Solo polyamory is the new frontier in dating

It's not just about not dismantling heteronormativity, in 2022 we must reject mononormativity.

by Eve Upton-Clark
26 January 2022, 8:00am

If you’ve spent any time at all on Hinge, you’ll know that dating in 2022 is not the one. Looking to avoid a West Elm Caleb situation, many are choosing to move away from traditional relationship ideals and defying the status quo. According to the dating app Feeld, there has been a recent surge of interest in couples opening up their relationships and exploring non-monogamy. Keyword searches for ‘ethical non-monogamy’ and ‘polyamory’ have seen an almost 400 per cent increase among women, while with men they were 500 per cent up in the past year.

As seen in the data, non-monogamy is more popular than you might first think. An umbrella term for everything from swinging (where those in committed relationships engage in sexual activities with others as a recreational or social activity) to polyamory (the practice of intimate relationships with more than one partner) to relationship anarchy (the application of anarchist principles to intimate relationships), according to a 2016 study by the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy one in five single U.S adults had previously been in a consensually non-monogamous relationship. Another increasingly popular choice is forgoing relationships altogether. 53% of people say that they’re okay with being alone for a while following on and off lockdowns according to Bumble's 2022 global dating report.

A love child of these two dating trends, one relationship practice that has been gaining popularity amongst young people is solo polyamory. On the surface it looks a lot like being single. No commitment. No expectations. The freedom to date whoever you want. However, being solo poly is an active choice rather than happenstance. Those who identify as solo poly can also maintain multiple intimate relationships, some lasting years, while also keeping the freedom and autonomy of single life. It’s both having your cake and eating it.

Where solo polyamory differs from other polyamorous structures is the lack of primary partner or hierarchical structure. Besides logistics, solo poly is a value system which champions independence and freedom. In theory individuals who are solo poly typically reject relationships which involve, or head towards, the merging of life infrastructure through the traditional social relationship escalator. In practice, it could look like the rejection of marriage, merging of finances, or cohabitation — steps that society often regards as the default. Instead, those who are solo poly see themselves as their own primary partner, fostering a deep commitment to themselves over being with a partner or a unit.

Michelle, a 28-year-old social media content specialist from Oregon (who posts on Instagram as @polyamorouswhileasian), started her non-monogamy journey officially in 2012, after a recommendation to read Sex at Dawn, a book about the evolution of monogamy in humans, by her first boyfriend. From there, the pair opened up their relationship but remained living together as primary partners. When the relationship went south, Michelle realised that she valued her own space whilst also craving a lot of intimacy. “I don't really want to be a part of a conventional couple in which we necessarily have to live together or pay bills together and basically kind of mesh lives in that way,” Michelle says. “Which doesn't mean that I'm opposed to having close connections and whatnot and trading support for support. It's just that I prefer to do a lot of things on my own.”

For Michelle, her experiences with solo polyamory reflect a wider shift away from heteronormative expectations. “I think younger generations are realising that there are different ways to relate to one another. You can have platonic life partners, or you can maybe get married to your best friend and it's not necessarily romantic or sexual. There are different ways to prioritise relationships that don't fit in with traditional expectations.”

Based in London, fellow polyamorous Instagrammer Ro, 29, also doesn’t plan on getting married, merging finances, cohabiting or having children. A big part of solo polyamory for her is the rejection of the script we tend to follow in society which dictates the way relationships ought to go to be considered valid and committed. Solo polyamory, she explains, is “seeing yourself as an individual in relationships with other individuals as opposed to getting into a relationship and becoming merged in terms of identity, becoming a we rather than an I”. This perspective validates Ro’s need for space and autonomy whilst also fostering committed and loving connections. “That doesn’t mean I don't desire closeness, but I don’t desire closeness in the way that I was encouraged to when I was monogamous by default.”

Traditional monogamy often can lead to codependency as opposed to interdependence in relationships, encouraging jealousy, possessiveness and low self-esteem. Codependence seeks to validate a sense of self-worth and value through each other, whereas interdependency is characterised by two autonomous individuals who can nurture a relationship without sacrificing or compromising their own sense of self. Of course, many monogamous relationships can function interdependently, but for solo poly individuals, this is a non-negotiable.

Non-monogamy educator and writer, Gabrielle Smith, uses her social media platforms to discuss what non-monogamy can look like from an intersectional standpoint. Her workshops unpack questions like, “What type of non-monogamy is for you?”, and ponder the idea of mononormativity and how that affects our relationships. “I think even people who are in monogamous relationships could benefit from unpacking certain things about monogamy that are ‘toxic’,” Gabrielle says. “For example the idea that jealousy is a sign of love is something that rom-coms have tried to portray for years when in reality it's more so an insecurity or possessiveness.”

Gabrielle also makes note of the fact that her 37.1K following is around 80% women. “I think that's definitely in tandem with the idea that society becomes more radical as women are granted more autonomy.” This gender-disparity is also backed up by a working paper from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, which found that women overall are more comfortable with the idea of non-monogamy than men.

So how do you know if solo polyamory is right for you? Dr. Elisabeth ‘Eli’ Sheff, sociologist, author and relationship coach, sees those oriented towards polyamory or multiplistic relationships as able to be fully with their partner in the moment but not obsess about their partner and what they are doing when they are not together.

Dr. Eli identifies the increasing popularity of solo polyamory as part of a wider cultural shift. “Being single is becoming far more popular,” she says. “There's way more single people now than there ever has been before in history. So solo poly goes really well with wanting that kind of single lifestyle of doing what you want, when you want. I think a lot of Gen Z and millennials are looking around and saying, I don't think it's wise to have children. I see people cheating. I see people getting divorced. I see people staying in unhappy relationships. I don't want any of that. But I don't necessarily want to be alone for the rest of my life. So solo poly gives them both connection and freedom.”

Whether it is with one, two, or ten partners, the younger generation are redefining our ideas of relationships. Ultimately, monogamy by default is becoming outdated as people explore and validate their own needs in relationships without causing detriment to others. Do relationships often feel suffocating to you? Is alone time a non-negotiable? However, are you also secure in your relationships? Can you communicate well? If this sounds like you, maybe solo polyamory is worth a try.