December 17, 2012 by aggiesez
This cracks me up: When I mention to someone who’s not polyamorous that I am poly, they often say something like, “Wow, don’t you have a very small dating pool? Isn’t it hard to find relationship partners?”
NOTE: This is part 2 of a post where I explore the benefits of the solo poly life — mostly focusing on polyamory in this part. In Part 1 I address the benefits of being solo and single.
It’s true that serial (and ostensible, rather than actual) monogamy is the social norm and the most popular relationship choice. So theoretically it’s numerically easier to find potential partners who want (or at least who claim to want) a monogamous relationship. Or to find people interested in strictly no-emotional-connection sex — an option that personally leaves me cold. And damn little in between.
In the real world, good relationships aren’t a numbers game. Also, emotional and physical needs (i.e., love and attraction) have never been one-size-fits-all. Plus, unless you’re a Zen monk, every adult’s life is “complicated.” Therefore, I’ve found that trying to play along with the social norm — where the default expectation is that you’re either seeking a monogamous partner or else strictly a “player” — drastically limits my options for having good relationships.
I strongly prefer, and deeply enjoy, connecting with people based on what feels right and healthy, and on understanding how our relationship preferences and existing commitments might be complementary — rather than how I (or they) think a relationship “should” unfold. To me, that is a huge relief; it allows me to be more genuine and present in any kind of relationship. It also allows me to be fairly flexible as relationships evolve and circumstances change. Because they always do.
Plus, I’m really, really picky — which means my “dating pool” has always been inherently limited under any circumstances.
Polyamory = many options (not necessarily many partners)
For me, one of the best perks of being poly is that I’m always seeing relationship options. If I click well with someone who is available to connect with me on an honest basis, we usually can figure out some way to make it work. This means I can be very happy and fulfilled with intimate connections that range from:
- Kissing or somewhat deeper sexual/erotic intimacy (hello: massage!) with someone I don’t know well at a play party, as long as explicit communication and consent are key of that environment.
- Casual dating that involves occasional making out or sex.
- A passionate, hot short-term fling.
- “Friends with benefits” — with real, not faux, friends.
- Ongoing non-primary relationships, which for me most often happens with poly men who have a primary partner of their own. I enjoy these, as long as the metamour relationship is also healthy and positive. Although I’d love to have more relationships with other solo poly people.
- And more, whatever I haven’t encountered or thought of yet.
Of course, monogamous people can and do exercise some of these options — but generally with the caveat that once they find a “serious” (exclusive) relationship, all other connections end. And often, prior partners get eliminated from their life altogether. Or if they’re monogamish, the caveat is that no “extracurricular” connections can become emotionally significant or committed; the primary relationship always comes first, all the time.
For me, these approaches would devalue the connections I’ve built with others; as well as be untrue to my nature. Plus, viewing intimate connections through such a harshly adversarial, competitive lens just depresses me.
Who knows: maybe someday I might consider giving up the solo life to live with a primary life-partner again. OK, that’s very bloody unlikely for me, but never say never. In fact, the only types of relationships I’m willing to definitively and permanently eschew are those which are monogamous or dishonest. Similarly, I avoid anonymous sex and one-night stands; trust and getting to know someone are big aspects of what turns me on.
Standing on firmer emotional ground
In my experience, as a solo poly person I have myriad options for connecting intimately and romantically with others, in ways that enhance my life and theirs. This encourages me to keep my eyes and heart open, and my arousal radar up. It helps me feel pretty confident and vital most of the time.
That sense of well-being is the best payoff ever for learning to manage jealousy. Everyone feels jealous sometimes — even poly people, and even very experienced poly people. Just like everyone sometimes feels angry, insecure, frustrated, rejected, lonely, bored, ashamed. Welcome to life.
The key is: what do these difficult emotions tell you about what you need, or what you lack? Focusing on these questions tends to yield answers that are actionable; you and your partners can proactively do stuff to address them, not just reflexively avoid potential triggers.
To be blunt, in my view, “I’m insecure, so you can’t date anyone I think is more accomplished, attractive, or self-assured than me,” may be an honest statement of need — in fact, more honest than most rules that most newly poly primary couples come up with. But usually it means: “I’m too lazy, scared, or entitled to work with my own feelings, trust you enough to ask you for support rather than sacrifice, negotiate with you and your partners, or expand my comfort zone.”
The scarcity myth
Since I feel no scarcity of potential partners or ways to connect with them, I can walk into a room full of people and consider: Who do I find attractive or intriguing? I no longer worry much about whether others might find me attractive; I like who I am and so assume that I am attractive. (Ok, I like to look nice and feel fit, but that’s about pleasing myself.)
This experience is deeply empowering. I’m rarely “on the prowl,” so I don’t find new intimate partners every day, or even every year. Like I said, I’m damned picky, and I have a full life. But I do feel constantly open to the possibility of erotic or intimate connection. That feels supremely liberating, regardless of how many or what kind of relationships I happen to be in at any given moment.
Of course, there’s always the challenge of finding intimate connections that feel right and good to me; and that’s something that picky mono people face as well — only with fewer options to connect. This means I need to have the courage not to settle for unsatisfying or inappropriate partners just because I may be lonely. (I covered that more in Part 1.)
As far as the dating “numbers game” is concerned, I am willing to date men* who don’t specifically identify as poly or open, since there are plenty of them and they often are pretty hot. However, it’s unlikely that I’d engage in a significant relationship with a mono-identified guy again.
