What word can I use for a relationship that is committed and loving, but not sexual-romantic?

My primary partner and I broke up, but very much still love each other and are going to continue being in each other's lives. We're struggling what finding terminology to tell people who we are to each other. "Ex" is technically right but honestly wrong, "best friend" is true but not strong enough. I'm just in need of more relationship-describing words so I can get people to understand two people who love each other deeply, feel like family, are sharing a life, but aren't partners.

First off, huge kudos to you two for having the emotional intelligence and maturity to recognize that relationships grow and change and don’t always conform to existing, prescribed structures. Intellectual, emotional, domestic, sexual, creative, romantic, and other types of connections are up to us to define and one doesn’t need to include or proscribe another. I recommend checking out resources around Relationship Anarchy, which does a good job of giving words and structure to ideas and feelings like this.

Ultimately, the big issue here is whether it’s more important that you A.) Find a term that you feel captures the emotional and relational reality of your relationship, or B.) Find a term that you can use externally to refer to this person. It’s sort of one or the other, unfortunately; any term that carries enough meaning to feel right to you will very likely require a lot of explanation and definition. Any term that is conversationally simple is not going to feel complete to you. It is totally okay, when talking to your great-aunt or your coworkers, to use a simplified term just for the sake of not having to derail the conversation to explain the specifics of who this person is to you. It does not diminish your relationship, it’s fine.

As for specific words:

  • You can use “partner” or “life partner” - those words don’t belong to people who have a romantic/sexual connection (they have long been used to describe artistic collaborators, business partners, etc.) and you are free to re/define them.

  • You can combine existing words for terms like “Family Partner” or “Life Friend.”

  • You can just use each other’s names. I had one partner who ‘didn’t do labels’ so I just referred to him as “my Diogenes” and he referred to me as “my Zinnia.”

  • You can make up your own term by borrowing, adjusting, or combining existing roots. Lots of people have tried to tease out ‘different types of love,’ so that might be a good place to start. Check out this theory and set of terms. I knew some folks who just used the prefix “Co” to describe how they related to each other; it was meant to encompass words like collaborator, compassion, connect, etc.

My partner doesn't want to use the word "boyfriend" - what's the deal?

How important are labels in a poly relationship? For example my partner and I do traditional relationship things together. But when I casually referred to him as my boyfriend he said he didn’t want any labels.

That question is impossible to answer; there’s no “Polyamory Prescriptions of Importance” that tell you how important various things are to every polyamorous person. If they’re important to the people in the relationship, then they’re important. If not, then they’re not.

You need to talk to your partner about this and figure out what he thinks “boyfriend” means vs. what you think it means. If, to you, “boyfriend” means “someone who sleeps over, texts me in the morning, and comes with me to work events,” and he does those things but won’t call himself your boyfriend, that is obviously going to feel confusing and oddly arbitrary to you. But if your partner thinks “boyfriend” means “someone who is committed to a long-term relationship and hopes to move toward higher levels of life entwinement like cohabitation,” he might be balking at that term.

Ask him: why don’t you want labels? What does “boyfriend” mean to you that “partner” doesn’t? Is it really just about the word, or is there a different concern? And think about what “boyfriend” means to you, so you can better communicate that to him. How important is it to you that your partner is willing to use that word? Why? It’s highly unlikely that this is really about what collection of syllables you two use to refer to each other - it’s what that word signifies to both of you that needs to be brought from the realm of implication and assumption into clarity and communication.

If I'm capable of being in polyamorous relationships but don't want to, am I polyam?

Is it possible to stop being polyamorous? I haven't had good luck with dating other women, I'm married and the past 2 gf's I've had turned out to get feelings for my husband and basically toss me aside. There was also cheating, lies, and I honestly don't want to go through that again. I still feel capable of loving another person but if I never date another and stay mono to my husband am I still poly? I'm just confused and not sure if I ever want to risk getting hurt again.

