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This article develops case studies from qualitative interviews with people in negotiated non-monogamous relationships to ask what discursive or practical factors besides non/monogamy might play a role in assessments of a relationship’s structure or worth. Beginning with an auto-ethnographic reflection on the way the ‘significance’ was recognised and misrecognised in one polyamorous ‘thrupple’, I introduce three case studies of people in negotiated non-monogamous relationships in order to bring a cultural studies method of the particular to the study of intimacy. For the individuals in these case studies, the practice and experience of non/monogamy is inextricably linked to the ideas and practices surrounding gender, sexuality, sex work, friendship, HIV status and ability. Sketching a middle path between the romantic’s dream of love as a state of exception or exemption from the social and the theorist’s map of the patterned effects of hetero- and mono-normativities, this article attends to the contingency, flexibility and incoherence which so often underpins the sense we make of relationships, even as that sense is shaped by the practices, ideals and institutions of intimacy, love and friendship.
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