I started my journey into ethical non-monogamy alone. I don’t mean without support, information, or mentoring, I have all of those, in spades. I am very lucky in the people I have around me who are there when I have questions or need reassurance; discovering this community has been one of the most positive influences in my adult life.
Most people I have encountered who identify as ethical non-monogamists are on their journey with a primary partner, or at least started their journey while they were with someone who fit that title. Because of this a lot of non-monogamy I have seen is hierarchical in nature; there is a core couple that ‘comes first’, and other partners are secondary or tertiary. That’s not to say that other partners can’t be as cared for or loved, or that those relationships are less fulfilling or important because of it, but the distinction is there, and it is something that needs to be respected for things to work.
I identify as polyamorous, but I do not have a primary partner. Emotionally I want multiple, loving, long term, committed relationships, where all partners feel that they are valued, cared for, and wanted at all times. No part of that requires me to elevate one above any other. From a practical ‘real life’ standpoint I am not looking to merge homes or finances with anyone, get married, or have more children. I am quite happy in my independence and am able to support myself.
I have occasionally been told that I’m “doing poly wrong” or that I’m “not really polyamorous” because I don’t have a primary partner. Whenever I hear this it sounds like an echo to me of something I’ve been hearing my entire life in mainstream culture; that something is wrong with people that are “single”. It seems sometimes like the expectation of “coupling up” is still alive and well, even within the non-monogamous community.
I recently came across a term that I feel describes my situation perfectly; solo polyamorous. Like any other label it means different things to different people, but most agree that it is the decision to be your own primary partner. This is not a decision made out of lack of other options, but because you have made a conscious choice to have your primary allegiance be to yourself. It doesn’t mean you are being selfish or that you don’t care about others wants or needs, but is because you are strongly motivated by your autonomy, you value your freedom, and you are most comfortable identifying as an individual.
Solo polyamory opens a lot of doors that may not be there for couple based relationships. First, it allows you to put the emotional energy of maintaining a primary relationship into yourself, to come into each new relationship strong and whole, the best version of yourself that you can be. It gives each new relationship a chance to be what it will be, with no potential to be vetoed and without rules that can be hard to understand or fit into. It can make it easier to date people who do not identify as polyamorous, as they do not need to feel that they are coming second to anyone else, and because there is no need for them to build relationships with or get permission from your other partners. Any or all of your partners can be identified as a girlfriend, boyfriend, or whatever term you prefer, depending on the relationship itself and not on how it relates to your other partnerships. You can commit to doing what is best for everyone, even if that means splitting up with someone for a time so you can grow separately.
Defining myself as solo polyamorous allows me the option to care about each of my partners as if they were a primary partner, if that is the way each relationship goes, and if those partners do not have other relationships with rules that need to be followed. It allows me to love them as deeply as I want, if love is there, or to enjoy the journey together for as long as it is enjoyable if it is not. I can develop relationships without feeling like I am suffocating, giving up too much of myself, or endangering something I have with someone else. It lets me develop the skills necessary to advocate for what I want, and it gives me a chance to find out what that is. It gives me the ability to discuss options with others, get their input and consider how it will affect them, but ultimately make my major life decisions on my own. It allows me to have deep, intimate, long term relationships, but still maintain my independence.
I’m not saying that solo polyamory is easier or better than any other type of ethical non-monogamy; it isn’t, it’s just different, and it comes with its own set of pros and cons. There are still moments of loneliness, times when you wish you had more support, and the occasional bouts of wondering why you don’t fit into something more traditional or accepted. Sometimes it means standing up for yourself or doing something alone, and disappointing others who might want to take on something for or with you. And just like any other relationship, sometimes it means missing out on something because the other person doesn’t want what you want. I don’t know if I will always identify as solo polyamorous; I am very happy in all of my current relationships, but I am as prone to what I want changing as anyone else is, and sometimes people already in our lives or new people who come into our lives can make us want to change with or for them. All I can tell you is that right now is that this is how I identify, it is what I want, and it is making me very happy.