What is a polycule?

Ever wondered about polycules? Well, the term is like a mash-up of “poly,” which means “many,” and “molecule.” It’s all about a relationship setup where three or more people are connected – you know, romantically or maybe a bit more. When you map out these polyamorous relationships, they look a bit like molecules.

So, How Does a Polycule Work?

Unlike open relationships, which are often about short-term flings, polyamory covers a wide range of relationship depths and types. A polycule is like a network of relationships – all consensually polyamorous and linked in some way.

People in a polycule are usually connected in various ways, but not always romantically or intimately. Being part of a polycule doesn’t mean dating everyone in it. Some polycules are a web of shared partners, while others are like a live-in family with different bonds among members. Some polycules have members who haven’t met but are loosely connected under the same “intimacy umbrella” through shared partner(s). And guess what? Polycules can grow without any limits.

Polycule structure types

Polycules can take various forms, and there’s no one “right” way to create them. While the possibilities seem endless, here are some common structures:

The “V”

A “V” is a three-part polycule, where one partner is the “hinge” at the center, and the other two partners are connected to them but not to each other (they’re metamours but not partners). Even though the metamours may not have a romantic or sexual connection, they might still consider themselves part of the same polycule, perhaps even living together or being friends.

The Triad

Triads, also known as throuples, consist of three people who see each other as equal or “primary partners,” engaging in a romantic/sexual/emotional relationship together. If the triad is open to external romantic and sexual connections, those secondary partners may also be considered part of the overall polycule.

The Quad

Quads are similar to triads but involve four people instead of three. There are even quints (five people), but as the number of people grows, the complexity increases. That’s where the term “polycule” comes in handy, encompassing any extended web of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual involvements.

The Platonic Polycule

For some, including those embracing relationship anarchy, friends and platonic partners hold as much value as romantic relationships. In a platonic polycule, people organize their lives around a group, not necessarily involving sexual or romantic connections.

The Polyfidelitous Polycule

A polyfidelitous polycule is a “closed” polycule, possibly a triad, quad, or quint, where each person exclusively commits to others within the group. No one within this type of polycule is open to emotional, sexual, or romantic connections outside of the defined group.

The question of hierarchy

Some folks who follow relationship anarchy believe you can have multiple partners without setting up a hierarchy – you know, like not calling one partner “primary” and another “secondary.” It’s pretty common for polycule members to share homes or finances without needing a hierarchy. But, if a couple is solidly established, living together, or raising kids, they might be seen as primary partners who could decide to include secondary partners if they want.

How to know if a polycule is right for you

Non-monogamy is getting more popular, with a 2020 YouGov survey showing 43% of millennials are open to non-monogamous relationships.

But, even if you’re into or considering polyamory, a polycule might not be your cup of tea.

If the idea of putting in the effort for good communication, emotional processing, and time management feels like too much, a polycule might not be the right fit. Polycules need patient communication since you’re dealing with more than one person, each in their own relationships. So, being a thoughtful and active listener becomes super important. If the thought of knowing about your partner’s other relationships sparks intense jealousy or fear, then a polycule might not be your thing. Maybe think about parallel polyamory, where you don’t know about your partner’s other partners, and the relationships just exist side by side without crossing paths.

And if you’ve thought it all through and are ready for the polycule lifestyle, make sure everyone’s on board and consenting. Don’t force a polycule if there’s no interest or consent. Your partner’s partners might not be eager to form a closer bond right away – these things take time. Don’t rush into a polycule and strain your existing relationship(s). Take the time to understand and respect everyone’s boundaries, including your own.