The Struggles of Online Dating When You're Poly
It's all good until someone spots you on Bumble and assumes you're cheating on your partner.
Stephanie (left) and her partner Bert are in a poly relationship and met on an app called Pure. Photo submitted
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
If you’ve ever seen a couple “seeking a third” on Tinder, you might have wondered what it’s like for polyamorous people on dating apps. Though it’s possible that couple you saw were “unicorn hunters” (a controversial descriptor referring to couples looking for a woman to have sex with), there are lots of poly people in varying kinds of relationship arrangements seeking sex, love, both, or even just friendship online.
While some sites, such as OkCupid, have features that have made poly people feel more comfortable and welcomed, there’s at least one major dating site that outright rejects married people from signing up—Plenty of Fish—and recommends they sign up for the once-hacked extramarital affair site Ashley Madison (honestly WTF). Anyway, VICE reached out to a number of people who practice some form of polyamory to ask them about their experiences with online dating apps and sites like OkCupid, Tinder, and Facebook dating groups.
The Best (and Worst) Sites
“[I’ve used] Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, and Facebook [poly] dating groups. OkCupid is definitely leading the way in terms of being more accommodating to both polyamorous people and trans people. They have a lot of ways to define your relationship orientation. I always leave that I am seeing someone, even if I’m not in a big relationship at the time.” —Heath, 38
“My three favorites for online dating are FetLife, Reddit, and Pure. The reason I like FetLife is because it’s a fetish site; my fiancé and I are involved in the scene in Brooklyn. Even though it’s a bit archaic-looking, you can list multiple partners. Reddit is great for online dating—you can just post on r4r, and there’s a bunch of random sex ones. I think there’s even one for New York that’s just soliciting for hookups.” —Stephanie, 25
“Tinder, it’s probably the most casual, and you’ve got a lot more variety in the type of people—but because the pool is so much bigger, I think it can be easier to find poly people on there beyond OkCupid.” —Thomas, 31
“I tend to use OkCupid and Tinder most often. OkCupid is one of the most recommended apps for poly dating. On top of being a popular site with lots of users, there you can outright search for people who are comfortable with non-monogamy, and you can even link an account with a partner's—though they missed the mark on not allowing you to link with multiple partners! Of all the sites, they are doing the most to acknowledge LGBTQ issues and nontraditional relationship styles. Other sites, like Plenty of Fish, will actually reject you (and low-key insult you) if you select that you are married in your profile. There are a handful of poly-specific dating sites/apps, but most of them are teeming with unicorn hunters (couples looking to ‘add a third’) or simply don't have enough users to make it worthwhile.” —Morgan, 32
Communicating That You Are Poly
“It is front and center on my profile. I go with the intention of being upfront about being polyamorous… When I first start talking to somebody, polyamory is something I bring up fairly quickly.” —Heath
“I definitely make it a point to make sure it’s the first thing I tell them. Not everyone is non-monogamous. I don’t want them to like me or have this perception of me that I’m only for them.” —Stephanie
“I always put it on my profile. I look at other people’s profiles who are poly… I think I try to mention it at least in the first few paragraphs, like on OkCupid.” —Olivia, 36
“I am very upfront about being polyamorous on my profiles. It doesn't make sense to waste anyone's time if what they are seeking is a monogamous relationship. Generally, I stick to dating people who are also already seeking non-monogamous relationships. Trying to ‘convert’ people to polyamory is a lot of emotional labor and generally a futile exercise anyway.” —Morgan
“I've had it in my bio [that I’m poly]… I think there tends to be a little bit of a perception when you post pictures as a couple [on a dating profile], that you’re dating as a couple. I wanted to avoid that because we don’t date as a couple; we date as individuals.” —Thomas
When People Are Poly-Negative
“I do get, particularly men, who approach me to cheat on their wives because they have a presumption about my sexual availability. They assume that because I’m polyamorous that I would be interested in cheating. The presumption is difficult and a thing.” —Heath
“Usually it’s things like, ‘Isn’t your man concerned about the diseases you’ve been catching on these dating sites?’ Sometimes it’s slut-shaming: calling me a ‘slut,’ or a ‘whore’—especially if the first thing out of my digital mouth is that I’m poly.” —Stephanie
