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.

Do you advocate polyadvocy?

Do you advocate polyadvocy?

I have genuinely no idea what that means. It returns zero Google results.

If you mean "polyamory advocacy" in the sense of fighting for laws and other policy changes regarding healthcare, finances, insurance, child custody, adoption, hospital visitation, employment, etc. that serve the needs of polyamorous people and families, absolutely.

If you mean evangelizing polyamory as a relationship style that everyone should adopt, or trying to convince or cajole people into polyamory, absolutely not. There's a time and a place for "hey, there's this thing, it might resonate with you, here's some info about it!" - people deserve access to information that might help them understand themselves and be intentional and healthy about their relationships - but that's where it should end. 

If you mean something else, then I can't answer your question, because I don't understand it.

What's an alternative phrase for "don't ask, don't tell"?

I have in the past communicated to my partners that i don't navigate polyamory that is "don't ask, don't tell." it's a useful phrase that gives everyone a baseline for understanding. however i personally think it's a despicable phrase and want to stop using it. is there another succinct way to describe polyam where partners don't openly share information?

I've never heard one - DADT seems to be the primary way people describe this type of arrangement - but here are some I just made up:

Omission Without Lies (OWL) - essentially this acknowledges that it's okay, or even desired, to omit details about other relationships, and that "lies of omission" are not considered lies. But active lies are not okay. So I might say "I can't hang out Saturday, I have plans" instead of "I have a date" - but if you ask me explicitly what I'm doing on Saturday, I won't say "meeting my Nana for bridge."

Need To Know Basis (NTKB) - acknowledges that there are some things that your partners just might need to know, like that you're busy Saturday, or that you're too sore for kinky sex this weekend after a scene with someone else. But nothing is shared without a need or reason to be shared.

Firewall Polyamory - refers to a "firewall" between all your relationships, where they don't affect or influence or have anything to do with each other. 

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.

Polygamy vs. Polyamory

Is there a difference between being polygamous and polyamorous?

Yes. "Polygamy" is a word used to describe specific societies where plural marriage is part of the social, religious, economic, or political practice. It is most commonly used in sociological or anthropological terms.

"Polyamory" is a contemporary word for freely chosen, consensual non-monogamy, with no cultural coercion. It is considered inaccurate and even offensive to refer to "polyamory" as "polygamy," since the associations with "polygamy" are often restrictive, cult-like environments where wives are treated as property.

There are some polygamous societies that are not restrictive and cult-like; and technically the words mean basically the same thing - but "polygamy" is not a word that most polyamorous people use because it has other connotations.

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!

I’ve only just realized that I’m polyamorous and I’m looking around and people keep mentioning “paramour” and “metamour” and then also calling a different person just their partner, what do the first two terms mean? are there more terms?

My terminology tag

List of polyamory glossaries

My FAQ page with polyamory resources

I think that maybe possibly I might be polyamorous? Monogamy has always been a struggle for me, I always find my eyes wandering and I have to force myself back. And I think I might be poly but I don’t wanna say anything until I’m sure and I know very little about the poly community and I just…HELP lol

My FAQ page where you can learn more about polyamory

My FAQ page about figuring out whether you’re polyamorous

Can you please explain polycule and metamour to me from your last ask?

A polycule is a polyamorous network; think like a chemistry diagram of a molecule where a bunch of little circles are connected in various configurations. It’s a group of people who are all connected in some way by various relationships.

A metamour is a partner of a partner. So if I’m dating Leslie, and Leslie is dating Ben, then Ben is my metamour.

But - good news - you don’t need to wait for me to explain things to you! My FAQ page includes lots of resources and links with things like glossaries and term lists. I also have a specific post with lists of glossaries and indexes for poly-specific terms.

Before you send me a question, it’s always good to check the FAQ and search my blog’s tags! That may keep you from having to wait for a while or never get your question posted, since I don’t answer everything I get, especially if it’s something I’ve already covered. You can also try Googling specific terms or concepts, since there are a lot of great polyamorous resources out there besides my blog.

For some reason i’ve always had this question: is polyamory simply defined by being in a relationship with more than one people or it can also be used if someone isn’t in a relationship but actually feels romantic attraction for more than one?

Polyamory can be understood as as a behavior or sexual/relationship practice or as an identity/way of being. If you understand it as a behavior, then a person can be inclined toward polyamory, but the definition is more limited to the actual practice. If you understand it as an identity, then a person can be polyamorous no matter how many relationships they are or are not in. 

I personally experience my polyamory as a part of my identity, so I am polyamorous all of the time. If all my partners left me tomorrow and I was totally single, I would still be polyamorous. If all but one of my partners left me tomorrow and I was only dating one person, our relationship would still be polyamorous. Having the capacity to feel romantic attraction for multiple people is polyamory, even if you are not acting on it. Just like I am still straight even if I am not in a relationship or not currently being attracted to a sexy man right at this moment.

hey do you have any tips on asking your friends to form a polycule??? like not necessarily super romantic but like to… give it a status?? idk? bc im like crushing on everyone and everyone already acts like were all quasiplatonic partners theres just not really a “title” for it?? bc id really like that

Ah, yes, that eternally human sense that if something has a word, it’s more real. Love me some Derrida/Saussure. I live in a house that has a name and I know how satisfying and different it is when people say “I left my jacket at Ferngully” instead of “I left my jacket at Zinnia’s house.” When I was in high school, we got tired of saying “our group” or “our clique” (gross) so we gave our little crew of friends a name. There’s something really special and meaningful about that!

My main piece of advice is to be really clear about what you want. “Hey, it’s not that I am trying to change anything about our arrangement or make demands about commitment, I just want to be able to speak it in a way that feels real and honors the love that we share.” Then see if that’s something they’re interested in, and talk about terms and names together!

