The Relationship smorgasbord

I found this on Reddit today (here on /r/polyamory) and it immediately struck a cord.

It deconstructs what it means to be in “a relationship” in a way that I think reflects the reality of how we relate more than the normal ways that we think about what relationships are.

One big blind spot when people start talking about relationships is we often reserve our thinking about “our relationship” for people we are fucking or romantically involved with. But it’s all relationships. I have relationships with my wife and lovers, sure, but I also have relationships with my friends, my colleagues, my clients. Those are no less “real” relationships for not being sexual.

Another big blind spot is that we tend to glom a bunch of these things together. “If we are having sex then that means we should __________________________” where people fill in that blank with everything from “be friends” or “get married” or “grow closer” or “move in together” or all kids of unexamined assumptions about what it means to be in a relationship.

This chart invites us to examine these very assumptions by disambiguating the different things we could do in a relationship.

My wife and I do a bunch of these together. Most of them really. If I answer for the two of us it looks like this:

Romantic: check.

Friendship: yes.

Domestic: yes.

Sexual: yes.

Physical touch: yes.

Life partner: yes.

Caregiver: yes. (it switches back and forth depending on who needs more care at the moment, but we do this for each other both ways as needed)

Co-caregivers: some. She helps me parent my daughter, but she got here late enough that she isn’t another mother to my daughter.

Emotional Intimacy and Emotional support: yes and yes

Social partners: yes.

Financial: some but not fully. We generally keep our own finances and split costs.

Kink: sometimes

Power Dynamic: NOPE. We both like power dynamic play, and will sometimes role pay out a few things, but generally we like our life partners to have co-equal power dynamics

Collaborative and business Partners: Yes, Open Relationship University!

But if I do this for Stellar and I it is very different.

Stellar and I have been dating for 3 years. Gloria and I have been together for 4 to give that context. Stellar and I aren’t domestic, creative or business partners. We don’t share any finances, and we don’t always have sex. Are we less together? To answer my own rhetorical question, no we are not! Our relationship is just as real as the one I have with my wife.

One more. The young woman I date most weeks.

Romance: It’s easy for me to love someone. I’m not sure that is what romance exactly means, but I’m going with “sure”

Friendship: Yes

Domestic: Nope

Sexual: Yes

Physical touch: Not the most cuddly relationship, but “sure”.

Life partners: No. I’m not sure what life event will pull us apart, but it could be work or kids or other relationships or just drifting, but something will one day.

Caregivers: Nope. She’s sick right now and didn’t want me to bring over soup. If she’s looking for that it isn’t from me.

Co-Caregivers: Nope

Emotional Intimacy and Emotional support: Not so much. Maybe sometimes, I can think of once or twice we’ve asked for advice or support or reassurance but not as an integral part of our connection by any stretch.

Social partners: sure, sometimes

Financial: I think she’d move back to the central valley to live with her mom before she asked me for money.

Kink: Yes

Power Dynamic: Yes, not real power. D/s and pet play. (meow)

Collaborative Partners: We’ve made art together a few times, so a little

Business Partners: No

These are my three most regular sexual and romantic relationships. Each of these relationships are fulfilling, valid, and precious to me. They aren’t more or less important based on if they have more or less of these pieces in play.

I could do one for my best friend, I’d say yes to life partners with him but no on sex and romance. Casual lovers where I’d say yes to sex and almost nothing else. Each of these are valid, none of them have to go hand and hand together. We are free to make the right choices for each of our relationships, and if we don’t think we are free then we’ve forgotten something about who we are.

[Note from editor Michon Neal of “Only thing is desirability politics and other systemic factors don’t actually provide many of us with truly free choices. This is the ideal, but the reality is that availability and connection and all of that becomes much more rare the further down you exist.”]

Lastly I’ll end with my favorite part of the paragraph at the top of the text. To paraphrase, No sneaking items into the relationship without the other agreeing. Gloria used to do that with everyone she had sex with. She’d sneak in “romance” or “life partner” to people who weren’t looking for that with her. It led to some real heartbreak until she cut that out.

Think about what you want from each of your relationships. Ask your partners if they want that too. None of these pieces have to go together. You get to make those choices with your partners.

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