Semantics?

Something I have been mulling over are the differences between the following words to describe alternative relationship styles and orientations:

Open.
Nonmonogamy.
Polyamory.

I have written before on this blog that I myself identify more with the phrase “open relationship” to describe the relationship that J and I have. For some reason, other terms never spoke to me.

After doing more thinking about it, I think I have reached some new insights and conclusions (which I am sure can and will change, but this is how I feel right now):

An open relationship, to me, still acts as an umbrella term for describing various styles of ethical nonmonogamy. Partnered nonmonogamy, swinging, polyamory, and polyfidelity are all styles that fit under this umbrella term. However, a distinction I would make between an open relationship and cheating is that an open relationship is one inherently marked by honesty, communication, and ethical negotiation (aka, openness). It just doesn’t jive for me that a relationship marked by dishonesty can be considered “open.” I would consider such a relationship to be nonmonogamous, but certainly not “open.” I have for the most part described my relationship with J as “open,” and I think it is because is feels like such an umbrella term for me. Our negotiations and priorities have shifted so much for us in the past year, that it just always felt easier to label it as an open relationship and describe specifics later.

I think nonmonogamy can be a kind of open relationship, or a relationship where one partner fulfills some of their needs without the consent of their partner. Partnered nonmonogamy is definitely one type of open relationship, in which partners agree to, typically, emotional exclusivity and seek out other sexual relationships. This is in contrast to relationships that are behaviorally nonmonogamous for one partner but without the consent of the other partner. 

Polyamory. Having multiple, significant relationships at once. This conception of polyamory fits me pretty well, both in terms of how I feel about what I want from my relationships as well as what I feel our relationship has become. I definitely believe that I can love others, and that J can love others. I deeply appreciate the ability to have multiple intimate emotional and/or physical relationships in my life, and I know J does, too. As an individual, I do feel like I would describe myself as poly. I think there is still a lot to think about and unpack to identify in this way, but I think that it most accurately describes my personality, motivations, desires, and needs in having an open relationship. For some reason right now, I feel like polyamorous is more of an individual identity. I would describe myself as poly, and the relationship J and I share as an open relationship. If he wants to identify as poly, that is his orientation, just as it is my path to find out how I identify and want to build relationships with others.


To me, the importance in critically thinking about these terms relates to how I think about my sexual/relationship/romantic identity and then how my relationships manifest. I think it also is important in how I relate to others, their experiences and relationships, and make sense of this journey.

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