With so many varieties in polyamory, it can almost be compared to the varieties of ice cream found in an ice cream shop. Also, just like many ice cream enthusiasts who enjoy more than one flavor, some polyamorists might feel drawn to more than a few of the different poly practices. Just as some people might prefer vanilla ice cream when they eat blackberry cobbler but cookie dough ice cream with a drizzle of chocolate syrup another time, some poly people practice different polyamory structures with different partners - or at different times in their lives.
Obviously, a couple is two partners, a triad is three partners, a quad is four partners, and a group could have any number of partners. Whether a couple or more, these relationships can flow in and out of some of the following mentioned structures, or could remain in just one type of structure for the entirety of the relationship.
In hierarchical polyamory, one couple or group is considered the “primary” relationship. The primary relationship takes precedence over all other secondary relationships in time, energy, finances, and obligations. And sometimes a poly individual might have a tertiary relationship in which the time spent with this person is highly inconsistent and expends far less energy than even a secondary relationship.
There are many reasons why a couple or group might agree to a hierarchical poly relationship, some of them more ethical than others. It could be because of young children and the time and financial obligations required. For some who live together, there might not be enough time or resources for another primary. Others might find themselves in a temporary primary relationship simply because other relationships aren’t at the same level of development at the moment.
Many people in the poly community consider some hierarchy to be less ethical, usually those whose rules are based on insecurities. Some partners want a primary status because of past mistakes on the part of one of the partners. Others want their main relationship to be special because of a fear of losing the bond. Some primary partners might even require a veto rule: the authority to end their partner’s relationship for any reason.
Many poly people place “unicorn hunters” in this category of non-ethical hierarchy. A couple who is searching to add a third person to their relationship but without the true intention of reaching equal status in the relationship are typical unicorn hunters. However, this term is not to be confused with triads in which all partners have equal status.
Obviously, someone who practices nonhierarchical, also known as egalitarian, poly is someone who treats all of their partners with equal weight. Sometimes this happens because of a closed triad or quad. Often in polyamory, people flow in and out of hierarchical and nonhierarchical status because of having relationships at varying levels of intimacy.
Also known as a closed group marriage, polyfidelity is a group relationship in which all involved agree to sexual fidelity and a lifetime commitment. With some polyfidelity relationships, the group might be open to adding new members to the group, but no sexual nor emotional intimacy is allowed without the group first agreeing to add the new member to their group marriage.
A triad in which one person is the “hinge” (sometimes called the “pivot”) or the center of the relationship. The two “arm” partners are not as close in relationship as they are with the pivot person.
A newer term in the poly community, kitchen table refers to a style of polyamory in which all of the members of a polycule (the poly network) would enjoy sitting around a table with a cup of coffee and conversation. Polyamorists who practice kitchen table polyamory are those who want to know their metamours (their partner’s romantic partner whom they are not involved with romantically) and possibly even their metamours’ partners.
Unlike kitchen table poly, parallel polyamory is a structure in which partners don’t interact with metamours. There are various levels to parallel poly, so that for some, they might have a little interaction with their partner’s partners but wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable at their kitchen table. For others practicing parallel, they might never meet their metamours.
In this type of relationship, one partner is monogamous and the other is polyamorous. So, the partner who is monogamous only has one intimate relationship - with their polyamorous partner. The poly partner has an intimate relationship with their mono partner as well as with others.
Some couples agree to a mono-poly structure from the beginning of their relationship, usually due to varying degrees of energy, sexuality, or preferences. Sometimes a mono-poly relationship occurs because the couple started out as monogamous but one of them realized along the way that they are polyamorous; so, instead of parting ways, they agreed to a mono-poly style of relationship.
Other reasons for a mono-poly structure could be varying sexual appetites, a long distance relationship in which one partner is unfulfilled by the lack of physical connection, or even simply because of varying personality types (extrovert vs. introvert) or job demands.
A solo polyamorist is someone who practices polyamory but retains their sense of autonomy. A “singleish” poly individual might have deep, committed relationships that look primary but don’t come with any sort of rank or rules. Or solo poly might be a choice for the moment due to life circumstances.
Some solo polyamorists simply don’t feel wired for primary relationships. They might feel like a primary relationship is too demanding or suffocating. Or they might want to reserve the primary relationship for themselves or even for a non-romantic relationship, such as friends or family members.
Monogamous people can also be relationship anarchists in that their close friends and some relatives have the same status as their lover. In polyamory, a relationship anarchist treats all lovers and friends equally.
Of course, there are times when some relationships require more time or energy than others - perhaps a relationship is too new to give it the same energy as an established friendship. But with relationship anarchy, no relationship is given higher status simply because of the type of relationship it is (i.e. lover, friend, or family member).