Jack Dawkins, 2012. Lightly edited in July 2023. 

Many systems, including ours, have members who are in romantic relationships with each other. While my observations are anecdotal—I haven’t conducted a study of plural systems’ relationship statuses or anything like that—in-system relationships are common enough that they often come up for discussion within the plural community. In order to try and straighten out some of the misconceptions that some people have about in-system relationships, I’ve decided to do a brief article addressing some of the stereotypes some people may have about relationships within plural systems, and the reality that we, and other systems, experience as a group.

Myth 1: In-system relationships are an inferior proxy for ‘real’ relationships with people outside the system. 
Broadly? Like any interpersonal relationship, plural systems’ relationships between members can be complex and varied. By assuming that any relationship between system-members is an inferior proxy for out-of-system relationships, you assume that people in systems probably aren’t actual people, and that they’re an upgraded form of imaginary friend. People can be relatively close, or they can be distant; they can have an incredibly complicated relationship that’s hard to put into words, or they can have something a bit more straightforward between them.

Even in-system, chemistry between people can vary, and certain people are just going to gravitate to each other differently to others. There are people in this system whom I could never be in a relationship with, whether it’s because their orientation doesn’t match mine or because we just haven’t got the right chemistry to make it work. But there are others I know here who would be fantastic to be in a romantic relationship with; it really depends on the person. I’ve been in this system for ten years, and I’ve only recently been able to find someone whose interests and attitude are compatible with mine in a sense that makes for a good romantic relationship. I’ve had other relationships, but they didn’t work out for whatever reason.

Also, there are systems who may have some people in in-system relationships and others who are dating people outside the system, which has been the case for us in the past.

Myth 2: In-system relationships are always perfect, because they’re wish fulfilment. 
As I said in the first response, in-system relationships can be as complex as any other relationship between people. This means, of course, that there can be negative outcomes, like disputes, breakups, strained relationships and divorces. For instance, I recently ended a relatively long-term relationship, and it wasn’t easy for me or for the other person involved. Breakups happen, even in in-system relationships; it’s not a matter of people conjuring up the ‘perfect partner’. Sometimes things simply don’t work out. Since people in systems are just that, people, the outcomes of in-system relationships vary. It’s not fair to assume that all in-system relationships are the result of someone trying to conjure up a perfect partner to satisfy a particular need. Dissatisfaction in relationships exists within plural systems, too.

Myth 3: In-system relationships promote insularity within a system, and prevent people building healthy relationships outside the system. 
I don’t think this is always the case. There are systems who have fairly active social lives whose members are in relationships with one another. Also, this promotes the idea that placing emphasis on relationships within your system is functionally unhealthy. For a lot of people, those in-system relationships are a lifeline, especially when they’re isolated from biological family, or if it’s difficult for them to make local friends. Systems on the autistic spectrum, like us, may experience more difficulty establishing close relationships, especially offline. And if someone’s looking for romantic companionship, it might be harder for someone to date within their local community while being in the closet about being plural. Coming out may have its risks, and it would be hard for someone on the plural spectrum to find a partner who would be able to accept their system for what it is. I mean, I wouldn’t want to date someone who didn’t even know my name or my own individual traits, and it would be awkward for someone else to front and try to be romantic with someone they weren’t personally dating.