Types Of Relationships: Dating In The Modern World

Gone are the days when a romantic relationship meant a man and a woman exclusively seeing each other. Most would agree that the diverse types of relationships seen in today's dating world are a refreshing change. But the distinctions and rules surrounding these new relationships are anything but simple.

When it comes to different types of relationships, the phrase "different strokes for different folks" couldn't ring any truer. While it's a great idea to expose yourself to the variety of unique, loving relationships out there in the dating world, that certainly doesn't mean you need to partake.

But understanding the terminology and lingo used to describe the most common relationships out there will certainly help you navigate future courtships. So what's the difference between monogamous and monogamish? And how do you know if you're in an open relationship or just friends with benefits?

Understanding The World Of Modern Dating

man and woman riding a carousel

Some people lament the fact that dating no longer means a man is showing up with a dozen roses and opening the door for his partner (and really, did this level of cinematic romance ever actually exist?). But in many ways, we've broken free from restrictive definitions of love, romance, and sexuality.

Unlike decades past, women are now welcome to express their own sexual desires and make concrete decisions in their relationships. And men are free to explore a more sensitive side of themselves than previously allowed.

However, modern dating does include some questionable trends. Much of dating now occurs through technology. On the one hand, this allows for romantic relationships to blossom over oceans and across time zones. But on the other, we have grown to expect instant gratification from every facet of our partnership. Because of these cultural changes, some paint modern dating as a depressing hellscape.

Like most things in life, though, you get back from the world of modern dating what you are willing to invest. If you put forward the efforts of courtship and face-to-face communication, you will find others who are seeking the same. While not every potential partner will return your enthusiasm for a real connection, many will.

Comparison Table

Sex And Dating: What Does The Data Say?

silhouette photography of couple kissing in the middle of the field

Since the birth of dating sites like Match.com and OkCupid, digital dating has grown exponentially. There are now dozens of websites and apps where lonely people can seek out a romantic, sexual, or even platonic relationship with someone on the other side of the screen. And with this growth has come the inclusion of countless different types of relationships.

While sexual attitudes appear uniformly more liberated in recent years, this isn't entirely true. Some surveys show that fewer people are willing to sleep with someone on the first date than in 2005. And fewer people are interested in maintaining a romantic relationship just for sex.

These changes could be insignificant, but they could also indicate a separation of priorities. It's now more acceptable than ever for someone to seek out a sexual relationship with no strings attached. Instead of pursuing a romantic relationship, those who only desire sexual connection can do so without judgment.

Data also shows that the internet is the number one meeting place for today's singles. While at first this might suggest that many people are meeting on dating sites, this could also indicate the prevalence of social media.

How many times have you run into someone in real life that you first "met" through a mutual friend's Facebook photo or Instagram comments? And how does our perception of their online persona shape our future relationship with this person? Countless factors play into modern dating and the types of relationships we see today.

The 10 Most Common Types Of Relationships In The Dating World

To some, the different types of relationships seen in today's dating world might seem outlandish. But for others, these relationship dynamics are just a different style of normal.

Wherever you land on this spectrum, remember that everyone is entitled to live the way they see fit. And as long as these relationships involve consenting adults, no one is being harmed by merely engaging in these different types of relationships.

We've defined a list of the 10 most common types of relationships in the dating world. Some of these will be familiar, but others may be brand new to you.

1. Monogamous

couple with grey blanket

A monogamous relationship is a romantic partnership between two people. These two people agree to be sexually exclusive with only each other. Technically, there are two types of monogamy: classical monogamy and serial monogamy. Classical monogamy means that a set of partners get together, normally to marry, as virgins and are therefore each other's only sexual partners throughout life.


Serial monogamy refers to the more common form of a monogamous relationship. With serial monogamy, a person will only have one romantic partner at a time. But they will be sexually active with several of these exclusive partners throughout their lifetime.


