Is your relationship style descriptive or prescriptive?

Is your relationship style descriptive or prescriptive?

Someone in a poly group I’m in on Facebook asked:

“How many of ya’ll are poly and how many are open and how do you differentiate the two in your own words when people ask?”

I answered:

“We are open and poly, we swing, we connect, we love, we play, we enjoy the wide variety that relating has to offer.”

“I find that we work best with descriptive relationships, rather than prescriptive.”

In practice, what that means is that I identify as ethically nonmongamous. It also means that when people ask what that looks like, I have to use a lot of words.

Because “polyamorous” won’t do.

Neither will cuckoldress, pimptress, swinger, open relationship, relationship anarchist, or slut.

Because while all of those words suit me, none are all that I am.

And my partner is himself as well, with his own rhythms and desires.

Monday night, after a rough day at work, instead of having a raunchy night of sex, we sat on our balcony, watched downtown, and ate dinner, talking.

And this same topic came up from a different direction. A friend of ours with a podcast is on their own journey of change of identity—sexually and in their relationships, and my partner had been listening to their latest.

He mentioned that it seemed like a difficult path.

And I said that I relate.

Because I, too, like to live with what’s known. And a label, once applied to our relationship, allows me to feel that I can KNOW what it is and what can be expected.

Also, how I can and should behave.

Which sounds WAY more…ewww than I meant. But if I know what is expected, I know when more communication is needed, or when certain things are just part of us.

And I like that feeling.


In a life full of uncertainty and adventure, I like that feeling of KNOWING. Of home. Of certainty.

But when it gets prescriptive and limits me and us, that’s not good.

It’s pretty insidious.

Because it’s not always obvious when the agreements and descriptions become boxes and prescriptions. When “what we want” becomes “what we are.”

But sometime after it happens, it becomes painful. Because humans aren’t meant to stagnate or be the same thing for long periods of time.

Even though the comfort of KNOWING is sooooo tempting.

So, how do we spot when we are being prescriptive, and change?

Oooh. That’s a tough one.

For me, it’s when I or my partners are doing something good and ethical that still makes me uncomfortable because it’s “not us,” or “not me,” or “not them.”

When, obviously, it is. At least part of me or us or them, because we are doing it.

And that is key.

Because I love me, and I love us, and I love them. So there is something there to unpack and examine and learn and possibly get comfortable with—even learn to love.

When I hear things in my head like:

  • I don’t…
  • That not like…
  • Dominant’s don’t…
  • That’s not part of an [insert whatever] relationship…
  • That’s not wrong, but it makes me uncomfortable…
  • I don’t know why I don’t like it…
  • Or ANYTHING related to how [insert role here] should behave…

Now, not all of these are always signs of boxing and prescriptive behavior.

Some are, though, and I look for them, and work through what I’m thinking, why I’m thinking it, and whether it matters the way I think it does.

Sometimes, that takes more than one effort. Sometimes it’s a process. Sometimes it’s all me, and other times it’s something I turn to others with, like friends or the partner(s) involved.

Mostly, though, when I find something that “doesn’t fit” how I see my life, I now look for ways to expand my life, rather than cast away the new thing.

I can always get rid of it later, if it doesn’t work, or if it causes harm. But if I don’t let it in to begin with, well, I lose out on the potential for learning and growth and experiences.

Descriptive thoughts…

When I introduce myself to a group when I teach or speak, I say that I’m a “hedonistic dominant cuckoldress-pimptress who is polyamorous and monoromantic.”

I also at various times in various situations claim titles of:

  • Slut
  • Dork
  • Genius
  • Mommy
  • Friend
  • Lover
  • Chaos
  • And more.

And all of those have their own boxes and understandings that could either hold me back or grow my possibilities.

I prefer the latter.

And so, now I look less often towards fewer words, and more often towards more words that can expand my options.

When I find one word that fits, I ask myself why, and I note the words I use to explain it to myself and others, because that gives me even more ways to understand myself and others.

AND, I try to be kind to myself and to those in my life as we explore our words together and separately.

Because life is messy and what fit like a glove yesterday might be too tight today. And THAT’S OK.

And it may be scary (it often is, for me), but that’s OK, too. With the right people by my side, and my faith in me to love and be loved, I can get through it all (after all, I’m here after 48+ years).

And frankly, I feel like the more I’ve learned to flex in my life, the happier my life has become.

Not easier, necessarily.

But happier.

And it makes those around me happier as well, which does, in fact, make my life easier. And more full of amazing possibilities.

What are your thoughts?

Do you describe your life to others and yourself, or do you prescribe how life should be, based on the labels you’ve chosen?

Have you found yourself being restricted by words and labels—even those you’ve given yourself—without even realizing how you got there?

Do you feel that prescription might ever be more useful than description in certain circumstances?

Love to hear your thoughts.

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