A (Slightly Irreverant) Poly Glossary

AFOG =Another F’ing Opportunity for Growth  (the key phrase when something challenges you or your feelings/expectations/etc. and you need to process and grow from the experience), usually said with wry humor

Communication/ing-what you think you’ve done enough of, and then do some more

Direct Communication-asking directly and clearly for your needs/desires to be met…it avoids the need to “read into” or guess what anyone means.  Also, taking your partner at face value and trusting them to ask if they need something. Frequently something you are JUST SURE that you are doing and that your partner is not  (spoiler alert, almost all of us need to work on this and be vigilant about it…no one is perfect)

Indirect or Passive Communication-when you don’t clearly spell things out, or make actual requests, and/or expect your partner to intuit what you mean or need.  Also, when you look for hidden meanings (‘read into”) what your partner says and does, instead of taking things at face value  (also known as a big pain in the ass in most poly circles)

Swolly-a portmanteau of swinging and poly.  Describes a set of people who do both, or occasionally (with some sarcasm) folks who say they are polyamorous but really just want casual stuff on the side

Unicorn-a rare creature…usually the bisexual female available to date a couple (with the challenging assumption that all 3 people in that trine will be equally physically and emotionally attracted/attractive to each other).  It does happen, but not nearly as much as people hope for.

Unicorn hunters-a couple searching for their elusive 3rd (sometimes with all earnest and loving intent, but sometimes with the idea that she will not only love and pay attention to them both equally, but will do so as a 2ndary status with very few needs of her own…this 2nd definition leads to most poly folks using Unicorn Hunter with a negative connotation)

Polysaturated:  (yes, we actually say this)…means you feel like you don’t have any more room (time/energy/resources) to add new partners.  This is also referred to as a “full dance card.”

Hierarchical/hierarchy  (and also Non Hierarchical, etc.)  Hierarchy means you use status as one of your relationship basics.  There are then partners with higher and lower status  (usually meaning greater or lesser access to or expectations of time/resources/intimacy).  Non Hierarchical Poly means that you practice a form that tries to treat everyone equally and let all your relationships develop into whatever they organically become without being constricted into higher and lower status.  Note that equality of opportunity is not the same as equality of every specific thing.

Partner or Significant Other-all purpose term, useful because it does not define gender nor status within the relationship, can be modified to describe status or condition of the partnership…like

Primary Partner-denotes a partner with high (or highest) status.  Frequently the partner to whom you’re married (or living with).  Someone could have one or more primary partners, when in doubt, ask the individual how they mean Primary.  See also…

Nesting Partner-denotes a partner with whom you live.  You may have one or more nesting partners.  This term avoids connoting status, only living arrangements

Anchor Partner, similar to Primary, but is also a little less likely to suggest status (also a good idea to ask someone what it means to them)

Secondary Partner-a term that contrasts with Primary or Anchor…someone who (theoretically) has or wants less stake in their partner’s life (or vice versa).  Can be descriptive-as in I have two anchor partners, I’m polysaturated on that level of relationship, I only have time/resources/desire for new partners who want to be secondary or satellites/comets.  Or it can be proscriptive/status definining:  as in my primary partner and I have an agreement that any other partners I have will be secondary, so (my primary) doesn’t feel threatened.  This is actually quite a deep topic….check out More Than Two (the book or the website) for the Secondary’s BIll of Rights, and more on the topic.

Satellite/Comet:  a term that means someone you see only every once in a while.  Sometimes a long distance relationship.  As in…’my boyfriend has 3 girlfriends, and multiple satellites that he only sees once a month or less frequently.’ Usually, but not always, denotes a lower emotional stake as well.

Metamour-a poly word for your partner’s partner.  Can have greater or lesser importance depending on what “flavor” of poly you and your partners practice.  One of my metamours became one of my most intimate best friends.  Other metas  (short version, and most frequently heard) are casual acquaintances, and everything in between.  Occasionally, metas might not get along.  This is less convenient, but not a deal breaker for many people.  Hopefully everyone can manage at least respect and compassion, but as with all things poly, whether that’s “ok” or how to handle it is up to the people involved.

