There’s a really interesting phenomenon which, in all likelihood, you will never have noticed if you haven’t tried to live your life in a non-normative relationship of some kind. (Actually, it may have also bitten you if you’ve ever been single for a decent amount of time as an adult, whether by chance or by choice, but I haven’t been single since I was 14 so have no personal data to go on here.) And this is the phenomenon of what I like to call Couple Centricity. This manifests itself in many ways, and almost all of them can be potentially damaging.
The entirety of Western society is fundamentally couple-centric. Everything comes in pairs – from seats in public places, to ‘his and hers’ gifts. And, seriously, have you ever tried to book a romantic weekend for three? (Not that I have, but I dare to suggest it’d be difficult!) Single people are asked why they’re still single, even if they’ve happily chosen that path and are contented with it. Women, in particular, are treated as though they are somehow less than complete until they’re married or at least in a long-term relationship. Those of us who choose to love more than one – openly and honestly – are vilified for it, while serial-monogamously hopping from one partner to another is seen as absolutely fine. Just watch any romantic comedy (which I guiltily enjoy, even knowing they’re awful) if you want any further proof.
Even the everyday language used so thoughtlessly everywhere is couple-centric and hetero-and-mononormative. Consider phrases such as ‘my other half’ – as though you are somehow half a person without your partner. Or the word ‘taken’ to describe being in a relationship, which I hate with a burning fiery passion! My boyfriend did not ‘take’ me when we got together, thereby claiming me as his property. We mutually decided we wanted to be in a relationship with each other. I am not a possession to be jealously guarded and have to say what effectively means ‘sorry, I already belong to somebody else.’
Tacitly, as non-monogamists, we reject these notions and dare to explore the possibility of a brand of relationships which go above, beyond and away from the traditional one-man, one-woman couple. The problem is that even – or especially – in polyamorous communities, I see couple centricity all over the place.
Take, for example, the classic Primary Couple who decide that their relationship must be protected at all costs – even if that involves hurt and heartbreak for countless other people on the way. Consider the people who’ve called ‘veto!’ on their partner’s other relationships because they feel jealous or threatened or as though the new person doesn’t have enough ‘respect!!!11’ for them as top dog.
Even the much-mocked unicorn hunters display couple privilege and couple centricity the likes of which I have rarely seen. They treat the mythical creature they seek not as a human being, but as a convenient fulfiller of their fantasies. And if she doesn’t love, desire and fuck both members of the couple absolutely equally? Out!
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been treated as expendable and interchangeable because I wasn’t the primary partner. This is a perfect example of both couple-centricity and couple privilege, which is also a very real thing. This notion that the primary couple is the ‘real’ relationship and everything else is just a little bit of fun on the side is leading us away from happy, functional polyamory in which everybody involved gets their needs met, and towards a model of non-monogamy wherein secondary, casual or new partners are treated as Less Than, always expected to defer to the couple on things which concern everybody involved – in other words, to be there when convenient and go the hell away when not. As someone who has often entered existing relationships as the new partner, I can say from experience and with certainty that this is a brand of polyamory I don’t wish to touch with the proverbial thirty-foot bargepole.
Now I am not suggesting that being ‘couply’ or doing things just as a couple is a bad thing – quite the opposite, I am certain that all relationships need a certain amount of ‘just us’ time in order to thrive. What I am disputing is the idea of one relationship reigning supreme in the poly dynamic, and expecting all others to defer to them at all times and in all things. I am suggesting that we move away from a model in which there is one REAL relationship and everything else is just an expendable appendage, orbiting the sun of the Primary Couple, towards an inclusive model in which all relationships are real and valid and, while never looking the same or even necessarily being the same level of seriousness as one another, post on this coming up at some point) – are all given what they need to thrive to the best ability of all parties involved.
I propose that those who claim to be relationship radicals stop, right now, treating partners as throwaway commodities with the idea that if they get bored with one, or if one stops being exactly what they want them to be, they can toss them aside and be assured that the next one will be around the corner.