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Dating While Queer in The Modern Age: On Ethical Nonmonogamy and Polyamory

Names have been changed for anonymity.


Dating is difficult. Humans are complex creatures with varying wants and needs, expectations and values. But the great thing about being queer is that you get to define what your relationships look like. When you erase all the preconceived, heteronormative notions of what a relationship should be, you’re left with a blank page that you can fill with whatever you’d like. It’s a daunting task, but an exciting one as well. When you begin the process of fully embracing your queerness, you may start to consider things in romantic relationships that you may not have considered earlier, perhaps even nonmonogamy.


Ethical nonmonogamy (ENM) has been gaining a lot of popularity among Generation Z in recent years. Anyone who has used a dating app recently has probably seen “ENM and partnered” on many people’s profiles. With the online stigma against polyamory, this seems like a surprising development, but from my discussions with my queer peers, I’ve found that although monogamy is still overwhelmingly the norm, it has gone out of favor with many. People are tired of the possessiveness, insecurity and uncertainty that can come along with heteronormative monogamous relationships.


I spoke to two different polyamorous queer people: Opal, who is just starting to consider polyamory as a viable option for herself, and Fay, who is in a long-term polyamorous throuple.


Opal, who is in her 20s, is still figuring out her bisexuality and battling compulsive heterosexuality along the way. She frequently kissed girls when she was in elementary school and didn’t think anything of it until she overheard a classmate talk negatively about one of the girls she had kissed. They had called the girl a lesbian in a clearly derogatory way. Opal didn’t really know what it meant at the time; all she knew was that it was frowned upon, so she buried her bisexuality until adulthood. Throughout her self-exploration journey, she has questioned not only her sexuality, but also her gender and views on monogamy as well.


After meeting a few people in polyamorous and ENM relationships, Opal began to gain an interest in and understanding of polyamory. She realized that she now had a label for how she will experience love in both platonic and romantic relationships all her life.


To be polyamorous, you can actively have multiple partners, but you don’t have to. You can be poly without having any partners if you feel the capacity to genuinely love and connect with multiple people in your life in a nonmonogamous capacity.


Currently, Opal is in the “feeling poly” category without any partners, exploring the countless possibilities Atlanta has to offer. She said that there’s value in all her interactions with people. She views many of her close friendships as romantic ones; this phenomenon of romantic friendships has been described as “queer platonic relationships” by people on Twitter. This term doesn’t seem to be getting as much traction as ENM, but it’s a concept that Opal and other peers have been looking into.


On the other side of the spectrum, Fay has been happily married for the past two years. Fay grew up in a church with a pastor as a parent, and despite those odds against them, they realized their queerness early on. They tried to come out as bisexual when they were younger, but their family didn’t want to acknowledge it at the time. By the time they went to college, they were fully out to everyone around them. Fay and their wife, Willow, have known each other since childhood and have been together for the past six years. Their third partner, Phoebe, “officially” entered their relationship around three years ago. It may seem like an unusual situation to outsiders looking in, but for them, it makes perfect sense.


Trust and communication are important to any relationship, especially in any nonmonogamous context. Lack of proper communication in a poly relationship can lead to cheating — yes, despite popular belief, it is possible to cheat in a poly relationship, according to Fay. Transparency is the main mode of trust in a healthy polycule. In Fay’s experience with having two partners, there’s triple the communication: between Fay and Willow, Fay and Phoebe, and Willow and Phoebe. So, creating a safe space where you’re able to comfortably check in on each other is important. Fay says that even if your partner seems to be doing okay, it’s still good to make sure you’re on top of things because people have trouble no matter how comfortable they are in a relationship.