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Defining Relationships - Portrait of a Young Man as The Artist
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Defining Relationships
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Recently, some friends of mine have been exploring what constitutes a relationship and what characteristics are required thereof. It has caused me to wonder the same: how do I define relationships and the characteristics that embody them.

It behooves me, first, to define “relationship”. When I say “relationship” I mean an emotional commitment to a person. This is more than friends, friends with benefits or play partners and similar; so, when I speak of relationships, assume that I mean something more than those.

For as long as I’ve been poly I’ve used two terms to categorize my relationships: “primary” and “non-primary.”

In each, there is one necessary characteristic: emotional attachment (aka “love.”) It is the depth of that emotional attachment that distinguishes primary from non-primary relationships.

Non-primary relationships, necessarily, have an emotional attachment, but have fewer or none of the other characteristics often attributed to relationships. A non-primary is a partner you’d be likely to help move house but you wouldn’t watch their kids. The converse — that you MUST watch your partner’s kids if you are in a primary relationship is also not necessarily true — it’s that you would WANT to because of the strength of love for them.

It is these things I call circumstantial relationship characteristics.

These may be sufficient to define a relationship but, absent love, create neither a primary nor non-primary relationship nor differentiate between the two. That is, I do not think any of these characteristics necessarily or solely define a relationship as primary or non-primary.

Some circumstantial characteristics common to primary relationships (not exhaustive):

  1. Cohabitation
  2. Financial entanglement
  3. Parenting duties
  4. Time with Family – with either parents of the person you’re with or other people with whom they are involved.
  5. Attending work/social functions
  6. Caring for health

While these things are more likely to happen in a Primary relationship, they needn’t happen, again, because the emotional commitment is more important. They serve to enrich relationships, not define them.

For instance,I like sharing my space with people I love and enjoy the responsibility of integrating lives. It can be fun and challenging and an exceedingly rewarding situation when you figure it out. Similarly, financial entanglement becomes a sort of physical manifestation of the emotional dedication for me.

Note that this does not, in any way, mean that I measure a person’s level of commitment by equality of financial investment. Rather, house finances should represent a portioning based on income, obligation and ability. Everyone is different.

The point:

Love matters most.

Things can be different, wildly different, person to person, or relationship to relationship. If you focus on characteristics instead of love, you could miss out on Nifty Things.

Or Nifty People.

 

Originally published at Portrait of the Young Man as an Artist. You can comment here or there.

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