*NOTE: I refer “men” in this post because I am straight. But I’ve found I’m attracted to masculinity more than genitalia. So my preference is to to be physically and emotionally intimate with people who are male-identified, or at least strongly on the male side of genderqueer, rather than strictly cisgendered men. Yes, Buck Angel is totally hot! And so are bi guys!
Of course, it’s not like mono guys are beating down my door, which is just as well. The frank and assertive way I interact with partners often (but not always) is considered “unromantic” by straight mono men. For instance, I make a point of explicitly saying that a monogamous commitment with me will never be in the cards — and my actions and choices back that up. Also, I don’t compartmentalize or hide my other relationships and connections. In my experience, most ostensibly mono men are willing to date a poly woman only as long as they can ignore that she’s polyamorous. (Sorry for the generalization, but that’s been my experience.)
I’m also unlikely to emphasize or conceal various aspects of my life, appearance, values, interests or preferences simply to appear more attractive or intriguing to a potential partner. This unwillingness to “play the game” immediately eliminates me from consideration for many people seeking monogamous partners, since part of the “fine print” of social monogamy (and also for various types of poly “unicorn hunters“) says “you should be willing to mold yourself to my tastes and expectations.”
Anyway, I’d be very wary of getting significantly emotionally invested in a relationship with a monogamous man. I’ve tried the mono/poly dynamic twice in significant relationships, and I found it too stressful. Furthermore, in my personal experience, mono-identified men are especially prone to both rush into deep emotional investment and also dump a poly partner as soon as they get insecure or find a new partner. (That was my first bad breakup of 2012. Your mileage may vary. Hopefully it does.)
Given all that, it really doesn’t matter to me that numerically fewer people identify as, or are open to, poly or otherwise honestly open relationships. Before the age of the internet and personal ads, that would have been a significant obstacle — although not insurmountable.
But today, given all the options that people have for finding each other and connecting, I’d say the social predominance of monogamy is not a problem or even a concern for me. It’s just part of the landscape; one that I can mostly ignore when seeking partners. And because I like being solo and being single, I don’t feel desperate for a partner.
Logistical advantages of solo polyamory
Since I live alone, if I invite a lover to stay with me for a night or a weekend or longer, I don’t have to worry about whether that might impinge on another partner’s living space. This added flexibility is especially helpful when I’m seeing a man who lives with a partner/spouse, roommates, or children; having a place to get together without such contingencies makes it easier for us to spend more time together.
Similarly, if I choose to spend money on dates, vacations, or gifts for a partner, I don’t have to clear that with anyone. My finances are strictly my own.
In terms of sexual health, being solo poly has led me to greatly simplify my sexual choices: I don’t have unprotected penetrative sex with anyone, ever. (With the exception of some types of manual and oral stimulation, on a case-by-case basis, after I’ve gotten to know a partner.) And I always discuss sexual health risk factors, boundaries, and preferences with partners before we start having any sex that might entail risks. Informed consent is paramount to me when it comes to sex and sexual health.
In many relationships, especially monogamous ones, fluid bonding (sex without barriers) signifies to partners the status or depth of their emotional connection. In my experience, that ends up being a minefield.
In fact, when years ago I told my physician that I was poly, she mentioned that often the most heartbreaking cases of STIs that she sees happen when someone in an ostensibly monogamous couple cheats, fails to practice safer sex during cheating due to a lack of comfort or skill with it, contracts an STI, and transmits it to his/her partner because it would look suspicious to suddenly start using barriers. (Yeah, monogamy is inherently simpler and safer. Right.)
Personally, I am quite capable of feeling very intimately connected to, turned on with, and treasured and desired by an intimate partner while he wears a condom. Plus, I feel more respected, relaxed, and safe when my partners and I all are on the same page about safety in the sex we have together.
Best of all, doing and talking about safer sex is totally hot and fun. As sex blogger Lily Lloyd recently told me: “The weirdest thing kinky people do is they talk about sex before they have it.” Same goes for most poly people — since we don’t assume exclusivity, most of us feel honor-bound to discuss sexual boundaries and safety clearly. As well as desires. Definitely desires.
Being a solo poly person also means that I don’t need to get anyone’s approval to enter into new relationships or other intimate or sexual connections. I make my own choices in partners, and I take responsibility for creating, maintaining and ending my relationships. I always consider and try to honor my partners’ needs and feelings (in fact, I’m extremely conscientious on that point), and I keep my partners informed (almost always in advance). But I am truly a free agent when it comes to my intimate relationships.
Why being solo poly is a great choice
Solo polyamory is definitely not the most common or the easiest approach to having intimate relationships — and whenever you’re outside the mainstream, life is harder.
So far in this blog I feel like I’ve been rather a downer. I’ve written extensively about the challenges solo poly people face, especially related to marginalization and the couple privilege that is pervasive in society at large and in the poly/open community. I mean, I crowdsourced a list of tips for how to treat non-primary partners well mainly because this isn’t always common practice in polyamory.
But there are many substantial benefits to solo polyamory as well, and I wanted to make these clear.
I choose to be solo poly for many good, positive reasons — and so do many other people. I am quite upbeat about honest nonmonogamous relationships; they often do work extremely well for everyone involved. They’ve been the source of many of my most treasured experiences and connections, and they bring joy to many people.
I’m solo poly not just by circumstance, or because I’m flawed or “couldn’t do any better.” I’m solo poly because this is a fantastic way for me to live. It’s far better and more satisfying for me than monogamy or sharing a household with an intimate partner. I enjoy solo polyamore, I embrace it, and I heartily recommend it.
Solo polyamory is definitely a feature, not a bug. The people who love me also respect and honor this aspect of my nature and my life. Those who don’t, don’t matter to me — and they don’t get to be very involved in my life.