Types of Polyamorous Relationships

Writing Polyamory: Types of Polyamorous Relationships

Welcome back to Queering the Narrative! Last week, I gave a basic overview of writing polyamory, focusing primarily on what it is.

Toward the end of that post, I touched on just how many different types of polyamorous relationships exist, and that you need to know what kind of relationship you’re writing before you can write it. The challenge here is that, while every relationship is unique, most monogamous relationships — even queer ones — follow a relatively standard societal set-up.

Polyamorous relationships, though, often only prescribe to those societal norms in fiction to be portrayed as problematic, immoral, or inevitably doomed. That means that you don’t have quite as much of a foundation to build on, and will need to do your research.

Wading into a community with no framework can be intimidating, so I’m giving you some tools to help you navigate polyamorous resources. However, I am not directly involved in a lot of these spaces, so I can only give basic information. If you’re writing polyamory, this isn’t the last place you should look! The Multiamory Podcast is another good starting point.

The Triad/Throuple

This refers to a relationship between three people, in which each person has a relationship with each other person. There isn’t a three-way bond that all members look inward at; rather, each pair of people in the relationship has their own relationship with one another.

This relationship doesn’t have to be sexual or even romantic — two members of a triad could be platonic but still consider each other “partners” (you can learn more about platonic attraction in my asexual series of posts). Often, though, all three will be romantically or sexually involved in some way.

Sometimes, this version is also viewed as “dating a couple” — two long-term partners taking on a “third,” such that that the third individual is dating the couple as a unit. From what I’ve gleaned from the polyamorous community, this is a very monogamous framing of a Triad in which two members are longer-term partners or married. Most people in this situation still say they have independent relationships with both members of the “couple,” even if they have a primary partner (more on that later!).

The “Triad” model can be expanded to include any number of individuals — quariads, pentads, hectads, and on and on are possible. When writing polyamory, these can be difficult to portray due to the number of independent relationships, but far from impossible!Cover image ofr N.K. Jemisin's "The Fifth Season," featuring a bluish-grey stonework background and a fan of foliage carved from the stone

The Vee

Similar to the Triad, a Vee or V-polyamory is a situation involving three people. However, two of the individuals are not in a relationship — both are simply involved with the same individual.. The triad in N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season has elements of both a Triad and a Vee.

Hierarchical Polyamory

A type of polyamorous relationship in which one particular pairing within the relationship is given priority. The prioritized pairing is referred to as your “primary relationship,” and the person in that pairing is your “primary.” This is often a long-term partner or spouse, someone you live with, share finances with, or are raising a child alongside.

In this sort of polyamory, you and your primary might have any number of other partners, but you prioritize each other above all other relationships. Crucially, everyone else involved in the relationship is aware of this arrangement!

Technically these can get more complicated, with tiers being drawn between your primary, long-term partners, and more casual partners, but having a central primary couple is most common when writing polyamory, if only for the relative simplicity. Just be careful not to lean too heavily on monogamous relationship tropes!

Polycules

Complex network of polyamorous relationships, usually involving 5 or more people who may or may not be involved with the other members of the group. Polycules tend to be branching networks that can link many different people together in casual or serious romantic, sexual, or queerplatonic relationships. Famously, this style of polyamory requires rather judicious use of Google Calendars.

Kitchen-Table PolyamoryCover art for "Pet" by Akwaeke Emezi, featuring a young girl with dark skin wearing pajamas and holding a large feather set before a purple city grid seen from above, with the tagline "Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?" in small print at the bottom of the image.

A “family” approach to polyamory, in which all members of the polycule come together to share community, life decisions, and other things generally associated with a holistic relationship. Each member doesn’t necessarily have to be in a romantic or sexual relationship with the other members, but all will know each other and be involved in the household. Good examples of this are Redemption’s family in Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet, and Hollyhock’s eight dads in Bojack Horseman.

Relationship Anarchy

This is a type of polyamory which does not consider any individual relationship — platonic, romantic, or sexual — as inherently more important than any other relationship. The point is not so much the type of relationship, but the depth of that relationship. It’s not that someone thinks their passing acquaintance is on the same level as their lover of many years — it’s more that they recognize that their longtime best friend can be on the same standing as that lover, and so neither will necessarily be prioritized over the other.

Ethical Non-Monogamy

This catch-all is for those who do not consider their relationship monogamous, but don’t necessarily fit into another term. “Ethical Non-Monogamy” is whatever the folx involved make of it, so long as there is an open line of communication to everyone involved. This commonly looks like an open relationship, but can also take the form of a Vee, Polycule, or a Mono-Poly relationship.

Mono-Poly

A relationship in which only one partner is monogamous, and the other is poly — so the poly individual might have multiple partners, but the mono individual is only in a relationship with the poly individual. This can fall under the umbrella of ethical non-monogamy, and likewise involves a lot of trust and open communication between the two partners!

…And Beyond!

There are many other forms that polyamory can take — if you want more information, I’d recommend checking out these articles, as well as this LGBTA wiki page! If you’re planning on writing polyamory, understanding many different relationship models can be helpful to expand your thinking of what a relationship is, but make sure you know the one you’re writing inside and out!

That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next week with more on polyamory, but until then stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!

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