Is Monogamy Cool Again?

I haven’t been monogamous since high school, and even then, my relationships were never fully closed. So when I learned about polyamory at 22, I was thrilled. There was a word for what I was!

The lifestyle and my relationships helped me to eliminate so much sexual shame and provided my first experiences of gender euphoria. Of course, I’ve also contended with judgment for being multi-amorous in a world built for two. Luckily, I was also queer, and to me, queerness felt intrinsically intertwined with non-monogamy. They were in the same polycule, if you will.

I’m single for the first time in five years, and back on the dating apps (as opposed to the hook up apps). Imagine my surprise to find that in my absence, all these queers have become monogamous!

“If you are partnered and poly, swipe left.”

“I don’t have the mental energy for poly.”

“We’ll get along if: you want monogamy too.”

It’s a non-negotiable! When I was single in 2019, the monogamous cuties I’d run across would sometimes bashfully try to play at maybe being interested in trying poly — just for me. I’d have to cut them off at the pass for their own good. Now? They’re cutting me off first! With pride!

It’s not just on the apps. The person who taught me what polyamory was is now in a monogamous relationship. The last few T4T couples I’ve inquired about joining in on have been closed for funny business. A gay guy friend of mine locked down his wayward situationship like he was on Grey’s Anatomy: “Pick me, choose me, love me.” Now, they live together and if either of them ever hooked up with someone else, I’m pretty sure the other one would commit a double murder.

I’m being cheeky. Monogamy isn’t the same as uncontrollable jealousy, nor is it inherently unenlightened. It’s also not a stagnant state. There are times when someone might be one or the other, or some combination of the two.

But my overall working thesis in general? Monogamy is back on trend for queers!

Consider my writing about this on par with the New York Times’ insistence that only cis people report on trans issues. Only I, a famous polyamorist, could possibly investigate a resurgence of monogamy without bias. That’s how journalism works, folks.

MONOGAMY IS BACK, BABY!

Poly representation peaked in shows like HBO’s Gossip Girl reboot, the polyromantic comedy series You, Me, Her, Peacock’s recent Couple to Throuple, and – sigh – The L Word: Gen Q. More people tried it. For some it worked. For some, it didn’t. Polyamory is not inherently easier or harder than monogamy, but in the end, monogamy is what’s familiar. There’s more of a social roadmap to follow. It’s comfortable.

“There are ways through this discomfort,” single non-binary lesbian Anna Hope told me when I put out an Instagram call for monogamists to explain themselves. But that hard work isn’t for everyone. Hope has been polyamorous before, but said in 2024, they’re looking for monogamy.

“[Polyamory] feels liberating for some, but scary and chaotic for others,” Hope said. “It’s only fair to choose the way back instead, if monogamy also works for you.”

It works for monogamous queers like BJ and Harmony Colangelo, wives who co-host the feminist film podcast This Ends At Prom. Until recently, they felt like outliers, because as a cis lesbian and trans woman whose “sexuality is whatever,” respectively, their being monogamous seemed outlandish.

“The response is always some form of shock that we’re not poly,” BJ said, “because it’s become almost assumed that if you’re queer or trans in 2024 – especially in Los Angeles – that you’re also dismantling relationship structures.”

It’s a reasonable enough assumption. When you’re going against society’s defaults in one way, why wouldn’t you adopt some of the other ways? It’s why leftists might be vegans or why Flat Earthers might throw in with anti-vaxxers.

When Harmony and BJ met, BJ was in a V-shape polyamorous relationship with other people. The women’s swift connection was undeniable and unexpected, and, after a conversation about shifting dynamics, BJ and Harmony were monogamous. In the seven years she’s been with BJ, there have been opportunities for non-monogamy, but to Harmony, nothing has been appealing.

“I guess I am monogamous because there is no one else out there that makes me feel the way I do with BJ,” Harmony said.

BJ agreed, “Anyone else just feels redundant.”

Nicole Kristal, a bisexual woman who has been monogamous with another bi woman for the past six years, said being with someone who is also bisexual eliminated the temptation to act on other opportunities. She can be honest about her outside attractions, she said, without her girlfriend feeling insecure, and thus the temptation fizzles.

Kristal, who is also the founder of Still Bisexual, said it took her 20 years of searching to find this kind of healthy monogamous relationship in the queer community. Her and her girlfriend’s deep trust and fulfilling sex life are such that she knows “adding another person is completely complicated and unnecessary.”

“We joke that someday we might get a pool boy,” Kristal said, “but overall we are just enjoying being monogamous.”

SO WHAT CHANGED?

