The simplest definition of polyamory is ethical non-monogamy. Emphasis on the ethical part. Polyamory means everyone involved is aware of the relationship dynamic and has given free consent to participating. What that means to you can vary widely though, everyone can poly in the way that is the best fit for them. However there are some general structures that seem to show up repeatedly with some variation.
So what does ethical non-monogamy mean. Well being very simple it means having serious relationships and / or sexual relationships with multiple people at the same time. This does not always mean all in the same room at the same time (although it can). It does mean balancing and nurturing multiple people and relationships at the same time in your life, and everyone knows about it. Your partners do not need to know each other or be friends, but they do need to know ABOUT the existence of your other relationships to be ethical non monogamy.
Perhaps the most widely heard about variation of polyamory is a closed triad or quad. For a triad this means three people all in a relationship dating each other. A quad is the same but with four people, often (but not always) with two previous couples coming together to all form a relationship. The closed portion of this relationship dynamic means that outside of the agreed upon number of people you do not date or sleep with anyone else.
Another popular type is hierarchy. Many people that are new to polyamory tend to gravitate towards this type without even realizing it. A hierarchy places a partner as the primary who generally has more say and often has rules that protect that initial relationship. This will then place all other relationships as secondary or tertiary, meaning less than the original in some way.
A harder type of polyamory to define is generally called relationship anarchy. This is where a lot of polyamory guides tell you to want to be. Relationship Anarchy generally means that you let any relationship that you develop take it’s course without pre determined rules or placements. Any and all of your relationships can be or already are equally important and other relationships that you engage in do not affect or have the ability to impact another relationship that you are involved in.
A less known form of polyamory is solo-poly. This is generally with someone who enjoys living alone and while they engage in meaningful relationships they typically will not have a partner in the traditional sense.
Of course this is not a complete list, and i have only included a VERY brief snippet of what each type of poly can mean. I will expand on each type separately in later posts. Since polyamory is so unique to each person I can never get it totally right, but I can point out what I have learned from others, and try to post the pro’s and con’s of each dynamic – no way is the right way, and they all have benefits and potential problems.
It is possible to move from one of these types to another if you keep lines of communication open and are willing to be fluid in the ways relationships can develop, and the needs of everyone involved.