Polyamory 101: Navigating Polyamory In Queer Culture

What is a polycule?

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Navigating polyamory can feel simultaneously exciting and daunting. If you’re new to exploring non-monogamy as a dating style — you might have found yourself in the boat of omg there are so many different ways to do this, how do I know what’s right for me?! Anyone who is non-monogamous in any way has had that precise moment.

Because polyamory directly roots from the Greek word πολύ (poly) translating to “many, several,” and the Latin word amor which translates to “love” — there are so many ways to explore this vast dating realm and it can feel a little overwhelming at first. You might find that multiple dating styles work for you or that you really vibe with one in particular and that’s your boundary.

Figuring these things out sometimes take time — and if you’re trying to figure it out while dating people, it can be messy but wonderful. You’ll learn that you have so much to say about your boundaries (more than you ever thought possible when dating monogamously). You’ll find that you might really like someone but you have completely non-compatible relationship styles.

Embrace this new found exploration and let’s dive in to figure out what kind of poly relationships might feel good for you.

Polyamorous

This is a broad definition which can definitely be sub-defined but many people identify this way, so it’s important to include. While this identity often gets misunderstood as a representation of all the below definitions, it means a person who loves and has romantic relationships with multiple people. This can take many different forms (some of which are covered below) and many poly people also sub-identify within those areas. You may hear polyamorous people refer to their circle of dating as a “polycule” which may include people they’re dating and people who are in that same dating circle but they aren’t directly involved with.

Triad / Quad

A triad is a group of three poly people dating. Usually, this is most often applied to a relationship in which each of the three people is sexually and emotionally involved with all the other members of the triad. However, this also sometimes is applied to “vee” relationships. That is when one partner is sexually and romantically involved with two partners who are not involved with each other. Those two people would be describes as each others metamore — the other people your partner is dating.

A quad is a poly relationship involving four people who may or may not all be sexually and romantically involved with one another. The most common form of this relationship style is cross-coupling, when two different couples match up and date within their quad.

Relationship Anarchy

This refers to a philosophy or practice where people are seen as free to engage in any relationships they choose without having a hierarchy of who is most important in their life. No relationship is centered or prioritized as people who date in this style often believe that energy should flow freely without definitions of “partner” or “non-partner.” This also extends to all other relationships, including friends, family members, coworkers, acquaintances. They often see all the people in their life deserving of equal energy from them.

Solo Poly

This is an approach to poly that emphasized autonomy and agency. Many solo poly people don’t seek to engage in relationships with people who want to be couple-centric. They believe in the freedom to choose their own relationships without getting permission from others about who else they’re dating (while still communicating about that, don’t be an asshole). Their relationships are flexible and sometimes they date people who are coupled but don’t join them as a triad. While some people use this dating style in different phases of their life — there are people who identify with this for their entire lives and don’t wish to live with partners or combine finances with partners. They crave their own free will while also dating people.

Open Relationship

This relationships style is mainly people who are coupled but want to have freedom to explore other casual relationships outside of their dyad. Usually, this refers strictly to extraneous sexual relationships — and not romantic entanglements. Sometimes an open relationship also refers to not exactly being poly as couples may choose to not communicate about their outside sexual partners. They just know that they have them. However, this differs for every partnership that practices this style.

Ethical Non-Monogamy

Much like polyamory, this is a broad term that many people use to identify their dating style. It can take many different forms so it’s best to ask someone what that means to them personally. At its core, this means people center being ethical about the ways in which they date multiple people. They prioritize communicating about desires and boundaries. They may have some sexual partners and some partners who are more romantic. This is different from polyamory because relationships don’t have to center around being romantic.

Swinging

Some people categorize swinging under polyamory, other’s don’t. I include it because it’s a way in which a lot of people enter non-monogamy as a dating style. Many people who swing do so primarily at swinging parties where they attend with their primary partner and go off and have sex with other partners. This dating style is specific to extraneous sexual relationships, not intimate or romantic.

Relationship By Design

Disclaimer: I love this dating style! It’s so open for interpretation and I think that’s pretty cool. Basically, this means that every relationship people enter into, they create a “relationship by design” with that person. They date multiple people while creating boundaries and dating styles that work within each individual relationship. I’ve found that most people in this dating style have a primary partner and branch out from there with other partners both sexual and romantic.

This dating style was created by Sandy and Lon Golnick who are fabulous and have written several books on the topic.

Monogamish

This is a relationship that centers the primary couple, while not necessarily being sexually fidelitous. Their outside relationships are solely sexual without any expectations of continuity, and are often seen as enhancing the primary couple and their strengthening relationship.

There’s a lot of information here and I’ve really only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to covering different relationships styles. The main takeaway is that you can create the kind of relationships you want to have when you communicate, care for other people’s feelings and investments, and really spend time thinking about your desires.


Corinne Kai is the Managing Editor and resident sex educator at GO Magazine. You can listen to her podcast Femme, Collectively just stalk her on Instagram