You’re ‘Solo Poly’? So … You’re Single?

After James Nicholson went through a breakup in October, he realized that he was at a point in his life when he wanted to focus more on himself than on someone else, but without losing the perks of romantic intimacy.

He was juggling work and grief from losing a family member, all while parenting a 14-year-old with his ex-wife. So Mr. Nicholson, a 46-year-old Bronx resident, decided to embark on a journey of solo polyamory. To Mr. Nicholson, that meant dating several people at once with no intention to ride the relationship escalator to the top.

“I’m open to connecting with others, but it may not be just one other person,” he said in a phone interview. “It is really based on how schedules line up.”

It’s hard to miss the growing interest these days in polyamory and ethical non-monogamy, the term du jour for having multiple romantic relationships. The new year kicked off with a slew of articles on the subject from a number of publications that shed light on the practice and lifestyle.

But among all the throuples, polycules and nesting partners, there exists another category of polyamory that still throws many for a loop: solo polyamory, or having concurrent intimate relationships while maintaining independence. For the solo poly, the end goal is not an exclusive partnership, marriage, shared finances or cohabitation.

The concept becomes a little less confusing when you break the term up. Solo? You’re your No. 1 focus. Poly? You’re interested in seeing several people at once. The specific details will vary from person to person.

In interviews with people who identify as solo poly, many described facing misconceptions about their lifestyle. Two of the chief distinctions that separate them from other singles who are dating is that solo poly relationships rely heavily on communication and transparency, and they aren’t defined by the end goal of finding a soul mate. And unlike other polyamorous relationships, their partners don’t interact.

For most people who are dating, “you’re single, maybe dating someone, and you don’t tell them about other people you’re dating,” Mr. Nicholson said. “There might be a lot more discretion, shall we say, with how you communicate with whoever you’re dating.”

One thing to be aware of when it comes to being solo poly, according to Mr. Nicholson, is that if you are putting yourself first, then you should expect the same treatment: “No one is going to specifically prioritize you.”

Tyomi Morgan, 36, a certified sexologist in Atlanta, was living the solo poly lifestyle long before she discovered the term, in 2016.

“Fourteen years ago, I did not have this language,” she said in a phone interview. “It was not in my awareness at all. It does feel fairly new.”

“I just know that having an open lifestyle was a thing,” she continued, “and I decided instead of being monogamous that I would be non-monogamous, and I would be transparent about that with people in my life.”

As these types of lifestyles gain steam — a 2023 YouGov poll found that one-third of Americans described their ideal relationship as something other than complete monogamy — some people have responded with skepticism to the idea of solo polyamory, writing it off as just a new label for being single and casually dating or sleeping around.

“I hate my generation of men,” one woman posted on X. “What do you mean you’re solo poly and straight? … That’s literally just a man.”

Solo poly? “Bruh, I think you mean single,” another wrote. “You just *have* to have a special little identity for every corner of your romantic life.”

For Ms. Morgan, being solo poly means there’s no expectation for her to live with any of her partners and she’s at the center of all her relationships, which include a long-distance relationship, a few more meaningful partnerships and some casual connections. She said she didn’t love any one of her partners more or less than another.

“I experience so much freedom and happiness in being solo and just prioritizing myself first,” she said. “As somebody who’s a recovering codependent and people pleaser, it feels good to center myself in relationships and not feel like I have this hard obligation to necessarily be with a particular group of people.”

The hardest part of being solo poly, in Ms. Morgan’s experience, has been maintaining healthy emotional regulation and staying aware of her own needs in the midst of it all.

So is “solo poly” a helpful label, a way to be more transparent with romantic and sexual partners? Or is it just another unnecessary term to describe behaviors that have long existed? For Mr. Nicholson, the label helps him clearly define exactly the type of single he is for the time being.

The label sets a tone that he hopes can encourage “healthy, open, transparent connection and communication,” he said, “for whoever I’m dealing with on an ongoing basis.”

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