• Dee Morgan

Learn about Polyamory: What is a Polycule?


If you’ve spent any time reading about polyamorous dynamics, or know any consensually non-monogamous people, then chances are you’ve heard the word ‘polycule’ used. ‘Polycule’ is an umbrella term which describes a connected network of people and relationships, all of whom are in some way involved emotionally, sexually, or romantically with at least one other person within the polycule. Each polycule, or part within it, can have its own structures, boundaries, and connections.


The word sounds a lot like ‘molecule’ and that’s not by chance, as polycules can be envisioned as being a lot like molecules in their form (it’s a portmanteau of ‘polyamory’ and ‘molecule’). Here’s an example of what a polycule looks like, drawn by Kimchi Cuddles.


The term appeared sometime in the last 10-15 years, and as with so many terms created by people who are polyam, it’s a helpful descriptor that allows people to use short-hand in conversation. So rather than saying something like: “This is Li - they’re my nesting partner’s long-term lover’s new boyfriend’s enbyfriend” you can keep it short and sweet: “This is Li - they’re part of my polycule.”


When engaging in consensual non-monogamy, people who are engaged within a web of relationships can have a wide variety of possible impacts on one another - a ripple effect. If the imaginary Li, above, were to have a disagreement with their boyfriend, there’s a chance that their boyfriend would lean on his lover, who might in turn talk to my nesting partner, and so on and so forth. And if Li has another partner then they might also talk to her about it, so the ripples spread out in all directions.


These ripples can be positive as well, of course. When someone is celebrating, or there’s delight and compersion, or folks want to put together a group for a TTRPG campaign …well, polycules and the various connections can be extremely handy! And knowing your metamours (and sometimes their partners and metamours as well) can be all sorts of useful when figuring out how to plan a surprise party or special gift.


Polycules are essentially the living antithesis of mononormativity, in that there’s no expectation of coupledom - although there are often dyads, as well as v’s and triads/throuples, within the larger polycule itself. And while some polycules are small and only have a few people, there is theoretically no limit to how large a polycule can grow to be. They shift and change over time: as relationships ebb and flow, start and end, so too does the shape of the polycule and the people within it.


A Few Types of Polycule Structures

V

A V is a three-pronged polycule, with one partner as the ‘hinge’ in the centre of the V, and their two partners connected to them but not to each other (they are metamours but not partners).


For example: Jakob is in relationships with Alison and Damira, but Alison and Damira are not in sexual or romantic relationships with one another. If you drew a line from Damira to Jakob to Alison, you’d see a V shape.


Triad

A triad, or throuple, is like a V, except all three people are involved (sexually, romantically, and/or emotionally) with one another.


Taking Jakob, Alison and Damira from above. If Alison and Damira were also romantically or sexually connected with one another, then the line would go from Damira to Jakob to Alison to Damira, making a triangle shape.


Quad

A quad is like a triad, but with four people all involved with one another. There can also be quints, and more - but the nomenclature gets a little complex at this stage - hence the usefulness of the term ‘polycule’!


Platonic Polycule

Not everyone uses the same definitions around polyamory and consensual non-monogamy. For some (including those who identify as relationship anarchists), friends and platonic partners are considered to be relationships as valuable and cherished and those which are sexual, romantic, or emotionally intimate. A platonic polycule either includes or is made up of connections which can be asexual, aromantic, friendly, or otherwise close.


Polyfidelitous Polycule

A polyfidelitous polycule is a ‘closed’ polycule - sometimes a triad or quad, sometimes more - where each person has agreed to be exclusively connected or committed to the others within the group. Being closed, none of the people are open to starting or taking on other emotional, sexual, or romantic connections with people not already within the polycule.



There are many many more polycule types out there - like molecules, there can be a near-infinite number of shapes - and for each person their polycule will look different.


Resources


There’s lots of places to learn more about polycules and how they work. Here are a few options.


Polyamorous Relationship Structures is an article by Stephanie Sullivan / The Affirmative Couch


The Polyamory Bechdel Test is a useful concept by Gray Miller


Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families is an excellent book by Dr Elisabeth Scheff

Podcasts episodes worth listening to:


Don't forget to let folks in your polycule know that they can sign up to vote for a new polyamorous flag!