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The Different Types Of Nonmonogamous Relationships

These days, relationships can, in fact, be customized to meet your needs.

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To be or not to be, that’s the big question regarding relationships these days – and whether or not to remain monogamous. Especially as we walk into this new awakening of what it means to be in an ethically or consensual nonmonogamous relationship. By no means are the concepts of nonmonogamy new, so when I say 'new awakening,' I simply mean in a “what comes around, goes around” way, people are realizing that the options are limitless. And, based on our personal needs in relationships they can, in fact, be customized to meet those needs.


I especially find it fascinating that more and more Black women are seemingly opening themselves up to consensual nonmonogamy, or CNM, and not in the way that centers men, but in a way that truly honors their needs and healing journey. Though I prefer monogamy myself, this is also because I have done the introspective work to know it is truly what I desire for where I am in my life, meanwhile it has my good people in a chokehold. In fact, in an effort to poke fun at those who choose a CNM relationship, mono people tend to throw jabs claiming that people are polygamous–calling the women involved foolish and naive.

I mention this because polyamory, along with nonmonogamy, is an umbrella term, and polygamy is but one form of polyamory that exists – and of course, it’s one of the most rigid and sexist structures to date. But as I’ve mentioned before, a helpful way to clear up any misunderstanding is realizing that polygamy requires you to be married to multiple partners, and for every Big Love episode you watched, I promise you it’s not as easy as it sounds in that it’s illegal in almost all of the United States. Polyamory on the other hand is not illegal as it does not require marriage – a legal transaction – to occur for the relationship to exist.

I was exposed to a new term after listening to Shan Boody's podcast Lovers and Friends and a particular episode titled "Is It Cheating? Or Is It An Open Relationship?" The dating term that I found particularly interesting is "free relationships." It made me realize there are more than a few words under the umbrella of open relationships and polyamory that could use clarification.

Here are six terms defining nonmonogamous relationship styles that I found to be curious and thought you might too.

1. Free Relationship

A free relationship is a relationship where the structure of the commitment is flexible for one reason or another, perhaps neither of you are quite sure about the relationship style yet but don’t desire such rigid boundaries. It allows you to explore the different types of relationships freely. For instance, you may start off as monogamous but decide that doesn’t work and renegotiate the boundaries and relationship structure in place.

2. Solo-poly

A solo-poly relationship style is simply one when you’re single or independent, but exploring intimate relationships with others. If I’m being honest, I’m not entirely sure that it doesn’t differ from the concept of dating around. It’s the modern and politically correct way to say “playing the field.”

3. Monogamish 

Monogamish is when a couple has a monogamous base in the house that is their relationship, but the boundaries around flirtation and sexual relations provide wiggle room. In this particular relationship style, there is sort of like a “when in Rome” – roam, vibe but with no attachment to anyone outside of your relationship.

4. Moonlighting or Swinging

Shan Boody provides the metaphor of a team sport for this type of consensual nonmonogamy stating that it’s similar to “a couple that bowls together.” Moonlighting is more often than not enjoying and entertaining other singles, couples, or throuples for sex and not an emotional connection. They even have clubs and events to help facilitate moonlighting er, swinging.

As swingers, you typically play together in some capacity! It doesn’t necessarily have to be a threesome but perhaps swapping partners. But, it’s also okay for one partner to maybe just take on a more voyeur-like role while the other is more hands-on.

5. Open Relationship

An open relationship has little to no boundaries, but please hear me when I say there are still boundaries as is the case with any type of relational transaction. But this allows space for multiple emotional and sexual connections outside the bounds of your relationship. Even to that end, you may choose to have a primary partner or you may instead choose to have multiple partnerships without prioritizing any of them.

6. Polyamory

This term translates to “many loves” and is an umbrella term that can also encompass concepts such as mono-poly, vee relationships, and triads (or a throuple) – which are all also umbrella terms. Polyamory is simply the implication that you are the opposite of monogamous by one of the aforementioned definitions or another.

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A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

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A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

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