12 Types of Romantic Relationships — Romantic Relationship Styles – Cosmopolitan


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Send this to your mom next time she asks what a “situationship” is.
Relationships—whether they last for a week or a lifetime—are one of the most exciting parts of being A Real Adult. They’re fun! They’re exciting! And a lot of the time, they involve steamy sex and romantic rendezvous. But from first dates to ~together 4ever~, there are a whole lot of different types of relationships you can have.

Very simply, marriage and sex therapist Adrienne Michelle describes a relationship as a connection to a person you continue to engage with. Naturally, these connections can range from casual to intimate, platonic to romantic. And ideally, these connections provide a healthy balance of give-and-take, support, security, care, and growth, adds marriage and family therapist Katie Miles.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with every connection, which is often how toxic relationships come to be. “A healthy relationship is the one that’s the right fit for you, both with the nature of the relationship and the person(s) you’re in a relationship with,” Miles explains.
And while a thriving, healthy relationship is the goal for many, if you’ve been in the dating game for literally any amount of time, you’re probably aware that no two connections are the same. “Different types of relationships tend to come with distinct expectations, rules, and standards of engagement,” explains Miles. “And it’s important for each person’s well-being and sense of security to know what [the relationship] is.”
That’s why both experts agree: Defining the relationship is key. In fact, Michelle says the only way a relationship can really thrive is if you’re on the same page regarding your wants and needs. Also! Since relationships are always evolving, it’s a good idea to continue checking in as you move forward—being on the same page now doesn’t mean you will be a year from now. Communication, folks! It’s a must.
Whether you’re trying to figure out where you stand with a special someone or just casually mapping out the rest of your life (NBD!), here’s a look at 12 types of romantic relationships you can have, ranging from supes casual to lifelong commitment.
Playful intimacy + boundaries = flirty friendships, explains Miles. Basically, this is a friendship that has a “will they, won’t they” element. These types of relationships are typically about an ego boost and thrill without any real risk or commitment. There’s an attraction under those friendly vibes, and it typically includes everything from “kind gestures and flirtatious words to romantic thoughts and feelings,” Michelle says.
While, yes, flirting is fun and these types of relationships are great if you just want the ego boost, Miles says because relationships can (and do) evolve, this has the potential to be the start of something much bigger. Granted, that means someone would have to consensually break the boundary, but the friends-to-lovers trope is famous in shows, movies, and books for a reason, folks!
Sometimes when flirty friendships are taken to the next level without commitment or expectations, they turn into more. Enter: sex friends or friends with benefits (FWB). Essentially, you’re pals in every sense, except the sexual boundaries are gone and you hook up either occasionally or regularly. “There’s an agreement that you enjoy each other’s company and the function is physical, adventurous, casual, and fun,” Miles explains.
That said, Michelle notes that these relationships can get tricky because there *could* be an emotional component involved that isn’t talked about. “It’s crucial both parties consent to just being casual, intimate friends,” she says. Also, FWIW: Miles suggests having a rule about practicing safe sex in case other partners are involved, so be sure to grab some condoms before meeting up with your FWB.
When an intimate, sexual relationship isn’t defined, Miles says it enters “situationship” territory. These types of bonds are usually more emotional than your cut-and-dried FWB, which is why they’re sometimes called ~emotional booty calls~. You cuddle and have sleepovers and have sex but you haven’t defined the relationship, so your situation is up in the air. “This tends to be the middle ground of figuring out if you want more than the current situation you and this person(s) are a part of,” Michelle explains.
And while situationships *can* be fun, Miles says the lack of definition, boundaries, and expectations can get messy for some. If you’re not on the same page emotionally—which can happen if situationships aren’t defined further—it’s a recipe for someone winding up hurt.
“Dating is the process of finding out if you want to invest in the connection and build an intimate relationship,” explains Miles. “My own therapist gave me a fun analogy: You’re in the ice cream shop and you know you want ice cream, but you’re trying all the different flavors to see which one is a good fit for you now. It’s a great way to find what really matters to you and what you’re attracted to.”
This usually involves going on casual dates like to the movies or grabbing coffee with a variety of people. Typically, dating (also called “dating around”) is one of the earlier steps in the romantic process that can develop into something more serious. Michelle says the goal here is to physically go on dates (so do more than just watch Netflix together, pls) to see if you mesh.
If you find yourself drawn to a particular special someone after you’ve been casually dating a bit and the feeling is mutual, generally the next step is to start dating exclusively. This is when you begin setting some rules for the relationship, Miles explains. You’re still exploring your relationship as you were previously—by, like, going on dates and having fire sex—but there’s “a commitment present and an expectation to not explore dating other people,” adds Michelle.
