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Solo polyamory: What is means to be your own primary partner

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Sep 26, 2023

Solo polyamory: What is means to be your own primary partner

Whether you are new to the polyam game or you’ve been around the block a few times, you might be interested in learning more about solo polyamory. Solo poly is just one of many ways to practice ethical non-monogamy in the modern age. 

Non-monogamy is growing in popularity, with many people looking to ditch traditional and assumed ways of approaching relationships. Haven’t you heard? It’s 2023. Heteronormativity is out, babes. 

Even if you are a queer person who practices monogamy, it’s useful to learn about and explore different polyamorous concepts and dynamics to figure out what you value in your connections. 

Self-reflecting and consciously choosing a relational structure helps to ensure that you are engaging in healthy relationships that are right for you. But before we get into all of that, what is solo polyamory anyway?

Solo polyamory definition

Solo polyamory (often shortened to solo poly) refers to people who have intimate, meaningful relationships with multiple partners while maintaining an independent or “single” lifestyle. I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t being in a relationship supposed to be the opposite of being single? For solo polyamorists, having serious relationships and being single don’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts. 

In the solo poly model, you don’t have to completely give up on relationships in order to maintain your independence and autonomy. But you also don’t need a partner to complete you! For solo polyamorists, the center of your life shifts to focusing on the self rather than focusing on one (or multiple) romantic relationship(s). 

People who practice solo poly often don’t have a primary partner or hierarchical structure in the way they practice polyamory. Solo poly people likely see themselves as their own primary partner, rather than looking to another person to cohabitate, get married, raise kids, or share finances with. Be the primary partner (to yourself) that you wish to see in the world! 

A single woman with her arms outstretched holding flowers in front of a white barn.

So is solo poly the same thing as dating around? 

Maybe the meaning of solo polyamory piqued your interest, but you might be asking yourself: how does solo polyamory differ from being single? On the surface, solo poly might sound a whole lot like just dating around. However, the truth is that solo polyamory has a lot less to do with who you are or aren’t dating and more to do with your desires and philosophy for how you approach relationships. 

Being single is usually a happenstance: a temporary state of coincidentally not being in a relationship either because you haven’t met anyone you want to be with or because you are focusing on other areas in your life. Whereas people who practice solo poly can still forge meaningful, intimate (and long-term!) connections with others while still living extremely independent lives. Enter solo polyamorous relationships with, well, whoever you want!

In reality, practicing solo polyamory is less about ‘being single’ and more about being self-partnered. Solo poly people make an active choice to take a step off the ‘relationship escalator’ and find new ways to engage sexually, emotionally, and romantically with multiple people. 

The relationship escalator, explained 

If you’re still with me, you might be wondering what the heck is the relationship escalator? The word ‘solo poly’ was first popularized by Amy Gahran who later went on to write a book called, Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life. The relationship escalator is a metaphor used to describe the common expectations most people have for how a relationship should progress over time. 

Typically, it goes something like this. You meet a hottie (probably on HER). After a few dates, some mind-blowing sex, and many long nights spent reading Adrienne Rich poems out loud, you might ask them to be your girlfriend/boyfriend/partner. Once you’ve become a couple, maybe you’ll announce your relationship to family, friends, or on social media. At some point after you would meet each other’s friends and family. Maybe after a year or two (or six months if you’re a Uhaul lesbian) you move in together, adopt a rescue pet, get engaged and gay married. What’s next? Yup, you guessed it. Buying a house (in this economy?), merging finances, or maybe even having kids together.

This timeline is based on monogamy-centered cultural expectations about how relationships should unfold. While people who practice solo polyamory do it in different ways, one of the main guiding principles is an active choice to gtfo the relationship escalator. Most solo polyamorists don’t hold their relationships to these type preconceived relationship milestones to measure the seriousness or emotional depth of a connection. 

Even just by questioning the concept of the relationship escalator, you can gain insight into what your values are for yourself and your relationships. It’s okay if you never want to settle down OR if having kids or starting a family is super important to you! By breaking down and interrogating some of the cultural expectations we have for our relationships, we can start to gain a truer understanding of our own wants, needs, and desires. 

A picture of an escalator with an outline of two shoes, to represent the concept of ‘getting off the relationship escalator’ that is popular in solo polyamory.

Solo polyamory flag

Solo polyamory is just one particular approach to non-monogamous relationships. There is no “right way” to practice solo polyamory, as many different people are defining and redefining what it means to be solo poly and create fluid relationships. 

There’s even a flag! 

The polyamory flag is a circle with three colors filling it horizontally, the top is a purplish blue, the middle is red, and the bottom is black, it is against a pale yellow background.

Solo polyamory vs. polyamory

Some polyamorous people don’t mind merging their lives, committing, and making joint decisions with multiple partners at a time. 

Solo polyamorists place more emphasis on independence and being self-partnered rather than relying on relationships as defining features of a successful, happy, and love-filled life. 

