not sure if that fourth point is completely correct either. T and Saint feel like my family now, to a larger extent than any other relationships do. And T and I still own stuff together, and are married, and all that primary stuff. So maybe there should be some sort of box there after all... But not one with such hard lines. Something like this, maybe?
Where am I going with all this? Not sure. These are new thoughts to me as well. I haven't actually challenged myself to think about or define my relationships in a long, long time. It's good to take stock and see what's what. I don't attempt to present any clear answers here, as I don't have them myself. I just know that I enjoy my relationships as they are, and I look forward to the future. With all of them.