Autonomy is important, but it’s not all there is to solo polyamory


October 31, 2013 by aggiesez

This week the popular Kimchi Cuddles poly webcomic posted a followup cartoon on solo polyamory. (Here’s the first one.)

It’s great that this webcomic is addressing this topic — but this particular cartoon seems to equate having a general sense of autonomy with being solo poly. And that misses the mark.

Kimchi Cuddles, 2nd solo polyamory cartoon.

Why I’m lukewarm on this comic: For many people, being solo poly is about having a paramount commitment to personal autonomy. However, anyone can have a strong commitment to personal autonomy — even people who are involved in deeply life-entangled primary-style (or primary-track) partnerships.

I’ve spoken to many, many people who consider themselves solo poly. It seems like the strongest commonality among them is their relationship preference or status.

That is: most people who consider themselves solo poly don’t currently have (and may not want, or at least are not seeking) a life-entangled primary-style partnership. Solo polyamory appears to be mainly about a particular way to step off the standard social relationship escalator.

This takes into account that many people arrive at being solo poly by choice or by happenstance; it’s not all about a personal commitment to autonomy. In fact, many solo poly people only discover their personal commitment to autonomy well after they end up living solo poly against their wishes (such as after the loss of a treasured primary-style relationship).

Also, many people (poly and otherwise) have partners whom they consider primary, yet they don’t live together (and don’t plan to), or they don’t exhibit other traditional markers of primary relationships — for instance, they may choose to coparent with others, but not with each other.

Conversely, there are plenty of people who are in very strong, life-entangled primary-style relationships — even monogamous couples — who also value their personal autonomy and avoid submerging their individuality into a hydra-headed we-unit. Yes, you CAN be “coupled up” (tripled up, whatever) and still maintain a rather soloish mindset and approach to your relationships. This all exists on a spectrum.

So: It’s great that Kimchi Cuddles is addressing this topic. And generally: Yay autonomy! Still, I hope that there will be further episodes of this webcomic that get more into the logistical implications of being solo poly — situations like dealing with couple privilege, or partners who have escalator-style expectations, or people assuming you’re “just single.”

And, in the big picture, the artist behind this comic is just one person, with their own views. And I’m just one person, with my own views. There are many varying definitions and shades of solo polyamory. I’m not claiming to have the last word. But I do think that portraying solo polyamory as being just about a sense of autonomy is a little like saying someone who likes taking public transit is car-free.

5 thoughts on “Autonomy is important, but it’s not all there is to solo polyamory

  1. ja says:

    never heard the “life-entangled” expression before, and i have to say that it comes across as pretty judgemental/sanctimonious.

    • aggiesez says:

      LOL, just goes to show that people can take offense at anything. It’s simply a phrase that I use to express when people deeply entwine the logistics of their daily lives and long-term plans. I’ve never heard anyone take offense at it before, but there’s a first time for everything, I guess. You aren’t obliged to use it, or like it 🙂

  2. M says:

    My nose wrinkled up when I read this this morning. I’ve noticed that there’s two useages of Solo coming up. One is “I don’t do hierarchical relationships” (which relates to autonomy and so forth) and the other is “I have a hierarchy- my relationship with myself comes first and everything else after that.” At least, this is the trend I’m noticing.

    I might write to Kimchi to ask for a Singleish themed strip to see if that shows up as different.

    • aggiesez says:

      Well, it’s important to keep in mind that although this webcomic is popular, it’s just one person’s view, and it doesn’t represent “the poly community at large” (as if that is some monolithic thing). Seems like the artist may be unfamiliar with solo polyamory and is trying to wrap her brain around it (just a guess).

  3. John says:

    I would agree, as a person that identifies as solo poly, that the label signals more about my ability to be satisfied with zero or more ‘off the escalator’ relationships than about any ‘my happiness first’ mentality. But, of course, that’s just me. 🙂

    I want a real commitment in my relationships, and sometimes that means sacrificing my autonomy. But I try to very up front and clear about the boundaries and limitations of that commitment: I am *all* yours, but only two nights per week. If I flake out and disappear without discussing my good excuses, then you have the right to be upset!

    As for hierarchy, mono folks often ask me, “Which one do you like more?” To which I roll my eyes, grin mischievously, and reply, “Whichever one I haven’t seen most recently.” Jesting aside, the kernel of truth is that relationship are fluid and dynamic just like the seasons. The only constant is change. And solo poly helps me to embrace that change more bravely.


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