What Is Solo Polyamory — And Is It for You?

Like other polyamorists, solo polyamorists engage in several intimate relationships with other people. But while doing so, they retain their single lifestyle. They don’t move in with anybody, they don’t share finances, etc.

This lifestyle appeals to people who value their independence above everything else.

Maybe also to you?

Learn how a solo polyamorous lifestyle differs from other types of polyamory, what misconceptions you will have to face, and how you can make it work.

I never felt quite at home with the “regular” polyamory crowd.

I remember a friend who got into polyamory, ended up living with two different women and had children with both of them. They were the model polycule and even did TV appearances together.

But the whole time I was thinking, “How is this any different from what everybody else is doing?”

My friend was still going through all the motions of the social script — moving in together, having kids, buying a house, etc. It was the white picket fence life par excellence. The only difference was that he had two housewives, not one.

Because of constellations like this being so predominant, I had kind of given up on the whole polyamory scene. Until I came across Amy Gahran and her excellent blog about solo polyamory.

For me, it was a revelation in two respects.

First, it became clear to me that there are other polyamorous people out there who are not interested in playing house.

Second, as a heterosexual poly man, I had always been on the defensive. I can’t recount how many times I got accused, “You are just playing the field.”

But here was a heterosexual poly woman making the exact same points that I had been making. I felt validated.

I hope my article will be of similar relief to you. There is nothing wrong with solo polyamory. If anything, it is the less selfish way to love, as I will argue.

Definition: What Is Solo Polyamory?

Soly polyamory means that you have several non-monogamous relationships but keep living a single lifestyle. For example, you are not moving in with any of your partners or sharing your finances with them.

Solo polyamorous people value their autonomy. While most couples aspire to become a “We,” the solo poly person strives to retain their “I.” They see themselves as free agents who cooperate with other free agents.

In these arrangements, hierarchy doesn’t matter much. Since there is no merging of life infrastructure, you don’t need to differentiate between primary and secondary partners.

Another way to look at it is that you are in a primary relationship with yourself. The people you date would then all be considered your secondary partners.

The term “solo polyamory” (or “solo poly”) was popularized by Amy Gahran of solopoly.net.

The Relationship Escalator

Most relationships (monogamous or non-monogamous) subscribe to an escalator logic. Your progress as a couple is measured in milestones like meeting each other’s parents, moving in together, getting a pet, etc.

People who identify as solo poly refuse this logic. They believe that relationships are not some checklist you need to work through. Rather, they should be enjoyed for the shared experiences they offer.

Now, proponents of the relationship escalator will commonly argue that solo polyamorists are acting selfishly. “You are not ready to commit.”

But the solo polyamorist can make the exact same argument.

If you are insisting on moving in together, getting married, having kids, etc. you are basically demanding access to certain resources. You want guarantees that you have access to your partner’s time, money, attention, etc.

How is that not selfish?

Solo Polyamory vs. Polyamory

Polyamory is an umbrella term for people who want to have intimate relationships with more than one person at the same time.

Solo polyamory adds a caveat — there should be no merging of life infrastructure. Solo polys don’t want to cohabitate, share a bank account, etc. They want to remain independent.

Solo Poly vs. Single Poly

When you are single poly, you are not currently in a non-monogamous relationship, even though that is your usual relationship style. But as soon as you are again, you might look to establish a primary relationship with one of your partners.

When you are solo poly, you don’t aspire to “escalate” a relationship. You don’t want to move in together, share finances, etc. This is true no matter if you are currently in a non-monogamous relationship or not.

Solo Poly vs. Non-Hierarchical Polyamory

Proponents of non-hierarchical polyamory don’t want to rank their lovers as primaries or secondaries. This is seen as degrading. Rather, everybody is supposed to be equal.

That doesn’t mean you can’t live together, have children together, etc. It just means that all your different partners should be equally involved

The solo polyamorist is not concerned with hierarchies per se but with individual freedom. For them, giving up on their autonomy, even in an egalitarian setting, is never an option.

