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-   -   When is it a "relationship"? (http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showthread.php?t=25087)

AnotherConfused 06-26-2012 09:19 PM

When is it a "relationship"?
Lately I've been grappling a lot with what it means to be in a relationship with someone. In a way, we relate to everyone we know, so we are in all sorts of relationships of varying types -friendships, sibling relationships, business relationships, etc. When it comes to the "I'm in a relationship with this person" kind of relationship, though, I can't quite figure out where the boundaries are, or whether it just feels fuzzy to me and is clear to most other people.

My tag line reflects this to some extent. I have a husband, and that's clear. I have C, who agrees that "boyfriend" is a pretty accurate descriptor. This relationship involves a lot of love (another fuzzy term), physical intimacy without penetrative sex (my husband's restriction, not ours), and fairly limited time together. I have L, who doesn't feel like a boyfriend in any way, but we've loved each other a long time, definitely have romantic feelings and sexual attraction, frequently turn to each other for emotional support, and we hug and kiss. Beyond that, I have several men in my life who I love dearly, some of whom I feel romantically and or sexually attracted to and others not at all, some I see often, some I flirt with, some I have very personal conversations with, but none that I kiss beyond perhaps a peck on the cheek during a goodbye hug.

How many relationships am I in? Sometimes I think 2, sometimes 3, sometimes more. Sometimes I feel like it's the physical expression that defines it: I get naked with C, so he counts, but not with L, so he doesn't, but I do kiss him pretty passionately sometimes, so maybe he does count. That seems like a pretty trivial aspect to determine things by.

Does anyone else feel confused this way? It feels like a part of why I identify with polyamory. I don't really feel like relationships are either on or off for me, but like I have them with everyone to varying degrees. It has made it harder to draw the line when my husband says he won't befriend anyone I'm involved with. We've defined that as physical intimacy beyond hugs and kisses, and that works as far as clarifying his boundaries, but I'm not sure physical expressions should be the criteria for defining relationships.

Thoughts? Anyone else not sure how many relationships they are in?

SNeacail 06-27-2012 12:10 AM


Originally Posted by AnotherConfused (Post 141049)
Does anyone else feel confused this way?

YES! :rolleyes:

I have some friends now that I love more than any friends I have ever had, nothing physical, just good friends, but I would cry for a week if I couldn't see them again for some reason. I think before (in my previous life :p ) I was afraid to let myself love other people so deeply. While not poly, allowing myself to be open to loving other people no matter what dynamic our relationship takes was a big step for me.

wildflowers 06-27-2012 12:58 AM

I'm not particularly confused by mine, but I agree there are lots of gradations. Do you need for yourself to define which ones are "relationships" or is it just for dealing with your husband? My take on it is that as long as you are comfortable with how each interaction is playing out, and on the same page as the person on the other side, does it matter all that much what you call it? Sometimes it's hard enough to just work out the interaction!

I think opening up to the idea of multiple romantic relationships, and basically being more honest about my feelings and accepting of my life, rather than feeling parts of it need to be hidden, has helped in all my relationships, romantic and otherwise - maybe this is kind of what SNeacail was saying too.

AnotherConfused 06-27-2012 04:01 AM


Originally Posted by wildflowers (Post 141076)
Do you need for yourself to define which ones are "relationships" or is it just for dealing with your husband?

It's not so much that I need to define it, as it is that I'm wondering if I'm the only one who finds these things difficult to define.

I think as far as my husband is concerned, we can just go with his boundaries, which have to do with physical intimacy, but I sometimes wonder if it is dishonest to refrain from telling him about my various feelings of romantic and/or sexual attraction in varying degrees to a whole lot of other people we know. I know some monogamous people feel it amounts to cheating when you develop feelings for other people, but sometimes I don't even know if what I feel counts as that kind of feelings. It's just not black and white.

I bring this topic up more to find out whether this is a common perspective among polyamorous people. Are you always in a defined number of relationships, or are the many social relationships in your life each unique in the degree and mix of intimacy, attraction, flirtation, closeness, trust, etc.?

Cleo 06-27-2012 08:11 AM

me too!
yes I am also confused :)

I'll copy this from what I wrote on the Poly quiz thread:
"Then there is a guy I've been dating on and off for about a year. He has a girlfriend who knows about me and objects. He is forever breaking up with her and getting back together with her. He has very major commitment issues and I think (after a year of trying to figure him out) that to him, I am his ideal woman because I am married and would never claim him.
Right now, we meet about once a month for drinks and we catch up. It's not going anywhere, the relationship is not sexual anymore and I am finally ok with that, but he is still important to me."

This guy was apparently not important enough to get mentioned in my sig line, still sometimes I feel I am in a relationship with him, however unorthodox.

For me, poly is very much about fuzzy lines and undefined relationships. In a traditional, closed, monogamous marriage a friendship like I have with this guy (heavy flirting, sleeping together even though we don't have sex, kissing occasionally, being emotionally preoccupied with each other) would definitely be considered cheating. However in the poly relationship I now have with my husband, everything is possible, almost everything is 'allowed' as long as we talk about it openly. This opens up so many possibillities for so many different types of relationships.. so yeah, it tends to get confusing :confused:

GalaGirl 06-27-2012 01:05 PM


Does anyone else feel confused this way? It feels like a part of why I identify with polyamory. I don't really feel like relationships are either on or off for me, but like I have them with everyone to varying degrees.
I feel/felt that way. And I think I was good at the dating/non-dating thing. I'm not sure how I'll be later if we open up again.

