This is a tough relationship to identify sometimes. It hangs somewhere between “Casual” and “Serious”, and it often suffers from the “imbalanced concept” problem wherein one partner thinks it’s something that the other partner does not believe. The main marker, then, is endurance without advancement. I propose a discussion on…
The Secondary Relationship
You know those people who have those long, drawn-out relationships that never seem to advance? They date, they have sex, they might even live together, but there’s this sense that it’s never really going to get there. They seem to have all the pieces to the puzzle at first glance, but often, there’s some kind of spark or something missing. Maybe one partner is waiting for the other to pop the question, or maybe they’re just comfortable leaving things as they are.
In poly circles, this would be the next most important relationship outside of the core, primary one (also known as the M-Level relationship, which we’ll discuss tomorrow). Sometimes, people don’t have a primary relationship and just maintain the slightly more casual secondary ones, and it’s not unusual to have more than one secondary relationship. (The “Secondary” part refers to the level of commitment, not necessarily to an ordinal value.) Before I go further, let me state explicitly that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a secondary relationship. If that’s where you’re comfortable, then there should be nothing keeping you in the same place indefinitely, but make sure that your partner is really on the same page.
In a tragically high number of situations, one partner believes that their relationship works great at a secondary level and doesn’t want to move it forward, but their partner instead believes that they’re “doing their time” as a dating couple before moving on to the “married couple” status. In video game terms, they keep earning more and more experience points, but they never seem to level up. I’ve even seen people share deep tragedy and trials, support each other through death and loss and illness, and it still never convinces the reluctant partner to make the leap to a formalized commitment.
When the secondary relationship is the only relationship, I’d put a time frame of about two years on it (maybe three, depending on circumstances) before assessing whether or not it’s going to evolve. If your partner breaks out in hives at the idea of cohabitation and you’re looking for your Happily Ever After, do yourself a big favor and extricate. On the other hand, if you like having your own level of freedom and never having to worry about the toilet seat being left up (or down) on a daily basis, carry on.
The virtues of the Secondary relationship are many and include aspects such as personal freedom, financial independence, an emotional safety zone, and a mostly guaranteed date on Saturday night without futzing too much with the distractions of the M-Level relationships during the rest of the week. The downsides, on the other hand, can include a sense of insecurity over not knowing exactly where you stand with a person or turning around after many years in a Secondary relationship and realizing that you might’ve missed some other opportunities that could have led to something more personally satisfying.
Secondary relationships can and have produced offspring, but the post-natal arrangement is one of co-parents rather than partners. Sometimes a surprise pregnancy can artificially escalate the Secondary into the M-Level, but often this leads to an undercurrent of resentment and anxiety. The upshot of this is, always put a safety on the love gun when you’re playing straight.