"But in giving Gilles an ultimatum, was [Elena] prepared for the possibility that he might say no—thus leaving her in the position of having to make good on her promise to end her relationship with him? Or was she working from an expectation that he would say yes—thus making the ultimatum dangerous for only Louisa, and not for Elena? What would her response be if Gilles said no? Would she be angry? Consider his choice a betrayal? Use shame and guilt to try to get him to do what she wanted? Or would she accept his decision—and leave the relationship?"
Eve Rickert follows up with part 2 on the question "are hierarchies ethical?" I pulled this quote out because of my own experience with "accidental hierarchy".
I was not always as secure in my relationships as I seem to be now. Hell, I'm *still
* not always as secure in my relationships as I seem to be now. But my security has grown over time, as have my skills in handling my insecurities. In the past, I have taken advantage of Couple Privilege (without realizing it) and I have been in sort of de facto hierarchical relationships, even though I have never approved of hierarchy.
One common tactic I have actually participated in was the pre-approval veto - where any new partner must be pre-approved by the existing partner before any moves are made towards a partnership. This is often seen as an exception to the no-veto rule because the new potential partner often isn't even aware that they are being considered as a potential partner at this point - they might not even be interested, or at least they might not have expressed any interest yet. And if the veto is played, they may never know. I could go on a whole blog post about how that isn't really any different or better from a regular veto, but that's not the point of this piece now.
A long time ago, I dated someone who sought to reassure me about a new partner he was interested in. She wasn't poly. She had never heard of it before. She hadn't even had very many romantic partners at all. I was concerned about how "advanced" her relationship skills were and how this would negatively impact my relatively new relationship with our mutual partner. But I was here first. So my partner volunteered that, because he was committed to *polyamory
*, not just me, if this new interest of his started making "enough" trouble, he would break up with her and not just for me, but because he also didn't want any mono-poly drama.
So, fast forward something like a year and a half, and I decided we had reached "enough trouble". So I pulled out my defacto veto. I reminded him of his promise and told him to break up with her. This has always bothered me. In hindsight, I see where I went wrong and I am now opposed to even the pre-approval veto. But it bothers me that I could have been opposed to veto and hierarchy for the whole power imbalance thing and I still pulled rank when I had it.
So that's where this quote comes in. Before I called his hand, I thought long and hard about doing so. I thought of every possible outcome to challenging him to break up with her. And I didn't do it until I had decided what the worst possible outcome was and accepted it. I waited until I was fairly certain that he would *not
* break up with her, and that my challenge to him would result in our own break up.
When that's exactly what happened, I wasn't angry. I was sad and disappointed, but not angry. I did not feel betrayed. I felt let down because I felt as though he hadn't lived up to his commitments, but that's actually part of a pattern - he had broken several commitments to me over the course of the relationship and those commitments were *to me
*, not about her, but that's what led me to the decision to issue the challenge in the first place. So I felt let down, but not betrayed.
However, many years later, I dated someone who believed that I had violated some agreement that I still do not believe I ever made, and he felt *betrayed
*. Based on this partner's reaction, my emotions to that earlier partner choosing not to break up with his other partner were nothing like, and not even in the same family as, the emotions that this later ex seemed to feel towards me and my choices of partners.
I did not shame or guilt my then-partner into breaking up with her and staying with me. I accepted his decision immediately, and I left the relationship. We hugged, and got to work on building a new foundation for a friendship. I'm not saying it wasn't painful, and that I didn't have feelings of resentment, but there was no coercion and no entitlement there.
Later, when the shoe appeared to be on the other foot with that other partner, I worried about consistency. When *I
* had a partner who took a new partner that I wasn't happy with, I told him about my unhappiness and I broke up with him when he didn't "do what I want". But then when this later partner was unhappy with my new relationship and this time *I
* refused to either curtail or end this new relationship in favor of my existing partner's feelings, how was I any different from this later partner?
*, deep down, that there was a difference. But of course I did. I am the hero of my own story, after all, as is everyone. Of course it's "different when I do it"! But, was it really?
I think it was. As this article explains, it can be really difficult tell from the outside because often the end result is the same. "An outside observer who did not know Elena would in fact not be in a position to say whether her actions were a veto or not. Why? Because the difference comes down to expectation and intent."
