Some Ways to Poly

Last week I said I would blog this week about some of the different configurations of polyamory. This is far from being an exhaustive list, but I’ve encountered a number of people who believe there’s only one way to do polyamory, and that’s definitely not the case.

Red hearts in 3D

The configuration most people seem familiar with is a triad. This is a relationship in which three people are all involved with each other, and often, at least as most often portrayed, aren’t involved with anyone else. Many of the people I’ve encountered online who are new to polyamory, or aren’t polyamorous but are reading about it, assume that all poly relationships are triads that started when a married heterosexual couple decided to “add a female” to their marriage. (I use that phrasing because of the sheer number of times I’ve seen people using it in posts online.)

The “female” becomes a girlfriend to both the husband and wife. Unfortunately, in the real world, that sometimes, if not often, leads to the husband and wife prioritizing each other and the marriage, and having one-on-one time, while the other woman is left a distant second in the priorities and is only “allowed to” interact with the couple together, not with either individual.

That isn’t to say triads can’t work. They absolutely can, if everyone makes and sticks to agreements, communicates fully, and treats each other like human beings instead of marital aids. In online forums, one tends to see the relationships that are struggling, so what I’ve seen about triads that are failing or aren’t even getting off the ground isn’t necessarily representative of every triad in existence. But what I’ve stated above is the overwhelming majority of what I’ve seen in those forums.

Another poly configuration is often known as a “V”. This is a situation in which one person, the point of the V, has two partners who are *not* involved with one another. Each of those partners might also have other partners, or they might not. In my novel Shiny Objects, published in 2011 and out of print since 2014, the heroine, Elena, is in a V with her boyfriends Corin and Niko. In the novel, Elena and Corin had an existing relationship, and Corin consented to Elena beginning a relationship with Niko. Sometimes that’s how V’s start; an existing couple agrees to open up to seeing other people.

Other times, there is no existing couple. Some people are “solo poly”; that is, they aren’t living with or legally entangled with any partner, but have more than one person they date. This might still take the form of a V configuration or even a triad, if the solo person is dating people who are involved with one another in some way. Or it might take other forms.

Some people are part of poly networks, in which they might be dating two or more people who are dating two or more people, etc., but there’s overlap within who’s dating whom. For example, Sally might be dating Ed, Sheila, and Dave, while Ed is also dating Sheila and Elaine, and Elaine is also dating Dave, Marcus, Mary, and Nathan, and Mary and Nathan are married and don’t date anyone other than Elaine, and so on.

If that sounds confusing…well, yeah. It can be. And as I said, those are definitely not the only possible configurations in polyamory. Polyamory can be a lot of work, because within any grouping there are several relationships going on. For example, a triad isn’t only a relationship among three people; it’s actually four relationships: the three people together, person A and B, person B and C, and person C and A. Any relationship takes work, and the work can increase exponentially.

But the work is worth it for those who are polyamorous, just as the work that goes into any relationship is worth it.

If you want to learn more, leave your questions in the comments; if I can’t answer them myself, I’ll link to resources and sites where you can find more information.

Communication, Poly Style

Communication is the cornerstone and foundation of any relationship. If you aren’t able to talk to one another effectively, the relationship will likely crumble under conflict, differences in opinions or wants or needs, or just because you feel like you can’t get along.

In a polyamorous relationship, where more than one partner is involved in various configurations, communication is even more important. I’m not going to get into all the different types of poly configurations in this post, because that’s long enough to warrant a post of its own. (Stay tuned next Monday.)

But regardless of whether you have a triad where three people are all involved with each other, or a network where two people are involved with each other, and each of them is also involved with other people who are involved with other people and so on, at the core, every connection between any two people is a relationship in and of itself, as well as part of the larger configuration. Each of those connections needs to be nurtured and cared for, and to do that, everyone needs to communicate.

Different people have different communication needs. One person might prefer openness and honesty, and define that as sharing explicit details of dates and sexual interactions with the partners who weren’t involved. Another person might only want to know, and only want to share, that they have a date with another partner, and not discuss it beyond that. Some don’t even want to know that much.

Within a poly configuration, there might be people with different communication styles and needs, and part of the communication has to be figuring out what and how to communicate. What is each person comfortable knowing about other relationships or connections? What is each comfortable having other partners know about them? Is it okay to vent to one partner about another when something stressful arises? Does one partner even want to hear that you have other partners?

Relationships take work, and a lot of that work is communication. Polyamorous relationships take exponentially more work and communication, because more people’s needs, privacy, and so on have to be taken into account.

The work is worth it, whether you’re in a couple or a triad or a poly network large enough that you can’t even keep track of who has how many partners. Make no mistake, it isn’t easy. But it is worth it.