Compersion– the feeling of love and joy at seeing your partner fed and happy with their partner (note this feeling naturally varies in presence and intensity during the course of a relationship. You don’t have to have compersion to be poly. Heck, you may even have something like compersion watching your love with a child or close friend). Also known as “the warm fuzzies.”

Owning your feelings-this means that you will not try to put the responsibility for how you feel on another person  (easiest example being “you made me_____________”).  It is the act of taking personal responsibility for your own feelings and managing and processing through them in a healthy way.  Note that it does not mean having to do it all alone, asking for support while you are having difficult feelings is healthy and helpful.  Beware of anyone who uses this phrase as a way to minimize you and your feelings, however.  That suggests a partner with a shortage of compassion and patience and that usually doesn’t end well.

Boundaries-these are limits you set, for yourself, on yourself in regard to what you will and won’t do, or will and won’t tolerate.  This is (in my humble opinion) one of the most challenging things about all relationships, though especially poly ones.  Note that if someone calls something a boundary, but is emotionally reactive if/when you don’t meet them…you may have slid into more of a rule, vs a boundary.  (even if that person is you)

Agreements-arrangements negotiated between partners, defining what is and isn’t ok in the context of their relationship.  Hopefully it is designed to meet both partner’s needs without sacrificing any other partnerships in the process, is reasonable and compassionate, and open to renegotiation as situations change and by all affected parties.

Rules-I use this to mean when one partner sets limits for another, usually as an attempt to control things to minimize their own discomfort.  Some people may use Rules and Agreements as similar language however, so it’s always good to make sure you and the person you’re talking to are using the same definitions.

Jealous/jealousy-just another feeling, like sad, angry, happy, confused…Something you have…NOT something you ARE.  Not, in fact, the end of the world if you take your time to be curious about what’s underneath the obvious feelings.  Examining the roots of any of  your feelings, including jealousy, is a poly must.

NRE- New Relationship Energy.  (also known as the honeymoon period, or being twitterpated, etc),  basically that period of time, at the beginning of a new relationship, where someone is super excited about their new person…(and it’s especially easy to ‘forget about’ taking good care of your more established partnerships).  If it’s you, just realize you’re all hope and hormones and have the presence of mind to keep feeding your other connections as well.  If it’s your partner being all head over heels for someone new…remember it’s ok to advocate for your needs, and also to have a little patience if you can, your partner still loves you and this hyper period will pass.

Stories/brain weasels...ok, so this isn’t technically poly vocabulary, but it’s just too useful not to include.  Brain weasels are what a wise friend of mine calls those voices in our head telling us things that are not useful and which probably cause us fear or pain…usually this stuff is baseless and is just old programming trying to mess us about.  Stories, in this case, refers to ‘the stories we tell ourselves’ (often helped along by the brain weasels).  And here’s why this is useful/important…none of us, despite what it feels like, is actually reacting directly to what someone else does.  It goes like this:  Stimulus  (your partner or meta (or anyone) does something…Story you tell yourself (could be good, like “that’s appropriate” or “I’d do the same thing” etc., or it can be something like “that’s unfair” or “that action = they don’t love me/respect me” etc.)…Reaction (you feel however you feel, good/bad/neutral, based on what your story was).  At this point, if you feel bad on some level  you have a few helpful choices:  check your story with yourself (ask yourself probing questions as to the validity or evidence), check the story with your partner  (one partner and I actually use the verbiage “the story I’m telling myself is….” ) and get feedback, check your story with a trusted friend or with a therapist (please, if this is a really tough process for you, or especially if you are an abuse/neglect survivor and/or have a history of mental health issues, like anxiety or depression, etc., consider getting some help.  Some of us just plain have nastier brain weasels.  A qualified therapist can make all the difference.).  I could write a whole column about this (and might someday), but in the meantime if this piques your interest, check out “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown (for more about “the story I’m telling myself”), and any books about REBT (rational emotive behavior therapy) or Anger Management (which tend to use REBT as the model for behavioral change).(for the stimulus/story/reaction/action cycle).


polycuriously yours,


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Althea Hawk

Althea Hawk is a polyamorous, sex-positive, pansexual woman, a Reiki Master, a spiritual seeker and teacher.

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