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.”
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.