The poly community has sects just like any other community. (Go ahead and enjoy the aural pun, I’ll wait.) If you hang out in a poly discussion group, you’ll see words like “polyfidelity,” “polyfuckery,” “closed triad,” “relationship anarchy” pop up, and alongside them you will often see hackles rise. We’re a pretty liberal, tolerant bunch, so most of the time cries of “Everybody needs to do what works for them! Let’s all just accept each other’s differences!” will shut down an argument before it gets rolling, but underneath it the differences are still bubbling. Those of us who call ourselves poly do poly really differently, and there can be a lot of tension around your way vs. my way, and whether I think my way is superior, or whether I think you think your way is superior, or whether I’m unintentionally erasing your way altogether because I have a hard time conceiving that anyone could construct their life like that.
Personality typing systems, especially Myers-Briggs (but I’m a fan of several others too!), have been really important to me in how I relate to others. While I don’t view them as hard and fast categories, and some people have a hard time fitting themselves into a particular model, they’re incredibly useful ways of identifying trends of difference between people, in a way that doesn’t position one way as superior to another. They give us a way of talking about our different personalities, preferences, and approaches to life that is easily intelligible and judgement-neutral.
I wasn’t aware of it until today, but the writers over at polytripod (who were featured, along with us, in the Our America documentary!) came up with a similar schema for poly personality differences. I think it’s really great. Because there are many more variables, it doesn’t lend itself to easy acronyms the way Myers-Briggs does (I’m told people who didn’t grow up on Myers-Briggs don’t find those acronyms so easy either), but it is at the very least a terrific jumping-off place for discussions about what style of poly a person prefers, and why. A lot of the axes point to things that I hadn’t consciously noted as big, stable differences between people, but which I immediately recognized as being important and relevant.
I kind of like that the system, as it stands, doesn’t lend itself to a simple identifier the way you can say, “I’m an INFP.” It more requires you to go down the list, check the box that applies to you, and then compare lists and discuss. Requiring a more deliberate discussion rather than a simple verbal tag… that’s so poly it’s gross. (I kid, I kid. If I wasn’t into obsessive discussion and overanalysis I probably wouldn’t be poly.)
Scanning down the list, here’s where I line up (and some thoughts on the category in general):
“Speed” axis: How quickly do you form connections/relationships in general?
Fluid- more rapid in forming emotional and/or sexual connections.
Growth- deliberate in forming emotional and/or sexual connections.
Static- slow moving in forming emotional and/or sexual connections.
I find it really interesting, and cool, that “growth” and “static” are two different categories rather than just sorting speed into fast and slow. It makes a lot of sense to me. I’m slow to connect (in most cases) but I’m also not inclined to pick out someone and deliberately work to build a relationship. I prefer to be guided by my feelings in the moment, rather than a deliberate decision that I want to pursue a relationship with a particular person. But I’ve talked to others who felt differently.
“Structure” axis: How would you describe your ideal poly relationship structure?
Open- People come and go at will forming “polycules” which consist of individual dyadic relationships.
Network- People often connect socially with metamours. Some sort of “get to know you” is usually requested or offered early on in becoming part of the extended group.
Closed- Approval of existing members needed before new member is allowed to join.
I’m very comfortable in this “connections with metamours are encouraged and pursued, but not required” spot.
“Attitude” axis: What level of entanglement is desired with partners and/or metamours?
Independent- Prefers to do their own thing with their own partner .
Community- Enjoys being part of socially connected groups some of the time.
Family- Actively prioritizes shared time and/or space with partners and metamours.
Ditto. If one were trying to simplify this system, I could see folding this and the Structure axis together, but as discussed, I don’t feel simplification is necessary.
“Intimacy Style” axis: How is romantic closeness with others achieved? More than one may apply.
Sexual – Connects with others via sharing physical intimacy.
Emotional – Connects with others via sharing feelings.
Activities and Shared Experience- Connects with others via sharing experience and spending time together.
Definitely important that more than one can apply.
Hierarchical- priority is given to preservation of existing primary relationship/s.
Weighted- some relationships are prioritized over others, but open to changes, adding an additional primary, etc.
Egalitarian-committed to not prioritizing some relationships over others.
Here’s another one where I’m thankful to have a middle ground. In truth, my relationship with Shaun is de facto primary to me, and I do prioritize it over others, but it’s not hard-and-fast.
Relationship Saturation Axis: What would your ideal relationship concentration look like?
Full-boat- completely satisfied with current relationship(s). Prefer relationships to dating.
Open to opportunities to connect-neither closed off to forming new relationships, nor actively looking, but being closed to possibilities would feel restrictive.
Actively seeking new partner(s)? Looking for new connections regardless of current partner status. Consistently open to dating and exploration.
This is one that I hadn’t fully conceptualized, but I think is really useful. These questions often get framed as, “How many partners is enough to you?” but to me it makes much more sense to look at it as a dispositional thing. Some people just really enjoy the dynamics of new connections and pursuit, and it’s not necessarily about how many people they’re already dating. It’s also important to note that this category is about an ideal situation, not one’s current situation. I think it’s hard for people whose ideal life involves a continual stream of new partners, and people whose ideal life includes a stable set of partners without new relationships, to understand each other, and this should be helpful.
Nature or Nurture Axis:
Born Poly- Came out of the womb hardwired for multiple relationships. Being monogamous would feel unnatural.
Poly by Choice- Poly makes sense, and is a desired style of relationship for a myriad of reasons. Unlikely to get into a monogamous relationship.
Mono or Poly- Happy being open to either poly or mono, depending on circumstances in life, if current partner is open to poly, etcetera.
I’d be inclined to frame this not as Nature or Nurture, but just as “how flexible are you in your poly orientation?” But that’s because phrases like “born this way” and “hardwired” make me twitchy.
Flow of Information Axis:
Confidential- No desire to hear about other partners/activities with and/or have information about the relationship they are involved in shared with metamours, unless explicitly approved in advance.
Pertinent- Don’t need to have all the details, but want to have personally relevant information shared.
Transparency- Desire the free flow of information about all relationships partners are involved in, and are comfortable with partner sharing that with metamours.
HUGELY important and something that should be discussed in every new poly relationship.
Detailed- extensive agreements/contracts covering every eventuality.
General- conscious agreements about a few major subjects.
Short-term- temporary agreements only.
I feel like this category could be tweaked a little more, or maybe a second rule-related category be added, but it’s definitely a key part of poly style.
Thinking about my partners and metamours, I can guess how they’d answer these questions similarly and differently to me. But it’s definitely a useful tool for discussions (and it’s making me itch to run a poly/open relationship workshop to use it!)
Thanks, Regina, for taking the time to develop this! I’d love to see it shared and used more in the online poly community.