Of course, these types of relationships are not exempt from infidelity. In fact, most romantic relationships that involve cheating from one or both partners are designated as monogamous. And, despite this discrepancy, many people who have practiced infidelity claim their relationships are monogamous.

2. Polyamorous

Love in 90 Days: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Own True Love
  • Diana Kirschner PhD
  • Publisher: Center Street
  • Edition no. 0 (01/15/2019)
  • Paperback: 416 pages

Polyamorous relationships appear to work much differently than monogamous ones, yet these two types of relationships actually have much in common. A polyamorous relationship often contains more than two members, but it is not just about having sex with multiple people at once. While this can certainly be a facet of polyamorous relationships, these types of relationships are more about romantically connecting with multiple people.


The key distinction of a polyamorous relationship is that all parties consent to the arrangement. In this way, a polyamorous relationship is in no way like cheating amongst monogamous couples.


Polyamorous relationships come in a wide range of configurations. Some polyamorous relationships include three equal partners who each share feelings for each other. Others include a primary couple who have peripheral partners. There are also several specialized terms that exist to describe polyamorous relationships, one of which is polygamy.

Polygamy

While they sound very similar, polyamory and polygamy are not exactly the same. Polygamy refers to having more than one husband or wife at one time. This practice is sometimes associated with Fundamentalist Mormons, though the Church of Latter-Day Saints has officially denounced the practice. Still, examples of polygamy can be seen on reality television shows like Sister Wives and Three Wives, One Husband.


To understand polyamorous relationships, it's important to put aside any preconceptions you may have based on the practice of polygamy. While these two concepts may be similar in theory, in practice they are completely different types of relationships.

3. Friendship

four people standing on edge of mountain

It might seem silly to list friendships among these other types of relationships. But the concept of friendship is actually very important to the dating world. Countless romantic relationships begin their courtship as friends. And some, but not all, will even end in friendship.


The jury is still out on whether or not beginning as friends spells bliss or doom for a romantic couple. Many psychologists believe that friendship is more capable of building trust and a personal connection than jumping straight into a romantic relationship. Building a romance from friendship isn't likely to solve all of your problems as a couple, but it can provide a strong base from which to build.

4. Friends With Benefits

Perhaps the most important connection between friendship and dating, though, is when the line is crossed into a sexual relationship. These types of relationships don't always need to come with romantic feelings. Instead, some people choose to maintain a "friends with benefits" arrangement. The term friends with benefits refers to a pair of platonic friends, meaning they have no romantic interest in each other, engaging in sexual activities together.


In pop culture, friends with benefits are typically viewed as a perfect romance just waiting to happen. But in real life, they function much more practically. In a simple study, both men and women reported overall positive feelings about their experience with a friend with benefits. Both sexes listed "avoiding commitment" and feelings of "trust and safety" as reasons for choosing a friends with benefits arrangement over a romance or sex with a stranger.

5. Open

three person's standing front of field

It can be easy to mistake an open relationship for a polyamorous or friends with benefits arrangement. But these types of relationships are all at least slightly different. Open relationships are a very broad category, but they generally refer to a committed couple. However, in addition to their romantic and sexual relationship with each other, one or both members are welcome to have sexual interactions with other people. While some open relationships may incorporate romantic relationships outside the core partnership, this is less common.


In the most basic terms, an open relationship is one that is "consensually non-monogamous." Some open relationships thrive on candidness within the couple. Each member of the relationship wants to know about the sexual experiences of the other when outside the relationship. Others rely on a mutual understanding that one or both members have relations outside of the partnership, but these experiences are never acknowledged except in the initial agreement.

6. Asexual

The Dating Playbook For Men: A Proven 7 Step System To Go From Single To The Woman Of Your Dreams
  • Andrew Ferebee
  • Publisher: Andrew Ferebee
  • Edition no. 1 (07/06/2015)
  • Paperback: 318 pages

Asexuality refers to people who have no desire for a sexual relationship. Occasionally, an asexual individual will enter into a relationship with a non-asexual partner. While these partnerships do sometimes work, either with extreme understanding or a form of open relationship, it can also cause immense stress.


