Millennials and polyamory: Will dating ever be the same?

Relationships, News

A recent edition of The Washington Post Magazine’s Date Lab—a regular feature pairing two Washingtonians on a blind date—featured two millennials: a polyamorous woman and a woman open to trying something new.

The outing failed to produce fireworks between the women, but the Date Lab write-up did prompt scathing online comments. Total strangers berated the poly dater for broadcasting her lifestyle. Both women were labeled caricatures, members of a confused, experimental generation that needs to mature so they embrace the one true relationship approach—monogamy.

Whatever anyone else’s judgment may be—and the internet is never short on judgement—the truth is that many millennials, whether a factor of generational change or youthful exploration, are open to the unexpected. Polyamory is increasingly considered an opportunity by millennials and, amid the hookup-heavy Tinder scene, some of them embrace the option wholeheartedly.

The new generation of polyamory

“After my divorce, I wanted to start from scratch and relearn how to be in a relationship. The last thing I wanted was to date and start the whole dysfunctional cycle again,” says Lucy Gillespie, creator, writer, and producer of Unicornland, a fictional web series about a woman who unconsciously practices “unicorning” by dating polyamorous couples to explore her own sexuality.

Gillespie admits to being instantly hooked on the New York fetish scene after her first introduction. “I met a ton of people whose relationships defied the narrow constraints I’d thought were the rule. Instead of working to suppress their needs for the sake of preserving the relationship (as I had), people I met were bossy, selfish, demanding, and it worked! They commanded their needs, made themselves heard, and were so much brighter, larger than life, and lovable for it.”

Why would millennials be drawn to polyamory?

Millennials are often referred to as the “me generation.” This classification could be considered good or bad, depending on your perspective. If you ask Heather Claus—aka NookieNotes, owner of online dating site—focusing on oneself is positive: “In non-monogamy, I am exactly me. Every relationship becomes what it can be, without the hindrance of traditional social customs.”

Read more about modern relationship trends in the full Avvo Relationship Study

Claus revels in the absence of a “wife” or “husband” role, and doesn’t miss the feeling of expecting someone to be half of your whole. “Relationships exist because they deserve to exist. There is zero pressure to make a relationship work,” says Claus. “I spend time with people I want to spend time with, and they spend time with me for the same reason. That may last years or only a few weeks.”

Page Turner, who maintains the website Poly Land, was prompted to explore polyamory when she discovered that the affair she thought her friend’s husband was having was a wife-approved relationship. “They were stable, responsible people. It rocked my world,” says Turner. “As I learned more, I realized that polyamory was something I was interested in trying for myself.” She hasn’t turned back since.

A non-monogamous millennial family

Beyond the conceit that polyamorous relationships are self-serving, Gillespie floats another idea: “They say millennials are very tribal. The New York polyamorous/open relationship/sex-positive communities are small, tight-knit worlds. I think that appeals to millennials—especially urban ones who moved from somewhere far away—because it becomes like family.”

Hacienda Villa, a sex-positive intentional community in Bushwick, Brooklyn, is one example of a place that promotes that familial feeling. Fourteen full-time members reside together in one space, some monogamous, some “monogamish,” some ethically non-monogamous, and some polyamorous. The Villa was co-founded by Andrew Sparksfire, a real-estate entrepreneur who is building community living environments nationwide that practice responsible hedonism to raise the visibility of the sex-positive movement in mainstream society, and Kenneth Play, a sex-hacking expert and educator and collaborator on The Casual Sex Project.

As Villa’s mission states, and most non-monogamists would agree, the lifestyle is about respecting everyone’s needs and boundaries while still indulging your desires. “Polyamory, open relationships, and sex positivity are ways that true love and emotions can enter the conversation. You can be friends with your lovers. That evolved, chill mentality appeals to millennials. It’s a genuine relationship hack,” says Gillespie.

Leveling the playing field

Of course, the reality doesn’t always work out so joyously, and the legal ramifications can be daunting. But there are clear feminist implications that, at least for women, might make polyamory a more appealing option. Gillespie, for example, says her personal goal with Unicornland is “to see how a woman handled sexual situations; how she went from being passive, to being more active, in control, and powerful. I’m less interested in making polyamory mainstream, and far more interested in women being more in control of their sex lives.”

Play takes Gillespie’s comment one step further: “As my business partner Dr. Zhana likes to say, hooking up for women is a modern-day luxury in more progressive parts of the world. From a socio-economic point of view, it’s only recently been an option for women to freely have sex outside of marriage with fewer societal consequences and stigma,” says Play. “The advances in health, contraception, and society’s views of women have given a lot of people the ability to choose non-monogamy. It’s a lot more doable than it used to be.”

To be poly or not to be poly

Are millennials testing out non-monogamy in search of something purer than the relationships they’ve been experiencing? A YouGov study found that only 51 percent of people under age 30 believe their ideal relationship is a completely monogamous one. And a recent Avvo study on relationships found that modern marriages are more romantic than practical.

Generations ago, couples married for money and children, rather than love. Now, 66 percent of millennials believe marriage is about sharing your life with someone you love. However, 14 percent of millennials—more than any other age group in the Avvo study—say that marriage is about reaching your individual potential with the support of a life partner.

“By being open to explore more non-traditional relationships, and with more people, millennials (and, by extension, the poly community at large that interacts with them) are more accepting and more authentically expressive than previous generations,” says Claus.

These millennials aren’t too concerned about being judged for a polyamorous lifestyle either. “I’m out as polyamorous although, in my day-to-day life, I tend to take an approach of being honest when asked directly about it but not advertising or disclosing electively,” says Turner.

If you’re worried about how a non-monogamous lifestyle could impact your job (and it might) be aware that in most states employees are at-will, meaning an employee may be fired for any reason or no reason. “Being polyamorous is not a protected class, so an employer could fire someone for being polyamorous,” says Robert S. Herbst, an attorney in Larchmont, New York.

Herbst explains that an employee would be unlikely to win if they sued the employer, “Especially if the employer could come up with a basis for the firing, such as it objected to the polyamorous lifestyle on religious or moral grounds (if the employer was a religious-based charity) or whether it thought the employee could be compromised and subject to blackmail.”

Non-monogamy for the future?

For lovers of the non-monogamous lifestyle, the rewards are worth the minor risks. “I find that most people who really love non-monogamy are in it because they believe it is the ultimate form of personal expression and love for another human,” says Claus. “Relationships are successful when they bring positive things to your world, when you grow and love more and learn, not just when they last for a lifetime.”