Last week, the air was filled with Valentine’s vibes, and the flu––and this writer suffered from both! So, with apologies, here’s a Valentine’s themed article where we are going to talk about the different flavors of polyamory and 7 examples of what they could look like.
Before we get started, I have a wonderful thing to share with y’all! As we talk about the various manifestations of polyamorous relationships, we should also talk about the #StandardPolyStockPhoto. My favorite polyam comic creator got tired of wondering what “people in the #StandardPolyStockPhoto are DOING and why their feet are always sticking off the bed.” So she decided to start writing her own narratives, and this is too beautiful to not share!
So, polyamory. We’ve described this as “ethical non-monogamy” in a previous article.
Just to recap:
“Polyamory refers to the idea that you can love multiple people at the same time. The polyamory umbrella covers all people (and relationships) that are 1) ethical, 2) non-monogamous, and 3) consensual. It is a concept rooted in the ideas that 1) no one person can (or should) meet all your needs, 2) love is not a limited resource and it is not a zero-sum game, and that 3) you can’t have “ownership” over your partners and control their behavior.
“Polyamory is both an individual identity (i.e., a person can be polyamorous regardless of how many relationships they are in at any given period of time), and a lifestyle (i.e., being in multiple relationships and practicing ethical, non-monogamy).”
If you haven’t read it yet and don’t know much about polyamory, I’d suggest reading it in it’s entirety here before continuing with this article.
Ok, are you all caught up? Great. So what do polyamorous relationships look like? Let’s look at some examples!
1. The Open Relationship
Is this technically a type of polyamorous situationship? Yes and no. Polyamorous people disagree on whether being in an open relationship where you are “allowed” to sleep with other people but not allowed to “catch feelings” is really polyamorous or not. Most definitions of polyamory talk about the possibilities of not only having multiple relationships or sexual partners, but also loving multiple people. Of course, open relationships look different with different couples: some couples try to stay emotionally exclusive, others are open to the idea of having multiple partners and emotional connections.
2. Hierarchical Polyamory and the Secondaries
Most couples venturing into polyamory together start out with some variation of a hierarchical situation. This refers to relationships where they see each other as “primary” partners, and the other romantic and/or sexual relationships they have individually or together are “secondary”. These relationships can come with various rules or limits on what is acceptable to do with secondary partners. Sometimes couples also give each other “veto power” over who they are dating or in a relationship with. These checks are often there to maintain some semblance of control over the relationship and hold on to the security of exclusive privileges that monogamy offers.
In this situation the most important thing to keep in mind, especially as someone who has secondary partners, is that there are still ways to be fair and ethical to your secondary partners while being in a hierarchical relationship.
3. Triads, 4. Quads, and 5. Vs
These are three separate but similar configurations of polyamorous relationships. The V refers to a dynamic with 3 people where 1 person is seeing two different people. The Triad also has 3 people, but they are all involved with each other. Another fun fact: sometimes triads are exclusive and don’t date anybody outside the triad! The Quad refers to four people who are involved with each other in some configuration, like the different connections in this image. Quads can also be exclusive. Triads and quads can also have their own hierarchy within them, like when a couple looks for a unicorn (usually a bisexual girl) who will be their secondary partner and date both of them. The rules in these dynamics usually vary from relationship to relationship. Some rules might involve seeing people outside the triad or quad, or there might be rules about dating each other within the triad or quad.
6. Solo Polyamory, aka Solopoly
There is no space for hierarchy in a solo polyamorous person’s life. No partner is more important than another by default. This dynamic is the opposite of a typical hierarchical situationship. A solopoly person could be involved with any number of people at a time, but they are unwilling to strongly merge their identity or life infrastructure with their partners. Solopoly people practice their independence in various ways, but the common thread is that they don’t want to integrate their lives with their partners’ lives beyond a certain degree. This is a beautiful introduction to solo polyamory.
7. Relationship Anarchy
This form of non-monogamy isn’t strictly under the umbrella of polyamory, but it’s related. Some polyamorous people choose to step off the relationship escalator completely and explore what each individual relationship means to them.
This beautiful manifesto talks more about the foundations of relationship anarchy. A simplified version is this: relationship anarchy is about challenging the idea that your life should be centered around your romantic and/or sexual partner(s). It’s about letting every relationship (including friendships) blossom into whatever they naturally would without binding them by the performative labels and expectations society has placed on friendships, dating, romantic relationships, etc. So each individual who identifies with relationship anarchy places importance on consent and communication, like all ethical polyamorous situationships. But, at the same time, each individuals (dating) life would look unique.
So that is all we’re diving into today! This is by no means an exhaustive list. The most beautiful aspect of polyamory is that every polyamorous person practices polyamory in their own way. And as long as it’s ethical and non-monogamous, it’s all just as valid. If you have questions or your own insights about poly structures or polyamory in general that you’d like to share, comment on our Instagram or Facebook posts, or write in to us!