If you don’t want to date other people right now, or ever, that’s totally fine. If you feel that means you’re no longer polyamorous, that’s fine. If you feel that you’re still polyamorous but choosing not to practice polyamory or don’t feel like acting on those feelings, that’s fine!

If a straight woman has a series of bad experiences dating men and decides to take an indefinite break from romantic relationships and be happily single, she can still identify as straight - she’s just choosing not to date men. She doesn’t have to, though - she could conclude that, although she’s capable of sexual-romantic attraction to men, her lack of desire for such a relationship makes that identification no longer useful or applicable or relevant.

You should do what’s best for you. You can be a polyamorous person in a monogamous relationship. You can be someone capable of loving multiple people who does not indulge, act on, or pay much attention to that capacity. You can be a person who had active polyamorous desires and no longer does, for whatever reason.

Or, you can be a person who doesn’t identify as polyamorous or monogamous - you’re married, your relationship with your husband is what it is and it’s working, and so it’s not super necessary or useful to come down on a relationship orientation. Identity labels are there to serve us, not the other way around - if you’ve already found what works and you know what you want and how to get it, then labels are entirely secondary.

My partner and I are emotionally and sexually close with a third person - what do we call this?

So my boyfriend and I are in a very committed relationship with each other, but there's this girl were kind of in, like, an open relationship with? (We'll call her E.) My bf and I are intimate with E, but only when the three of us are together. We kiss, cuddle, etc. We all love each other A LOT, but E is free to date/be intimate with whoever she wants without us. We don't consider ourselves in a "serious relationship," but we're way more than friends. Is this polyam or just complicated?

P.S. I apologize deeply if I misused any terms, and I did not at all mean to imply that polyam relationships are less serious than monogamous ones, I was referring to our situation individually when I said "we don't consider ourselves in a 'serious relationship.'" Sorry if that came off wrong!

There are more options in the world than “polyam” or “just complicated.” Because it doesn’t sound like your situation is “complicated” at all! It sounds like you all know what you want and how to get it, and that you’ve found a relationship arrangement that works for all parties involved. I wouldn’t call that “complicated” at all!

It’s up to you whether you want to identify your relationship as polyamorous. Here’s my FAQ page on that. If identifying as polyamorous helps you find language and resources to keep things happy and healthy, great! If it doesn’t seem relevant or necessary, great! You might also consider checking out Relationship Anarchy, which is a way of thinking about relationships that makes lots of space for different types of emotions, arrangements, etc. without trying to force them into pre-existing formats and boxes, including “polyamorous!” I’d say this is a pretty great example of RA, personally - people who know how they connect sexually and emotionally, and who don’t assume that those connections mean they have to do everything else a certain way. But I don’t decide what and who you are, you do!

I also really loved the sweet little postscript. It’s rare that I get hurt or offended by a letter-writer’s language (with some notable exceptions); I usually try to gently steer people toward a linguistic re-framing for their sake, not mine. I think it’s clear that you’ve thought intentionally and honestly about the language you use around “commitment” and “serious relationship” and how that applies to your relationship, which is probably one reason it’s working so well for you three. It’s good to recognize that your application of certain terms and ideas doesn’t generalize to other people, and to be considerate with your language. You’re good, letter-writer; keep on keeping on!

Is my relationship polyamorous if my partners haven't met?

Am I in a polyamorous relationship if I’m seeing two people who do not know each other? But know of each other like they know I’m seeing other people?

Yes, that's polyamorous as long as they know about each other and are freely consenting to the arrangement. Your partners do not need to be connected romantically or otherwise for your relationship to be polyamorous. This arrangement is most frequently referred to as V or "Vee" polyamory.

Am I polyamorous if I'm only interested in two people?

Am I poly if I’m only interested in two specific people? I’m interested in a relationship with them, but the thought of being in a non-monogamous relationship with anyone else just feels wrong.

Of course! I answered a nearly identical question here. To quote from that answer:

Monogamous people don't think "hm, I can't see myself in a monogamous person with my hairdresser or my coworker - maybe I'm not really mono!" Straight men don't think "oh no, there are women out there who I don't want to date - do I count as a straight man?"

