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Poly Saturated

Wherever the interest began, I wasn’t there. But over the past few weeks, there have been more than a few people talking about polyamory. Before that, it had been a niche concern, the sort of thing that young people trying to navigate the shoals of marriage and sexuality latched onto to make their confusion appear more intellectual and less banal. But it has now hit the New York Times, elevating polyamory into a real thing that some might take seriously.

It’s hard to miss the growing interest these days in polyamory and ethical non-monogamy, the term du jour for having multiple romantic relationships. The new year kicked off with a slew of articles on the subject from a number of publications that shed light on the practice and lifestyle.

But among all the throuples, polycules and nesting partners, there exists another category of polyamory that still throws many for a loop: solo polyamory, or having concurrent intimate relationships while maintaining independence. For the solo poly, the end goal is not an exclusive partnership, marriage, shared finances or cohabitation.

Is there a “growing interest”? If the Times says so, who am I to question it, even though neither I nor anyone I know, young or old, seems interested at all. I obviously don’t know the “right” people, like James.

After James Nicholson went through a breakup in October, he realized that he was at a point in his life when he wanted to focus more on himself than on someone else, but without losing the perks of romantic intimacy.

He was juggling work and grief from losing a family member, all while parenting a 14-year-old with his ex-wife. So Mr. Nicholson, a 46-year-old Bronx resident, decided to embark on a journey of solo polyamory. To Mr. Nicholson, that meant dating several people at once with no intention to ride the relationship escalator to the top.

“I’m open to connecting with others, but it may not be just one other person,” he said in a phone interview. “It is really based on how schedules line up.”

So he was . . . dating? And this is supposed to be something new?

As these types of lifestyles gain steam — a 2023 YouGov poll found that one-third of Americans described their ideal relationship as something other than complete monogamy — some people have responded with skepticism to the idea of solo polyamory, writing it off as just a new label for being single and casually dating or sleeping around.

“I hate my generation of men,” one woman posted on X. “What do you mean you’re solo poly and straight? … That’s literally just a man.”

Solo poly? “Bruh, I think you mean single,” another wrote. “You just *have* to have a special little identity for every corner of your romantic life.”

And therein lies the kicker, that this doesn’t reflect anything new, unusual or special, but the obsessive need for an identity to grasp onto that somehow rationalizes the banality of human interaction so as to make it special. Very few of us matched the standard male/female image, with some guys who weren’t athletic and some gals who were. Before, that was just the normal variation of people. Now, its got a box to check and an advocacy group to fight for people’s right to be nonbinary, or any of 72 other characterizations of the ordinary variation among people. So now the pseudo-intellectuals have made up cool new words and phrases for playing the field?

So is “solo poly” a helpful label, a way to be more transparent with romantic and sexual partners? Or is it just another unnecessary term to describe behaviors that have long existed? For Mr. Nicholson, the label helps him clearly define exactly the type of single he is for the time being.

The desperate need for identity labels seems more a reflection of people’s pathetic need to be part of an identity group, to be able to lay claim to being somehow special, not for anything they’ve done or any sort of accomplishment, but just for existing as an otherwise entirely ordinary person. Why be ordinary when you can be polyamorphous?

Of course, the alternative to seeking belonging by latching onto some identity group of utterly no purpose or meaning is to try to do something that will earn you recognition, whether that’s winning the Super Bowl or helping people in need. Except that would require effort, and there is no identity group for people who put in the effort to achieve something worthy of recognition.

In the meantime, aren’t there enough new identities, from the 31 flavors of gender to the pronoun challenged to solo poly? At what point have we invented enough new identities demanding special recognition? At what point will people end their pathetic need for new identities to compensate for their feelings of worthlessness for never having accomplished anything worthwhile beyond dying their hair purple?

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