Opinion

Monday 20 January 2020

Katie Byrne: Love, redefined - we need a new lexicon to describe the many diverse modern relationships

Features writer Katie Byrne
Features writer Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

We can always count on the Swedes to promote progressive social ideas. Jantelagen - the philosophy that we are all equal - is their prevailing ethos, while the Goldilocks ideal of "just the right amount" - lagom - is an everyday endeavour.

They're also best in class when it comes to paternity leave, elderly care and space-saving bookcases (the BILLY, from IKEA).

But what really makes me want to pack up my bags and move to Stockholm is their refreshingly open-minded approach to modern relationships.

Generally speaking, when you use the words "open-minded" and "relationship" in the same sentence, you're about to explore the pros and cons of polyamory, which is fairly closed-minded when you really think about it... But, I digress.

Anyway, I've recently discovered that the Swedes have terms to describe the entire spectrum of modern human relationship - both romantic and platonic - and I think we should start using them, too.

Are you in a long-term relationship and living together, but not married? In Ireland, that makes you the talk of the local shop ("Sure he's walking the feet off her!"). In Sweden, it makes you a sambo - 'samman' meaning 'together', and 'boende' meaning 'accommodation'.

Sambo is a little bit like our common law marriage; or acknowledgement that you don't necessarily need a ring when you've already made the biggest commitment you can make to another person - sharing a bathroom.

This isn't to undermine the relationships of those who don't live together. There's a word for them too: särbo. This is for those who find the words boyfriend/girlfriend a touch juvenile, and 'partner' a little too formal. In other words, särbo is what your parents mean why they describe a couple as "doing a strong line".

The Swedes aren't in the cult of the romantic relationship. They understand that, at varying points in life's journey, our most intimate relationships can be completely platonic. The room-mate who is essentially your wife (save for a sexual relationship)? The Swedes call that a kombo.

They also understand that an adult living with a parent can be a choice and not a circumstance. In Sweden, they're called mambos, unlike in Ireland where they tend to be known as 'saddos'.

Let's not stop there. We need more words to reflect the diversity of modern relationships. Can I propose the word 'Limbo' for relationships that reach an impasse around the second or third date? Neither party is willing - or particularly bothered - to negotiate the power struggle, and the relationship remains in a perpetual fog of unknowing until one party does the decent thing and ghosts the other.

Next we have the 'Beepo'. Have you ever asked a friend about the guy she's seeing and she says, "Oh, we're just texting"? It should be noted that she isn't speaking figuratively. They are literally just texting. Beepo relationships are initiated online and can go on for months without real-life interaction. It's a bit like dating Siri, except his name is 'Ronan, 32'.

Elsewhere, we have what is known as the 'Go on, so'. This is the guy who is absolutely perfect for you, if you can overlook the lack of chemistry, the dearth of common interests and the questionable footwear. You generally don't discuss him around your loved ones and, if you do, you use the same tone of voice you would employ to describe the second-hand laptop you bought on Donedeal. Don't worry, it's not a nervous breakdown. You're just really, really desperate.

The best way to avoid the 'Go on, so' is to have a 'Secondo'. This is a platonic friend of the opposite sex who you can spoon (fully clothed, I hasten to add) the morning after the night before. The Secondo is essentially a surrogate boyfriend who provides you with the tenderness of a romantic relationship, and the support of a wingman should the situation arise. Maybe he's gay. Maybe he's straight. Whatever. This is Sweden.

The Secondo can also prevent you from ending up in what is known as a 'Shambo'. This is the married couple who have bought wholesale into the 'sunk cost fallacy' and haven't had sex in seven years. The woman standing in the IKEA car park, staring wistfully at the airplanes piercing the skyline, as her husband tries to fit the BILLY into the boot of the car? That's a Shambo.

Finally, we have the 'Dodo' - the boyfriend who exists entirely in your head, who you use as a benchmark with which to measure every one of your failed relationships. He's a white tablecloth, red roses kind of guy - a throwback to a time when 'DTF?' meant an invite to the Dublin Theatre Festival and a late-night-supper in the Trocadero. Just remember that the Dodo isn't real - his breed was driven into extinction by Tinder.

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