What Is Solo Polyamory — And Is It for You?

Solo polyamorists engage in several intimate relationships at the same time. But while doing so, they retain their single lifestyle. They don’t strive to move in with anybody, share their finances, etc.

This lifestyle appeals to people who value their independence above everything. Maybe also to you?

Learn how a solo polyamorous lifestyle differs from other types of polyamory, what misconceptions exist, and how you can make this lifestyle work.

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

I remember a polyamorous friend who moved in with his two lovers 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 to myself, “How is this different from what everybody else is doing?”

My friend was still going through all the motions of the social script — moving in, 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 these tendencies, 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 double revelation.

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

Second, as a heterosexual poly man, I had always been on the defensive. I can’t remember all the times I was being accused of 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.

Definition: What Is Solo Polyamory?

Soly polyamory means having several non-monogamous relationships while maintaining a single lifestyle. For example, you are not moving in with any of your partners or sharing your finances with them.

Solo polyamorists value their autonomy. While most couples merge into a “We,” the solo poly person retains their “I.” They think of themselves as free agents.

Solo polyamorists tend to be dismissive of hierarchies in relationships. When there is no merging of life infrastructure, the differentiation between primary and secondary partners becomes pointless.

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

The term “solo polyamory” (or “solo poly”) was popularized by Amy Gahran of solopoly.net but has since then become a general term in the poly world.

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 the parents, moving in together, getting a dog, having kids, 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.

Proponents of the relationship escalator will often argue that solo polyamorists are acting selfishly. “You just want to keep your options open.”

But the solo polyamorist could make the same argument.

If you are insisting on moving in together, getting married, having kids, etc. you are essentially securing resources for yourself. You want guaranteed access to your partner’s time, money, attention, care, etc.

How is that not selfish?

Polyamory vs. Solo Polyamory

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

Solo polyamory adds a subclause to that — there should also be no merging of life infrastructure. Solo polys don’t want to cohabitate, get married, have kids, etc. They want to remain independent.

Single Poly vs. Solo Poly

When you are single poly, your relationship style is non-monogamy, but you are currently not in a relationship. But as soon as you are again, you don’t mind “escalating” the relationship.

A solo poly person will not care for this option.

Non-Hierarchical Polyamory vs. Solo Poly

Proponents of non-hierarchical polyamory don’t want to rank their lovers as primaries or secondaries. They see it as degrading. 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 not an option.

Relationship Anarchy vs. Solo Poly

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 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 a more libertarian twist. It is not aiming to make the world a better place. Rather, it emphasizes the autonomy of the individual. Others must not invade your boundaries.

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

Misconceptions About Solo Polyamory

Here are a couple of common misconceptions about solo polyamory.

1. “You are afraid of commitment”

This is by far the most common accusation you will hear as a solo polyamorist.

“Commitment” is the battle cry of relationship junkies, monogamous and non-monogamous alike. The 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 good about that?

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

This is another common complaint. But what does it really 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. Not wanting to get married doesn’t make you an uncaring person.

If anything, it makes you a more caring person. You don’t need a legal contract (=marriage) or shared property to feel obligated to look after someone. You will simply do it because you like them.

3. “You are just dating around”

Dating around is similar to prospecting. Like an employer, you are looking for the right person. You will talk to lots of different candidates but eventually settle for one person.

That is not the solo poly way.

As a solo polyamorist, I am akin to a freelancer. 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, and some will last many years.

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

4. “You are just playing the field”

Here, you are framed as some kind of player.

It’s a bit hypocritical. Everybody these days goes on about how sex-positive they are, especially in the uber-progressive poly world. 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 rake.

The second thing is that a player typically feigns love to get into someone’s pants. But 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, I will also make this clear. 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.

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

As a solo polyamorist, you will sometimes meet other poly people who are trying to recruit you for their political agenda. Relationship anarchists often show these tendencies.

And while I do find certain anarchist ideas intriguing, as a solo polyamorist, I have no illusions about making the world a better place. People don’t change, no matter how much you try to reeducate them.

That’s the whole point of solo polyamory — to understand that you cannot expect too much from other people, even the people you love. Don’t base your happiness on their cooperation.

