Through solo polyamory—that is, having multiple intimate relationships while maintaining an independent single freedom—women are experiencing a self-love like no other. A self-love which requires commitment to the ‘self’ but also an acknowledgement that one lover is not always what a human being desires, sometimes it’s two, sometimes it’s even more.
Willow Smith, pop punk singer and black alt-girl icon, has openly talked about belonging to the polyamorous community while routinely sharing Instagram posts on what polyamory is all about. More and more women seem to be defying the status-quo of what a relationship should look like and as ‘relationship anarchy’—don’t worry, I’ll explain soon enough—becomes a more common reality for the younger generation, it seems that it’s time to seek relationships that work for you, even if they’re still frowned upon in modern-day society.
“Most people practise monogamy because they feel like they have no other choice,” Jayda Pinkett Smith said as she sat between her mother and daughter during their Red Table Talk episode on polyamory. Willow, 21, who first explained that she was introduced to polyamory in a non-sexual way added that the practice consists of having the freedom to “choose a relationship style that works for you.”
The singer appears to have never shied away from the topic and shares daily posts about solo polyamory in particular and what loving multiple partners entails. With a follower count of 9.7 million fans, it’s clear that the youngest Smith wants to educate people on a mode of loving that is often stigmatised or not as widely understood as traditional monogamy. One of those followers who Smith successfully educated was myself.
Though I was aware of polyamory during my later teen years, I had not been exposed to solo polyamory specifically, until I saw the many shared posts which filled Smith’s Instagram stories. Here was a young black woman, a singer and a Scorpio (just like me) who was daring to demand a style of relationship that suited her capacity to love and to share this openly. So, what actually is solo polyamory? How is it different from the polyamory representation we’ve come to know?
A popular solo polyamory blog, solopoly.net, defined individuals who are solo polyamorous as those who do not have intimate relationships which involve, or head towards, the merging of life infrastructure through the traditional social relationship escalator. Simply put, typical traditions like marriage, the joining of finances and cohabitation are all components of the relationship escalator—things which are commonly the end goals for monogamous (and at times poly) relationships. Those who are solo polyamorous, however, do not desire such things and instead see themselves as their own primary partner, choosing their own autonomy over being with a partner or a unit. Instead, the most important element for them is a deep commitment to themselves.
Polyamory educator and mental health advocate, Gabrielle Smith, uses her social media platforms to discuss what non-monogamy can look like and often talks about the discovery of ‘self’ that is a by-product of it. In one Instagram post, Gabrielle detailed that solo polyamory is about choosing yourself first while in another she explained that restoring one’s sense of self is essential in order to be ethically non-monogamous.
Gabrielle and Willow are two black women in the spotlight who have chosen to pursue a relationship style which decentres the idea that a partner makes a woman ‘complete’. Instead, they embody the narrative that they are whole themselves and that no one outside of them is ‘the one’—an idea that has long-defined monogamy. Marriage—which is historically linked to the abandonment of surnames when it comes to women, the conjoining of finances (often to their detriment) and the eventual role of motherhood—becomes an avoided necessity in solo polyamory and instead the priority is individuals finding love within themselves first and foremost.
Therefore, it is unsurprising why this particular style of polyamory has become increasingly popular among women, specifically women of colour (WOC). Self-titled ‘Sex Positive Asian Auntie’ Jayda Shuavarnnasri, a sexuality and relationship educator, shared similar sentiments on her own platform, telling her followers that being solo poly meant that she is “experiencing myself, centring myself and choosing myself every day.” This radical love for oneself appears to be disrupting the traditional—and let’s be honest, archaic—modes of relationships of modern-day society.
This disruption could represent the revival of ‘relationship anarchy’. Andie Nordgren, who coined the term and wrote The Short Instructional Manifesto for Relationship Anarchy, once explained the foundational beliefs of the movement. A core theory is that love is not a limited resource and shouldn’t have to be restricted to a monogamous couple. Love can exist for more than one person (at any time) and can span beyond romance into many different types of relationships such as friendships. All relationships are independent of one another and the distinctions that have been societally imposed on us take away the uniqueness of each individual and, in turn, the unique relationships that should exist because of it.
What we are seeing with the younger generation today are rapidly-evolving ideas of relationships. From platonic partnering to solo polyamory, relationship anarchy is truly in action as many continue to redefine the boundaries of friendships or the openness of love. I suggest that, like Willow and Gabrielle, we all try to fearlessly explore the very thing which impacts all our lives: our relationships. And how we make them work for us.
Intimacy means many different things to different people. It could mean trusting a person enough to tell them something you’ve never shared with anyone before, or finding someone whose touch doesn’t make you too nervous, or with whom you can spend an extended amount of time without having an argument. Most significantly, it means having someone you can feel completely comfortable with. Intimacy can be platonic, and it can be sexual, and it seems that more and more people want to understand what it means to them and where their boundaries begin and end. Whatever intimacy looks like for each of us, it usually takes a long time to find someone you can have that level of intimacy with. Whatever the scale is.
For people in monogamous relationships, understanding how intimacy can work in non-monogamous relationships can be challenging, especially as intimacy to date has so often been defined as being exclusively shareable between two people. Often imagining your partner being intimate with another person can leave room for jealousy, and this is certainly not just something that affects monogamous couples. It leads many of us new gen consumers, thinkers, and doers to wonder how is it possible to have the same level of intimacy with multiple partners without the associated feelings of guilt, jealousy and sometimes betrayal.
There are many ways to explore intimacy outside monogamy but we live in a digital age so it doesn’t come as a surprise that it is apps that help new gen individuals navigate these waters. While looking for the right way to start exploring new aspects of intimacy, you might end up on Feeld, the dating app offering a space for couples and singles to meet like-minded people. Before entering a polyamorous relationship, most people’s preconception is that it is founded on a strong emotional connection with just one person, and perhaps on a less meaningful one with other partners but that is in no way the blueprint. The idea that it is best to only love one person and keep any other relationship trivial dominates many people’s dating lives when, in fact, it could often be linked with the reasons some relationships fall apart. In a sense, admitting to having more than one significant other can sound more acceptable than hiding it from a society that sees monogamy as the only option.
I asked a Feeld member who is currently in an open relationship with his partner of eight years and used Feeld in the past whether intimacy was an important part of the conversation before opening up their relationship. “It’s not that there isn’t enough intimacy in our relationship,” he says. “I just like hanging out with other people and being close to other people and being able to touch them.” Many other non-monogamous couples share the sentiment that communicating openly, like this user and his partner did, is what makes their relationships work.
Despite knowing what comes with polyamory, some couples still get the occasional pang of jealousy, but how do they get past it? In many cases, it’s often down to learning from the mistakes we make while in a monogamous relationship. Open communication and verbalising our desires rather than hiding behind how we’re meant to act or be like in a relationship is a crucial step, and one that Feeld is trying to create through the app, community and conversations it is cultivating.
In the same way that every monogamous relationship you have over the years is different but still meaningful and strong—as it varies from each person you date—people who chose to be in polyamorous relationships are able to have many connections simultaneously. For most non-monogamous couples, the hope is that conversations around intimacy will start to open up and include them, rather than scrutinise their ability to form intimate relationships with more than one person.
It’s time to accept intimacy in all of its forms. Intimacy is a personal thing, and so it will continue to look different in every relationship. After all, who are we to say there is one right way to have a relationship.