Episode 35: Primary Responsibility

Do titles matter when it comes to prioritising your time? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Listen below. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers.


Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript


I have just entered a poly relationship with an adorable person  that we can name Ulysses.

Ulysses has been with this girl, Penelope for 6 years. A few years ago, they decided to go poly, because Penelope was leaving to work at sea. As a result they see each other rarely. Apparently, Penelope has a lot of casual relations, and struggles with Ulysses's ways of building intimacy (who likes to build more meaningful, long term relation).

In December, Penelope is coming to our city for a month. She is flying from across the world, and made it clear that she doesn't want to meet me. She also wants his exclusive attention while she is here. This means that him and I will have next to no contact, after 2 months of seeing each other 3 times a week. Ulysses says that he has no control over the situation, and, though he is sad for me, kinda understands where she is coming from. My issue is, as I see it, that Ulysses is not taking responsibility, by either setting boundaries, OR being honest about the fact that I don't matter next to her.

On top of that, he doesn't seem to understand the concept of primary vs secondary relationship, as he keeps saying that, because she feels left behind since he has started seeing me, she is the secondary relation.

My question is: how many red flag is too many red flags? I have never done poly relation before, but the fact that he isn't taking responsibility, that she seems to want me to disappear, and that he is quite distressed with me insisting about the correct terminology around our dynamic, is making me rather scared.


Okay, the first thing here is your instincts that Ulysses is not taking responsibility is spot on. He can absolutely control the situation. And I'm not saying that he can necessarily control how Penelope decides to react. But he can control what he does with that information and how he chooses to communicate it to you.

Like a lot of people— and you're not the only person who's like this — you are way, way, way, way, way too involved in their relationship. Why do you know all this stuff? Like you don't need to know all this stuff. I get that some people really want to have a kind of friendly relationship with their metamours. And that's absolutely fine. And a metamour is the person that your partner dates. By the way, if you don't know that terminology, however,

sometimes that just isn't possible. And sometimes

it's also— even if it is possible, you don't need to know all that information about like the ins and outs of their relationship.

It's kind of really inappropriate for you to know that information in a way. You know, because it’s— it puts you in a very weird position. Understandably, you're friends with Ulysses and like, maybe Ulysses doesn't have anyone else to talk to about his relationship with Penelope, but he needs to find someone else and find someone else who doesn't have any romantic connections to this situation. It just isn't really cool that you know all this kinds of stuff and I'm not saying that's your fault. But you know, Ulysses is kind of telling you all this stuff, and I think he's doing it to absolve himself of the responsibility.

Because obviously, you're going to see this situation as in part if not completely Penelope is fault, because it's Penelope who's putting forth that this is what she wants him to do. And he's not budging. So what if he can understand where she's coming from? That doesn't mean he just has to lie back and not do anything or just ignore it every situation or just sort of sit.— That's why he's telling you all this information so that, you know, he doesn't have to face the truth, which is that he doesn't want to do anything about it, that he's going to go with what she wants, because he doesn't, for whatever reason, he doesn't want to say no to her.

And I don't think it's necessarily about you not mattering. Like I don't even think it's that deep, unfortunately. And I understand your frustration with the like secondary versus primary labels here because what you're trying to understand is where you fall and Ulysses’s life and you're trying to understand what value he places on relationships, and, you know, the negotiations of power here, but unfortunately, he, you know, isn't going to share those same definitions with you.

And unfortunately, he is going to define things in a way that absolves him of guilt. Like it doesn't really matter who's a primary and who's the secondary in this situation. It just really doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if the primary person or the secondary person is demanding exclusive attention to somebody for an entire frickin month, it just really doesn't matter. Either way, that's a kind of shitty thing to do. And there isn't really any reason for it. Okay, she's been out to sea for months. Okay, they don't get to see each other yada, yada, yada, okay. That doesn't mean that you come back and you have exclusive access to somebody and you and you get to dictate who they do and who they can and can't see.

