Do you have any advice on how to meet poly people, when there are none in your own queer community and online dating is pretty much only showing you unicorn hunters? I long to dive headfirst into relationship anarchy but I’m living with poly-unsupportive parents in a very conservative town, and I don’t know what I’m doing or how to connect.
Without knowing where you’re located, it’s hard for me to give any logistical advice – and, to be honest, even if I did know where in the world you are, I don’t know if, on a practical front, I’d be much help to you. You know your town better than I do, after all; you’ve been living there your whole life (or at least for a fair portion of it), and I don’t even know if I’ve visited.
That being said – I do want to note that people have been doing poly dating probably for as long as people have been dating, and certainly long before this relationship style was being spotlighted in thinkpieces online. If you read Franklin Veaux, one of the leading writers on non-monogamy (he co-authored More Than Two, a book I highly recommend for anyone doing relationships of any style; and wrote his own memoir of his journey toward a more relationship anarchy style poly in The Game Changer), he traces how the early Internet was a huge boon for people exploring poly openly for the first time.
We’ve come a long way from the Internet of the 90s, but the same holds true. My first instinct was to point you in the direction of Tumblr, but unfortunately with the NSFW bans, Tumblr may not be the safest place for dating and sexuality questions anymore. But people take to Twitter to discuss in the ins and outs of RA, and Relationship Anarchy the website lists many resources that keep track of who’s who in the RA world, as well as books, podcasts, and other sources of support you could reach out to. Don’t be afraid to leave a comment, or write an email. The relationship anarchy community, or the poly community more generally, grew up with the Internet, and most people are happy to lend their support if and when they have the time.
So while my IRL advice to you isn’t going to be about which cute secretly gay coffee shops you should visit, or how long to lurk around the queer part of town until your perfect relationship anarchist meet cute finally takes place, I do want to acknowledge what not too many people remember to talk about when we talk about privilege and intersectionality: that geographical privilege, especially for queer folks, is a very real thing. It can still be really hard for people in rural or more conservative areas to live their truest, most brilliant queer selves depending on where they’re located. I wish it wasn’t still like that – still! In 2019! – but sadly, it is.
I will say, though, that after a decade of dating in New York City (the queer capital of the world, or at least one of them) and doing the ENM thing (ethical non-monogamy, consensual non-monogamy, or polyamory, use whichever term suits you best), it’s likely that you’d be finding unicorn hunters no matter where you go. I know you may feel like your geographic isolation is what’s contributing to the failure to launch of your relationship anarchy dreams, but that’s not necessarily the case. The difficulty with relationship anarchy, in my experience, is that it is hard. It takes work. And it takes no small amount of self-awareness – something that many people don’t even know they lack (see what I did there?) and something that most are even more averse to cultivating.
Many people jumped on the OKCupid polyamory train as soon as the option was available to list their preferences that way, but in my experience, not quite as many of them did the work necessary to become ethical partners. Being a non-monogamous partner is easy. Being an ethically non-monogamous partner (or an ethically monogamous partner, for that matter) is a lot more work. It’s a practice. It takes time, effort, a willingness to come authentically understand yourself and your values, and diligent work on setting and maintaining healthy boundaries.
I encountered many, many unicorn hunters during my online dating travails. Some were open about it, and we shared some fun, low-stakes naked times – in fact, at one point, I was even a unicorn hunter myself, though I made the somewhat unique choice of hunting for a boy-unicorn so my bi-curious dude friend could figure out where he was on the scale from curious to totally gleefully bisexual. It was a great experience, though it doesn’t sound what you’re looking for. In your letter I sense some of the wariness of the other reality of online poly dating: that some unethically non-monogamous folks, whether through carelessness or outright selfishness, are unicorn hunters in sheep’s clothing. Having been on the receiving end of non-monogamous dating that often called itself relationship anarchy, but in practice was strictly hierarchical pseudo-poly, I want you to be able to avoid that if it’s definitely not what you want, because it’s painful, and your wariness is actually a sign of good judgment.
In that case, the best thing that you can do for yourself, dating-wise, is to focus on you. I know, I know. Frustrating and perhaps unhelpful advice. But what I mean is this: You can’t control the town you live in, you can’t control your poly-unsupportive parents, and you can’t control the presence of unicorn hunters sliding perpetually and annoyingly into your DMs. What you can control is how you respond to all this series of unfortunate events. I’m going to push back a little when you say that you that you “don’t know what you’re doing” or that you “don’t know how to connect.” I think you do – you’re just coming up against some pretty real roadblocks right now. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t know what you want and need, or that you don’t know how to connect with others.
Sit down and really think about what you want out of relationship anarchy (which, for readers who don’t understand, is beautifully defined here). The beauty – and, sometimes, the pressure – of relationship anarchy is that it allows for the possibility of relationships to look any way you want them do. Without the script of monogamy, or even polynormativity (where in people are polyamorous, but the needs and desires of the central couple are prioritized, the version of non-monogamy I found myself falling into most often as a secondary partner) which both lay out a certain, specific way of doing things, with relationship anarchy, the person who gets to design what relationships look like is you. (And, eventually, the shape of the relationship becomes a collaboration, between you and your partners.) This is exciting! It gives you a lot of freedom to imagine what you want for yourself. So start imagining, and get specific.
I don’t know if you’re a law of attraction type of person, but I do believe that when you get clear, when you get really specific, about what you want – out of life, out of relationships – it becomes easier to turn those desires into reality. The first statement of the Relationship Anarchy Manifesto is that “Love is abundant,” so why don’t we start there? Love is abundant. What kind of love do you want to create in your life? Get clear on what you want. You don’t want to be a unicorn. Do you want a primary partnership? Do you want a relationship in which all people participating it are solo poly? Do you want a relationship that is local, or would you be willing (and able) to travel to see your partners? Are there more liberal cities nearby that you could get to easily enough in order to try your luck dating there? If you got really clear on your dating profile about exactly what your expectations and desires are for a relationship, who would respond? Are there “unicorn hunters” out there who you could maybe meet as friends – is there a chance that they might have connections to a more local poly community? Would you be open to meeting, if so?
I’m not going to say it’ll be easy. You’ve identified your location as a hurdle to overcome in order to find and create the relationships in your life that you would find fulfilling. But that’s only one part the issue. On the other side of that, I think it might be helpful to identify your values when it comes to relationships, to get specific about what you want and need, and then, while still sticking to your well-defined and thought out guns, to open yourself up to possibilities, both locally, and more distant, and see what the world has to offer you.