Most sexuality experts place asexuality on a spectrum. Some individuals may identify as asexual while only having sexual desires in very specific circumstances. Others have no desire to connect with others on a sexual or romantic level.


Some asexuals feel no desire for romantic types of relationships. But many do, desiring the personal intimacy and connection that comes with having a romantic partner. For this reason, asexual relationships are certainly not unheard of in the dating world.

7. Swinging

grayscale photo of man hugging a woman

The term swinging might make you think of 70s key parties and other Hollywood tropes. But many romantic couples engage in this practice as a way to share unique sexual experiences and partners with each other. On paper, swinging is very similar to open and polyamorous relationships. In practice, though, swinging tends to be more structured and planned out than these types of relationships.


While swinging can be practiced in many different ways, the most popular style is (to put it bluntly) spouse swapping. It can occur at a swingers' club or party, but really the only rule is that everyone consents. Couples also don't need to be married to participate in a swinging relationship. Dating couples, friends with benefits, and even single people can often gain access to these events. These types of relationships might not be for everyone, but many happy couples swear by this way of life.

8. Monogamish

The Ultimate Relationship: A Man's Guide to Understanding Women and Relationships
  • Helder Esteves
  • Publisher: Independently published
  • Paperback: 122 pages

The word monogamish was coined by Dan Savage, a sex and love advice columnist out of Seattle. In using this term, he acknowledges the fact that monogamous relationships are not as easy as our culture makes them seem. And with these natural difficulties will come the risk of infidelities and flirtations. However, there are nuances within a monogamish relationship that differentiate it from open or polyamorous relationships.


Choosing to be monogamish does not mean jumping at every chance to step outside of your committed relationship. It means acknowledging that you might not be able to provide everything that your partner desires sexually and being willing to make space for them to fulfill these desires. If that sounds confusing, it's because it kind of is.


Choosing a monogamish relationship means clearly defining what you can and cannot give your partner, as well as always respecting your relationship above any outside sexual experiences. These tasks are not easy for most couples, monogamous or not.

9. Anarchist

man and woman holding hands in front of glass window

Relationship anarchists are individuals who don't really believe in committing to or prioritizing relationships. And these feelings remain the same for all types of relationships. Their connection with a platonic friend may be the same as with a sexual partner, and these dynamics could change on a whim.


Relationship anarchists certainly aren't easy to be around if you're seeking something long-term. While the idea of having no rules in a relationship may sound freeing, when it comes to the dating world these types of relationships also lack basic respect and common courtesy.


Unfortunately, most people who feel this way won't verbally announce themselves as relationship anarchists. This term is just a catchy name used by a small subgroup of people.

10. Dom-sub

When you think of a dominant-submissive relationship, your first thoughts probably go to the bedroom. Most often, those in a dom-sub relationship only play into this dynamic sometimes. But many people prefer this dynamic in all aspects of their romantic relationship.


One major concern of dom-sub types of relationships is the issue of consent. If you yourself are engaging in a part-time or full-time dom-sub relationship, or are interested in experimenting with a new partner, you must take into consideration the people around you.


If you engage in dom-sub behavior in public, even if non-sexual, it may make onlookers uncomfortable. No matter what kind of relationship you personally engage in, it's important to respect those around you as well.

Which Relationship Type Is Right For You?

male and female kissing on grass field

Whether you've been in the dating world for a while or have just entered the scene, knowing these different types of relationships can help you navigate future suitors. While some of these types of relationships may seem outside of your comfort zone, remember that everyone has different preferences and desires in a relationship. And you might be surprised what you discover about yourself when exploring these different dynamics.

However, having an open mind does not mean engaging in a relationship that makes you feel uncomfortable. Regardless of your gender or sexual identity, don't allow anyone to pressure you into any of these relationships. The relationship, whether romantic, sexual, or neither, that occurs on your terms will be the one that's right for you.

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