We've been blessed this season with another insightful article, this time from Devotion author, Anna Denisch, who explores the alternative to an unnecessary love triangle: a polyamorous relationship. Anna tells us about the exciting romantic prospects of a healthy poly relationship, and how this can be done in queer fiction. So, if you're tired of old traditions and ready for something new this Queermas, this is for you — and there's space here for everyone!
Can you love more than one person? That seems to be a common question that shows up whenever there’s romantic drama in a show or movie. Most people seem to be under the impression that love — romantic love anyway — can only be directed towards one person. Or if you do feel love for more than one person then you have to choose which of them you love more. But I’ve always been under the impression that love was infinite. And seeing the same old boring love triangle play out in one too many pieces of media inspired me to write a response. It’s a novel called Devotion, and it turns the time-worn unhappy married couple in a love triangle into a refreshing healthy polyamorous romance.
Why Love Triangles Do or Don’t Work
While I will almost always prefer a poly situation over another tired love triangle, there are situations where the love triangle trope serves to enhance a story and provide plot or character development. There may be situations where a character is unable to have multiple partners due to their current setting or plot. For example, consider two love interests on opposing sides of a war. The main character may love both, but cannot realistically be with both. The choice between their Love Interests can reflect the political landscape they are in and enhance the story even more. (Of course, we can always weaponize love, making their refusal to decide part of what helps end the war…). While the love triangle in this situation can help enhance the story, not all triangles achieve this goal. In order for a love triangle to work without being overdone, it must serve an additional purpose to the plot or characters, rather than just being shoved in for no apparent reason.
Speaking of love triangles being shoved in for no apparent reason, it’s also necessary to consider the genre of a piece of work when a love triangle is in consideration. For years I was adamant that I hated romance and I would never read or write it ever. (Plot twist, amirite?). However, this festering hatred was born out of the many, many, many (did I mention many) YA fantasy and adventure novels that feature love triangles. Love triangles do have their place, and that’s in a romance book where the plot is about romance. But love triangles outside of that hardly seem necessary. When other genres introduce a love triangle, it often comes across as creating conflict just to create conflict. It’s a side plot that doesn’t often serve the characters or the great plot in question. What’s really surprising is that most of these situations take place in fantasy worlds or SF realms, where it’s entirely possible that the concept of monogamous relationships doesn’t even exist. These books, however, continue to sell because, let’s face it, romantic drama is a big part of younger readers’ lives. But surely there are other ways to include the turmoil of the dating world without the same old routine…
Of course, most of the same old routine is a female main character and the two guys fighting for her love. If there’s a love triangle, there’s about an 80% chance it’s a heterosexual love triangle. But what does that say about queer love triangles? Do romances among the same gender not have as much drama or intrigue? Of course not. Love is love; it’s just not always talked about. Unfortunately, many queer love triangles and even poly stories are written specifically for a heterosexual audience, and tend to focus more on the sexual aspects of the relationship. This erotic fetishization often contributes to some of the stigma surrounding queer and poly relationships, especially when written and consumed by straight writers and readers. Even when they aren’t sexualized, love triangles in a queer romance can feel like a breath of fresh air and relief, even if they fall into the same pitfalls as straight love triangles. But with every new queer love story that comes out, we get closer and closer to holding all tropes within them to the same high standards.
Tired of Triangles? Take Poly for a Spin this Festive Season
There’s more than one way to write a poly relationship, and not every poly relationship only features three partners. In fact, your poly characters and stories can be as sprawling and complex as you’d like. If you’re looking for a way to break out of the love triangle/square/circle routine and bring a little festive poly cheer this season, here are some types of poly relationships you can include in your own works.
The Separate Slash(es)
In many poly stories, all of the partners in a relationship have some connection to each other, but this does not have to be the case. With open communication and trust, it’s possible for one person to have relationships with other people who don’t have any interactions with each other. In these stories, character A has relationships with characters B and C (and D, and E, etc.). However, characters B and C don’t interact much, if ever, in the story. Character A might, for example, spend Christmas with character B and their family, but then go spend New Years with character C and their family.
The Slash and Ampersand
Partners who are in a poly relationship aren’t always in a romantic relationship with everyone else involved. Take, for example, character A, who is a bisexual female. She may be dating character B, a heterosexual male, and character C, a homosexual female. While characters B and C are unlikely to form a romantic relationship themselves, they can still have a strong platonic relationship, perhaps because of their shared romantic partner. In this situation, character B might join character A in a visit to character C’s family to celebrate Hanukkah. While they aren’t romantically involved, B and C are partners in a poly relationship and still have a strong bond.
The Triple (quadruple, quintuple, etc.) Slashes
While there are many non-interaction and platonic partnerships in a poly romance, there are also poly relationships that include a romantic connection between all partners involved. In these relationships, everyone is dating/married to everyone else. For larger poly numbers, there can also be a mix of romantic and platonic relationships as well. In a story with this kind of relationship, characters A, B, C, and D may all live together in one house. When it comes time to decorate for the holidays, there are a lot of shenanigans that can occur with trying to accommodate everyone’s unique festive decorative vision.
No matter what poly shape or relationship conglomerate your characters have, it’s important to remember that the key to a poly relationship, like any other relationship, is open and honest communication. There’s a difference between having a poly relationship in a story and having a healthy poly relationship in a story. For instance, every member in a poly relationship needs to know they’re in a poly relationship. If at any point a character is hiding their dating life from one of their partners, that doesn’t build trust and isn’t a healthy starting point for a poly relationship to bloom.