Like you, not all reached the loverly place. Even my then main lover (who later became my husband) thinks we had 2 "official" dates total. LOL.

It's a fuzzy thing, and I enjoyed the fuzziness of it, and I enjoyed the fact that each rship I was in could unfold however it went at its own speed.

But yes -- they were all different speeds and at various degrees.


CielDuMatin 07-06-2012 03:25 PM

I try not to categorize people or my relationship with them.

I have different levels and types of commitment with different people in my life. Some I have sex with, others I don't.

By not having to concern myself which which ones are "relationships" or not, I can sort of let things develop as they will.

StarTeddy 07-06-2012 03:26 PM

I can completely identify with this.

To me, there is a continuum between love and friendship, and it's a quantitative difference rather than a qualitative difference. This is confusing for me, seeing as most people believe that romantic love is "different" from frienship. I feel varying degrees of attraction to most of my friends, and feel love for a few of them. If I don't like my friends that much, they stay friends, but if I think they're awesome and a great person I naturally start feeling attracted. In the mono mindset, it's all of the romantic love for your partner, and none for your friends, which leaves me puzzled as to how I "should" treat my friends, or who I should be friends with.

Perhaps I'm only meant to be friends with women? For some reason even if I'm really close to a female friend, I never feel romantically attached. I could love her a lot, and I don't even find the idea of sex with a woman repulsive, but it always stops just short of romantic feelings. I really don't understand why this happens with women in specific, as opposed to men. I understand it's because I'm straight, but I don't get where the distinction lies.

Unfortunately, I don't really get along with most women anymore. I'm very rarely friends with girls, and if I am it usually isn't close because I feel that they don't really understand me. So if I was expected to avoid having feelings for other people, then I should only be friends with people I don't think are awesome? It seems unavoidable then, that I should have feelings for my friends.

But I feel like a relationship is when two people love each other and decide that they want to make it public knowledge that that's what they are to each other. With this comes the implication (for me at least) that they'll attempt to stay together and eventually build a life together. It's very expectation-heavy, and while that was fine with me when I was mono, it worries me a lot in the context of poly because of its inherently public nature.

For example, right now my mono ex and I still have feelings for each other and sometimes we do couple things, but we're not in a relationship. His best friend and I have strong feelings for each other and we act couple-y in private, but we're not in a relationship because that would mean making it public and that's WAY too complicated for everyone involved at the moment. If ever had feelings for a friend but didn't want to spend the rest of my life with him, I wouldn't consider it a relationship but rather a loving friendship, passing in nature. But people who do couple-y things with multiple people who they aren't in relationships with, what are they called? Sluts, right...? -shakes head-

To me, the relationship label is mostly for the public, and it also holds a promise for the future. It's a label of expectation... If it's fleeting, if it's shallow...why bother confusing everyone else by calling it a "relationship" when it clearly isn't going anywhere?

AnotherConfused 07-06-2012 05:41 PM


Originally Posted by StarTeddy (Post 142434)
To me, the relationship label is mostly for the public, and it also holds a promise for the future. It's a label of expectation... If it's fleeting, if it's shallow...why bother confusing everyone else by calling it a "relationship" when it clearly isn't going anywhere?

How you describe the friendship-to-relationship continuum is pretty much exactly how I feel, except that there are a few male friends who I think are great and don't have an attraction to, much like a female friend.

I don't know about the public part. I am most definitely in a relationship with C, and he considers himself in a relationship with me, even though we keep it discreet and even though he expects to end it when he finds a girlfriend he can have a more complete relationship with. (He and I don't have full-on sex, and I can't live or travel with him because I'm married and busy raising children.) We love each other a whole bunch, there is romance, there is sexual intimacy within the boundaries I negotiated with my husband, there is daily communication (typically at least a couple of emails a day), and we miss each other when we are apart. It's been going on over a year, and it doesn't feel shallow in any way. If I didn't have a husband we would surely let everyone know we were in love. It's only the poly part keeping us secret.

When I read about people here being in a V or N or triad, does that mean that's who you're having sex with? When it comes to love I think I am in more of a starburst, with some strong rays coming off, and some faint rays, and everything in between, too many to really count.

StarTeddy 07-06-2012 06:14 PM

I'm not really sure, because I don't understand the concept of having a "secret girlfriend" or something like that. It feels dirty. Or maybe it's because I haven't separated "relationship" with its mono implications.

I think, it's because without noticing, I actually separated "boyfriend/girlfriend" and "relationship"... You tell OTHER people that you have a boyfriend/girlfriend, but not the person you're with because they are that person. But if you don't want people to know you're in a relationship with someone, and you talk to other people about them, they are your "friend". But that's lying and I refuse to do that. Therefore I don't have a relationship, but retain everything one entails.

I've also always despised serial monogamy. I've only ever been in a relationship with someone with the intention of being with them the rest of my life. It didn't exactly work out that way, which sucks, but I would never knowingly enter a relationship if I knew that it was never going to work out. So for me, being someone's "boyfriend/girlfriend" carries a lot of weight.

I suppose that's some insight into why I view it the way I do...but it's my own personal opinion shaped by my experiences, and it might not be the same for you.

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