Prioritize Me!

A friend asked for my thoughts about polyamory and the aphorism “Don’t prioritize people who don’t prioritize you.” Here is my response.

It really sucks when you get the sense that someone is not prioritizing you in the way you are prioritizing them. It seems to be one of the most frequent problems in all types of relationships not just poly ones. Early on in a relationship, prioritization mismatches seem to loom much larger than later in relationships. I surmise this has a lot to do with lacking a history of connection with the corresponding sense of confidence that the waxing and waning of prioritization isn’t a lack of interest but a natural flow of our complex busy lives. My best relationships (friends or loves) have shared the characteristics of being able to connect deeply, on broader aspects of ourselves, over a sustained period of time. It is easy to miss remember that the mutuality of these connections evolved over time with a typically uneven frequency of connection.

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Trust Matters

Having more than one serious, committed relationship is a head scratcher for many people. Throughout the years since discovering my polyamorous nature*, I have dated many wonderful women who struggled mightily with adjusting to poly. I thought that jealousy would be the primary spoiler of otherwise beautiful unions. And while jealousy has been a frequent visitor, it was not behind the most difficult and important struggles. Jealousy has a short half-life, a quick emotional burst that can burn bright and frequently passes as much on its own as in response to soothing. The hard struggles all revolved around trust.

  • Can I count on you to be there for me when I need you?
  • Can I trust that you will not leave me when the relationship deepens and becomes more complicated?
  • Will you and your other partner(s) treat my feelings and interests as important?
  • Can I trust that you will make me a priority when I need you?
  • Will you be there for me when I’m upset?
  • Will your other relationship(s) always come first?
  • Can I trust you to keep our relationship agreements?

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Modern Family: The Progressive Family Structure

S ociologists, historians, anthropologists and economists have all opined on the role of the Nuclear Family in society (especially Western societies).  Not without controversy, the idea that the ideal basic building block of society is one man + one woman + their children has been prevalent since at least the late Nineteenth Century. The main controversy in social history is whether the nuclear family is a response to industrialization or a prime supporting condition for industrial society. The Extended Family (sometimes called Kinship family) structure where multiple adult relatives (e.g., grandparents living with one of their children’s family) live together is the most commonly observed alternative (especially from the historical point of view where the interconnections of tribe and kinship were tightly interwoven across families).

Why is “immediate” family structure so important? Well, the lines that define the family unit also typically define the borders of deep financial entanglement, procreation, primary sources of emotional support and child rearing, etc. Or as sociologist James Henslin (Essentials of Sociology) states, the core functions of the family include “economic production, socialization of children, care of the sick and aged, recreation, sexual control and reproduction.” The nuclear family has been presumed ideal family structure in Western society during the modern era. However, signs of a growing need and willingness to experiment with different family structures are replete in contemporary society (from platonic life partners to a variety of polyamorous families). (more…)