On Peer/Dependent Relationships

Originally published on May 5, 2019, but I decided to push it out today instead of backdating it so it would get some more views. Reading this now, over a year later and having been elevated, I’m not sure if I have changed my mind or not, honestly.

I’ve been thinking about peer-dependent relationships lately, and how they work and don’t work and the ways we regard them in the SCA. This has informed some conversations I’ve had and my view of some recent events that I’ve seen happen adjacent to me.

Firstly, I have come to the realization that I wish, fairly seriously, that we did not use a pseudo-official signifier to indicate that someone is a dependent. I understand why we do it, but in many ways, the position of dependent has come to almost indicate a status or rank that I think damages the SCA. I’m not entirely sure what to replace it with, but people could do household badges or livery on clothes or favors, and that would suffice nearly as well. It would be harder to say “I have a job for a protege/fight for a squire/project for an apprentice” and immediately pick one out of a crowd, but I’m not sure that would necessarily be a bad thing either; it would probably push people to communicate more than just look for a colored belt.

The other, larger issue is that it seems to me that a lot of peers and dependents have no idea how to resolve internal conflict. There’s no structure or process built in to their relationship to address what happens when there’s a serious disagreement, a crisis, a misunderstanding, whatever, and when it happens, all hell breaks loose.

A lot of people like to to do the “year-and-a-day” thing with new dependents, and I think that’s great, especially when the peer and dependent are initiating a new relationship. But I’m a project manager, and I believe in iterative processes. I think that peers and dependents should talk about their relationship early and often. There should a structured, yearly review, and that review should go in both directions.

I think that most people have been lucky enough to not have a peer-dependent relationship go sour on them; my experience of having that happen three times (twice with the same peer, no less) is pretty unique. I own my own mistakes and actions in those matters, and I’m not terribly interested in debating what happened; the insights I took away from those failures are that they, in many ways, stem from a lack of preparation. Add that to how we amplify these relationships as I talked about above, and you can often have a recipe for disaster.

I don’t go to a lot of vigils, but when I do, my advice to vigilants is always “have a plan for when a relationship with a dependent goes wrong”. Have someone you can turn to as a mediator. Understand your process for dissolving the relationship with as little pain as possible for all involved. Failed peer-dependent relationships don’t have to end friendships, they don’t have to destroy households, and they don’t have to end SCA careers.