Story Hospital

#50: Writing Polyamorous Relationships

Today’s question comes from @thepoetjean on Twitter, who asks:

Any tips on how to write happy, healthy poly[amorous] relationships clearly & respectfully?

Dear Jean,

Yes, I have many tips for this! And I’m thrilled that you want to write polyamorous characters; those dynamics don’t show up in fiction much and can be lots of fun to play with.

(Throughout this post I’m going to use the abbreviation polyam for polyamorous, as p/Poly is used by people from Polynesian cultures.)

I’ve seen and been in a great many polyam and non-monogamous arrangements, some functional and some not. The ones that last the longest and keep people the happiest have generally had the following qualities:

None of this says anything about the particulars of a relationship, because every relationship is shaped by the people in it. That’s the beauty and joy of polyamory, and also a source of tension as one constantly pushes back against societal forces that try to make people adapt themselves to prescribed relationship structures. Monogamy is supposed to be a one-size-fits-all concept, but most polyamorous arrangements are bespoke (though some people do work with off-the-rack polyam concepts such as closed triads or primary/secondary hierarchies). Every dyad (pair of people) has a unique dynamic, and each mix of relationships has a unique dynamic. It takes quite a lot of work to design human relationships from the ground up, but when that work pays off, the comfort of the custom fit is sublime.

A few more polyamory facts and busted myths:

And here are some real-world examples of happy non-monogamous arrangements that I’ve seen (all names changed):

I could go on, but you can see that just about any arrangement is possible as long as everyone involved is happy with it.

From a writing perspective, what matters is being true to your characters. What are their priorities? If they could have any kind of relationship they wanted, what would that look like? How do they react to new connections (their own or a partner’s)? How do events in the past influence their perspectives and reactions? What are they best at in relationships, and where do they struggle? In other words, it’s a lot like writing relationships for monogamous characters. The major difference is an approach of “How can we make this work for all of us?” rather than “It’s too bad I have to choose one of you.”

Further reading: I recommend the webcomic Kimchi Cuddles for some great depictions of a wide variety of polyamorous situations. Franklin Veaux’s website More Than Two (and the book by the same title) has good basic information on what polyamory is and some ways that people go about doing it. There are some useful FAQs and other links on the alt.polyamory website, particularly this compilation of ways polyam folks have met one another, which is a gold mine of meet-cutes and general inspiration.

Happy writing!


Story Nurse

P.S. I have a follow-up post that gets more in-depth about writing polyamorous romance.

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