Solo Poly vs. Relationship Anarchy

Relationship anarchy is similar to non-hierarchical polyamory. However, relationship anarchy takes the notion of non-hierarchy further. It doesn’t just reject hierarchies in the context of relationships but in all areas of life.

Relationship anarchy has strong political undertones. Its proponents often identify as members of the radical left. They seek to come up with new, communal ways of living.

Solo poly has more of a libertarian twist. It is not trying to make the world a better place for everybody. Rather, it emphasizes the autonomy of the individual. Nobody is supposed to invade your self-chosen boundaries.

However, in practice, solo polyamory and relationship anarchy often look very similar. Their differences are mostly programmatic.

Misconceptions About Solo Polyamory

Here are a couple of common misconceptions about solo polyamory.

1. “You are just afraid of commitment”

This is by far the most common complaint that you will be confronted with as a solo polyamorist.

Commitment is the battle cry of relationship junkies, both monogamous and non-monogamous. The underlying implication — if you are not ready to commit, you must be broken.

But who are you to tell me what I must do in my relationships? Who gives you the right to define gold standards?

Also, in many instances, commitment is just a euphemism for co-dependency. People who never learned how to take care of themselves expect other people to do so for them. What is healthy about that?

There is a lot to be said for two autonomous individuals choosing to be with each other without making demands. It means that you are strong enough to give the person you love the freedom they deserve.

2. “You don’t care about other people”

With solo polyamorists so insistent on their autonomy, this is another common complaint they will get.

But what does it actually mean to care about other people?

For example, if my partner had an accident, would I visit them in the hospital? Provide emotional support? Run errands for them?

Of course.

But that’s not the same thing as blindly subscribing to the relationship escalator. For example, not wanting to get married doesn’t make you an uncaring person.

If anything, it makes me a more caring person.

I don’t need a legal contract (=marriage) or shared property in place to feel obligated to look after someone. I will just do it because I like them.

3. “You are just dating around”

Someone who is single and currently dating around is essentially prospecting.

It’s like an employer looking for the ideal candidate for the job. They will talk to lots of different people but eventually settle for one person.

That is not my strategy.

As a solo polyamorist, I am more acting like a freelancer (to stay with the job market analogy). I will cooperate with other entities (businesses, other freelancers) as long as it is beneficial to both of us.

Some of these collaborations will be short-lived, but some partners might stay for years — or forever.

For some people, the fluidity of dating around is just a transitional phase, a means to an end; for me, it is the thing.

4. “You are just playing the field”

Here, you are framed as some kind of player.

This is probably the one that annoys me the most.

First, I always find this to be a bit hypocritical. On the one hand, everybody in the poly world constantly has to point out how they are sex-positive. But implicitly, this only seems to apply to women or queer polys.

As soon as a heterosexual man enjoys exploring different sexual options, they are a dirty dog. Go figure.

The second thing is that a player usually feigns affection or even love to get into someone’s pants.

That is not what solo polys do.

If I have feelings for someone, I will make that clear. If I just feel a strong sexual connection with someone and want to bang their brains out, I will also make this clear.

And as long as my partners — other consenting adults — are on board, I don’t see any reason to feel ashamed of what I am doing.

Don’t chasten other people for not complying with your paradigm.

5. “Let’s make the world a better place”

As a solo polyamorist, I sometimes meet other poly people who are trying to recruit me for their political agenda.

And while I do find certain anarchist ideas intriguing, I am not looking to start a revolution. I am an individualist. The notion that you can convince a large group of people to act “selflessly” seems naive to me.

That is precisely why I prefer solo polyamory. I understand that you cannot expect too much from other people, even the people you love. If your happiness depends on their cooperation, you will be disappointed.

Enjoy other people for who they are. Not more, not less.

The only person you can ultimately control is yourself. That is why you must protect your autonomy — to remain in charge of your own happiness.

4 Signs You Might Be Solo Poly

Here are four telltale signs you might be solo poly.

1. You Value Your Alone Time

When you are in a “normal” relationship, you stop spending time alone with yourself (or at least you do so much less).

