Leading on from Spacemaking in relationships, I’ve been thinking on the shapes that relationships take, and how it’s another thing that we don’t notice specifically, but is something that happens subconsciously as part of our engaging in relationships. We tend only to use a particular few styles of relationship shapes and I was thinking about this because the dynamic of my own multiplicity of shapes has changed quite a lot recently as have the shapes of a number of people close to me.
For myself, the change has come about because for the first time in a couple of years, I’ve got another set of relationships that are more like partnerships and less like satellite relationships. Another difference is that the relationship set is a three-way dynamic which is a relationship entity itself, but also comprises three sets of relationships between each person involved.
Some of you may find that this post seems more related to polyamory than relationships generally, and while I personally find it relates outwards to all my relationships, I am not separate from my poly-ness and others’ experience may vary. I’d be interested to hear from any of you who do or don’t find it applicable being less polyamorously inclined.
So when I talk about relationship shapes, I probably need to define that a little for sensemaking.
When I am describing relationships shapes, the notion of shape refers to how you draw your bubble around the nature or meaning of the relationship for you – and that will be different person to person. Imagine it’s like joining dots – only you get to choose dots that are meaningful/useful to you and so it’s not like tracing lots of perfect conventional shapes – each relationship is going to be different. Relationship shapes refer to how you mark the relationship, like a boundary or in a certain frame of reference. Markers vary between people, but can include the following (and many others I’m sure I’ll forget to mention): couple, threesome/triad, group, fidelity, monogamous, polyamorous, single, long term relationship, dating, short term relationship, long distance relationship, friendship, romantic, sexual, sensual, asexual. There are markers that will appeal to you, that describe different relationships to you and they are how you mark out the shape of the relationship for yourself and with the other(s) involved.
(If any of my geeky artistic readers can think of an artistic diagrammatic way of representing that concept I’m really interested in collaborating!)
I think of the shapes in my own universe (or network) of relationships as constellations and they are specific and sovereign to themselves, but also interrelate and enrich one another. . My array of significant relationships is quite considerable, and I have a mindmap that I use to convey to people a little of how my universe of relationships looks and the different ways in which I have conceived and created relationships, the shapes within that map vary quite considerably.
You can see a public copy of the mindmap below where I’ve omitted names:
In the universe of my relationships, there are more relationships that are non-sexual than sexual, there are more relationships designated as chosen family or ‘some kind of life partnership/companionship thing’ than there are sensual, sexual, or romantic platonic relationships. There are more singular satellite relationships than group relationships or couple relationships (by which I mean where the coupleness is noteworthy for those relationships). What is also useful to note here is that some of these relationships have shifted over time to become one shape from another shape. Fixedness is a false absolute, it’s a decision point that we commonly enforce upon ourselves, but unnecessarily so. Relationships can change their nature if there is an allowance for the possibility and this can occur through outside stimulus to relationships, or be part of an intentional decision between parties.
For example, a job opportunity may send Alex overseas indefinitely and they may choose to shift their relationship with their partner to being a friendship having no idea when or if they will return. Alex may also choose to continue the relationship long distance and that may be open or closed. Or, in another scenario Robin could notice that they feel their relationship with Jean is becoming less romantic for them and seek to shift it into a shape marked by friendship rather than romance or sexuality. There are many possibilities and permutations; this is just an example to give you some practical context for what I mean.
Ultimately, what I am drawing attention to is that, even being aware that relationships are all different and can happen in many different ways we still hang onto other societal conditions that we may not be aware of, that may be worth questioning. Consider that you get to choose your relationships – you get to influence the shape of your relationships in conjunction with the other people involved. You may think on this and still end up in the same place you started out and not change anything about how you construct and conduct your relationships – and the purpose of my talking about this is not to create shift or change. My purpose is to promote awareness and conscious thinking about how we draw mark and define the shapes of our relationships, extending from my previous discussion on spacemaking. Shapes are a way of creating space or marking out space.
I’d love to hear about relationship shapes that you’ve experienced that you found unusual for you. Or, tell me about how this idea of shape and relationships relates to you and your universe of relationships – not just romantic/sexual relationships, but friendships and family and others as well. Talk to me about the different shapes you find challenging or that don’t work for you – there’s so much to look at here and I’m curious how it looks for others.