“I went on a date with a girl who was seemingly pretty interested when we talked on Tinder. I had [that I was poly] in my profile. She seemed open-minded to it, but then when I actually met her for dinner, pretty much the entire date was her challenging the concept of poly and challenging every reason why I would be poly. My parents are divorced, which may have come up at some point. She said something like, ‘Well, maybe I’ve just had a really great example because my parents are so in love, but I do think it’s possible to just love one person for the rest of your life.’ I was like my parents relationship and how I was brought up has nothing to do with that at all. Recently, a girl asked if I would be interested in going out on a date sometime. I said, well, in case you’re not OK with this, I just want you to be aware that I am polyamorous. She just responded with, ‘Ugh pass.’ There’s other people who are weirdly OK with it. I guess I’ve had so many negative experiences that whenever I have a positive one it’s almost shocking.” —Thomas
“My most common negative experience is men often assuming I'm down to hook up, or that I'm only seeking a casual relationship because I am polyamorous, which isn't always the case. You also get people who seem interested at first, then fade away once they realize they can't handle non-monogamy.” —Morgan
The Risk of Outing
“My wife, someone in her family saw her on Bumble and outed her to her family. As far as myself, I actually live in a different state than most of my family, so it’s not as likely to happen. As far as my work goes, I actually got discovered [as poly] because one of the guys at work saw my wife’s profile and recognized her from Facebook. So then I figured I might as well put it out there since the rumor was going around that my wife was cheating on me—but really we were just in an open relationship.” —Thomas
“I'm fortunate that I can be pretty open about my relationship orientation now, but when I first began exploring polyamory, I was worried that someone I know would find me online and make a big deal about it. So far, that has never happened, other than some good-natured teasing from my younger brother who stumbled upon my profile. In fact, I ended up finding out that more than a few friends of mine were also polyamorous by way of seeing them pop up on dating apps!” —Morgan
“My life right now is that my family knows that we are poly. We got that out of the way after a few months. Some friends and acquaintances don’t really know, but I’m not really worried about it.” —Olivia
The Good, the Bad, and the Fetishizing
“I had it in my bio that I was poly when I matched with her. She actually didn’t initially notice that part; she didn’t identify as poly at the time. We talked a little bit, then she wanted to plan a date. Before I go on a date, I’ll usually at least mention [being poly]. I sent her some info and links about it. She was actually really open-minded to it; she didn’t make a big deal out of it. She was OK with it. Since then, she’s been right on board with being poly. We’ve been together for over a year.” —Thomas
“I went on about five dates so far [in the six months I’ve been online dating]. I got a steady partner for a couple of months from OkCupid. We got along really well. Then he cheated and lied about it. It’s just really hard on that end. But I had a great relationship with that person up until then. So far, my other dates I went on are from Tinder or Bumble… there’s no real connection.” —Olivia
“I really get fetishized a lot—I think a lot of women, femmes, and feminized people do. I’m not a woman, but I can be perceived as a woman. Then, I’m sometimes even perceived as a trans woman—while I am agender. I know a lot of women get comments on their body, but I’ll get further comments usually about my genitalia, or about my physical presentation (like fetishizing my body hair).” —Heath
“I met most of my partners on Pure and Reddit. I’m not really into any serious relationships other than my engagement with my fiancé. We met via Pure (an app that is just locations and pictures) in October 2016. We met knowing we were both poly and out. He took me on a date to a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen." —Morgan
"When I met him, from the first time I ever saw him and the minute that he opened his mouth, I fell in love with him. We had a great evening that night; he told me about his previous relationship with a primary partner. He was very open about that, very open about the other people he was seeing and having encounters with, his experiences being poly.” —Stephanie
Building a Poly Community
“Online dating helped me build a wide circle of polyamorous friends. I got acquainted with lots of folks who, in addition to dating, were hoping to find a poly community. In day to day life we aren't often able to talk openly about our relationships without being judged or having to explain ourselves. After hearing this from so many people, I decided to create a polyamory discussion and meetup group in my city [Pittsburgh], which has grown to more than 600 members.” —Morgan
“I’m in a number of regional [poly] dating groups [on Facebook]. You get to talk to your community, right there. You’re not just meeting potential suitors, you’re meeting their partners, their networks—and there can be more protections. We have also had the opportunity to educate people on other types of people. We had a period in one group where we were educating about trans folks, attraction, and gender. You feel more connected to people because they’re right there. The dating groups also double for community support.” —Heath
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.