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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.

Teaser Thursday- Shiny Objects

On the subject of communication in polyamorous relationships.

As she puttered, making Niko’s cup of coffee, she kept an ear on the conversation in the living room. For the first few minutes, it consisted of more strained chatter. Finally, just as she poured boiling water into her cup, Niko said, “Elena said you wanted to meet the man you’re sharing her with.”

Corin coughed. “I guess that’s one way to put it. I just want to make sure no one, Elena especially, ends up hurt in this.”

“Most people would care more about whether they themselves end up hurt,” Niko said.

“Elena’s very important to me,” Corin replied firmly. “If it came to a choice between me being hurt or her, I’d choose myself.”

“I admire that,” Niko said. “I question it, but then again, I don’t know you well enough to say if you’d stick to it.”

“I already have. I told her it would be okay if she saw you.”

Elena flinched. She hadn’t expected Corin to state so bluntly how he felt about her relationship with Niko. Especially not to Niko himself. More than ever, she wished she’d never kissed Niko, that she’d never put herself or the men into this situation.

But wishing did no good. She couldn’t change the past.

She stirred the coffee and carried the cup to Niko with a forced smile. “Caffeine.”

“Thanks.” Niko took a sip of it then set the cup in front of him on the coffee table. Looking at Corin, he said, “I told Elena I wouldn’t do anything to come between her and you. I guess like you, I’ll do whatever I can to make sure she isn’t hurt.”

Tears pricked Elena’s eyes, and she blinked rapidly to keep them back. “Just stop. No one wants to see anyone hurt. Right now, I like I’ve screwed up both your lives, and I hate it.” She swallowed the lump in her throat.

“You haven’t.” Corin reached for her hand. “Honey, that isn’t what I meant at all.”

“Me either,” Niko said firmly. “You should know me better than that. If something screwed up my life, it wouldn’t be part of my life anymore.”

“I know.” Elena sank onto the loveseat beside Corin. “So tell me what you meant. This is what I was afraid of. You both sound pissed, and I’m not sure this is going to work.”

“We’ll make it work,” Niko said roughly. “If it’s what you want, we’ll make it work.”

“What about what you guys want?”

Corin ran his hand through his hair. “I want to know you aren’t leaving me. I want to know that every night, you’ll be sleeping in our bed, even if you’ve been with Niko.”

“Which works for me, because I have nowhere for her to sleep,” Niko said. “Having a roommate isn’t always conducive to having sleepover guests.”

Corin nodded. “Okay. That takes care of one of my concerns.”

“I’m not leaving you.” Elena rested her hand on Corin’s knee. “I told you that. I don’t want Niko instead of you. I don’t know what the hell I’m thinking. I always thought I was a one-man woman. But I want both of you.”

“All I want is for you to be happy and comfortable with what’s going on,” Niko said quietly. “If you’re not, we end my part in it. It’s that simple.”

After what he’d told her the other night, she doubted it would be that simple for him. But if he had to let her go, he would never express any qualms. That wasn’t Niko.

“Thank you,” she said.

“You’re welcome.”

Elena turned to Corin, who gave her a reassuring smile. “You and I discussed things before you started with Niko,” he said. “Maybe we should have involved Niko in the discussion.”

“What is there to discuss?” Niko asked. “We both want her, and she wants both of us. She lives with you. She’s home every night. She visits me when she can and when I have a place for us to be together. That won’t be often, unfortunately, since I think for most of the winter her car won’t be the best location, and she told me you’d rather she not bring me here.”

“Her car?” Corin snarled.

“Not the other night,” Elena said quickly. “His roommate went out. And the time in my car, it was warm out.” To her own ears, it sounded like a lame explanation.

Niko nodded. “As I said, having a roommate isn’t conducive to having company. And Elena’s worth far more than fumbling in a car like a couple of teenagers. We had no other option that night. If this is going to be an ongoing thing, I’ll find a solution.”

“Her car,” Corin muttered.

“Let it go.” Elena grinned, hoping to lighten the mood. “Being in a car can be exciting sometimes.”

“Not when it’s twenty degrees out,” Niko said. “I’ll think of something better.” He studied Corin. “So why did you want me over here today?”

“To straighten out a few things,” Corin replied, an edge to his voice. “Elena told me you and she f—slept together the other night, and I took it harder than I expected. I agreed to it, and I don’t want to blame Elena for doing what I said I wouldn’t have a problem with her doing.”

Anger sparked in Niko’s eyes. “Is that why you didn’t call me yesterday, Elena?”

She hesitated. The guys had almost been getting along. She didn’t want another conflict to start. “Corin and I needed to sort things out, and we did. That’s why I asked you to come over.”

“To make this work, we have to be on the same page,” Corin said. “And it isn’t fair to Elena to have to be our go-between. I can see you’re pissed at me. Not my problem. My problem was that I got pissed off when I shouldn’t have. Elena and I worked that out. It was between her and me.”

Niko glared and said nothing.

“It’s okay,” Elena assured him. “We did work it out.”

“Good.” Niko folded his arms. “All right, any other agreements we need to make? Maybe we should set a schedule of when Elena’s allowed to see me?” His voice dripped with sarcasm.

Corin bristled. “You know, when I asked Elena to move in with me, I expected to spend the rest of my life with her. I didn’t expect to share her with another guy. You can be as pissy as you want. I’m doing this for her, and it would help if we were all on the same page about it. Speaking of which, did you use a condom, at least?”

Niko opened his mouth. To fend off another snarky comment, Elena spoke quickly, cringing inside at the fear of what Corin might say. “No. We talked about it. We both know we test negative for everything, and I can’t get pregnant, so we decided we didn’t need one.”

Corin’s face clouded. “I don’t think I like you letting him come inside you.”

Elena’s chest tightened. She should have talked to Corin about sexual health before going condom-free with Niko. She hadn’t even thought of it.

“I didn’t,” Niko said. “I came on her belly. I don’t need to come inside her and mark my territory. I just didn’t want anything between us.”

“If anything happens because of this—” Corin said.

“Stop,” Elena stood. “You guys are not going to fight about me. Or if you are, I’m not going to listen to it. I’ll be in the other room. Let me know when the fists are done flying.”

“We aren’t fighting,” Niko said.

“You’d better not be. I still need to leave the room. Be right back.” She hurried to the bathroom and shut herself in.

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.