Holy poly! and the Dutch levels of dating

Do you consider yourself polygamous? Polyandrous? Polyamorous? To me, the definition of “polygamy” has always been straightforward – one person being in a relationship with multiple others. Turns out that the concept of “polygamy” is more nuanced. It can be split up based on who is with whom and in what way.

Types of poly

Polygamy – a type of marriage where a person of either sex has more than one mate at the same time (emphasis on the word ‘marriage’). The opposite of this is monogamy. In Western countries, polygamy with all its divisions is not common. In contrast, it is widely practiced in many parts of Africa. It is also legal in parts of Asia and Middle East.

PolygynyMerriam-Webster defines polygyny as having more than one wife or female partner at the same time. It does not say much about the main subject of such a relationship – the one who has all those wives. The LGBTA Wiki, however, specifies that in case of polygyny, it is a man who has multiple wives.

Polyandry – in contrast to polygyny, polyandry refers to one woman being married to multiple men at the same time.

Group marriage – when several men and women marry each other.

Bigamy – marring someone while already being legally married to someone else.

Polyamory – being in multiple romantic relationships at a time. The relationships can be emotional, sexual, or romantic. Note that the parties are commonly aware of each other. Even if they do not interact with the other partners of their partner, they should have knowledge of their existence. If they do not, such an ordeal could be considered an open relationship or plain cheating.

Open relationship – a committed couple who have agreed that they can have sex with other people and do not necessarily have share with each other information about their “extra” partners.

Then there is also “swinging” and “spouse swapping” which can also be aligned under an umbrella term of “consensual nonmonogamy”. One could argue that polygamy is also polyamory, but what about loveless marriages? I will leave that for you to ponder upon. Let us just agree that the domain is complex indeed.

Dating in Dutch aka twarrel, scharrel, kwarrel, prela, and rela

Maybe I have lived my life in a weird way, but I have never dated multiple people at the same time. I have had several friends and, at some point, I have developed a liking to one of them. This, in turn, has evolved into a romantic relationship with that person, but the moment such liking happens, dating others has been off the table.

Thus, I found myself quite surprised when I heard about the dating culture in the Netherlands. Dutchies are very loose with their relationship game. It is common to spend a lot of time dating, often exploring multiple potential relationships at a time. Essentially polyamory!

The Dutch have five dating “levels”: twarrel, scharrel, kwarrel, prela, and rela.

Meeting upRarelyOccasionallySeveral times a weekAs often as possibleConstantly
Talking about feelingsNoA bitYesYesYes
What is the relationship about?SexSex, sometimes good conversationsSex, good conversations, doing things togetherSex, good conversations, imagining a future togetherSex, good conversations, being together, building a life together
Are you in love?NoNoNo, but you like each otherMost likelyYes
Meet the family?Definitely not!NoNoMaybeYes
An overview of the Dutch dating levels

A twarrel refers to a person you hook up with once in a blue moon. You barely know each other. A twarrel will never meet your parents. If you start hooking up more often and talking about your feelings, your relationship is upgraded to scharrel.

A scharrel is essentially a fuck buddy – someone you booty call when you want to have casual sex. The relationship is relatively irregular, superficial, and noncommital. Just two people having fun. It likely originates from the verb “scharrelen” which means “to scrape up” or “rummage through sth”. “Scharrelkip” refers to free-range chicken and “scharreleieren” to the eggs such a hen produces, so I like to think of it as not putting all your eggs in one basket. Essentially, keeping the options open.

A kwarrel is considered a “quality scharrel”. It is just short of being in love. You like each other, have meaningful conversations, meet up multiple times a week, and you can be exclusive if you want to, but it is not considered love.

A prela is an abbreviation for pre-relationship, the moment before you decide that you are indeed an item. From a monogamy point-of-view, you would be mostly exclusive with your prela. You see each other often, think you are in love, and talk about a future together. A prela you might introduce to your parents.

Between a prela and a rela an ignorela could be defined – an ignore relationship. Everyone knows you belong together, but you have not really had “the talk” yet. One thing is for sure – dating or having sex with someone else is frowned upon at this stage.

A rela is the ultimate level of the Dutch dating game – the relationship. You love each other, perhaps live together, breathe together, build a life together. If your parents have not met your rela yet, you are doing something wrong! You are clearly meant for each other and will live happily ever after.

If you are in a relationship, which of these five “levels” describes you best?

EDIT: My Dutch friends have informed me of even more relationship types. Please find them below.

  • Scharrel (a loosely defined relationship)
  • Kwarrel (kwaliteits scharrel, with potential)
  • Twarrel (twijfel scharrel, with doubts)
  • Barrel (a crappy car)
  • Varrel (vacation scharrel)
  • Larrel (long distance scharrel)
  • Mischarrel (high school scharrel)
  • Prela (pre relationship)
  • Rela (early relationship)
  • Relatie (established relationship)
  • Orela (open relationship)
  • Huwelijk (marriage including symbolism)
  • Geregistreerd Partnerschap (non-symbolic marriage)
  • Hela (calling someone out)
  • Voordela (relationship with benefits)
  • Hema (a housekeeping department store)
  • Heyma (saying hi to your mum)
  • HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts)
  • Wela (weekend relationship)
  • Musicals (just bisexual fwb/scharrel with everyone)

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