What are the different types of Polyam Relationships?
People I love a buffet. The beauty of a good buffet is that no matter who you’re with, everyone can find what they want and have as much or as little of it as they feel like. Well, it’s kind of the same with polyamory. You see there’s no one way to do polyamory. There are many different relationship structures and each of them appeal to different people for different reasons - just like the dessert station at a buffet! And, just like a buffet, many of these structures can be mixed and matched with each other to create something that works perfectly for you.
If you’ve never heard the term before, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into a maths classroom. But never fear! There’s no algebra involved in this equation. A polycule is just the name we give to the various people involved in a polyamorous relationship, both romantic and platonic.
Example: Iron Man is dating Pepper Potts and Captain America. Captain America is dating Black Widow and Hawkeye. Collectively we would refer to them as a polycule, even though they’re not all dating each other. Because they’re still connected through the network of the relationship.
Kitchen Table Polyamory
Kitchen table polyamory is a delightfully cosy name for a relationship structure where everyone in the polycule knows each other and gets along well enough that they can hang out together at the kitchen table over a cuppa. Kitchen table polyam can sometimes be used a short-hand term for transparency, as in everyone knows about each other’s partners. But more commonly it’s about everyone in a polycule feeling comfortable with each other and building strong relationships, even platonic ones.
Example: Jasmine and Aladdin are married, but Jasmine is also dating Ariel. Ariel’s husband Eric is monogamous. On the weekends all four of them hang out together and watch Netflix or go to the beach. Often Jasmine and Ariel will hold hands or kiss in front of Eric and Aladdin. This is not an issue.
Parallel polyamory is the opposite of kitchen table. Imagine two sets of train tracks that are running alongside each other and never cross over. That’s the metaphor for parallel polyamory. People date who they like, but the idea is no one has any desire to meet anyone else’s partners. Taken to the extreme, parallel polyam can result in a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation, where partners simply don’t discuss whether they’re seeing anyone else at all. More moderate parallel polyamory may involve sharing the names and even small details about other partners, but stops short of anyone actually meeting each other.
Example: Shrek is married to Fiona. He is also dating Donkey. Donkey is married to Dragon. While Fiona and Dragon know that Shrek and Donkey are dating, they’ve never met their spouse’s partner, or each other. The arrangement is entirely consensual.
If you’re in an established relationship and looking to ‘open up’ and look for more partners, there’s a strong chance you’ll end up in a hierarchical polyamorous relationship. That means you’ll place your established relationship, or ‘primary’ relationship above other relationships. Some people do this deliberately, consciously letting new partners know that their marriage or primary partner is their number one priority. But many people who are new to polyamory end up doing it without thinking, and inadvertently hurt the people they end up in ‘secondary’ relationships with due to lack of communication. There’s nothing wrong with prioritising a particular relationship - but polyamory requires communication in order to work.
Example: Harry and Hermione are in an established relationship. Hermione starts dating Ron. Ron wants to see Hermione more often, but Hermione already has other commitments she’s made with Harry that she doesn’t want to move or compromise on.
You can be in an established relationship and not practise hierarchical polyamory (and again, there’s nothing wrong with consciously deciding you do want hierarchical polyam). Non-hierarchical polyamory is about not placing any one relationship above another. Which, if you’ve only ever been monogamous, sounds impossibly difficult! Most of what we’re taught about relationships focuses on ranking them. We have best friends, we have our inner circle, we’re taught to pick and choose who is worthy of our time and energy. And on the one hand, that’s fair enough, our time and energy are a limited resource. But our love isn’t. And that’s the philosophy of polyamory. Non-hierarchical polyamory is about ensuring you make space for each relationship you’re in and treat each partner as equally important to you.
Example: Kermit and Miss Piggy are in an established relationship. Miss Piggy starts dating Fozzie Bear. Fozzie wants to see Miss Piggy more often. Miss Piggy has some commitments with Kermit, so she talks to him and moves things around so she can accommodate Fozzie in her schedule, because he is equally as important to her as Kermit. Kermit understands this and adjusts his schedule as well.
When most people outside of the ethical non-monogamy space think of polyamory they tend to think of a couple looking for a third. But in reality, many people practise solo polyamory, or sopo. Rather than having an established or primary relationship, your most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. You prioritise your own needs and your own boundaries rather than those of a relationship. Someone practising solo polyamory may choose to focus more on their connections with partners rather than the ‘relationship escalator’.
Example: Batman practices solo polyamory. He has many sexual and romantic partners but he is happy living alone, unmarried and not sharing finances with a partner.