Of course you only want to date the people you want to date. Of course you can only see yourself being polyamorous with the people you want to date polyamorously. That's totally fine. You're in love with the people you're in love with - and it happens to be multiple people - so you're polyamorous. It doesn't matter how you feel about anyone else! 

Is it possible to be neither, or both, polyamorous and monogamous?

How do I identify if I'm comfortable with the idea of both polygamous and monogamous relationships?? I'm either monogamous or polygamous right? I can't be completely happy in both type of relationships?

First off, the correct term is "polyamorous," not "polygamous."

Second, it is entirely possible to be a person who would be happy and fulfilled in a polyamorous or monogamous relationship. Just like there are people who would be equally happy staying at home with kids or working in a career. People who would be equally happy in a relationship with a man or a woman. Very few things in this world are true, all-or-nothing, either-or binaries.

As for an identity term that captures this, there isn't one that is widely used for this, the way we have "pansexual" and "bisexual" or "bigender" and "genderfluid." But some that are out there include:

  • monopoly or polymono
  • polyamorish or monogamish
  • polyflexible or monoflexible
  • biamorous
  • flexiamorous

But, above all, relax! You are who you are, and it's pretty neat that you have available to you a wide range of relationships and partners. Seek partners based off mutual connection, be clear about what you expect of your partners and what expectations of theirs you can and can't meet, and you're golden! 

Can I be polyamorous if I'm straight?

I found out that I’m into polyamorous relationships. I only opened up to one person who is an acquaintance plus I have a crush on and thankfully he took it well but I sort of feel excluded since I don’t considered myself bisexual nor lesbian. Is it okay being interested in one gender while being poly?

Who is making you feel excluded? Those people are wrong and being obnoxious. Being bisexual or lesbian is about who you are attracted to; being polyamorous is about the type of relationship you want to be in. They are completely separate and can be mixed and matched in whatever combination is true for each individual. There are monogamous bisexuals, polyamorous lesbians, monogamous heterosexuals, polyamorous heterosexuals, you name it. Relax - you are you, and if you're polyamorous, then you're polyamorous.

Can you be polyamorous with a preference for monogamous relationships?

Is it okay to be polyamorous with a preference for monogamous relationships?

I'm going to do that annoying thing where I sort of reject the entire premise of the question, and then answer it anyway.

You don't need to ask me whether something about who you are or what you prefer is okay! I'm just some blogger - and there's no almighty arbiter of whether a way of being in relationships or a certain identity is "okay." You do you, in whatever way is healthy and honest for you and your partners.

But since you asked - of course it's okay! Plenty of people fall under the umbrella of "could be happy with A or B, but generally prefers A." Plenty of people could be happy and fulfilled in a polyamorous or a monogamous relationship.

If you want to identify as a polyamorous person, that's fine! You could also identify as polyflexible, monoflexible, monopoly, poly-mono, monogamish, or whatever other term feels right to you. But if you have a preference for monogamous relationships, it might make more sense to actively seek out monogamous relationships instead. The good news is that the majority of people identify as monogamous (whether because of something innate or socialized assumptions), so your preference should be relatively easy to indulge.

Am I still polyamorous if I only want to be polyamorous with certain people?

Can I be poly if I only want to be with certain people. I'm not poly in general but I'm in love with multiple people, like I'm only poly for them if that makes sense. Does that count?

That is exactly what being polyamorous means. Being polyamorous means you are interested in a relationship with multiple specific people, not everyone on the entire planet! 

Monogamous people don't think "hm, I can't see myself in a monogamous person with my hairdresser or my coworker - maybe I'm not really mono!" Straight men don't think "oh no, there are women out there who I don't want to date - do I count as a straight man?"

Of course you only want to date the people you want to date. Of course you can only see yourself being polyamorous with the people you want to date polyamorously. That's totally fine. You're in love with the people you're in love with - and it happens to be multiple people - so you're polyamorous. It doesn't matter how you feel about anyone else! 

