Editor’s note: Last names and majors have been omitted to prevent family members of the Polycule from finding out about the participants’ polyamorous relationship.
Meet the Polycule
It’s a group that consists of David, Mary (first name has been changed to protect the source’s identity from future employers) and Heather: three Cal Poly students who are in a polyamorous relationship — having multiple intimate relationships simultaneously. The group also includes recent Cal Poly graduate April (first name has been changed to further protect the source’s anonymity).
Senior David is involved in the dance community and carries himself with a clear sense of confidence.
“I had the thought train of ‘What happens if I date somebody, and what happens if I find somebody that I like more or at the same amount’ … But then being in a polyamorous relationship, you’re just like … ‘I’m going to date both of them,’” David said.
An unusual grouping
Junior Mary came to college eager to find a girlfriend after only having heterosexual relationships. Instead, she met David during a dance class her freshman year. Shortly after the two started dating, they both admitted to having a crush on April, their dance teacher.
After bringing up the idea a polyamorous relationship to April, the three sat down to create a contract — “Polyamorous Relationship Terms and Conditions.” They call themselves a Polycule because it’s a way to visualize what their relationship looks like — a polyamorous human molecule.
Sophomore Heather joined the Polycule about one year after the relationship began. As it stands currently, all three girls are dating David, and Mary and April are also dating each other.
“The thing I love most about this relationship is how open and expressive it is,” Heather said. “There is just so much communication, it was so refreshing.”
Heather had never been involved with someone who was polyamorous before, so when she met David she said it was nice to have everything laid out in the contract so she knew what to expect. The contract alleviated some of the jealousy that can occur in polyamorous relationships. However, according to Mary, jealousy is unavoidable in any relationship, including monoamorous ones.
While the contract was used in the beginning of the relationship to set boundaries and expectations, the entirety of it is no longer used, or even necessary. There are, however, two major components the group swears by: communication and consent. This applies to every aspect of the relationship, including the decisions that allowed Heather to join the Polycule and who hangs out with whom and when.
Most couples in monoamorous relationships only consult their partner when planning date nights, but members of the Polycule planning to go on a date with David need to get it approved by all Polycule members.
Communication is key
Sociology lecturer Teresa Downing studied and conducted research about hookup culture and healthy intimate relationships on college campuses during her time teaching at Iowa State University. Downing stressed the importance of communication with any type of relationship, including polyamorous ones.
“There are so many things that could go awry … in polyamorous relationships or open relationships,” Downing said. “You can have situations where one or more individuals in the couple or group is comfortable with that openness, but then you have another person who might feel pressured into the openness even though they’d rather be in a monogamous relationship.”
As to why the Polycule is limited to four people, David has a systematic explanation for how he divides up his time between his three girlfriends.
“I went with the math version of if you have seven days in a week then if you spend two days with one partner, two days with the other partner and two days with another partner, then you have one day left for yourself,” he said.
Polyamory: The breakdown
Polyamory is a blanket term that includes polygamy (plural marriage closely related to religion). In Latin it simply means “many loves.” According to a study titled “Polyamory: What it is and what it isn’t,” polyamory has been a part of American culture since the mid-19th century. Polygamy refers to multiple marriages and is typically related to religion, while polyamory does not necessarily entail marriage. Authors Derek McCullough and David Hall said polyamory is frequently confused with “swinging.” While the two have some similarities, swinging is “essentially recreational sex” and polyamory is not.
Political science professor Ron Den Otter is the author of “In Defense of Plural Marriage.”
“I think as long as everything is open, experimenting with this and realizing one size doesn’t fit all isn’t a bad thing at all,” Den Otter said. “There’s never been this institution of marriage in the United States that somehow remains static. It’s always been subject to socioeconomic forces and changes.”
Den Otter said if society is in favor of marriage equality and the right to marry whomever they want regardless of sex or gender, there’s no reason for numerical requirements. He also mentioned there’s not much research done on the topic of polyamory, but he always thought Americans needed to give it more of a chance.
“Some people can actually do this. They can have meaningful loving relationships,” Downing said. “They enjoy having other individuals in their intimate realm with whom they can engage intellectually and romantically and sexually and recreationally in all dimensions.”