It once behooved queer couples to present as similar to the average heterosexual pairing. After the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s, and into the 00’s fight for gay marriage, we needed to seem like all we wanted was monogamy, a white picket fence, and 1.5 dead-eyed, blonde children. We could not give the right-wing any excuses to call us polygamous harlots planning to one day marry goats.

“I can’t even remember how many headlines I’d see about ‘gay couple together for 50 years can’t get married but Britney Spears can be married for 55 hours,’” BJ recalled. Because of that influx of respectable queer representation, “poly folks got a lot more vocal in response.”

When monogamy was the default, polyamorous people were the ones who had to specify so that no one was wasting their time pursuing incompatible matches. Now it’s the other way around. The new counterculture is monogamy.

“You know how sometimes people get dumped and their first course of action is to date someone absolutely nothing like their ex?” BJ said. “Well, if you had a messy poly breakup between the years of 2020-2024, I’m not surprised the reaction is to go back to the ‘traditional’ well.”

These past four years are a big factor. Post-lockdown, we were led to believe the 2020s would mirror the roaring 1920s. Everyone would be eager to make up for lost time. That did happen a little bit, but it wasn’t so much the start of a decadent decade as it was a brief gust before the dust settled – even calmer than it had been before.

“So many people went through the pandemic alone and that made them rethink whether it’s worth putting in the work to have a person who’s always there for them,” Kristal said. Surviving the pandemic with her girlfriend solidified their relationship. The world was falling apart, but at least they had each other.

Kristal’s not saying polyamorous people don’t have reliable connections or can’t be committed and loyal. Of course, they can. But loneliness overtook those who were already alone, and logistics and fear overtook those who were in poly relationships or pods.

“Someone would break quarantine and then they couldn’t see each other for weeks. Or some poly folks I know had kids and they couldn’t risk the exposure,” she said. “Logistically, the pandemic just destroyed so many poly relationships.” After everything we’ve gone through as a world population, people might just be yearning for predictability.

Married lesbian Rasha Pecoraro said she found safety in monogamy.

In her twenties, Pecoraro, a “hopeless romantic” who lives outside Portland, Oregon, usually dated several people at a time but ultimately, she said, she hated it. She hadn’t yet come out as a lesbian, and just felt lost. So now for the last 15 years, she’s been monogamous with her wife.

One reason queer people could be getting back into monogamy, Pecoraro said, could be the natural expansion of our love of mysticism, astrology, and signs from the universe. Pecoraro believes in “forever soulmates” (whether you’re monogamous or not). She wondered if the queer community isn’t searching for meaning in a chaotic world and seeking comfort and stability in monogamy.

Hope, who is based in the UK, said they have relationship-related trauma, and the more relationships they’re in, the more risk there is of even more trauma.

“I am trying to minimize heartbreak for myself at the moment,” they said, citing a fear of abandonment and struggles with jealousy. Sure, this is something they could work on while in an open situation, but it would be much more difficult for them to manage than the way they’ve been able to in monogamy.

“A big component of how I experience romantic love, at a certain level of commitment and depth of the relationship, is a feeling of devotion and a desire to prioritize one person,” they said.

One person can also be more than enough effort, my interviewees told me. People looking for relationships right now are simply tired and overwhelmed.

“The work it requires to maintain one relationship is hard enough in this ‘the world’s constantly on fire’ decade we find ourselves in,” Kristal said. Even maintaining friendships takes up all her “low bandwidth” and finite energy.

Queer people and other marginalized groups under attack have even less energy than most. Hope told me about a friend who had a hard time coming out as a queer, and said she never wanted to be open about her non-monogamy simply because she doesn’t want to invite any more discrimination into her life.

“I suspect that with the overall rise of conservatism everywhere many queer people might be pressured to at least present as being in more traditional monogamous relationships,” they said. “The whole ‘we are just like you’ thing” is coming back around.

Recently, on @openrelating, an X account run by relationship coach Roy Graff, he suggested that maybe there aren’t actually less poly people, so much as, like Hope’s friend, poly people have stopped talking about being poly.

“This is why when we see polyamorous representation on social media and articles, it tends to focus on negative experiences,” he wrote.
We non-monogamous folk have had our moment in the spotlight and have quietly stopped trying to prove anything or call attention to ourselves.

Rather than there being less of us, maybe we’ve simply decided to shut up.

WHAT NOW?

For that reason, it’s impossible to know qualitatively if monogamy has become more popular than polyamory for queer people in the last five years. But my own personal anecdotal evidence says monogamy is cool again, and is only gaining steam.