This is the number one reason why your autonomous “I” disintegrates and becomes an amorphous “We.” Not marriage or any of that stuff — but constantly being surrounded by another person.

A large number of people prefer this. They would rather always be in a group. It silences that stubborn inner voice.

But for some of us, that inner voice is not a nuisance, but an asset. We want to listen to that stream of consciousness. We want to hear the ideas and explore the self-doubts.

If that is you, there is a good chance solo polyamory might be for you.

2. You Are Committed to Your Personal Growth

The vast majority of people, as soon as they enter into a “committed” relationship, slow down in their personal growth. And once there are kids, it’s game over.

There is virtually no space left to focus on anything. Reading, developing new skills, your hobbies — these things go out the window first.

The only uninterrupted time you get away from your family is at work. And that’s its own kind of hell.

Some people are fine with that. They don’t crave personal development. They crave community.

But if you can’t make peace with this state of stagnation, if you always must experience yourself as growing, solo polyamory might be the better model for you. 

3. You Despise Social Institutions

It has always struck me as ridiculous how much emphasis we put on social institutions, in any area of life, from academic degrees to the constitution.

But “committed” relationships, and specifically the institution of marriage, take the crown.

People are so eager to get that stamp of approval that they will end a perfectly fine relationship just because the other person is not game.

It is a case of form over function. We would rather adorn ourselves with the trappings of marriage (“Look at that ring!”) than actually be in love with somebody.

It’s also a matter of conformism. If everybody is getting married, we must be getting married. We don’t want to be left behind by the tribe.

If that herd mentality rubs you the wrong way, solo polyamory might be the answer. Here, the value of the relationship is measured by the quality of the experiences shared, not the number of social hoops you jumped through.

4. You Value Your Financial Independence

In business, there is a saying that you shouldn’t mix friends and money.

This is sage advice. It goes doubly for lovers.

When you merge your finances with somebody, there will always be one side that profits more from the merger than the other side.

This creates dissatisfaction, the more the greater that imbalance is. Nobody likes to be taken advantage of.

At the same time, there is no point in blaming the other person for being less financially successful. They might just value other aspects of their life — their personal growth, their hobbies — more.

The solution is simple. Do what any smart business person would do — keep your personal life and your financial life separate.

Solo polyamorists understand that. Rather than being selfish, they are actually protecting the relationship.

How To Make Solo Polyamory Work for You

Make the most of your solo polyamorous lifestyle with these seven strategies.

1. Find Other Solo Polys

The biggest challenge for solo polys is to find other solo polys to date.

“Regular” polys are a rare commodity to begin with. But solo polys? That’s a fringe group within a fringe group.

Most people end up using polyamory-friendly dating apps like Feeble or #open. Personally, I am skeptical of dating apps, but I know people who had some success with them. It’s worth a shot.

But what I would really advise is to move. Your dating pool is going to increase significantly if you are based in a large urban area like New York, London, or Berlin. You could also try well-known poly hubs like Portland, Seattle, or San Francisco.

Another thing I would advise is to create your personal brand. Start a blog or a YouTube channel. Go crazy on Instagram.

If you consistently produce content around your values and your ideas, some people — the right people — are going to notice. These people are going to reach out to you. And some of them are going to be potential lovers.

The key is to show yourself as you are. It will only work if there is no mismatch between your online persona and your everyday self. So, if you are soft in real life, be soft online. If you are a hellraiser, be a hellraiser.

2. Become an Addendum

While you might aspire to date other solo polys, in reality, you often end up dating “regular” polyamorous people. There are simply not enough other solo polyamorists around.

That is actually great.

Despite my conceptual misgivings about the relationship escalator, it actually works out fine for everybody.

When you date somebody who is in a non-monogamous escalator relationship, they are usually pressed for time, with all their commitments and whatnot.

For them, dating a solo poly is a godsend. Here is somebody you can counterbalance your current, more stressful relationship with but who is not making too many demands.

For your lover’s partner, it’s ideal too, as you don’t present a threat. They don’t have to fear you will “steal” their primary away.

