When was the first time you heard someone use the word “polyamory” in conversation? Or just “poly”? How about “open relationship” or “non-monogamy”? Chances are, it was some time in the last couple of years, as less conventional relationships have moved into the mainstream consciousness.
Once upon a time, the main image of non-monogamy that most people were presented with was that of a '70s key party or that grim Louis Theroux documentary on the swinger-dude and his sad-seeming wife. Not sexy. Not fun. Not something the average couple would be keen on - or admit to.
In recent years, however, the concept and practice of open relationships has become demystified as more and more people realise that it is, for many, a viable and fulfilling lifestyle choice. Pop culture and the media have certainly contributed to this shift. There’s been thinkpiece on top of thinkpiece on the issue (of which I suppose this is one, but bear with me) and personal essays of non-monogamy enthusiasts have been published everywhere from Vice to the New York Times.
TV is also testing the non-monogamy water with some poly-storylines. Broad City, for example, doesn’t bother defining the relationship of main character Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and her boyfriend Lincoln (Hannibal Buress) at all.
They’re together when they’re together and they clearly care about each other, but monogamy is never part of the conversation. The more mainstream New Girl even dabbled with a storyline in which Schmidt (Max Greenfield) fell equally in love with two women (though he was ultimately forced to choose one- baby steps and all that).
Strangely, as the rest of the world has started to embrace non-monogamy as a valid relationship choice, dating apps and websites have been slow to catch-up. On apps like Tinder, users are free to mention that they are in an open relationship and looking for other partners but there are no checks in place. The user may simply be looking to cheat, as their primary partner would have no way of confirming their claims on the app itself. For this reason, many other users may shy away from matching with this person, for fear of being party to infidelity.
The fear of being the accidental other man or woman in a monogamous relationship isn’t unfounded. According to a 2015 study, 4 in 10 Tinder users are in committed relationships, the majority of which are exclusive. And even when a user is telling the truth about being in an open relationship, mainstream dating sites and apps have typically not allowed people to view or contact every person involved to make sure things are above board.
OkCupid, one of the stalwarts of internet dating since its launch in 2004, has now designed a feature specifically for its polyamorous and non-monogamous users. Since 2014, users have been able to list themselves as in an “Open Relationship” on their profiles but the new feature, which was made available across the site this week, goes one step further. It is now possible for people to provide a link to their partner’s profile, so anyone looking to match with them can be confident that their partner is aware of the arrangement.
This allows people looking to date couples or become a sexual third to seek out existing partnerships that they’d be interested in joining. While this might seem like a bold move from OkCupid, the people behind the site have made it clear that they’re simply responding to the expressed needs of their users.
Adapting to the market’s increased interest in non-monogamy is a shrewd move by OkCupid and other sites are sure to follow.
According to their data, 42 per cent of people using the site would be interested in pursuing an open or polyamorous relationship, which represents an 8 per cent increase in the past five years. Adapting to the market’s increased interest in non-monogamy is a shrewd move by OkCupid and other sites are sure to follow.
It is also an extremely welcome move for the polyamorous community. Non-monogamy takes many forms and the rules of relationships will differ couple to couple (or triad to triad or polyfamily to polyfamily etc.). But probably the most important and valuable tenet in any relationship is respect and trust.
So OkCupid’s new feature is not only another step on the road to normalising alternative relationship models. It is also a valuable tool for polyamorous people who wish to maintain the highest standards of openness and transparency with all of their partners.