While dating exclusively is one of the first major steps toward serious commitment, Miles says this is also the stage where some people get stuck. “I’ve seen clients sit in the ‘dating exclusively’ stage for months without moving forward.” Having open, honest communication is crucial when dating exclusively to ensure needs are continuously being met.
How is committed partnership different from dating exclusively? I’m glad you asked! When you’re in a committed relationship with someone, you’ve officially labeled your relationship. And while you’re still dating exclusively (you’re def not going on dates or having sex with anyone else!), this type of relationship feels a little more serious. They’re your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner! You’re introducing them to your friends and family. They’re your plus-one to all the weddings you’re getting invited to. You’re officially A Serious Thing. Love that for you.
Say hello to one of the oldest relationships in the book and the core of many onscreen love stories in shows like Bridgerton. When someone is hypergamous, they actively date someone they think is more successful and/or financially or socially secure than them.
“This is the OG of intimate relationships. It has only been very recently that relationships were built on love and attraction,” Miles says. “For the majority of the time, intimate couple relationships were purely economical. The function would be social or financial stability or even a way to gain self-worth, status, or desirable resources.” Even though it’s an age-old tactic, many people still engage in hypergamous relationships today.
As the name suggests, a triad is a committed, romantic relationship with three people instead of two, Miles explains. “All three partners are involved romantically with each other.” This is similar to dating exclusively or even having a long-term commitment, with the only difference being there are three people involved. “There are rules, expectations, and standards present within the triad that everyone has agreed to in order to create safety and security,” adds Miles.
It’s important to note this is different from casually dating or an open relationship because it’s limited to the three main, equal partners who are all committed to each other. Take your standard exclusive couple, add in another equal partner, and you have yourself a triad!
As an umbrella term for ethical non-monogamy, polyamory is the practice of having multiple consensual relationships at one time. The keyword here is “consensual,” and this type of connection involves the “expectation of creating loving, committed, intimate relationships with more than one person,” Miles says.
Polyamorous relationships can take on a lot of different forms, but they typically involve a core relationship. The people in that core relationship are free to explore other sexual and romantic relationships with the understanding that the core comes first. Sometimes all partners are intimate with each other, but if not, everyone is still on the same page regarding the other outside connections. In some units, everyone even hangs out in groups and coexists like a family (sometimes called kitchen table polyamory), Miles adds.
Another form of ethical non-monogamy, open relationships tend to look more like consensual short-term, casual hookups outside of a committed core relationship. In an open relationship, “one or both partners are seeking to fulfill alternate sexual or intimate needs outside of the relationship with consent,” Miles says.
Miles stresses, however, that there’s typically a relationship hierarchy involved. “You may have your ‘primary’ partner, which has its own level of commitment, standards, and rules. The relationships outside of that may be more casual, less emotion-focused, and usually won’t interact with the primary relationship at all.” In an open relationship, the connections outside of the core relationship are typically sexual and don’t involve emotional intimacy as polyamorous relationships do.
Short for “dominant and submissive,” a dom/sub relationship highlights the consensual dynamic of taking on a dominant or submissive role in the relationship, Michelle explains. In these relationships, the dominant leads the action while the submissive follows. There’s a clear power dynamic between the two people involved, with very explicit rules, standards, and boundaries, Miles adds.
Dom/sub relationships can be romantic, sexual, platonic, financial, psychological—the options are pretty endless. They can also include a wide variety of interactions such as temperature play, edge play, or impact play. For some people, the dom/sub relationship is an exclusive, long-term commitment, while for others, it’s more of a casual, open connection. Either way, boundaries, safe words, and communication are at the heart of every healthy dom/sub relationship
In Western cultures, marriage is just about the clearest commitment a relationship can have, Miles says. A recognized marriage in the United States comes with many legal, financial, and social benefits, and it typically involves monogamy—although some couples have open relationships or polyamorous agreements within their marriage. Miles also notes that marriages are meant to be a “secure base” for safety and to have your needs met.
A marriage usually happens after spending some time in a committed relationship together, and it “involves a deeper level of connection, engagement, expectations, and intimacy that will often include making life decisions as well as family decisions together,” says Michelle. Getting married also usually means an engagement ring, a bomb party (see: your dream wedding), and potentially, if you want, some babies in your future—although you can def still have a bomb party and babies outside of marriage or lifelong commitment. The best part of modern relationships is that you and your partner can define them, and all that comes with them, however you please.


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