Welcome to the Love Glossary: a guide to modern relationships

Welcome to the Love Glossary, our A-Z for new age relationships | Soho House

From radical monogamy to polyamory, with a quick stopover at throuples, here’s your need-to-know

Thursday 22 September 2022   By Megan Wallace

We’ll be the first to admit that keeping up with the plethora of new-age relationship ‘types’ can be daunting. While some terms like ‘monogamous’ and ‘polyamory’ are more commonly known than others – celebrities like Will, Jada and Willow Smith, Bella Thorne, Kehlani and Shailene Woodley are all open proponents of the latter – there are plenty of other relationship styles we need to be schooled on. So much so that we’ve created a definitive list of all the types enjoyed by the folks who, consensually, enjoy more than one intimate connection in their lives.

So, without further ado, here’s our glossary of all the terms everyone needs to know – from throuples to radical monogamy.

Consensual non-monogamy: Referring to forms of emotional or sexual intimacy with more than one person, ‘consensual non-monogamy’ (CNM) is an umbrella term for a range of approaches to non-monogamy. It differs from cheating given that everyone involved is aware of and actively consenting to the non-monogamous nature of the relationship.

Polyamory: Like non-monogamy, polyamory is an alternative to monogamy. However, while non-monogamy is broader in meaning and interpretation, polyamory specifically implies an active preference for more than one romantic involvement. Polyamory is a subculture in its own right and it has a few sub-categories to consider, including:

– Hierarchical polyamory: A contested concept within the CNM community, ‘hierarchical polyamory’ refers to a tiered system of partners across primary partner, secondary partner and tertiary partner(s) with the intention to maintain differing levels of commitment to and time spent with each partner, with clearly communicated boundaries around certain privileges (such as living together, sharing finances) or activities (sleeping over, meeting one another’s families), which may be reserved for one partner and not permitted with other partners. 

– Parallel polyamory: This is a form of polyamory where individuals have multiple romantic relationships, but where they do not actively seek to establish familiarity, friendship or an established ‘polycule’ of individuals linked through their partners’ other relationships. 

– Kitchen table polyamory: The opposite to ‘parallel polyamory’, ‘kitchen table polyamory’ is a form of polyamory wherein individuals’ different partners are encouraged to know one another, socialise and form a community. 

Polygamy: Often confused with ‘polyamory’,‘ polygamy’ is when a man has married multiple wives. The equivalent for someone with multiple husbands is ‘polyandry’.  

Throuple: A ‘throuple’ is a three-way romantic relationship between three people, where each person is considered an equal partner to the others.

Open relationship: Typically, an ‘open relationship’ is when a couple agrees to take other sexual partners outside of their primary relationship.

Don’t ask, don’t tell: This is a style of open relationship where individuals consent to a degree of non-monogamy within their relationship, but decide that they would rather not know about the details or specifics of their partner’s sexual or romantic dealings with other people. 

Unicorn (and unicorn hunters): A ‘unicorn’ is an individual looking to have a threesome with or date a couple. ‘Unicorn hunters’, on the other hand, are a couple looking for a third to date or join them in the bedroom.

Friends with benefits: Often abbreviated to FWB, ‘friends with benefits’ refers to a sexual friendship where individuals may enjoy one other’s company and having sex with one another, but where traditional relationship expectations such as commitment and exclusivity do not apply. 

Situationship: A ‘situationship’ denotes a sexual or romantic grey area of a relationship, which does not feature the commitment, boundaries or exclusivity of a traditional monogamous relationship.

Relationship anarchy: Referring to an approach to relationships that applies the political concept of anarchy to affairs of the heart, ‘relationship anarchy’ involves rejecting any expectations beyond those agreed upon by each individual party in a relationship.

Monogamish: A compromise between monogamy and CNM, a ‘monogamish’ relationship is primarily monogamous, but may allow for agreed-upon flirting with other individuals, as well as certain scenarios where sex with individuals outside the primary relationship is allowed. 

Radical monogamy: There are actually multiple types of monogamy, one of which is ‘radical monogamy’: when monogamy has been actively chosen as a relationship style rather than, as is the case with ‘reflexive monogamy’, assumed as the default relationship style.

Solo polyamory: While retaining the focus on having multiple relationships that is seen in polyamory, ‘solo polyamory’ is a way of approaching relationships that prioritises an individual’s independence and where an individual will typically not have a primary or anchor partner that they will intertwine their life with or share their finances or home with. 

Swinging: A form of sexual non-monogamy where the individuals in a couple may recreationally engage with individuals outside of the main relationship for sex. This is typically done in sex clubs or sex parties or in the form of threesomes, generally with both members of the couple present to some degree. 

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