Polycule: Your Guide To The Non-Monogamous Relationship Structure

Being fortunate to find love in this often chaotic world is an extraordinary thing. Meeting someone who just "gets" us, accepts our quirks, and with whom we can laugh for hours on end, is one of the few things that we, as humans, are all looking for in this thing called life. Love is what makes us, breaks us, and feel like we're on a rollercoaster, getting our stomach tossed around with excitement and bits of fear too. It's sometimes scary allowing ourselves to be so vulnerable that we fall in love. Yet, it's a scariness and vulnerability that we're all searching for, whether or not we admit to it.


But what if you could find the thrill of love and romance with not just one, but two people? Or, not just two, but three people? What if you could have more than one partner, loving them all while being loved back by them? Would you do it? Would you dive into the world of polyamory?

"Many people may hold a vague concept of what they imagine polyamory to be — an openness in relationships, an excuse to cheat, or a sexual free for all," sex educator Jessica Drake tells Bustle. "The truth is, it just isn't like that. Polyamory is the practice of being in a sexual and or romantic relationship with more than one person at a time, and it comes with its own unique set of challenges."

If you adore the idea of loving more than one person at a time, then maybe polyamory is for you. If that's the case, perhaps a polycule too?


What's a polycule

The word "polycule" comes from combining "molecule" and "polyamorous." Just as a molecule is a group of particles that are bonded together, a polycule is a polyamorous relationship structure that's bonded together, often by one person. For example, if you and your partner are non-monogamous and both have other lovers and/or partners outside your relationship, and those lovers have partners, all those people make up a network that's known as a polycule.


Although it might seem a bit confusing, especially if you're new to polyamory or don't practice it at all, if you think of one person — the nucleus — then the other people within that group — the electrons — you can have a better vision of what a polycule looks like and how it works. However, it should be stated that while there are a bunch of people within the network, not everyone sleeps with each other. We're not talking about relationship anarchy here, but rather extensions of people who have their own extension partners. Like a web of love, so to speak. 

There is more than one type of polycule

While there's no one way to have a polycule, just as there's no one way to have a relationship, polycules usually find themselves being one of three types: a V relationship, a triad, or a quad. With a V polycule there is a "hinge," who's a person with two partners who aren't intimate with each other. These two will ultimately be each other's metamour, but they can possibly have other partners in addition to the relationship they have with the hinge.


A triad, which is also known as a throuple, are three people all having a relationship together. There is no hierarchy as to what is the primary relationship, as everyone is an equal partner. Although these three people can be a polycule on their own, if any of the three have other partners, then those people become part of the polycule as well. A quad is just like a triad, but with four people instead of three. Again, the four can make up an entire polycule or, if any of them have any partners, those people become part of the polycule — as well as any of the partners of their partners. Confused yet? Don't be because we're just getting started. 

It's not always about sex

Because the definition of the word relationship varies, not all polycules involve sexual relations or romantic connections. For some groups of friends, organizing their network as a polycule works for them even if everything is strictly platonic between everyone involved. An example of this would be one (or more people) at the center of the friend network, who have friends who may not be friends with each other but are friends with the people at the center. Those friends have friends, and those friends have friends, thereby branching out and creating a web of friendships where the friends don't necessarily overlap as you work your way back to the center, but there's a shared sense of respect for everyone within the polycule. 


Granted, you could just define this as friends of friends, but some like the organization tactic that comes with a polycule. Also, who doesn't want the opportunity to throw around the word "polycule?"

Polycules don't necessarily need a hierarchy

If you look at a molecule, there's a hierarchy of importance. A molecule is made up of two or more atoms and within each atom there's a nucleus, which is made of positively charged protons and neutrally charged neutrons — that's the heart of the atom also making it the heart(s) of a molecule. The negatively charged electrons are the tiny particles that circle around the nucleus of the atom making the molecule complete. While no component can exist without the others, there is still a center that holds it all together through chemical bonding. The same can be said for polycules if one were wanting to implement a system of hierarchy, despite a hierarchy not being necessary: every person is held together through their own bond with someone else, but it ultimately all stems from the molecule and the makeup within it (the atoms).


If you take a V polycule, for example, you could have one primary non-monogamous relationship with one partner having a partner outside the relationship — making the V-shape. A triad and quad, too, could have a defined primary non-monogamous relationship at its center, with everyone one else being defined as secondary or tertiary, then so on down the list. But while some people may like this sort of organization, a primary relationship doesn't have to exist for a polycule to work and work well.

How to know if a polycule is for you

Although putting words to a polycule may confuse the brain, especially if you haven't had enough coffee or if you struggle to see things spatially, in practice it's rather seamless, as long as respect and communication are always prevalent. It's not unlike a family tree that extends out with branches upon branches, except the branches in a polycule are all bonds that link people who are some form of polyamorous in their sexual and/or romantic relationships. Unless, of course, the entire network is a platonic polycule. If that's the case, then those bonds that link everyone are not sexual or romantic in nature. 


Once you have your "a-ha" moment as to what a polycule looks like — drawing it out may help you envision it — you can decide if it's for you. But the first step, even before you consider a polycule, is figuring out your thoughts on open relationships, ethical non-monogamy, and, of course, polyamory. A good way to do that is to understand compersion, the joy and happiness that comes with knowing your partner is being sexually and/or romantically fulfilled by someone else. If this is something you can't fathom, and not everyone can, then it might be time to take a step back away from the idea of being part of a polycule. Within these networks, there's a lot of sharing of partners so people who are inherently monogamous — which isn't a bad thing! — just can't do it.


What to ask before joining a polycule

If you've examined the idea of open relationships and have decided that you're very much into it and want to get involved in a polycule, there are some things to consider and questions you should ask. If at the center of the polycule you're interested in joining, there is a primary relationship to which you'll be your partner's partner's metamour in addition to having other partners of your own, this is something you want to inquire about before getting involved. Some people yearn to be in a primary, yet open relationship and not be a secondary lover. Because of this, you want to know what sort of relationship you want for yourself and where that relationship will be most fulfilled in the polycule.


"Transparency is such a big part of being in a polycule," psychologist Keely Kolmes, Psy.D. tells Cosmopolitan. "So, make sure you're frank with one another about how often you'd like to see each other, how often you'd like to hang out in a group versus one-on-one, and what parts of your relationship should be purely sexual versus classically romantic."

Although one's place in the polycule can change, because things happen, you can't just show up to a formed polycule and decide you're going to take over someone else's spot. You wouldn't do that to someone in a monogamous relationship, so you shouldn't do it in a polycule either. 

How to make the most of your polycule

If you're fortunate enough to find your way into a polycule there are two major rules to keep in mind: communication and respect. While most open and polyamorous relationships have their own set of rules, these two components are essential for all relationships, especially ones where there's more than just two people. You also want to take your time, whether while joining a polycule or trying to initiate your own polycule. You can't force people to feel certain ways about others, so don't think you can move everyone around like chess pieces to fit your polycule. We're talking about human beings with feelings, complex emotions, and mental and physical needs, so don't ever lose sight of that — no matter where you are in a polycule. 


One of the best things that will ever happen to any of us is loving and being loved. A polycule relationship structure is just another example of how you can experience love with people in your life, so if you're lucky enough to find yourself in one, be grateful. But, it can't be stated enough that these types of romantic and sexual relationships aren't a fit for everyone. That being said, don't rush into a polycule because it seems like the trendy thing to do. Instead, consider what the relationships mean to you and what you can bring to the relationships. Only then should you try to find the right polycule for you.