Sure, maybe there are people you'd be happy in a monogamous relationship with. But forget about the maybes. In this reality, in this universe, you're in love with multiple people and want to be in a polyamorous relationship with them. That's all the information you need!

Someone used language to describe my polyamorous relationship that I find dehumanizing

My boyfriend is new to polyamory and was explaining things to his sister and she asked if he and my girlfriend were "sharing me." That feel like really gross and dehumanizing phrasing to me; am I overreacting by being unhappy with that phrasing?

It's okay to have feelings about things; and the way other people describe you is something that most people have strong feelings about! You can be unhappy with whatever you want - the word is overreaction, not overfeeling, for a reason. It would be an overreaction if you forbade your boyfriend from ever speaking to his sister again or ordering 100 t-shirts that say NEVER USE THESE WORDS TO DESCRIBE MY RELATIONSHIP, PLEASE and only wearing those.

In this case, it's a third party to your relationship - your boyfriend's sister - who used a phrasing you find icky, in a conversation with someone else. Probably best to leave that alone for now - if someone else uses that language when asking you about your relationship, it's totally fine to say "actually, we don't like to describe it like that," and then give your explanation of what polyamory is and is not, for you.

It's totally okay to bring up with your boyfriend that you don't like language that frames you as an object or possession to be shared - not as a thing you're angry about or an issue you have with his sister, just as a heads-up that you're not comfortable with it. Just like I might say "hey, thanks for going grocery shopping, but in the future, I like creamy peanut butter, not chunky."

Am I polyamorous if I only want a triad?

Hi, I just recently discovered I’m into the concept of polyamory but for some reason only the concept of a triad really appeals to me. Does this mean I’m not really poly or is this just a preference like how I’m bisexual but tend to gravitate more toward men?

Triads and polyfidelity are a type of polyamory. So wanting a triad is a way of being polyamorous. You’re exactly right in that it is just a preference of a polyamorous person. Relax! You are polyamorous!

Your identity should never be a topic of debate, and if someone tells you that you’re “not really poly” because you only want a polyamorous triad, bounce their invalidating, gatekeeper ass right out of your life. 

How can I figure out if I’m poly? I’ve been confused about this for a while now. Also, if I am poly does that mean that I’m not “actually asexual”

Here’s my FAQ page about this! Don’t worry too much about “figuring it out” - there’s no test or scan that can go “beep boop, polyamory nodule located, you are polyamorous.” Spend some time daydreaming about best and worst case scenarios, think about what draws you to relationships in media, read about polyamory, and in the meantime, live your best life.

You can be asexual and polyamorous; polyamory is the ability to have multiple romantic and/or sexual relationships. You can be interested in a dating or romantic relationship, but not a sexual one. 

How do you get over the feeling that your relationships are inherently unsustainable? I feel so isolated sometimes that I wonder if dating both my partners is futile bc no one I ever see seems to have the same situation

Can you identify whether there are people, or media, or other influences in your life that are the source of this feeling? What, or who, has implied to you that your relationships are inherently unsustainable? Cut that influence out of your life as soon and as much as possible.

Having any kind of identity, relationship, or lifestyle that you don’t see frequently and positively reflected in the world can feel isolating and alienating. And you’re right, it can be hard to see depictions of other people in similar situations. But they are out there!

The way you “get over that feeling” is by actively seeking out positive, healthy messages and amplifying them in your own life, while at the same time avoiding and challenging negative messages. I give a lot of advice about doing that in this post and this post!

Check my resources here as well and consider joining a polyamorous forum or meetup group to meet other like-minded friends. Here is some information on finding polyamorous representation in media. And if you find that fear, shame, and isolation continue to be serious problems for you, talk to a polyamory-informed mental health professional.

I am a mono guy and was talking with a former poly gf about how jealous I would get, thinking about her being together, intimately, with another guy. It really bothered me. I was saying how I need to find a way to deal with it. She said that at the root of my issue is that I view her as “property”. I disagreed. I wanted her to be able to do what she wanted to do and with whomever, but it still drove me crazy. Was I viewing her as property? And do mono guys have the most problem with this?