And for you, as a solo polyamorist, it’s great as your lover is so caught up in their primary relationship, that they simply have no energy left to intrude on your boundaries.

It’s a win-win-win situation.

3. Learn To Talk to People

There is a third option for how you can go about finding partners, and that is good old flirting. Learn to talk to strangers.

Granted, a lot of the people you meet at a bar or the supermarket will have no interest in polyamory whatsoever. But this is no reason not to try.

First, you’d be surprised how many people are actually open to the idea. I have had numerous poly lovers who had no prior experience with this lifestyle but came to enjoy it anyway.

Second, when you talk to an attractive stranger in real life, you will be right away able to tell if there is chemistry between you.

That’s a massive time save over dating apps, where you often write back and forth for ages, only to then find out there is no spark on the first date.

This time save will offset the fact that some people will reject you when they hear you are polyamorous.

The real reason why poly people rely so heavily on dating apps is not that these apps are so much more efficient. The reason is apps play into our laziness and our fear.

Talking to people in real life requires you to leave the house. And it comes with the real possibility of rejection — people telling you to your face that they don’t find you attractive.

That is why we are dependent on dating apps.

The solution is to gradually desensitize yourself.

Whenever you leave the house, make it a habit to smile at an attractive stranger. Do this for a few weeks, until it feels comfortable.

The next step is to say “Hi.” Again, do this for a few weeks.

Then you start giving quick compliments. “I just had to tell you that you look beautiful today. Have a great day.” Turn around and leave.

Once you feel comfortable doing that, you start asking a follow-up question. “What I noticed about you is that you have very good posture. If I had to guess, I would say you work as a dancer or a choreographer. Am I right?”

By gradually pushing back against your comfort zone, you will eventually be able to start a conversation with anybody, anywhere. It will create ample sexual and romantic opportunities for you, even as a solo polyamorist.

4. Tell It How It Is

Many solo polyamorists are afraid to vocalize their relationship needs, especially at the beginning of a new relationship.

The problem is that they have internalized certain stereotypes about solo polyamory. For example, they don’t want to be perceived as selfish by their lover.

Don’t fall for that.

If you shut up now to make the relationship work, it will come back to bite you in the butt later. You are just postponing the conflict, not avoiding it.

Risk it. Say what you want. If the other person says “No,” you can still see if there is a compromise that works for both sides.

5. Adjust Your Current Relationship

If you are currently living in a “regular” polyamorous relationship but want to go solo poly, that will require some adjustments.

First, you need to let your partner know that it is not “them.”

Explain to them that you are making this change because you were never quite comfortable living with anybody to start with. The same thing would have happened if you were with a different person.

Once you have reassured them, it’s time to talk logistics.

For example, if you are currently living together, you probably want to get separate spaces. Sometimes it might be sufficient for you to have your own study or bedroom that acts as a refugee. Sometimes the best thing might be for you to get your own apartment.

Same thing with finances and property. Untangle your accounts. Go through your shared physical belongings and decide what should stay with whom.

6. Cultivate Platonic Partners

You are more likely to engage in co-dependent behavior in your relationships when you have a small social network to call upon.

That’s because the fewer points of contact you have, the more you will direct all of your social energy towards your romantic partners. They become your sole outlet.

But when you have many people to talk to, not just lovers but also platonic friends, that focus will be diversified. It will unburden your sexual relationships.

Also, for many people, these deep platonic friendships are ultimately the greater source of happiness.

While most of your intimate relationships will last a few years at best, certain friends will stay with you for a lifetime. Their accumulated affection will easily top what you get from most of your lovers.

So, cultivate these close friendships.

7. Don’t Be Dogmatic About It

If at some point you discover you don’t want to be solo polyamorous anymore, don’t force yourself to go on.

It is okay to enjoy the relationship escalator, as long you do so of your own accord, not because of some social script.

Solo polyamory is not a religion. It is a lifestyle supposed to serve you, not the other way around. If it’s not useful to you anymore, discard it without a second thought.

Leave a Comment