Two of my friends are forever being asked if they are dating. They aren’t. But they did once. It didn’t work out, mostly because what they want out of romantic relationships really isn’t compatible. They tried to make it work, but it just didn’t. They couldn’t change enough to each be happy dating the other.
Thankfully, they mutually realized this and had one of the smoothest, easiest breakups I have ever personally witnessed. No one had to say (either sincerely or insincerely), “I hope we can still be friends.”
That was never in question.
Friends are precisely what they should be, where their social inertia leads them once they stop meddling with it. So friends they are.
But not just any friends. Really close friends. They still do extraordinary logistical favors for one another. Have sleepovers occasionally (sexless, to my knowledge). And yeah — they spend an awful lot of time together.
Calling Someone an “Ex” Actually Makes It More Confusing
It’s always an awkward conversation when people assume they’re dating. A situation where it’s easy to say, “No, we’re exes,” which is true — but inevitably causes more confusion. Since most of the world views the word “ex” as having an extremely negative connotation.
Typically, they’re adhering to a cultural norm about monogamy and romance that is very all or nothing. It’s one that I too internalized growing up (as I’m not someone who always knew that I’d be in polyamorous relationships systems and once upon a time considered myself very monogamous). Growing up, I learned that you had to be someone’s One and Only for a relationship to be valid. And not only did you have to be their One and Only right then, but you also had to come out on top when considering their connections with others throughout their life. To be someone’s One True Love, you had to be the only person your partner ever really loved.
Because of this, acknowledging that an ex had any good qualities (let alone that I ever loved them) seemed like a very dangerous premise. It was safer to diminish and invalidate that former relationship in my own mind — and at my pettiest moments, aloud.
And as a broader culture, people also tend to assume that others will also do this, and so when people say the word “ex,” they tend to attach extremely negative connotations to it.
“We Used to Date”
Typically, it’s easier to say something like, “We used to date but we’re friends now.” This is usually met with a knowing glance — as though the person watching you expects you to romantically reunite at any moment. But most of the time, it at least ends the conversation.
Similarly, “Oh no, we’re friends,” will get that look that seems to imply, “Well maybe you’re friends for now but you’ll end up together at any minute.” You know the one I’m talking about.
Honestly, strangers have all sorts of wildly uninformed opinions, so I find it’s best to get used to it. And not let it ruin your day that someone smugly thinks they know your future or inner life better than you do.
But is there language that can be used, at least among polyamorous and kink communities?
I set out to find out.
Duramours, Formers, and Wasbands
After doing some digging online, I did find where others had attempted to name this phenomenon. One term was a fairly pretty neologism, that sounded a lot like metamour (the word polyamorists typically use to denote a partner’s other partner):
duramour – (noun) a constant fixture in your life but one that is not a romantic or sexual partner
Others argued for calling ex-partners “formers,” (and I suppose one could unpack that to “former partners” in settings where a little more explanation would help) which also is promising since its meaning is evident and easily understood.
The third term loses points for being very specific to relationship status and gender locked (and therefore not applying to many situations), but I also found that some people called their ex-husbands that they were still on friendly terms with “wasbands” (i.e., that person “was a husband”).
Any Other Good Terms?
I’m sure there are other interesting/clever labels out there and/or ways to explain a situation where you have an ex-partner you are still on good terms with.
If you have any that you use or that you’d like to propose, feel free to comment. I look forward to hearing what you all come up with!
My new book is out!
Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).