What about non-traditional relationships?


In my previous two posts on couples and finances, I struggled with the specificness of the subject matter.

The problem shows up when one realizes that one has inadvertently excluded certain types of interpersonal relations. Two examples come to mind, one which I managed to sidestep, and another that I utterly (but inevitably/intentionally) failed at.


When talking about couples, I try to ensure that I avoid any use of gender.

The reason for this is simple: gender is irrelevant. (This seems self-evident to me, but clearly others need convincing.)

The genders of a couple (be they male, female, trans, or somewhere along the non-binary spectrum) do not affect the quality or type of relationship.  In the specific context of talking about financial priorities (and dreams), gender doesn’t enter into it.

Pronouns and laws

Well, not totally.

First of all, as a practical measure, the English language (and I presume many others) has yet to really catch up with the non-specific gendered indicator. So what to do when you want to refer to someone but not their gender? The least awkward pronoun to use/abuse for me is the third person plural (“they”/”them”), which is non-gendered, over “he/him/she/her”. It’s at least a real word, which puts it a bit above contortions like “ze” and “zim”. (Though they may seem more natural as time goes on and more people start using them.)

Another reason gender matters when talking about interpersonal relations (and finances and dreams) is that pesky thing that we don’t like to talk about: the law.

In short, there are small-but-non-zero financial implications between couples who are recognized by the law and couples who aren’t. (Well, visitation rights and end-of-life considerations can be huge, but there are only so many caveats I can add in here.)

But laws aside, there really isn’t any difference between his and her relationship, she and her relationship, and ze and zis relationship, apart from the pronouns. Dreams are dreams.

From an advertisement on display at Sea-Tac airport. Image stolen from Reddit
From an advertisement on display at Sea-Tac airport. Image stolen from Reddit

Two’s not crowded enough

Unfortunately, even the phrase “couple” has problems.

Couple implies “two”, so the problem comes when one inadvertently refers to two people in a relationship as the only type worth considering. This can be subtly and unintentionally disenfranchising many people for whom this doesn’t apply.

A rumination on The One

That there may be no such person as “The One” for you seems a little too easy to prove. Ask anyone who was happily married for 30 years, and who then after a split, found another partner where they were as happy, or even happier. Did the second invalidate the first? I think not.

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I’d be more willing to grant that there may be a “The One” for you at any given time, but already we’re starting to split hairs.

Many people are starting to realize this idea don’t hold for them. And this realization can lead to other uncomfortable realizations. Such as: if there isn’t a “The One” (I like the awkward double article here for some reason), then perhaps one need not connect all of one’s intimate emotional and physical needs and desires with a single person. Perhaps it’s not even advisable, that it might just put unnecessary pressure on a person to be what they are not. Perhaps it makes more sense to let relationships take their natural course, and not force them into the “All of the above” box.

My point being, is that there are a small-but-growing number of people for who the idea of being with only one person doesn’t feel natural, or even make sense.

While there’s an entire vocabulary associated with this type of relationship structure, and a galaxy of permutations instead of just one situation, but it all falls under the heading of “polyamory” (or just “poly”).

For example, when you have a husband and a boyfriend, you might feel like the discussion of a typical “couple” might be a touch inapplicable. When you live with both of them, even more so. When that boyfriend has a wife, or you add in any other additional permutations, well, let’s just say that the old Facebook status “it’s complicated” never rang so true.

So yes, even knowing all this, I kept the discussion originally to just couples. Not because I wanted to disenfranchise anyone, but only because it’s one topic. The specifics of financials and poly are a fascinating topic, but another topic. Some other time.

(UPDATE: I tackled it here.)

Be happy, be loved, be yourself

Personally, I want everyone to be happy, whether you’re a by-the-book traditionalist or someone rewriting the rules as you go, whether you’re following the rules or following your heart.

But what I can say is that while there may be more people for whom the standard convention of one-man-one-woman relationship applies, there appear to be fewer resources available to those for whom those conventions don’t.

If you feel like other resources aren’t speaking to you, then please reach out to me. If you feel like I haven’t been speaking to you, then please hold me accountable.

Interpersonal dynamics fascinate me. Always have. How people relate to each other, the complex dance of intimacy versus autonomy affects us all in infinitely varied ways.

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There is room for everyone. Bring on the complications.

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