Label-free and limitless relationships: Embracing relational authenticity

One of the first things we do with children is teach them the ‘names’, the ‘labels’ of things. Mummy. Daddy. Sister. Apple. Tree. Bird. We employ words to make sense of the world, to aid us in communicating with each other and to simplify the complexity we find all around us. Like a raft we use to cross a river, they are a tool we need. And, yet, too often, as soon as we know a word – say, bird – we stop seeing the fluttering musical majesty of the creature in front of us. Wielding words and told to feel proud of our learning, we stop seeing anything much at all.

Words, or labels, are shortcuts to understanding, but they are loaded with highly culturally specific meaning. Label a person daughter and, in the wider western world, as well as in the specific setting of our family and environment, we have expectations of what that person is and what that relationship should look like. But what do words such as sister, brother, cousin, aunt, lover and friend really mean?

We are all unique, and we all interact with each other and our environment in unique ways. Who is to say that an aunt can’t mean more to you than your mother? A friend more than a sister? Just because you are my son, does that mean I should expect you to care less for me than a daughter – to call less, to not look after me when I am older? And yet so much of what we tell people, about and because of those labels, restricts their connection to us. Too often, once it is labelled, we begin to take a relationship (and therefore a person) for granted. We see it, and them, through the distorted lens of our expectations and environment rather than with our own eyes.

Labels are even more restrictive when it comes to romantic relationships. We often put someone into a box labelled wife or boyfriend. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that, at least at first, the box can make the other person feel safe, secure. The danger comes when we stop seeing the person we placed inside and start to see only the box. We become attached to the box and expect it to behave in certain ways. We expect the box to stay the same, and this is when the relationship becomes a lifeless, cardboard thing. Or, as we see so often, the box is torn apart as the person inside bursts out, usually when we have forgotten there was even anything inside.

Interestingly, we accept some change in relationships (children becoming adults, friends spending less time together) but we see other change as a problem (couples no longer living together full time, couples spending time with other people).

We all, based on our past experiences and environments, have different levels of comfort when it comes to change, but, in the same way that we can develop our strength and stamina by exercise, so we can develop our comfort with change. And it doesn’t take much; all we need to do is to allow it to happen. For it is going to, whether we like it or not.

One thing that helps us to accept change is to tear off the labels. Rip them off and discard them. Doing this allows us to accept and understand that relationships are not static. Because people and relationships do change. They change and that is okay.

But what does this look like? What does letting go of labels in an environment that is obsessed with fixing things down and negating change and fluidity actually involve?

Well, it involves a degree of conscious effort in crafting your life and relationships, in shaping them and managing them, that most of us just are not used to doing. The reasons for this are embedded deep in our culture and society and are extremely complex, but they can, in essence, be reduced down to the fact that we are taught the words for people in our lives but we are not taught how to be in relationship to them: how to listen to, communicate with and understand them. And, sadly, all too often, the relationship behaviour we see modelled around is, at best, unhelpful.

Some of the appealing aspects of radical relationships (or, hesitatingly using another label, non-hierarchical polyamory) to an increasing number of people are ideas that both concepts share: that who we are and how we connect with each other is for us, not society, to define, and that communication is for all the time, not just at times of crisis.

In consciously crafted relationships, people are called by their name, not by the label with which others have identified them in the past (girlfriend, brother, cousin). Simply by using a name not a label, we are reminded to see the person as they are in the now and encouraged to relate to them as they are, at this moment, not as how they were or how they are supposed to be. We do not put them in a box. We assume nothing. Our minds are left open to the infinite possibilities of these connections, rather than being closed and shutting those possibilities out.

Once you start looking at people with an open mind, you will begin to look at life and the world in the same way. Instead of assuming people will always be there, we are grateful for their presence in our lives right now. Instead of expecting them to stay as they are, we allow and welcome changes and shifts in them and our relationship. We see them, and it, afresh every time.

This is not about never knowing where you stand; that is what trust and effective communication is for. It is about relating in this moment, about making sure that you don’t take that connection, whatever it may be, for granted. It is relational authenticity.

We need to look at and acknowledge ourselves, and others, as we, and they, truly are. Only then can we begin the work of developing relationships that are unique and wonderful, relationships that are alive.

Label-less also means limitless. And we all deserve limitless relationships; we all deserve limitless lives.


This writing is mine and originally appeared on

2 thoughts on “Label-free and limitless relationships: Embracing relational authenticity

  1. I’m wondering whether or not roles within BDSM or ‘kink’ communities are really as fixed as they often appear. Is a person who identifies as a ‘sub’ in erotic play really likely to be submissive all the time – and ditto for dominants? Of course, some people call themselves ‘switches’, so they presumably recognise a degree of mutability in their erotic responses and behaviour. But a lot of people – on Fetlife, for example – seem very set in their self-descriptions. A sub is always a sub; a dominant always dominant.

    All of this is theoretical for me because I have very little direct practical experience of BDSM. What I do know has mostly come to me via the Internet. However, an online friend of mine, who may be unusual in that she calls herself an ‘erotic masochist’ – because she ‘enjoys’ extreme physical pain but is in no sense submissive – told me that one evening she decided to dominate her husband, the person who usually administered beatings to her. I don’t know the full details of the scene but she left him tied up (I think) and told him she was going away to flirt with other men online. The husband, who was also a member of the site at the time, wrote a piece about the incident, saying he believed he’d actually entered sub-space while his wife was dominating him and he’d stayed there for some time after she’d left him alone. As far as I remember, he described the experience as a revelation.

    I may not have remembered all of the story’s details exactly, but it seems to demonstrate how a dominant (or, at least, the designated sadist in that particular couple) could temporarily become a ‘sub’ – and vice-versa for his wife.

    I came across an article a few days ago which, unfortunately, I only skimmed*. It was a piece of research into evolving social behaviours regarding sex. The paper used the term ‘script’, implying (I think) that we learn to like certain sexual practices as a result of exposure to them through the media, or online, or through pornography. That is, we learn a particular sexual behaviour and then act it out in real life. I don’t know how true that is, but it might (possibly) explain recent developments in sexual habits as socially acquired and not innate.

    (*I believe I found the paper as a result of reading something here, either as a link from an article, or a link from a link. I’ll try to find it sometime soon and read it properly.)

  2. This generation relationship status will be always complicated. It is so popular that even Facebook made it one of the options to select. Because the perspective of a relationship has changed. Boys meet girls they date they marry and they love happily ever after. Date part has become extremely non- committal. This generation relationship status will be always complicated. This is why we talk about relationship labels. If your confused about your relationship status. Labeling kind of works like that it bumps you to the next expectation level, and with expectations come disappointments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.