On Valentine’s Day this year, The Washington Post ran an article debating whether polyamory is actually always increasing in popularity with increased representation, or if people and outlets are just saying it is for clicks and cool points.

In response to a 2023 article in the New Yorker that explores polyamory as if it’s already taking over all romantic relationships, WaPo reporter Shadi Hamid, said that it’s more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than an actual statistic.

“Polyamory becomes more widespread because we think it’s already widespread,” Hamid wrote. “Norms around sexuality change because we think they’ve changed — even if they haven’t.”

If more people seem poly, it triggers monogamous people to give it a go in order to seem hip.

Hamid noted that a 2021 National Library of Medicine survey of single people of all sexualities and genders showed that “only 10.7 percent of respondents said they had engaged in polyamory at some point in their lives; 16.8 percent said they would like to try. About 4 to 5 percent reported currently being in a consensually non-monogamous relationship, suggesting that the number engaging specifically in polyamory is even less than that.” There’s maybe more poly shown in TV and movies than is happening IRL at this point.

Josie Rea, a single cis queer woman looking for a monogamous relationship, agreed the current media landscape can account for the resurrection of LGBTQ monogamous pride. When poly went mainstream, there was bound to be a bounce back.

“People are always going to be who they are and have the relationships that work for them,” she said. “It’s just what’s being talked about the loudest.”

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20 Comments

  1. As a person in a nominally poly but functionally monogamous partnership (like, one of us goes on a meh date with someone else maybe once a year) , a lot of this resonated w me! Like, the idea of openness is still foundational to our relationship and always will be, but we’re too fucking tired and destabilized by the state of the world, and leaning on the stability of what we’ve got feels much better rn.

    Still love to see that poly rep on my terrible tv shows, though!

  2. I kind of hope polyamory doesn’t go away again…I already feel pretty alone as is, like I’m the only one. I’d think the increased representation would make me feel the opposite, but like Gabe said it’s mostly negative representation, and it just empowers more non-poly people to say their negative thoughts about it. Doesn’t feel great. Oh well, though.

  3. I think, potentially, the increased popularity and acceptance of polyamory (maybe not acceptance, though, but tolerance? understanding?) allows for all relationship structures to be more accessible. Queer people can be more unafraid to try polyamory or monogamy and find what actually suits them, rather than trying to “replicate heterosexual structures” (though I’d argue monogamy isn’t always seeking to do this, and that sometimes monogamy just vibes with certain people genuinely!). Either way, I think it’s cool people are getting to know themselves better, whether that leans monog or poly!

    • I’m surprised you didn’t speak to anyone who isn’t just monogamous-by-choice (or circumstance) but truly can’t conceive of themselves as being poly. I have never been interested in dating around, but instead in building a long-term romantic partnership with one person who wants the same with me. I’m certainly not blind to attraction to other people, but I’m not interested in dating or sleeping with them realistically. I have friends who I’ll cuddle with, who I’ll go out one-on-one with to events that could be described as dates, friends whom I love deeply… but I think the difference for me is I’d make career and living location-related choices for the sake of my partner but not my oldest, dearest friends. I do not have the mental energy to devote the same type of love to multiple people as I do to my partner. I’ve never thought I could function as poly, nor have I wanted to try. And honestly, I’m glad I’m not single right now, because dating apps where it seemed like half of the options were poly folks was really disheartening to deal with!

      (I’m not saying this to shame polyamory in any way! I have many friends who are happily poly and I love and support them. It’s just so deeply not for me!)

  4. What do y’all think is the most relatable polyam representation in TV and movies? I don’t watch a ton of TV/movies but I’ve never felt “represented” by what I do see.

    (With the exception of Jim/Olu/Archie in Our Flag Means Death)

  5. Dear Riese,
    Thank you for your monthly tips. Besos!
    There’s also this interesting series from Australia.
    ‘High Country’ with Sara Wiseman and Leah Purcell as Helen x Andie.
    It’s about a detective transferred to Victorian High Country who investigates 5 missing persons. She uncovers a complex web of murder, deceit and revenge.
    And yes, the detective has got a sapphic relationship.

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    • Monogamy was always the main choice by most people, even queer ones. Polyamory is just something that caught on in the press.

      I deeply hope that we haven’t reached the peak of polyamory rep. We’re only beginning to figure out how to tell poly stories, and polyamorous relationships have little legal standing. There is a lot of work to be done still. Society as a whole is still overwhelmingly monogamous.