I have a question. I’m in a relationship where I’m married to one of my partners and dating the other. I love them both intimately and committed to both, however they have no interest in each other. I was wondering what that would be called?

That is called V-shaped or Vee polyamory. 

You can learn more about poly terminology and types of poly relationships from the resources on this page!

Is there a glossary of terms like “metamour” or other words like “partner” that can help explain the different dynamics that appear in poly relationships? My gf and I are struggling to communicate effectively about bringing other people into our tangle because of lack of language for types of relationships.

Many of the pages listed on my Poly Resources page have glossaries, and here are a few specific ones:

Hi, I wanted to know if 5/6 people can go in a polyamorous relationship together? It seems like most of the time it’s just quads.

I answered a very similar question here - check it out!  In short: absolutely, 5 or 6 people can definitely choose to date each other.

There is no scientific or sociological limiter on what can and cannot be a polyamorous relationship. No sexuality scientist cut open a brain and found the Official Neurological Poly Relationship Spots and determined that they are biologically limited to four or fewer. That just isn’t how any of this works!

You don’t need my permission or anyone else’s rubber stamp to do what you want to do. Just do what is healthy and fulfilling for you. Know your boundaries, communicate them, and stick to them. Clarify your needs. Meet your partners’ needs when you can, and when you can’t, communicate about it. Any number of people in any configuration can do that!

hi there! sorry for anon, just wondering: i’m new to identifying as potentially-poly. Thing is i’m not (right now) totally comfortable with the idea of being with someone who is with someone else, i’m more about trios and a multi-person relationship, rather than multiple couples. I’d just like to know, is there a word for that…?

To my knowledge, there is not a specific identity label for someone who wants to date polyamorously, but only in closed relationships. What you are wanting is to be part of a triad, a quad, or a “closed poly relationship” or “closed polycule.”

You can just identify as poly and explain your caveats to people you want to date. If you are hoping to be wrapped into an existing couple to turn it into a triad, you can identify as a unicorn, but be prepared to be inundated with people trying to “add you” to their relationship and know what your dealbreakers and red flags are up front. But if you’re more interested in forming a triad/quad/etc. from scratch rather than “joining” an existing relationship, that’s not being a unicorn - I don’t think there’s a word for that.

If you come up with one, send it in to me and I will do my best to spread it! Until then, it’s OK not to have a specific word as long as you have other strategies to help you communicate, to yourself and other people, what you’re all about!

I do not want to have multiple boyfriends. I just want another female that me and a primary can share. Like more than a threesome but less than a poly family… Is this weird??? Is there a name for it???

The general term for this is “unicorn hunting.”

You didn’t ask for my feedback on whether this is wise or not, but you did write to my advice column, so here goes: people are not sex toys or objects to be “shared.” Please think very carefully about why you want this arrangement to be you and your partner sharing someone else (instead of all three of you dating on equal footing) and why you clarify that this would be “less than a poly family.”

Wanting this kind of arrangement is not “weird” in the sense that it’s very common, but it also can create lots and lots of problems. Be introspective and honest with yourself, your partner, and your unicorn about exactly what you want, what you can offer, and why. 

Hello! I have a question about polyamorous terminology and was wondering if you could help me. I have recently become involved with a married couple. I think the term for what I am now is a unicorn; however, someone mentioned that because my married couple is significantly older then me (the wife by 14 years and the husband by 25) that there was another term for what I am more specific to the age gap. Do you happen to know what that is or where I could do more research to find it?

Wait, someone told you there are a word you should use, but couldn’t tell you what that word was? That person sounds like they have their own perspectives they want to impose on the world, but you don’t have to accept them. Find language that lets you identify and understand who you are and what your relationship is in a healthy, honest way. Don’t let meddling language police tell you that you need to find a new word (unless you’re misusing or misrepresenting someone else’s identity term, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here).

I, for one, have never heard of a term that means “someone dating a couple who are both older than them” - that is so specific that I don’t think there is, or needs to be, a term for that. Unless your age gap is a significant part of your relationship or somehow defines the terms of your relationship, I don’t see how it’s relevant to anything.

There are terms for relationships with big age gaps, but none of them are terms the people in the relationship are obligated to use, most of them are denigrating anyway, and none of them are specific to poly arrangements. There are terms for sexual play that involves roleplaying or exaggerating age gaps, but those generally have to do with sexual arrangements, not necessarily entire relationship styles. And any term should be freely self-adopted by the people engaging in the relationship; no one else gets to tell you “oh, you’re not allowed to use THIS word, what you’re REALLY doing is THIS OTHER TERM.”

And honestly, polyamory is so new that there are very few “real” or “established” terms, there is no Official Dictionary of Polyamory. If you find yourself in a situation that you want a term for and you can’t find one, make one up! If you find yourself in a situation that you don’t think needs its own term and you think you fit fine into an already existing category, don’t worry about it!

Can a poly relationship have one person who is dating 2 people but the 2 people aren’t dating each other, say person A is dating person B and person C but B isn’t dating C. is that considered a good/healthy poly relationship?

Yes. That is called V or Vee shaped polyamory. 

There is no canonical list somewhere of what is “considered” good or healthy. Some configurations work for some people but would be unhealthy and unfulfilling for others. Don’t let anyone tell you that your way of living and loving needs to be validated by anyone else. If it’s working for you, it’s working for you. 

it’s possible to have a polyamorous relationship that isn’t open, right? as in, there are 3+ people in a committed relationship with each other and only each other? because i think i’m polyamorous but i’m so worried because i would love that but i’m not sure i would want an open relationship? if that makes sense? thank you!!

Yep! That is called polyfidelity