If that you know, if that's what the life he wants to live, then that's fine. But that's, you know, then that— either you have to decide do I want to be with someone who basically is going to do that kind of thing or not? I feel like if this happened to you, if you were in the same situation, I don't know as that you would just go along with it. So it doesn't really matter. Like I get the kind of, you know, issues with insisting you— you know him getting distressed if you insisting about the correct terminology because that's like the closest thing you're coming to holding him actually responsible for shit is actually saying “Wait a minute here”.

Because if he had to face that, then he's just trying to create a situation where it's excusable for her to demand this, but the truth is that, whether you're the secondary, whether she's a secondary, like, regardless, it's not an acceptable thing. In my opinion, it's if people want to handle the relationships that way, by all means, that's the way they can handle their relationships. But I certainly— if I were dating someone, and whoever they were with, regardless of any label I put on myself as to where I stood in their life, if anyone else told them that they weren't allowed to see me, and they decided to go with that. That's their choice.

You know, this isn't really up to Penelope. It's up to Ulysses. It's up to him. Primarily. It's not up to anybody else. And, yeah, it's not up to any of them. It's rather, it's not up to Penelope, it's up to him. And he is making that decision. And you have it kind of right on the nose when you say he's not taking responsibility by setting boundaries or being honest. And I don’t— I think that the misstep you have there is being honest about the fact that you don't matter next to her, because I don't even know if that's how he sees it. To be honest with you, I think you're giving him a lot of credit and assuming that he is understanding the power relations of the situation. Like I don't think he's thinking of it that way.

I think he's just doing what he's told, unfortunately. And he's not really thinking about the effect that it's having on anyone. So from his perspective, you both maybe mean the same thing to him. You know, you're here, she's not there. Either way, he's gonna be fine. Do you know what I mean? Like you're the one who's not going to be able to see him but he's gonna have somebody so I don't know is that he's even thinking about who matters as much. It's just literally about the fact that he doesn't want to argue with her. And so that's kind of where you're at. Unfortunately, it's not even necessarily a red flag. I mean, usually I use the word red flag in a situation where someone's being abusive. So I wouldn't necessarily say that this is a red flag in that regard.

But it certainly doesn't bode well, for the way that you know, you obviously want to relate with him. I wouldn't get so much hung up on labels, because like I said, it really doesn't matter what label it is. If it's unacceptable to you, regardless of whether you're the secondary or not, if it's unacceptable to you, it's not acceptable. And that's it. So it doesn't really matter.

So yeah, there isn't very much else I can advise on this because I do ultimately feel like you kind of just have to go to him and say, “Hey, this isn't acceptable to me. And that's it”. And that's really it. And just see what he does. So there's nothing really else you can do. And just if he starts to tell you like, if he says, “Okay, fine, I'll work it out”. Okay, but like, if he gives you any more information about his relationship with Penelope, like, you know, the differences of intimacy and what kind of relations she has— it’s none of your business, so it's just none of your business. And, you know, I get that maybe he's told you this to try to explain why he's going along with this.

But um, no, you don't need to know all this because he's making that decision. And if he's going to make that decision, then he needs to be able to tell you and say, “Hey, I value this person, this is what they want, and I'm gonna go with it”. He has to be able to at least do that if he if that's what he wants to do.

So yeah, to sum up, I think I'm just kind of repeating myself again and again here. But to sum up the fact that he isn't taking responsibility. I don't don't think it matters whether or not she wants to make you disappear, doesn't matter that she doesn't want to meet you. Those are, you know, she could not want to meet you and, you know, but he needs to stand his ground. So  that doesn't matter. You should be worried about the fact that he is not willing to take responsibility. In terms of the primary and secondary labels, that's, that's not really a concern, I wouldn't really be concerned about that. Because at the end of the day, labels don't really matter. Labels don't matter.

It's not appropriate for one person, regardless of whether they're the secondary or the primary. It’s not appropriate for them to basically dictate how another relationship that they're not involved in happens. It's not acceptable, in my opinion, and how I do relationships, and it clearly isn't acceptable too. So that unfortunately, you just gonna have to say, this isn't this isn't really gonna fly with me and put the ball in his court and let them decide what to do with it. Unfortunately. I hope this helps and good luck.

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