  7. There’s an aspect of this that I think is a bit overlooked and I think is potentially worth a discussion, which is the economics of being in a non-conventional relationship structure? I think it comes up a lot in relation to ace people – it’s really expensive to live without a partner and the economy is horrible at the moment! Situations that start off as non-monogamous may end up heading towards monogamy just because there’s an economic incentive to living with and dating one person. The places that are the most queer friendly and therefore where you’re more likely to come across non-monogamous queer people are often the most expensive. I can totally see people ending up in monogamous relationships, even if they don’t necessarily think of themselves as monogamous, because of the financial stability and security that comes along with a society built for monogamy. It’s the same system that disadvantages ace people and single parents (mostly single mothers if we’re being upfront about the reality).

    • Oh man just realised that this comment comes off as a criticism of the article – it’s a great article and a really interesting one and I’m grateful for the work that went into it! I just wanted to float another idea for discussion!

    • I think this absolutely is overlooked, and by many poly people in general. I think that probably has a lot to do with why single people now say in their profiles, no poly and partnered. They’ve had time now to do the math and/or get burned. In my experience, from the SF Bay Area to Kentucky, the vast majority of poly people on apps are partnered, and the vast majority of partnered poly people on apps ***in actual reality*** already live with and/or are married to that partner. That means that if you date them as a single person, you are almost guaranteed to lose out on the potential for the financial and legal benefits of marriage, and there’s a good chance you won’t have the opportunity for the benefits of cohabitation as well. Or if you do, it’s something that you’ll have to work out between multiple partners of multiple people, which is super complicated – it’s hard enough to navigate moving in with someone when there’s just two lives involved. This was something I dealt with as an unmarried, non-cohabitating person with a married, cohabitating poly partner. It was absolutely infuriating to me that he would not acknowledge that I could never actually be equal, even if only just financially and legally, to his wife, and that I was heavily disadvantaged in my life compared to an existing couple unit. And furthermore, that most poly people *do* have existing married/cohabitating partners, so it’s exceedingly unlikely that an unmarried person would meet another unmarried person who wants to get married but is okay with them already having a poly relationship structure and existing partner(s). So, I think that legally and economically, and with a goal of achieving stability (which makes a lot of sense to want in this world), it doesn’t make sense for someone who is not already in a serious partnership to pursue poly dating if it isn’t a hard requirement for them. I really wish that poly people would respect this reality more, particularly those who having this existing privilege of being married or cohabitating.

      • Yes this exactly. I’m not theoretically opposed to polyamory for myself, but that would have to assume a completely equal and free society. The material reality is that as a woman and lesbian I’m going to experience less economic security than a lot of my peers. If I could partner with someone exclusively and we combined living expenses, finances, etc., that goes a long way to helping us both be a more economically secure.

        Additionally, just by statistics (and especially in the smallish town I’m in, maybe its different in big cities with big gay scenes), if I date a woman who is already has a primary relationship, she’d probably be with a man and something about feeling like I’m playing second fiddle to that more socially acceptable/economically advantageous relationship just doesn’t work for me. In our current system, it makes total sense to prioritize the relationship you have a big financial stake in over other connections, but it can really suck for those other people! We don’t actually live in a utopia and I think a lot of coupled up poly folks have on rose colored glasses when it comes to material/financial realities.

        If we could all live in an equal, non-capitalist society and truly be free to pursue connections, I’d be all for it. But as it is, I feel like it’d just be a major bummer to not be someone’s priority, and I’d rather be single than deal with the heart ache and financial hit.

  8. i love this writing
    this reminds me of the autostraddle of olden days

    before it became the old mother hubbard with green hair or random identity scold olympics

    the writing skill shows here and it’s not TEDIOUS

    this article shows you can be whoever you are break whatever structures but not be so precious with your identity and able to be funny and look at real trends and facts

    most of autostraddle writers sound like 14 year olds who read marx for the first time and wear doc martens while blasting bikini kill angrily stomping down the street hoping everyone notices (newsflash they don’t)

      • i mean yeah they literally published a r”pe denial piece a few months ago that they haven’t answered for and are tedious with an incredibly shrinking audience that they can never do right by….by handing it over to the thought police you effectively killed your once thriving audience

  9. I’ve always kinda felt that the assumption that a lot of queer people are polyamorous is reactionary, like how men will think women are talking too much when the man is still taking up the most space in a conversation. I feel like I have a lot of queer friends who are monogamous and also a bunch who are polyamorous, to me it doesn’t feel as dominant as all the “swipe right if you’re into ENM” tinder bios make it seem. Dating apps also seem like a bad place to determine which styles are more common because monogamous people are more likely to delete an app if they find someone which results in the rest of us being overrepresented.

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