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Since transparency was required—and they were involved, in some way, with the wife or primary partner—they could be out in public as the "girlfriend." "I loved her like a sister," says Ivy, of her ex-boyfriend's primary girlfriend. And I got weeks off, but still got to feel the love of these two people."Still, Susan—a 44-year-old graphic designer from San Francisco who likes being a secondary because she tends to feel suffocated as part of a traditional couple—acknowledges that there's an inherent sadness to the setup.
"I don't know any woman who isn't occasionally like, God, I just wish someone else would handle my husband tonight. "They get to go home to their partners and have a conversation around what it was like for them," she says. Which can be really amazing, but I don't have somebody to [immediately] share my experiences with.
Ivy was, for all intents and purposes, the "secondary." She was more curious than turned off: "I've always been one to question relationship paradigms, and I thought, well, the only way for me to really understand this is to try it," she says.
For a period of six months, she decided, she'd date both her boyfriend his girlfriend.
On the other hand, "when my sexual and intimacy needs are being met, I feel whole, like I'm not approaching [new] men from a place of need or desperation," she says.
While "couple privilege" is a concept meant to be resisted by people trying to ethically navigate nonmonogamy, I also saw it as the larger macro lens through which the media reports on these relationships: always through the eyes of the couple, with a tinge of titillation (ethical cheating, sexy!
) as well as anxiety (but what about the dying institution of marriage? It's an angle that only serves to reaffirm the preeminence of coupledom in American culture, not disrupt it.
As a secondary, she feels "less jealous and less threatened," because to lose the guy would be to lose someone important but not the person "at the center of my world."Most of the women I interviewed—10 around the country, but mostly in the Bay Area, where it seems like practically everyone is at least a nonmonogamous—raved about dating polyamorously married men.
They were excellent communicators, the women said, because to negotiate the inevitable minefields of nonmonogamy, they had to be.