Simply enjoy other people for who they are.

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 “regular” relationship, you are expected to give up most of your alone time.

Most people actually prefer this. They dislike being by themselves. It forces them to pay attention to their inner voice.

But for some of us, that inner voice is not a nuisance, but an asset. We want to hear its ideas.

If that is you, solo polyamory might appeal to you. It will give you that time for self-exploration.

2. You Are Committed to Your Personal Growth

Many 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. 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 stagnation, solo polyamory might be the better model for you. It will give you the space you need to keep growing.

3. You Despise Social Institutions

We place an irrational emphasis on certificates, for example, when it comes to academic degrees. But the social institution of marriage takes 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 ready to get hitched.

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 a relationship is measured by the quality of the experiences shared, not the number of social hoops you jump 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’s the same for lovers.

When you merge your finances with your partner, there will always be one side that profits more from the merger than the other. This creates dissatisfaction. 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. By being “selfish,” they are actually protecting the relationship.

How To Make Solo Polyamory Work for You

Here are seven strategies to make solo polyamory work for you.

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.

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. Post on Instagram.

If you consistently produce content around your lifestyle, some people — the right people — will notice. They will reach out to you and some of them will be potential lover material.

The key is to show yourself as you are. Your online persona and your everyday self must match. If solo polyamory is your preferred relationship style, talk about it. Don’t censor yourself.

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 solo polyamorists around.

That is a good thing, actually. Despite my conceptual misgivings about the relationship escalator, it will work in your favor.

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

For them, dating a solo poly is a godsend. Here is somebody laid-back to counterbalance their primary, more stressful relationship.

For your lover’s other partner, it’s ideal too, as you don’t present a threat. You don’t want to own anybody and so you won’t “steal” anybody away.

And for you, as a solo polyamorist, it’s great, as your lover is so busy with their primary relationship that they have no headspace to make demands on you.

It’s a triple-win situation.

3. Learn To Talk to People

A third option for finding lovers is good old flirting. Learn to talk to strangers.

Of course, a lot of the people you will approach will have no interest in polyamory whatsoever. But this is no reason not to try.

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

There is a second, indirect advantage to talking to people 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 on the first date that there is no spark. This time save will offset the fact that some people will reject you when you tell them you are polyamorous.

Now, there is a reason why we are so reliant on dating apps. Talking to people in real life requires you to leave the house. And it comes with the real possibility of rejection — someone telling you to your face that they don’t find you attractive.

To get over this, you should gradually incorporate some flirting into your day. Ease yourself into it, and it will soon feel like second nature.

For example, whenever you leave the house, make it a habit to smile at one attractive stranger. Do this for two weeks, until it becomes automatic.

The next step is to smile and say “Hi” in passing. Do this for another two weeks.

Then you start giving quick compliments, for example — “I just had to tell you that you look very attractive. Have a great day.” Turn around and leave.

Once you feel comfortable doing that, you start asking a follow-up question. For example, “What I noticed about you is how elegantly you move. If I had to guess, I would say you work as a choreographer. Am I right?”

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. So, they go along with what the other person wants.

Don’t make that mistake.

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 difficult conversation, not avoiding it.

Risk it. Say what you want. If the other person says “No,” you can still see if there is a compromise. At the very least, you will have saved both of you time.

5. Adjust Your Current Relationship

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

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

Explain that you are making this change because you never felt quite comfortable living with somebody to start with. The same thing would have happened with any other 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 places. Sometimes it might be sufficient to have your own study or bedroom, as a refugee. But in most instances, the best option is to get your own apartment.

Same thing with your finances and belongings. Get separate bank accounts. Go through your shared stuff and divide it up.

6. Cultivate Platonic Partners

You are more likely to complicate your relationships when you have a small social network. That’s because the fewer contacts 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 energy will be diversified. It will unburden your sexual relationships.

Also, 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 affection will easily top what you get from most of your lovers.

Cultivate these close, non-sexual friendships.

7. Don’t Be Dogmatic

If at some point you discover you don’t want to be solo polyamorous anymore, just quit.

It is perfectly fine 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.

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