Swingers. Polyamory. Open-relationships. All terms used to describe non-monogamous relationships.
According to a 2016 National YouGov poll, consensual non-monogamy is on the rise. Forty-four percent of young Americans say they are open to relationships outside strict monogamy.
Bethany* is among the young Americans who are open to non-monogamous relationships. She found herself exploring “alternative” relationships when she wanted to explore her interest in BDSM. She had a hard time separating her desire for a primary partner with her interest in various kinks, so she compartmentalized in a way that enabled her to see multiple people.
Like many women her age, Bethany turned to dating apps and online communities to find potential partners. She found her first two partners on Feeld, a dating app for openminded couples and singles. Soon after, she began dating a third.
Casual sex and polyamory are often considered interchangeable. Bethany says it’s a common misconception she often has to reject, especially on dating sites.
“I was very clear in new relationships,” says Bethany.
When using dating apps like Tinder, Bethany experimented with disclosing her relationship status on her profile. Including her polyamorous status on her profile, she says, often attracted men that were dismissive of her. They viewed her as someone they could simply sleep with.
“Because people assume you have other partners, [they] don’t take accountability of another’s feelings,” Bethany says. “The people you attract tend to walk all over you.”
Non-monogamous relationships aren’t free of the woes that befall monogamous relationships, including cheating. Sandy, a woman in her early 30s living in Washington, D.C., who is currently dating “three-ish” people, two men and one woman, says the same potential to breach the boundaries between partners exists.
If you agree to not engage emotionally with an outside partner, yet move forward to develop a romantic interest without discussing it, that boundary has been crossed. Sandy says non-monogamous relationships require more explicit communication.
While Bethany identifies as poly, Sandy views it as a framework she’s chosen to adopt. Both women believe monogamy isn’t inherent to humans and encourage people to question where their judgments and jealousies come from.
“If your first reaction [to non-monogamy] is ‘I would be so jealous,’ I invite you to really think about where your jealousy is coming from,” says Sandy. “Is it because you’re not good at something so you need to protect it?”
Addressing such insecurities, then applying that view to sexual or emotional intimacies, Sandy says, can offer insight into non-monogamous relationships and possibly boost satisfaction in your current relationship.
Attitudes and perceptions toward non-monogamous relationships are changing quickly, says Terri Conley, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Michigan. Conley attributes the spark of interest to more people realizing that ultimately, they don’t feel monogamous deep down.
“[People] are attracted to others and they see that [many] monogamous relationships don’t work,” Conley says. “The only difference now is that people are more willing to be open about it.”
When asked what the future holds, Bethany and Sandy have similar responses: Monogamy is something they could entertain for some time, though not permanently.
“I don’t know what the future looks like, but I know poly isn’t something that I just won’t be one day,” Bethany says. “I want to get married, but I don’t think I’ll stop dating. Poly is who I am.”
*Bethany lives in Austin, Texas, but asked to have her first name changed for her privacy and that of her partners.