I'm single, I'm polyamorous, and I don't want to be the third in your threesome

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Dating on OKCupid while single and poly is harder than you might think.

I cannot count how many times I have had the following message sent to me—clicked, copied and pasted—on OKCupid:

“You remind me of my big toe... because I’m going to bang you on every piece of furniture I own.”                                                           

Despite having been overused enough to land it a spot on Glamour’s coverage of the hashtag #10WorstPickUpLines, that big toe line manages to evade the OKCupid filter that usually shields my inbox from any message reading  “hey” and “sup, sexy??" And yet, men use it on me every week.

Cut-and-paste opening lines are a now-customary part of online dating. After two-and-a-half years, they don’t get under my skin anymore; now, it’s the men who are trolling for a “sure thing” without any emotional involvement who bug me. Even though I have been careful to only vaguely identify as polyamorous in my profile, some of these guys still find me.

The benefit to online dating is the screening process that weeds out the men who would (at best) exploit and (at worst) disrespect my polyamory. OKCupid specifically offers hundreds of questions that users can answer to illuminate their beliefs, values and sexual preferences. Through their responses to questions about monogamy, jealousy and tradition, I can get a feel for whether a man is truly polyamorous like I am and looking to form actual, intimate bonds with people.

I can also usually tell the opposite, i.e. when a guy is looking to cheat on his partner or auditioning “a third” to spice things up at home—with no interest in who that person actually is or what they want. I’m down to meet someone’s other partners, but not to take on a role the two of you scripted out before you met me. 

Take, for example, this man who reached out to me under the assumption that being polyamorous meant, naturally, I would want to join a threesome with him and his wife:

“No pressure, but my wife thinks you’re hot and we’ve been considering reaching out to someone fun. Is that something you do?” — MorePlayLessWork

As a “solo poly” woman—meaning I’m not interested in having a primary/spouse/live-in partner—I’ve had to become adept at determining if people are playmate-shopping like Mr. MorePlayLessWork. By asking a few basic, leading questions, I can also identify those scouting for a unicorn—so-named for how impossible single, bisexual women looking for a committed relationship with a couple are to find. 

Sorry. I won’t waste your time; I’m not the jackpot you’re hoping for. And I’d rather we both find out before I get dressed and leave the house than when you show up to our date with your wife.

Yes, that’s happened.

When I was new to the concept of polyamory and navigating its dating landscape, I said “yes” to a lot of first dates. It seemed like the best way to figure out what I wanted and how the whole thing worked. I didn’t think of myself as a “third” or a “unicorn”—just an individual trying to connect to another individual. Which is why I didn’t think to ask Eric* more about his situation before accepting a date.

Eric had pictures with his wife and a link to her profile, which is one of the ways ethical individuals will show their partners are poly participants. That’s how I knew who this woman was when they walked up to me in the bar. However, I had only been expecting Eric to be on this date. I have a solid poker face and sort of couldn’t wait to see how they navigated a two-person pick-up.

“Hi, I’m Eric.”

“Julie, Katie. Katie, Julie.” We both smiled and then were saved by the bartender.

A couple of drinks in, Julie excused herself to the restroom; clearly, Eric had been waiting for this moment.

“So, Julie definitely thinks you’re hot and we’re hoping you might be into her,” he said.

I’m rarely speechless, but was he actually shopping for someone she could sleep with? To be clear, I’m not offended at the idea of group propositions, even though I'm not interested in participating. But Eric playing matchmaker for his wife seemed a little controlling to me. And considering I hadn’t expected her to be there in the first place, I wasn’t ready for it.

“I’m sorry, into her?” I asked.

Julie returned as Eric was explaining that her having sex with another guy would be like cheating. Having an outside interest in women, though, was totes fine with him. She smiled a little meekly at me.

I stood up, threw back the last of my whiskey (managing not to choke on the ice), and grabbed my purse.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “Even if I were bi—which I’m not—and even if you hadn’t mislead me to get me here—which you did—the idea that sleeping with me wouldn’t be cheating because I’m not a man, is exactly like saying I’m not really a human being. And that’s the least hot thing I can think of.” Then I left and never heard from them again.  

Vetting potential poly partners through online dating also means I get to skip first dates that are easily confused for webinars on ethical non-monogamy. I have a personal policy not to write back to the messages like this:

“Polyamory? So, that’s like NSA, right?” — DiverseGuy83

NSA, in OK Cupid parlance, means “no strings attached.” So the answer is no. A resounding no, in fact. That “amor” in polyamory means “feelings.” Franklin Veaux, author of More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory coined my favorite definition:

polyamory: The fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, esp. in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.

Some days I have to resist the urge to reply with screenshots of my profile, red arrows pointing to the answers they seek—especially since what I’m looking for is rather uncomplicated. I want to form independent, long-term, intimate relationships with people who agree that commitment doesn’t automatically have “to just one person” trailing after it. 

The benefit of dating online, at least, is that  I have a larger pool and am less likely to get a guy who hears “solo poly” and—no matter how I explain it—thinks I meant I’m totally up for a threesome even though we just met! and/or No need to treat me like a person! I can tell if someone bothered to read my profile. And I get to opt-out of a conversation before it starts when I get messages like this:

“Not sure if you'd be interested or not but if you're just looking for a no pressure NSA type of arrangement I would be on board to play <wink emoji>” — CannonballSD
“Honestly I'm looking for something between fwb to an open relationship, yeah polygamy is fine makes things better at times.” — David20581

“FWB,” of course, is another way of saying “fuck buddy. It’s pretty clear in several places that NSA and FWB hookups are not what I’m looking for—to say nothing of conflating polyamory with polygamy (plural marriage).

So, no, OKCupid hasn’t been an entirely a negative experience. I’ve never regretted exchanging numbers or the time I have spent getting to know people I’ve met through the app. I’ve stayed friends and occasional partners with one person I met years ago and I was in a relationship for six months this spring. There are currently a couple people who have potential, too. Dating as a single polyamorous woman has worked for me, to a degree. And even the dates that end without chemistry or with the discovery that we aren’t quite looking for the same thing teach me something valuable about myself and others. I only wish that more men who contact “solo poly” women like me who use the site valued my time as much as I do. 

Photo via amber.kennedy/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed 

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