Swinging is what a lot of people think of when you say you’re dating more than one person at once. It refers to couples who engage in recreational sex with others, usually only in specific settings (for example, at parties) and/or only when both partners are present. Generally there is no romantic involvement or long-term commitment with people not in the primary relationship. People argue a lot about whether or not swinging is a form of polyamory and as well as being part of a polyamorous relationship as seen on the hit tv show Poly, Married & Dating where they are polyamorous and clearly swingers as they have sex parties. It challenges the assumption that sexual fidelity is a requirement for romantic relationships; but it does not challenge the assumption that romantic love can exist only between two people.
Polyfidelity describes a relationship in which a group of three or more people have no sexual and/or romantic relationships outside the group. To my mind it’s sort of the opposite of swinging: it is built around the idea that romantic love can exist between several people, but exclusivity is considered important to the relationship.
Open marriages/ relationships are generally between two people who have agreed that outside relationships can exist. Swingers could be placed in this category, as can people who consider their spouse/partner to be their “primary” but also have “secondaries” who play an important role in their lives. Not to mention people who are devoted to their main sweetie but sleep with their friends sometimes. (Did I mention yet that polyamory is complicated?)
Open group relationships/ marriages also exist. Obviously, as with couples, each group negotiates its own terms for outside relationships, for example whether members can have only romantic relationships, only sexual relationships, or are not restricted; whether partners have “veto power” over their partners’ choices, and so on. (Jeez, this makes it sound like a club, doesn’t it?)
Another important distinction in poly relationships is between “V” and group relationship styles. In “V” situations, one person will have two or more lovers who are not involved with each other. For example, say Dawn is involved with both Julian and Charis. Julian and Charis know about each other – otherwise it would be cheating, not polyamory – and are probably at least on friendly terms, but aren’t involved with each other. Charis may also be involved with her yoga instructor, and Dawn and Julian both know about that too. (Note: you can probably tell from this example that V relationships often look more like X’s, Y’s, Z’s, or even W’s.) (Another Note: most “love triangles” are actually V’s – mostly the people who call them triangles are heterosexual and so are unable to have actual triangles. I guess “love V” sounds kind of funny though.)
Now, a group relationship style would be if Julian and Charis suddenly changed their minds about each other and fell deeply in love, so that all three of them were involved with each other.
Another category (it never ends, does it?) is what’s called an intimate network. It’s kind of a vague term, which mostly refers to large circles of friends, most of whom have some kind of romantic and/or sexual involvement with each other, without necessarily classifying each other as primaries, secondaries, and the like. It kind of overlaps with all of the above.
Each relationship style has its own complexities. (I was going to write “its own complexity”, but I can’t think of any relationship style that has just one.) Complications rise exponentially with the number of people involved, and are therefore kind of a given in polyamory. Also, even your lovers who are not involved with each other still have some kind of dynamic together, whether it be friendly or uncomfortable (ideally the former). (Incidentally, this is the reason that “love triangles” got called that in the first place)
Need a question answered which is not covered here? I understand as polyamory seems to get more and more complicated the deeper you go with an awful lot of grey areas so I have also set up a Polyamory Support page where you can ask anything you like and remain anonymous if you like.
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