This later partner felt *entitled
* to have me choose him. He felt *entitled
* to make demands on who I chose as another partner and how that new relationship could progress. He attempted to shame me for not allowing him to dictate the constraints of my other relationship, still trying to shame me even after he broke up with me. He felt betrayed. In fact, that's the exact word he used. He felt it was OK to override the agency of his partners, and not just me. Part of the reason why I refused to be flexible with respect to how difficult this situation was on him was because I saw him override other people.
See, I'm one of those annoying people who, when you back me into a corner, I'll just dig in my heels, bare my claws, and fight back out of spite. I'm working on that, but it's something I do. When I see someone having a hard time with something, and I don't see a good faith effort to own their shit and deal with it, I tend to throw people in the deep end.
Which means, in practice, that when I first start dating someone, I'll be extra considerate to make sure that they're comfortable with all the new poly stuff. I am not a beginner relationship. Even other poly people need a little adjusting when they start dating me. But if I start to notice that they are not making an equal effort to move past the discomfort and grow, if they are instead taking advantage of my consideration, I'll stop coddling them all at once, kind of like throwing ice water on someone. It may not be my best self, but I'm at least self-aware about it and I do warn people up front.
I had witnessed him being unreasonable towards his other partners. I saw him attempting to control their bodies. I saw him even trying to control their minds. He was startlingly successful at it. So I got pissed off. Then I started talking to someone new. This was the first time I had added my own new partner since he and I had started dating, and he was *not
Incidentally, this is why I do not subscribe anymore to the principle that you should let your newbie partner start dating first. I mean, if it happens that way, then it happens that way. But I do not believe it is actually doing them any favors to "ease them into" polyamory and I no longer believe that all people need is to experience how it's possible to love more than one and they will magically not be afraid when their partner starts loving someone else.
Personal experience and observation of hundreds, if not thousands, of relationships in the poly community over the last two decades that I've been participating in it have taught me that putting off one's own entry into the dating world, or "easing them in" only makes one's partner comfortable in a fiction. They start to get accustomed to life as it is - with you not dating anyone - and then it's a shock to the system when you finally do start dating someone, because it's a *change
* that they never really accepted. How often do we see people have no problem at all dating someone who is already partnered, only to freak out when that someone gets an even newer partner? The existing partner was part of the calculation, but a new partner is a *change
*. The kindest thing you can do to someone like that is to show them up front what sort of relationship they can expect from you - and that includes how actively you date others.
Anyway, this partner had become accustomed to me not having any other partners for several years, because I made him a priority. But he added several new partners of his own and his time became more scarce. So eventually I had more time and emotional resources to devote to meeting new people as he dealt with the distraction of trying to control too many women at once. With his time being taken up by all the fires he had to put out with his mismanagement of his other relationships, and his attention definitely not on me or us, I felt alone and was open to considering other partners for the first time in several years.
But I wasn't *just
* open to considering new partners, I was also pissed off at him for how he was treating his other partners. So I took off the kid gloves and I just did my other relationships however it felt natural between myself and the new partners and I expected the existing partner to just deal without any coddling from me.
Let me be clear and say that I don't believe I was *cruel
*. I don't believe I was *anything
*. My other relationships were between me and my other partners. They had nothing to do with him. He and the other partners didn't even live in the same city (or state). What I did was refuse to limit or restrain or shape these other relationships according to *his
* wishes even a little bit. Not even the pre-approval veto that I previously believed didn't "count" as hierarchy or infringing on agency. But I'm quite sure that he disagrees with me on whether or not I was "cruel".
So when he confronted me about my new relationships, he was *angry
*. He was mad that I wouldn't get pre-approval. He was mad that they progressed at a speed he didn't condone. He was especially pissed that I disagreed that we ever made some sort of "agreement" where he *could
* have a say in those things. He called me names. He called me unethical - a sure stab right into my very sense of self. He accused me of betraying him. He accused me of being *unsafe
* and putting him and all his other partners in danger, even though A) I had done nothing to put them in "danger" and B) I gave him all the information he needed to make his own safety decisions before we were even in the same city together again.
These are things meant to control. These are things meant to disempower. These are things meant to overrule agency. These are the tower - safety, ethics, consideration for existing partners' feelings. But I saw the village behind them - control, entitlement, fear, disempowerment. And these are not the things that I did with my prior partner, even though the outcome looks superficially similar.