The most common romance set-up is no doubt the love triangle, where happy end – or any sort of end – demands the hinge character to choose one and forsake the other. The emotional plot consists of finding out through various trials and situations which suitor is The One, or if the right choice is obvious, the right suitor character and/or the hinge coming to terms with his doubts and suspicions. (This type of plot, which depends on poor communiction between the lovers, and them jumping to nasty conclusions about the person they are supposed to love, usually based on minimal evidence, are among my least favourite romance plotlines. General life experience makes me strongly doubt the happily-ever-afterness of any union built on such shaky ground.)

But what if the dramatic triangle were to be solved not by eliminating one of the suitors, and instead forming a relationship with all three in it? How would that work out – in the context of romantic literature?* Monogamy by its very nature forces a romantic plot forward, obstacles forming as fast as they are overcome, until a definite end-point is reached, where all two pieces of the puzzle are finally and unquestionably in place until forever. What would be the central questions of a polyamorous romance story and how to define the end point? Monogamous romance gets much of its energy from the contrast of 'He is the only one that can make me happy and I'm the only one that can make him happy' and 'if I can't get him, I'll be alone and sad forever'. These are strong sentiments which provide fantastic plot fuel.**

If we remove the idea of One and Only from romance, what would be the central conflict? I haven't gotten my hands on proper polyamorous romance books yet, apart from some fan fiction, so this is pure speculation so far (I'm browsing Goodreads for recommendations, but 'menage' erotica seems to be way more common than polyamorous romance with central focus on the emotions). Obvious conflict would be between societal expectations and unlearning them, so that hero(ine) could in the end be happy and secure in a more-than-two relationship. Or the handling of emotions and personal growth to make room in a previosly two-person relationship for a new person. But both of these conflicts seem a bit... sensible. Even dry. External conflict can of course be wrenching, if the character has to choose for example between romantic love in their own way and the approval of family/friends, but there has to be some satisfactorily resolved internal conflict as well, otherwise it ends up being social commentary, or, for heavens' sake – "real literature". And in sci-fi setting, the external conflict can be done away with entirely, if the writer so wishes.

Jealousy can be a red-hot emotion, and resolving it by dissolving it in boundless love ("her love for me is not lessened because of her love to another") instead of external factors proving it unnecessary ("it was just a misunderstanding and she only truly loves me") could be a plot core.

Now I'm off to download a few recommended polyamorous romances and see if my speculations line up with them at all!

* I'm not questioning if or how polyamory works in real life, obviously!

** – Although current society and it's increasingly liberal attitude to sex without commitment, and ending relationships if they are not satisfactory, waters down this potent mixture. As much as I prefer to live in these times compared to earlier ages, where ending up in the wrong marriage was a mistake with lifetime consequences, romance literature has lost the credible threat of ruined life and certain seriousness because of it. Not a bad trade-off, as trade-offs go, but that's the reason I'll pick a hundred years old romance to read rather than a current one, or go for speculative romance altogether.