People who practice polyamory more generally might be in hierarchical or non-hierarchical relationship structures, but either way there is an emphasis on romantic and sexual relationships as central to one’s life. Whereas solo poly is more like seeing yourself as a solo person, whether you have a partner or not. 

How do you know if solo poly is right for you? 

Solo polyamory might be a good fit for you if any of the following apply:

  • You really value your alone time, independence, and autonomy 
  • You are your first commitment 
  • You don’t have a desire to get married and/or start a family with someone 
  • You prefer to focus on your own self growth, hobbies, interests, careers, projects, or passions rather than on romantic relationships
  • You don’t see yourself wanting to live or cohabitate with a partner

How do you practice solo polyamory?

However you decide to practice solo polyamory is up completely up to you. Solo polyamory is more about releasing the shoulds from your romantic relationships. This means you don’t have the same conventional, heteronormative expectations for your relationships. You can want to have kids or eventually live with a partner while still using solo polyamory as a framework for how you want to configure your relationships without assuming these things will happen with someone.

You also might find that once you free up your romantic connections from preconceived notions of what a relationship should look like, things can develop more naturally. Also, solo polyamory also doesn’t have to be forever! Some people find themselves identifying as solo poly after leaving a long-term relationship or getting a divorce whereas other people will practice it for their whole lives.

“I’ve got a history of either going through the motions in relationships or getting into anxiously attached situationships. So, the framework of solo poly helps me disrupt my conditioning enough to slow down and actually connect to what I like, want, and need without going on autopilot or putting a partner’s needs first.”

Mar, 32

They also point out the fact that different folks have their own interpretations of solo poly.

“I am open to partnership with other people and entangling our lives. But I think I leave a lot of room to figure out what that needs to look like because for me, entangling our lives doesn’t necessarily mean becoming nesting partners, for example.”

Mar, 32
A black queer woman practicing self care and romancing herself in a bubble bath with Airpods on, listening to her favorite podcast.

Solo Polyamory FAQs

Is solo polyamory the same thing as being single and polyamorous? 

One common misconception is that being solo poly is the same thing as being a single person who also identifies as polyamorous. This brings us to the solo poly vs. single poly debate. Despite what the haters say, you can be single AND polyamorous! But a lot of people might say that they are “solo polyamorous” after going through a breakup, when they might be polyamorous, but really they just aren’t in a relationship right now. 

Solo poly people are distinctly different from single people going through the temporary phase of not being in a relationship. If you do practice polyamory and are single—but want to cohabitate or build a life with a partner/partners in the future) a better way to identify might be single poly!

Does solo polyamory mean having it all? 

While some people might think that solo polyamorists are greedy, selfish, playing the field, or inconsiderate, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Solo polyamory requires a great deal of radical honesty, boundaries, and open, honest communication! Being solo poly isn’t the same thing as being a fuckboy, it’s more about a rejection of mono-normative culture that expects adult relationships to follow a very narrow trajectory in order to be successful. 

If you don’t need a lot of relational security or are recovering from codependent tendencies, solo polyamory can be a great way to approach your life. Maybe you don’t have interest in compromising on your life decision for a partner, checking in daily, or having predetermined expectations for your relationships.

By practicing solo poly, you don’t have to compromise when it comes to connections with other people, or, more importantly, your connection with yourself. What’s wrong with having your cake and eating it too?

Can a polyamorous person be with just one person?

Yes boo! You don’t have to always have multiple partners to still be polyamorous. Being polyamorous is about the capacity you have to be in loving, intimate relationships with multiple people, not about the body count. 

If you are polyamorous, you don’t have to have multiple partners at every moment in your life. If you are a monogamous person dating a polyamorous person, you might be in what some people call a mono-poly relationship. A relationship between someone who is monogamous and someone who is polyamorous can work, but not if one person is trying to change the other person’s relational style. In order for a mono-poly relationship to work, you need to be secure in yourself, a good communicator, and willing to work to understand your partner’s point of view.

Things we can all learn from solo polyamory 

Solo polyamory is a helpful framework that can be useful when unpacking our expectations about relationships and adulthood. Instead of thinking of being single as a curse or a sad way to end up, solo polyamory shows us you aren’t a failure if you want to live alone or remain unmarried. You can have a successful and happy life despite what your romantic life looks like—it doesn’t have to take center stage. 

Whether you are self-partnered or are in a relationship, it’s healthy to work out what your values and desires are outside of the societal narratives we’ve been told about romance, monogamy, and love. This way, you can forge your own path forward—partnered or unpartnered—and build the types of connections that will bring you happiness, joy, pleasure, and peace. 

If you are looking for other people who practice solo polyamory, download HER today and find the polyamorous community you’ve been looking for.

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Dusty Brandt Howard is a writer & a fighter. He is a trans masculine cultural narrator who builds worlds with words. You can follow his thirst traps on Instagram, his writing on Substack, or find him at your local queer bar in northeast LA.

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