Is Solo Polyamory a Sexuality or Just a Lifestyle Choice?
Residing under the umbrella of ethical non-monogamy, solo polyamory involves multiple sexual or romantic relationships while being single.
Residing under the umbrella of ethical non-monogamy, solo polyamory allows one to be a part of multiple sexual or romantic relationships, simultaneously, while also retaining their single status — all in a bid to avoid feeling tied down to one individual.
From being dubbed the “new frontier in dating” to being described as a form of “resistance in a highly monogamous society that’s telling you that you need to sacrifice your freedom in order to receive love,” solo polyamory sounds almost revolutionary. But in the era of online dating, where relationship trends and dynamics are a dime-a-dozen, the concept of solo polyamory, too, can get lost in the chaos — leaving people wondering whether it’s merely a dating trend, a form of sexuality, or a lifestyle choice. It tends more towards the latter. But to a certain extent, solo polyamory is an amalgamation of many things centered around the values of individuality, consent, and — of course — human connection.
Jack, 34, who identifies as a solo polyamorist, calls it “a lifestyle and relationship philosophy predicated on a practitioner’s primary focus of being a self-fulfilled, stable, and financially-secure individual. Or, put more simply, to be at the center of your own life, instead of making a relationship (or relationships) the center of your life.”
This doesn’t, however, mean that people practicing solo polyamory consider themselves above romantic attachments, physical intimacy, or the kind of authentic connections that one might develop with a sexual partner. In fact, it’s possible that a solo polyamorist is greedier than a serial monogamist when it comes to each of these; after all, they do want to forge these bonds with more people than one, at any given time. And just like a serial monogamist, a solo polyamorist may also prize emotional intimacy and meaningful connections with their partners. The only difference: the aren’t seeking a primary relationship, rejecting the socio-cultural norms around dating that they view as limiting or restrictive.
For London-based Ro, 29, solo polyamory is about, “[S]eeing 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’… 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.”
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Some solo polyamorous individuals may also reject societal norms around romance, relationships, and marriage, viewing them as limiting or restrictive. They may prioritize their personal growth, freedom, and independence over traditional relationship structures or expectations.
In a sense, then, solo polyamory is about lending more importance to one’s relationship with themselves over others — prioritizing their personal growth and freedom over traditional relationship structures and expectations. “I was tired of feeling like once a relationship reached a certain step, it needed to absorb all aspects of my life, even if I could continue to date and form new relationships outside of it,” Jack adds, explaining that he was a “deeply closeted bi man well into my twenties” and “spent a lot of my youth neglecting the ‘real me.'” So, now, he wants to prioritize himself while continuing to form authentic connections with people along the way. Solo polyamory allows him that. “Once I broke out of the cycle of committing my whole self to a relationship, compromising to make things work, I was able to evaluate my needs, values, and priorities much more healthfully,” he notes.
But in a world where one tends to determine their self-worth through parameters hinging on their associations with others — like, whether one is a good friend, a loving partner, or a valuable worker, among others — the driving force behind solo polyamory can appear rather selfish. People may even be tempted to dub a solo polyamorist as a “fu*kboy,” a “player,” what have you!
Most of these terms hint at an individual maintaining multiple sexual relationships without committing to any one partner — often, without regard for his partners’ feelings or needs — and acting in a manner that is manipulative, insincere, and disrespectful, mostly towards women who are perceived as sex objects within these equations. While solo polyamorists may also engage in casual sexual relationships with multiple partners, they do so with the full knowledge and informed consent of their partners. Basically, mutual respect and autonomy are the cornerstones of solo polyamory.
“[A] lot of people who identify as solo polyamorous are forming healthy and sustainable connections with other people,” Gabrielle Alexa Noel, who writes about sexuality, culture, and identity, told Cosmopolitan. I think people do solo polyamorists a huge disservice when they assume they’re only interested in casual connections.”
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Yet, the philosophy receives its fair share of antagonism — like everything else that challenges the structures we have been conditioned to swear by. Some believe solo polyamorists to be commitmentphobic and emotionally shallow, some like to think solo polyamory is a facy way to avoid being tagged as “forever alone,” and some others are convinced that the philosophy is but an excuse to cheat or play the field without being accused of infidelity or promiscuity. “I think some people assume it means I’m not at all open to different types of commitment or that I need to be fucking an entire basketball team worth of people at all times,” says Phoenix, a 33-year-old, solo polyamorist. “It isn’t about being a selfish hedonist, so much as it is me saying, ‘This is where I am at right now.'”
Indeed, being a solo polyamorist doesn’t have to be a permanent state of being. “I try not to assume what people’s personal definition of ‘solo polyamory’ is, and I think labels are flexible enough to allow that,” notes Noel. “Even if you are open to those things [merging finances, moving in with a partner, getting married] but want the freedom to configure your relationships in ways that don’t assume they will happen, solo polyamory could be for you.”
Someone who’s going on multiple dates in an endeavor to meet “the one,” even though they may develop sexual relations with more than one person along the way, is probably not a solo polyamorist either. Basically, practicing solo polyamory — irrespective of whether its temporary — is an active choice, not a passive one dictated by circumstances.
Nonetheless, solo polyamory isn’t for everyone, nor does it have to be. But there is much that even serial monogamists can learn from solo polyamory. The philosophy challenges the romanticization of possessiveness and jealousy, decenteres the notion of romantic relationships being the only means to a fulfilling life, and makes us question the rather unrealistic practice of relying on a single human being to be our object of desire, our voice of reason, our cheerleader and our biggest critic, and the sharer of all our interests.
As Gabrielle Smith, a non-monogamy educator and writer, said: “I think even people who are in monogamous relationships could benefit from unpacking certain things about monogamy that are ‘toxic.'” Well, diversity is inspiring, isn’t it?
Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.