Friday, 10 February 2012

But I Have to Be First! Poly Myths 2

This is the concept that, to feel secure in our relationships, and to have a healthy relationship, we need to feel that we come first to our romantic partner.  It includes the idea that our partner will always and invariably be there for us in a personal crisis, to give exactly the kind of support we feel we need at the time.

The assumption is that this is not possible in poly relationships, since there is an automatic conflict of interests when a person has more than one partner.  It's very similar to the Catholic reasoning on why priests should remain celibate.  The argument goes that if a priest had a relationship or family, and there was an emergency at home when he was called to administer Last Rites to a dying parishoner, there would be a conflict of interests, and he could not fulfil both obligations.  To which my reply has always been: What happens when a skilled surgeon has an emergency at home, and is called on to operate on a patient who will die without surgery?  The simple answer, in both cases, is: somebody else will have to be called in to do one of the jobs: either the home support or attend to the dying.  And, if that is not possible, then the individual will have to make a hard decision.  And, honestly, how often is a person likely to face two dramatic crises at exactly the same time?  Not so very often.

Again, when a couple has a child, both parents put the baby first as they should do, not one another.  Babies and children are less competent to care for themselves, so they have to be prioritised.  This in no way challenges the bonds between adults who care for babies and children - or, at least, it shouldn't, in a healthy relationship.  And a person in a relationship with a single parent simply has to accept that their child/ren must come first to them.  If they can't accept that, then the relationship is not likely to last long.  

This idea that we can - and should - come first in a partner's life appears to assume complete free agency, which few of us have.  Consider these examples in a mono context.

What if our partner is disabled and unable to get up, and we have a serious fall? Can they come when we call? Of course not. But they will do what they can – perhaps phone for an ambulance.

What if our partner is hurt and needs to go to hospital, but we also have to look after the children and there is nobody to babysit? Then the injured partner has to go to hospital alone.  This has happened to me, in fact: I had to stay and look after the children while Kester went to hospital alone.

What if our partner is at work and cannot leave without losing the job that supports us both? Can they be expected to drop everything and come home because we have just heard that our mother died and we need their support? Of course not. To do so would simply put us – as a family – in a worse position than before, once the crisis is over.

To expect that we will always come first to a partner, that a partner will always be there for us when we need support, is an expectation that is doomed to disappointment even in a mono situation.  It is not somehow unique to poly, simply because a person has more than one partner.  And even in poly, the support we are able to give a poly partner is far more likely to be conditional on other factors, such as childcare and work responsibilities, than it is on the needs of another poly partner or metamour.

What we have as a couple is the same thing we have in a poly relationship: a knowledge that our partners will do what they can to help us within the limits of their capabilities and other responsibilities. This is just a fact of adult life. Any adult who expects more is going to be sorely disappointed, not to mention incredibly demanding and hard to live with!

As adults, we have already learned (hopefully!) that we cannot possibly *always* come first in another person’s life. To assume that they should invariably put our needs and wants above their own and above any other responsibility they may have would be incredibly selfish and, frankly, immature.