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Maxine's Journal

Adventures of the Polka-Dotted One

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On hierarchies, relationships and cat ownership.
It's a set of questions that comes up perennially in poly communities: Do I refer to my relationships as Primaries and Secondaries and if so what does that mean? Is that descriptive labelling, does it simply describe how things already are, or is it prescriptive, indicating how one thinks the relationship ought to be? Doesn't primary and secondary imply hierarchy (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't)? What other terms could I possibly use?

For me I have always very clearly explained that my 'primary' partners are the partners I think of first (first, hence 'primary'), before I make decisions, and my secondary partners are the folks I inform after a decision is made. It's always seemed a little clumsy requiring so much explanation to make it clear that my system was not based on a prescriptive hierarchy, but I've struggled to find better terms to use.

The other day I was engaged in a discussion in a poly space that was actually unrelated to this particular debate. The discussion was about current partners vs. exes, and attitudes towards relating to them. A most excellent lady, one Poly-Anna, calls her ex-lovers "Outdoor Cats" and her current primary lover her "Indoor Cat." I took one look at this metaphor and fell utterly in love. I mean, what's not to like? It's cute, familiar to nearly everybody and involves kitties. Win!

From the discussion:

"All Outdoor Cats used to be Indoor Cats until something went wrong. But once you are an Outdoor Cat, you may occasionally get petted or fed, but you never live indoors again.

Also, we don't mind visitors coming into the house and petting or playing with our Indoor Cats, but it's important to us that the Indoor Cat remember where he is fed and sleeps."

"We also recognize that our Indoor Cats may be someone else's Outdoor Cat. There is a cat door!"

Of course, there is the implication that by equating relationships to cat ownership, one might be implying ownership of one's partners... but I'm pretty sure anyone who has ever lived with cats knows that "ownership" is a rather loose term for a particular cat choosing to live with you for a while, for as long as that suits the cat.

So I got thinking, and the more I thought about this particular analogy for relationships the more I liked it.

Now, I don't agree word for word. For example, I don't think it's quite true that all Outdoor Cats used to be Indoor Cats. I think that some cats may well start out as Outdoor Cats and get themselves adopted to become Indoor Cats later.
Some cats really don't like living indoors and want more freedom, or are suited to a different style of household.
Some cats like to live indoors most of the time, but occasionally go off a-wandering.
Some cats have two households.
Some cats may bring other cats home with them, or the occasional small animal to play with, and it is quite possible to have more than one Indoor Cat as long as they get on well together, or have enough space.

These labels can still be descriptive or prescriptive: One could say prescriptively 'I'm looking for an Indoor Cat' or 'I'm looking for an Outdoor Cat', 'you're an Outdoor Cat right now, would you like to move Indoors with me, entailing x, y and z?' or you might just find yourself saying descriptively one day 'well it looks like I have an Indoor Cat now, what a surprise!' but I really like that there is no implied value judgement. Something that's ever so hard to avoid with language like primary/secondary or anchor/satellite or most of the terms I've come across in poly circles. The Outdoor Cat is not automatically less important than the Indoor Cat, is not due any less love, respect or consideration, the Outdoor Cat is still very much a cat in its own right, it's just a different living situation.

...and sometimes cats... get rabies and have to be put down?

Okay, perhaps I've stretched the metaphor just a little too far, but you see my point I hope!

For me, this also leads to a new realisation. Right now, I am the Outdoor Cat. All of my relationships, however loving and intimate, are long-distance and ad-hoc. While I have a partner I consider to be 'primary' by my own definition, we're not well suited to living with each other so we don't try to push ourselves into a box that doesn't fit.
Some day I would very much like to be an Indoor Cat again, but I'm not planning to rush into anything unsuitable just because it's a home. I think, for now, the wandering life suits me.
But I realise also that, as an Outdoor Cat, I'm not without care, feeding or attention. I realise that if something bad were to happen and I was to get sick or injured I think there are several homes where I could get taken in, looked after for a while, taken to the vet... and for that I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate. It was only when I looked at my relationships through a slightly different lens, thinking about the love and care involved in each, rather than the logic of decision-making and who informs who of what, that I realised that. I think that's a beautiful thing.

What relationship do you have with your 'cats'?

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I am me, a Cat, indoor and outdoor and very happy with my life :)

Hehe, and love you exactly as you are, Cati! :)

I love this way of looking at things.

Mostly an outdoor cat here. I have one indoor and one outdoor cat local to me and that works well. I like knowing that I have 2 that can be there for me for various things. Then there's my long distance one where we are mutually outdoor cats.

I really like this language and am going to have to find way to make it more user friendly in my world. Both my local guys are important and it just felt so wrong to use the primary/secondary language but I was having trouble figuring out new/better/more fitting words. This is almost perfect.

I really like that you use "entailing" in a cat metaphor.

I've mostly been an outdoor cat, though not because I don't want to be indoor. I'm in a situation where I'm not sure whether I'm indoor or outdoor.

Teehee, I managed to do that without thinking about it, too! :) Like that you spotted it!

I'm allergic to cats. Can I have stray dogs instead?

I think the animal matters less than the metaphor. You can have marmosets if you like! :)

No, primary/secondary terminology doesn't work well with me. I'll try the cat thing.

I'm solidly attached to both my cats. I have two homes, an indoor cat in one & an outdoor cat visits the other. The indoor cat ignores the outdoor cat. The outdoor cat is an indoor cat in a third home. The inhabitants of the third home may move nearer, yay!

Um, I'm not sure this works? Am I a cat too?

Emotionally, they are both primary to me. I live mostly part-time with one & mostly full-time with the other.

Indoor & outdoor aside, I'm not sure I belong here. I seem be stranded here from another planet & my ways seem strange to the natives...

I'm pretty sure I understood you from your first paragraph. Always takes a little getting used to new terminology though! :)

Teehee... the following google ad just appeared next to the last couple of comments I received as email updates. For the determinedly single, perhaps?

Cat Fencing 64p
Keep Out Cats & Other Intruders. Deterrent Against Burglars.

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