It can be really aggravating when someone tries to tell you what you’re thinking and feeling, so know that I am present to that frustration. If you genuinely believe that your struggles with her polyamory don’t stem from you seeing her as “property,” well, ultimately you’re the expert on what’s going on inside your own head.

That said, there is a lot to be said for how capitalist and patriarchal ideas worm their way into our minds and hearts and senses of self. Our culture has long liked to treat relationships as economic transactions. You can see it in our language- a simple example like “you’re mine” and “I’m yours” being used as statements of love. There is an underlying assumption of “possession” in many relationships, and what do you “possess?” Well, property.

So, some people who practice polyamory, non-monogamy, or relationship anarchy do a lot of work to uncover, understand, and challenge some ideas they’ve just absorbed through their culture. Your ex may have been trying to let you know that some of your actions and behaviors seem, to her, to have been informed by these ideas, and to encourage you to interrogate some of your assumptions about relationships and possession and how they work. That she did so by making the annoying mistake of presuming to speak for your internal perspective doesn’t mean it’s not worth examining this.

As for your question about whether mono guys have the most issue with this, I don’t know if there’s been any research on that, specifically, but it is true that our culture sends very specific messages to men about “possessing” their partners. That doesn’t mean all monogamous men see their partners as property, just that a monogamous man may be more susceptible to that kind of thinking, even in subtle or unconscious ways.

Here are some readings, if you’re interested!

Of course, you may just be oriented monogamously, and your inability to feel okay in a polyamorous relationship isn’t an issue of philosophy but rather just of who you are. That’s okay too! If talking to your ex is bringing up feelings of guilt and judgment, you’re under no obligation to keep talking to her.

If someone points out something about you that makes you feel challenged and threatened, sometimes the right call is to try and make space to hear and understand what they’re saying and then examine and work on the dark places in yourself that they shined a light on. Other times, the right call is to decide that they don’t speak for you, and their truth is not your truth, and the healthiest thing is to reject their description of you. It can be really, really hard to tell the difference, and mistakes in that area can be pretty consequential, so it’s okay to be struggling with this. 

I’m Panromantic, Asexual, and Poly…is there a more proper way to say that?

Not really, as far as I know, because those words all refer to different aspects of yourself. You could think of them as your romantic orientation, your sexual orientation, and your relationship orientation. If I’m a sister, a writer, and a person who hates tomatoes, there isn’t one word that encapsulates those three traits because they’re all different aspects of myself.

But all words and all concepts were, at some point, invented by someone to reflect something they thought needed a word! So if you want a term that covers multiple aspects of identity, feel free to develop one!

Hello. I’m fourteen and in a polyamorous relationship (As in, I’m with two people of the same sex as me, and they both know and consent even though they don’t personally have feelings for each other). However, I’ve been seeing articles and such that claim that being poly is a lie and that I should be ashamed of myself for being ‘slutty’. How can I help get those thoughts out of my mind?

First off, stop reading those articles!!! I don’t know where you’re hanging out online or in real life where you’re encountering those attitudes, but start minimizing your exposure to them if at all possible. You are under zero obligation to put yourself in the ‘line of fire’ of statements that make you feel ashamed. If someone is going out of their way to put those ideas in front of you, that person is being cruel and unsafe and you are well within your rights to minimize contact with them, block or unfollow them, etc. 

Second, start filling your mind instead with poly-positivity! Read articles, forums, blogs, and other content that is affirming and healthy for you. Start with some of these links, and branch out from there. If you use tumblr, instagram, reddit, facebook, etc. search for poly-positive tags, groups, and users and create a safe space for yourself! Read books and watch movies that are poly-positive! Check out the resources here to start. 

