This was originally published elsewhere in April 2007
Some polys abhor the idea of classifying their lovers as "primary", "secondary", or"tertiary". They find the concept degrading. Personally, I find the terms valuable when wanting to use a simple word that explains the practical nature of your relationship with a specific partner. Now, if someone were attempting to use these labels as descriptive quantifiers or qualifiers in regards to "how much" they love a person, or to the "degree of intensity" of that love--a sort of categorizing of lovers who win 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, places in their heart, that does strike me as degrading.
Here's my idea of a practical application for using these terms although there is of course no set way of structuring the primary, secondary and tertiary statuses of your polyamorous relationships. This is merely an attempt to explain a feasible way to use these terms.
Primary Partner: This is the lover you spend most of your time with. You probably live together but not necessarily. Your finances are often combined in that you might own a home together, have joint checking and savings accounts, as well as other shared investments. This person is the mother/father to your children and you share the holidays together with relatives on both sides. This is the person you are mostly tied up with in the mundane aspects of life. As the mundane is a significant part of most of our lives, it's very nice to have a responsible and committed partner to share these daily duties with. After a long day of work and kids, it's nice to relax on the couch with this person and exchange foot rubs. Hopefully, on the nights you aren't too tired, you'll have an incredible session of lovemaking before falling off to sleep in each other's arms.
Secondary Partner: This is the lover you schedule the next most significant amount of time with. Since your life is busy with your primary relationship, kids, work and everything else, you probably have a fairly regular schedule worked out to be with this person. Maybe you meet them for lunch every Tuesday, and do dinner with a sleep over on Thursday. Sunday they might come over for brunch and help you and your primary with yard work. You probably talk on the phone and exchange a lot of emails with this person to keep the communication and scheduling clear, and also just because you miss them.
Tertiary Partner: This is the lover you see twice a year. Once, in the winter when they come to the city you live in to visit their relatives (and you) for a week, and then once every summer you take a mini vacation to visit them for three days. Other than that you talk on the phone every month or so and email occasionally.
Of course, these are just made up scenarios that might suggest the level of life involvement you keep with your primary, secondary and tertiary lovers. They are meant as reasonable descriptions of the level of contact you might maintain with your different lovers. There are certainly no hard and fast rules nor definitive lines that place relationships in rigid primary, secondary, and tertiary boxes with specific time allotments. Some people may have two primary partners and live with one or both of them. You may or may not share your finances with your primary partner. If you don't have children or a busy work schedule you may have lots more time for "playing" with your all of your partners. Maybe your primary partner travels a lot and you see them least of all your partners. Some people consider themselves as their own primary partner and their lovers as their secondary partners. Maybe you have no primary partner and two or three secondary partners. Maybe you are in a group marriage and the responsibilities, including the children, are all shared equally. Or you might be part of a triad and you are all primaries to each other. Maybe you have no primary partner and half a dozen tertiary partners who all live in the same town as you. Also of course, life situations change and people evolve and a secondary could move into primary status or vice versa.
Whether a lover is primary, secondary or tertiary, it does not refer to the quality or quantity of your love for them. You might have a tertiary lover that you've known for twenty years and the love you share is just as deep and abiding as the love you share with your primary partner of 5 years. And each relationship is different. Each person is unique and therefore the love we share with them is unique. We are multi-faceted individuals and each person we are in relationship with will focus on a different facet, will see our shine from a different perspective. Love manifests differently in every relationship. One love isn't better or worst than another. There is no hierarchy of love. The nature of our relationships aren't higher or lower. Primary, secondary or tertiary, love is love.
To be continued.