A comet is a partner you have limited or irregular contact with. This could be due to a number of reasons, whether it’s a long distance relationship, competing schedules, health issues or anything else. But when you’re both in each other’s ‘orbit’ you make the time to connect with each other.
Example: Mario works nights as a plumber, Peach works days as a princess so they rarely get to see each other. But when they do manage to make their schedules work, they make the most of their time together in the castle.
Some people in an established relationship will choose to stay monogamous while their partner practices polyamory. Someone who considers themselves monogamous but is comfortable being with someone who is ethically non-monogamous may refer to themselves as a ‘monocorn’.
Not everyone in a mono-polyam relationship is actually monogamous though. Sometimes it’s more a case of one partner not actively practising polyamory. One partner might not be looking for partners for whatever reasons; time, energy, health, libido, self esteem, etc. And that’s okay. Not everyone needs to be actively pursuing relationships all the time, or at all. As long as everyone involved is consenting and comfortable, that’s all that matters.
Example: Captain Kirk and Mister Spock are in an established relationship. Captain Kirk is actively pursuing new partners regularly. Mister Spock is asexual and isn’t pursuing additional partners, he is content with his romantic relationship with Captain Kirk.
Once you know the way you want your relationship to work, and you’ve found the people to form your polycule, you might notice that it forms a kind of structure or shape. These sometimes have their own labels that get tossed around. They can be helpful to describe your dynamic to other people in the ethical non-monogamy space. But don’t feel too overwhelmed if this feels like too much to take in during the early stages.
Vee or Triad
In a vee relationship you have a setup that looks like the letter V. Basically one person (at the bottom of the V) is dating two other people (at the two top points of the V). The one person at the bottom is sometimes referred to as the ‘hinge’. The two people they’re dating aren’t dating each other. In a triad all three people are dating each other, this is also sometimes called a ‘throuple’.
In a traditional quad, there are four people all dating each other. But you can also have a structure similar to a V, where one person is individually dating three other people. This is called arrow polyamory.
So that’s your introduction to polyamorous relationship structures. Of course there are a lot more out there, and probably even more yet to be invented! But as long as you’re communicating with your partners consistently and consensually, there are no wrong answers. Get out there and find the people that meet your needs and whose boxes you tick!
AngelondutyMore than a month ago
Great article. Thank youReply
H.playfulMore than a month ago
I think I am the hinge in a Vee Relationship. Thanks for the article, it helps me get my head around it.Reply
Langie12More than a month ago
I'm single and live alone but have two lady fwb (friends in the true sense of the word). Have been with each over two years now. The relationships are very open and honest. They are both very aware of other. Have never, and will never, meet. Their choice. Fwb1 knows quite a bit about fwb2 but fwb2 knows considerably less about fwb1. Again, their choice. Discussions about sex with the other never occurs.
I am fwb1's exclusive partner. Her choice but this is always open to change. We are certainly looking for a third male to join us.
Fwb2 has two other men she sees on an occasional basis. While it's not a term we use, I'm her "primary partner". One isn't aware of me while the other is. We have actually had MMF threesomes with the second.
I'm bi and see two other guys on a regular basis. Mind you this is far less regular than the ladies. This is more a logistical issue. Both ladies are aware of my two male friends. Fwb1 is very supportive of this (to the point of wanting post-sex details - something that she definitely doesn't want to hear about in regards fwb2). Fwb2, while supportive just doesn't feel the need to know.
Time wise, I spend alternate weekends with fwb1 then fwb2. Fwb1 also has a weekly Wednesday night sleep-over while I usually spend a week night with fwb2 as well but this isn't set in stone. Overall, I generally have two nights a week at home to myself.
Not sure what label you might put on it (not important anyway).
The two ladies are very different personalities but are all very happy with what we have, it's been working for us for over two years.
HungDaddy2121More than a month ago
A really clever and informative article. Nailed it. Thank youReply
KinkyGirl101More than a month ago
Very informative and a clever use of fictional characters to explain each relationship style. I particulary loved Mr Spock's inclusion LOLReply
Built4CommfortMore than a month ago
WitandTongueMore than a month ago
Thanks, today I learned :)Reply
EthicalSlutAUMore than a month ago
I always get nervous seeing articles like this because I worry that polyamory only gets explained in a surface level way or even worse, inaccurately (especially solo poly). This was a pleasant surprise! I particularly enjoyed the use of known fictional characters in the examples.Reply
lilith30More than a month ago