Psychologist Sandy Peace discusses the merits of solo polyamory and the virtues of making your romantic intentions explicit.
On the outside, I look like your typical single, White, female professional. Let’s go ahead and add the cultural assumptions that, because I’m 38, my biological clock is ticking and I’m looking for a husband so I can have children. (Or as my brother likes to say – “looking for a dick and a wallet.”) Let’s also add the newer cultural assumption, that I’m a super-career focused, anal retentive controlling bitch who can’t find or keep a man, and that’s why I’m single. Um, let’s check our assumptions.
The reality is I like being single. I live alone – and love it, I have an active social life and career, I don’t want to get married, I don’t want to have kids, I’m bi/pansexual and want to express the fullness of my sexuality, and I’m not monogamous. I’m practicing what Tristan Taormino in her book “Opening Up” would call “solo polyamory.”
Basically, I am single and do not want to “be a couple” – or in poly-speak, I do not want to “have a primary partner.” I identify as polyamorous, and have/ am open to having multiple sexual-loving relationships in my life. I explained this to a friend of mine once and she asked me: “Well, isn’t that just called dating?” My answer: “No.”
On the surface, dating and solo polyamory look the same: you’re single and seeing multiple people. But when you dig a little deeper, they are wildly different.
With dating, there is often an end goal of finding a partner and getting married. At least, this is the automatic assumption people make. In solo polyamory (at least my version), the purpose of dating is to connect with people however we connect – as friends, lovers, intellectuals, activity buddies. There isn’t an end goal of marriage, which allows the connection to happen where it does, and for the relationship to unfold as it wants to – not how we are forcing it to.
The tricky part of the “marriage/couple as the end goal” assumption, is that we automatically put that on the other person and ourselves (and vice versa), and don’t ever communicate our true intentions. How often have things gone awry when one person thought “dating” meant casual sex and the other thought it meant “working toward a long-term relationship.”
Within a monogamous framework we often don’t talk about our desires and intentions – they are (incorrectly) assumed – and in polyamory things are made explicit. So, save yourself some trouble. If you’re looking for a one night stand, say so. Some women are, too. If you want to get married, say so.
Another huge difference between dating and solo polyamory is the honesty and consent factors. Do you tell each person you are dating that you are dating other people? Do you tell each of them that you’re having sex with other people and what kind of safer sex practices you use with each person?
In dating, the answer is often no. Monogamous relating fosters a culture of silence around sex. The underlying assumption when dating is monogamy, so, if you are seeing multiple people, you don’t share that information because you’ll, I don’t know, be rejected? Get yelled at? Be called a slut/player? I hate to tell you, but if you are dating/ having sex with multiple people, and don’t talk about it, all these things will likely happen anyway.
In solo polyamory, you tell all your partners about all the partners you are dating. You don’t have to use names or give details about your sex life to be honest. Of course, honesty is a risk, because some people will want to date exclusively and stop seeing you because you are seeing other people. Let them. I don’t want to be with someone who is ready to forsake all others after one date with me. That’s called co-dependency. What you will find when you’re honest about dating others is that it will foster honesty and intimacy in your relationships.
Perhaps it is you who doesn’t want to know about your dates’ dating lives. You can go ahead and be in denial, but denial leads to things like STI’s, bad break ups, and unmet expectations and needs. So, what about giving honesty a try? The known is much less scary to humans than the unknown. And when it’s known, you have a choice and can consent. Here’s another example:
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have someone say on a first date say “I’m just looking for some casual sex right now. And if we have sex, it might just be one time.” Then I have a choice. I can reply “Yeah, me too!” or “Thanks for letting me know, because I want a friends with benefits situation where we hang out and have fun as well as have sex. Is that something you’d be in to?” This is called consent. An honest conversation allows for negotiating needs getting met rather than engaging in lying or withholding information so one person’s needs get met and the other person’s needs do not. We might start off with a hot, hot one night stand where one person has the intention to hit it and quit it all along, and the other person is hoping for more and has their feelings hurt when they call to schedule a second date and get no response. (And then continues to call, and call….)
The funny thing is that monogamous dating has just as much variance in desires and expectations as polyamory does. The difference is, within a monogamous framework we often don’t talk about our desires and intentions – they are (incorrectly) assumed – while in polyamory things are made explicit. So, save yourself some trouble. If you’re looking for a one night stand, say so. Some women are, too. If you want to get married, say so. Some women want that, too. If you are open to letting a relationship unfold as it wants to, say so, because you might just get want you ask for.
Great article. I really enjoyed it. I was just in a group discussion about this very topic and more. Thank!
being solo polyamorous also seems to give some people licence to drop you like a sack of potatoes whenever they want. I was in an open relationship with a girl who was solo poly and I cared enough to help her through dark times, because I cared. As soon as I was in the same boat and she found a new guy to play with I was worth less than a conversation. She told me about her relationships, I was ok with that, she told me she might not see me on a regular basis, I was ok with that.… Read more »
While I am not someone who generally practices polyamory myself, I have so much respect for the culture of communication it engenders. I just had an experience with a partner that was so… off putting. Essentially, this person wants to practice solo polyamory, but only if he doesn’t have to do any communication about it. When we started getting physically intimate, I started asking the important clarification and safety questions that help me feel safe: things like how many people are you currently sleeping with (I did not ask for details at all)? What kind of protection do you use?… Read more »
Thinking back through my own relationship experience, this struck me: “monogamous relating fosters a culture of silence around sex.” Tackling that silence with honesty, with ourselves and others, about what we want, is so important. In the scenario of being able to say to date “I’m looking for friends with benefits, etc” this works. The challenge however comes in part when we don’t know what we want, or what we want with a particular individual. A first date can be just the very start of getting to know someone, and on the basis of getting to know them I might… Read more »
Thanks for introducing the concept of solo poly. However, I feel that in choosing to focus on how being open about other partners and expectations at the start of dating someone (a very important topic certainly!), this article has not quite succeeded in differentiating solo poly from hook-up culture/friends with benefits. Being solo poly can be about casual lovers, but can also include deeply loving, emotionally committed relationships – which are not building towards marriage. I personally have a couple of deeply loving relationships (one of a year and a half), as well as more casual lovers, friends with whom… Read more »