There are a lot of different ways to do poly relationships. Every time I have a conversation with someone about playing or going on a date, we talk about poly dynamics. How they/I do poly, how they/I view it, what kinds of framework we are each working within. In many of these conversations, I have heard this phrase used a lot: I am my own primary partner.
I think that that’s a great mindset. Hell, that even the language I use a lot of the time. When I ask people what they mean by that, most often I hear, “It means I put my own needs first. I make sure to practice self-care because I can’t have healthy relationships if I don’t have a healthy relationship with myself.” And that’s true, and it makes sense. But while I was driving home from a sorta-vacation (with my external primary partner) the other day, I started thinking about what “I am my own primary partner” means to me. I mean, really means.
First, what is a primary relationship? That definition may differ from person to person and relationship to relationship, but the overarching similarity is that a primary relationship is one in which a person invests a certain level of time, commitment, and energy. A lot of aspects of a primary external relationship may include comingling of external aspects such as kids, financial interdependence, fluid bonding, shared living space, etc. But there is also the internal component: checking in with a primary before going on a playdate, making sure that other relationships aren’t creating tension in primary relationships, creating intentional time to nurture the primary relationship, etc.
And then there’s intention: although my partner and I don’t tend to use the hierarchical structure of primary/secondary poly relationships, we made a decision to recognize our relationship as a primary relationship because we have certain commitments and intertwined lives, and we are committed to doing the work to try to keep the relationship healthy and strong. Our relationship with one another is not built on the foundation of being a jumping-off point for other relationships; the foundation for our relationship is that we have shared goals, mutual love and respect, and sincerely want to be a part of one another’s lives in specific ways.
To me, external primary relationships are much more well-defined than primary relationships with oneself. For example, my (external) primary partner and I are fluid bonded, share finances and living space, make long-term future plans together, have a consistent and fulfilling sexual relationship, and check in with each other about new dates, play partner, and dynamics we create. That a lot more concrete than “we put each other’s needs first and practice care for one another so that we can go have other relationships,” which is how self-primary relationships tend to be defined.
So what does it mean when I say that I am my own primary partner?
- Do I have a growing, changing, evolving, dynamic relationship with myself?
Do I take the time to put energy and effort into my relationship with myself? Not just time when I can squeeze it in, but time to sit down with myself and talk through problems we’re having- insecurities, fears, things that come up that make it difficult for me to interact with myself, things that make it difficult for me to interact with others. Or do I let my relationship with myself get stagnant, only making time when things get really bad and I need to do some self-care?
- How do my other relationships impact my relationship with myself?
Do I interact with people that are supportive of my relationship with myself, or are they critical? Do they point out those criticisms in ways that are appropriate, or does it feel intrusive or judgmental? Do I engage with people who understand when I need to take some space that’s just for me, not because anything is wrong, but because they (and I) respect my relationship with myself and want to make sure it is strong and healthy? Or do I replace that time with other relationships so that my primary doesn’t get the attention it needs and deserves?
- Is my relationship with myself strong?
Do I feel like my relationship with myself is supportive and healthy? Or has it grown stagnant, toxic, and possibly damaging? Do I view myself with admiration and respect (acknowledging that no one is perfect, and there are irritating things about myself that I have to contend with)? Or do I get annoyed with myself and speak to ways that are verbally abusive and degrading? Am I willing to forgive myself when I mess up? Do I have a good system in place when things come up within myself so that I can work through them and let them go, or do they just get “swept under the rug” and build internal resentment?
- Am I excited about the sexual relationship I have with myself?
Do I consciously engage in my sexual life with myself, or do I just jack off for appeasement? Does it feel fun or obligatory? When I engage in sexual relationships with other people, is it because I want to be sexual with that person? Or is it because I don’t find myself sexy and I would rather focus on another person than face my own sexual hangups?
- Do I trust myself?
Am I transparent about my intentions with myself? Do I believe that I act in ways that are in my best interest, or am I self-sabotaging? Do I manipulate myself or am I honest, open, and direct about my needs, wants, and desires? Do I believe that I am taking into account how an action will impact my relationship with myself? Do I listen to myself when something feels wrong, unsafe, or not good, or do I disregard or invalidate my own feelings?
- What needs are met that make this a fulfilling, exciting relationship?
What do I need/want out of the relationships in my life? In what ways do I want my primary relationship to meet those needs? In what ways can those needs NOT be met through my primary relationship, and do I communicate that with other people? Do I have unrealistic expectations of myself? Do I depend on other relationships to fulfill all of my needs, rather than going to myself when it’s appropriate and necessary?
- Why have I decided to make this a primary relationship?
Do I use this language because I think I am an exciting person that I want to have a deep, fulfilling relationship with? Or do I do it because I “have to,” because it “sounds good” or “sounds healthy,” and it really has more to do with building other relationships outside of myself than with truly connecting with the myself? Would I be someone I would want as a primary partner if I was not me?
These are some of the questions I thought of in terms of reframing and redefining what it means to have myself as a primary partner. And, dang, I fall short on a lot of them.
When I define my relationship with myself in terms of an external relationship, I realize the ways in which my primary relationship isn’t as healthy as I want it to be. I can see where it needs work, time, love, and energy. And it’s tough to have trouble in a primary relationship while also nurturing other relationships. It’s easy to see how the stress and tensions within my relationship with myself impact the relationships I have with others.
So, I want to have myself as a primary partner. I want to be someone that I can trust and depend on, someone that feels safe and fun, someone that feels sexy and creative, someone that will work through the hard shit, someone that is not verbally degrading (in non-sexy ways) or shaming, someone that feels exciting to put time and energy into. I’m not totally there yet, but I think myself and I are starting to see a little more eye-to-eye.
[Cross-posted from FetLife]