It's time to normalize solo polyamory

Having relationships and being single don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Young model sitting in armchair, hands crossed behind head, looking through panoramic glass wall at ...
You do you
ByCourtney Coonrod
Originally Published: 

Remember when you had to awkwardly explain a situationship to a family member? Or when one of your friends expressed how sus it is that you refuse to “settle down?” Traditional relationship expectations are still very much a thing — but as the flaws become more evident, the rising numbers of single people are showing us that fluid partnerships are an option. Despite this open-minded vibe shift, though, it seems like western society has forgotten about the most important relationship of all: the one you have with yourself.

Sure, the wellness world has emphasized the importance of self-care, but what about self-fulfillment? It’s common to lean on significant others in an attempt to feel fulfilled; meanwhile, “me time” is often sacrificed for intimate relationships that, while important to have, can be lethargically indulgent and cause you to forget about yourself for the sake of someone else. On the flip side, people tend to work on themselves most when they’re single. Case in point: Multiple studies show those who stay single live happier and healthier lives.

So, is there a way to fulfill your own wants, needs, and dreams without the help of a partner — but without completely eschewing relationships? There is, and it’s becoming more of a phenomenon via solo polyamory. On the surface, it sounds like just another term for “being single,” but solo polyamory is more than that. It’s a lifestyle that focuses on independence, while still cultivating intimate connections — minus the desire to reach traditional relationship milestones.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all path to happily ever after, but with today’s social pressures and hustle culture, it’s important to be in control of the free time you do have. Just think: What could you achieve if you flip the script, prioritizing personal growth and leaving romantic relationships to where there’s extra room? Practicing solo polyamory allows you to have your cake and eat it, too. I spoke with experts and others with firsthand knowledge about how to embrace the solo polyamorous lifestyle — and why it might yield your healthiest relationships yet.

Question societal norms and create your own relationship path

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t just a pipe dream. Studies have shown that not only are single people less stressed and more optimistic than married people; but they’re also healthier, have more friends, and are more likely to volunteer than married people. In short: Practicing relationships that allow you more autonomy can lead to more personal growth and, ultimately, benefit others around you.

“Solo poly is resistance in a highly monogamous society that’s telling you that you need to sacrifice your freedom in order to receive love,” sex and relationships educator Jayda Kissed tells Mic, noting that after she got out of her own codependent monogamous relationship, a solo polyamorous lifestyle helped her grow in ways that otherwise may not have been possible. Now, Kissed says, she’s more centered and able to fully show up by determining which connections are truly benefitting both her and her partner. She does so by regularly checking in and asking, “Does this relationship still feel good for you? Is this still right for me? Is this relationship still compatible at the end of the day?”

Amy Gahran, the writer behind the blog "Solo Poly" and author of Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator, says that because solo poly enhances individualism, it can help you become the best version of yourself. She’s found that people who practice solo poly are more likely to center themselves and their communities — especially, in the latter case, those who would normally be overlooked in favor of a significant other. “When people are able to create as much autonomy as possible, they make better decisions in all of the relationships they’re in,” she says.

Challenge your own internalized relationship tendencies

It can be challenging to rewire your idea of what a relationship should look like. Philip Dunham, a 37-year-old living in New Orleans, says that after recently exploring if solo poly is right for him, he realized he needed to work on reining in his possessive instincts, which are typically normalized in monogamous relationships. Because polyamory involves being in multiple consenting romantic relationships, it challenges insecurities such as jealousy and decenters the idea that a partner makes you “complete.” When conquering these conditioned beliefs, relationships become more of a means to develop yourself and accommodate natural change.

It’s also important to remember that a solo lifestyle isn’t black and white; some people maintain that independence even when having a serious partner, while others don’t. Gabrielle Smith, writer and non-monogamous educator who has been practicing solo poly for the past few years, says that ultimately, it’s very fluid and dependent on how you and your partner(s) structure the relationship.

“When people are able to create as much autonomy as possible, they make better decisions in all of the relationships they’re in.”

Support your local solos and society will follow suit

While fewer people are conforming to the status quo of traditional relationships, western culture’s embedded social norms and legal practices are still very old school and discriminate against those who opt out of marriage. There’s “couple privilege,” which refers to the variety of perks that come with couplehood, like health insurance, tax breaks, and higher income. Smith admits that it’s a commitment to stay solo, especially if you’re on the lower income scale and all responsibilities fall on you alone.

Gahran agrees that the lack of a social safety net drives many people to prioritize relationships; she points out that it’s more common and accepted to be alone in places that provide more support for their citizens, such as Northern European countries including Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

In South Korea, a group of solely independent people known as honjoks is growing in popularity. The honjoks resist conventional societal structures, like status and family, by prioritizing individual desires instead. They’ve become an economic force in their own right; and businesses have been very responsive in serving them, from offering smaller apartments to producing more practical products and packaging. “Like it or hate it, consumerism creates change,” says Peter McGraw, behavioral economist and host of Solo podcast, adding that capitalist society needs to serve solohood in order for it to be widely accepted within the United States.

Do you to reach your highest potential

Despite what the memes may say, solohood doesn’t equate to a sad, lonely cat lady life. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: All signs point to the notion that, if society were to embrace solo polyamory, we’d all be healthier, more positive, and higher-achieving. Now it’s just up to you to defy western norms and create your own happy ending.