Third, find ways to help yourself heal from the damage that has already done by those nasty things you read. It is okay to be who you are, and your relationship is not a lie. It is okay to be “slutty,” so if that is something that resonates with you, feel free to take pride, not shame, in that label! But if that doesn’t resonate with you, feel free to completely reject that label. Simply being in a polyamorous relationship does not make you “slutty.” No one else gets to tell you who you are. No one else gets to say that because of your choices or relationships, that you are wrong or bad or should be ashamed. I answered a similar question here, which includes some other suggestions for how to heal from anti-poly and poly-shaming nonsense.

Congrats on finding a relationship that is healthy and happy and working for you! Know that there will always be people out there who disapprove of what you do, whether it’s “getting an art degree” or “adopting a dog from a kill shelter” or “being a millennial” or whatever. The reality is that no matter who you are or what you do, there will always be someone out there writing thinkpieces about how you are bad and wrong for doing whatever it is that you do. Try to let it go. Other people are welcome to have their dumb opinions, but you don’t have to agree or even engage. 

I’m not sure if you’re the right blog to ask, but I don’t know where else to turn to. I know I’m bisexual because I find both men and women romantically and sexually attractive. However, I find any touch from men (even hugging) disgusting unless they’re related to me. It makes me want to rip my skin off. Could this mean I’m not actually bisexual? I’m so confused.

If you “know you’re bisexual,” then that’s your answer.

It could be that you can aesthetically appreciate men, but don’t actually want to engage with them sexually. It could be that previous negative experiences or trauma have created a sense of disgust around men’s touch. This might be the kind of thing best worked out with a mental health professional who specializes in sexuality and identity, if it’s causing you distress.

It could be that your brain’s ‘wiring’ is bisexual, but the realities of your life mean that you aren’t set up to find touch or sexual attention from men enjoyable. It’s okay to let “nature” and “nurture” coexist - despite my previous use of the metaphor, it’s actually an oversimplification-to-the-point-of-myth to think of brains as ‘wired’ a certain way. 

If you enjoy fantasizing about men sexually, if you enjoy looking at attractive men, if you enjoy porn or erotica including men, awesome - do that! If you don’t enjoy actually having sex with men, that’s fine - don’t do that! Live your best, healthiest, happiest life, and don’t worry so much about what exact labels apply. 

i’m in a relationship with a polyamorous boy, who doesn’t know i’m poly as well. i’m scared to tell him as he has really bad trust issues and is very protective over me, but i have started to grow feelings for somebody else as well as him. he always says to me ‘you’re mine, only mine’ and things like that. and i feel like even though he is poly too if he found out that i like somebody else he will be torn. can you help please?

Okay, I know that I’m always saying on here that no one, including me, gets to be the arbiter of someone else’s identity. That said, I am skeptical of this person’s polyamory if it doesn’t allow space for his partners to have other relationships, and if he’s a possessive person with “trust issues.” Part of being polyamorous, or practicing polyamory, means recognizing that you don’t ‘own’ your partners and that love and affection are not a zero-sum game. He needs to do some self-work around his trust issues and figure out what it really means to him to be “polyamorous.”

You can totally bring this up with him, and I suggest that you do! “Hey, since you’re polyamorous, and I’m dating you, is it right for me to believe that our relationship is polyamorous? Are you open to me dating someone else?” If he says no, ask him about that! “What does being polyamorous mean to you? Why doesn’t it include an openness to your partners practicing polyamory as well?” Talk with him about whether he can engage with his polyamory to help examine and heal his trust issues and recognize that if he can date other people and still care for you, surely you can too!

If he insists that he can be polyamorous in the sense that he has the ability to date multiple people, but not in the sense that he can be okay with his partners dating multiple people, then he’s welcome to claim that as his truth. You’re, then, welcome to decide whether those are terms you’re okay with. If not, this might not be the best relationship for you to stay in. 

Hello! I was wondering if a quad relationship in which all partners are together, romantically and sexually, is possible?

Yes, it totally is!

I don’t have an FAQ specifically for this type of “is [XYZ situation] possible/a thing” question (yet), but here are two recent posts of mine that have answers nearly identical to the one I’d give you:

Two couples forming a quad

Have I ever heard of childhood friends creating a polyfidelitous relationship?