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But Who Comes First? The Difference Between Prescriptive And Descriptive Hierarchy

But Who Comes First? The Difference Between Prescriptive and Descriptive Hierarchy

The argument over hierarchy is one of the most contentious ones in the polyamorous community. Many people find it important to label their relationships Primary, Secondary, and sometimes even Tertiary. Others are militant in stating that terms like that are unfair to those labeled Secondary or Tertiary. Some have used terms that attempt to remove the hierarchy, such as nesting partner or anchor partner, sometimes in place of the term Primary. The argument has been made that a nesting (cohabiting) relationship or a marriage automatically enforces a hierarchy, and those in nesting relationships are unable to be non-hierarchical.

This argument is rehashed constantly, probably second only to the argument over unicorn hunters. Something I’ve realized, however, is that often those that argue will end up agreeing on everything except what the term “hierarchy” even means.

There is a solution to this argument, and it lies in the concept of prescriptive hierarchies versus descriptive hierarchies.

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Assumptions Jenga

Assumptions Jenga

In the stereotypical narration laid out by our culture, there are a lot of assumptions. A heterosexual man will meet a heterosexual woman, they will date, fall in love, get married, have children, and you know their relationship is a success because one of them died instead of getting divorced. This is a life that many people want, and that’s great for them, but there are also many people that it just doesn’t seem right to. These are the dangers in assumptions.

On the one hand, if something is so broadly assumed, you will feel like a complete outcast if you don’t fit that assumption. Whether that means you’re gay, or don’t want children, or want a career in juggling, or really anything that doesn’t fit the mold, it’s something you either have to speak out about and risk bad reactions, or stay quiet on, and live a life you don’t want.

Those are all huge assumptions, though, and here I want to talk about the many, many smaller ones we make day to day. Sometimes these smaller ones will pass by unnoticed, but often times they lay the foundation for one of the bigger ones, and the longer the assumption stays in place, the harder it will fall.

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