A story on queer polyamory in San Francisco
I had a star-studded, rose-colored view of my first queer relationship: We bump into each other at a bookstore — maybe a coffee shop — with mutual friends. We exchange glances, jokes, and eventually numbers, which then leads to getting to know each other. Seems picturesque, no?
Listen, it’s 2022 and that’s not how meeting people works anymore, it’s not an over-produced Netflix movie starring Vanessa Hudgens. Instead, I met my first-ever partner on Hinge. This first-ever partner was also deeply polyamorous, and I was competing for position number three. It seems odd to type this in retrospect — but it seemed so right.
My first relationship definitely didn’t meet the markers for what I had dreamt up in my head.
No roses at the door or a “first kiss” under the moonlight with my foot popped out. Instead, I sent a warm yet copy-and-paste message to a cute, round-faced 27-year-old looking to meet other open-minded queers in San Francisco. “Hey there, hope all is well~” with the squiggle for *charm.* “Hello, I’m doing alright…” they responded back. Three days later.
And who wants to be a tricycle when you can be a tandem bike?
The conversation is kept light, charming, and all about life in San Francisco, it seems that these days, all that potentials have in common is San Francisco. But San Francisco —how many times can I write it out?—really brings people’s hearts together, a common link that has an understanding laid in struggle, strife, pride, and eventual love. “Also, I’m poly so I’m looking around for a third partner, is that something you’re comfortable with?”
At that moment, staring at my phone screen with hesitant thumbs, I questioned: “Was I comfortable with poly relationships?” This wasn’t the picture-perfect “person” built up in my head—some call it Disney syndrome. But I call it heteronormative thinking.
For many, polyamory means having multiple committed relationships.
I was in the mindset of the partner that I bring home to family, that everyone loves and is jealous of. Not have to explain that I’m a part of a tricycle and that potentially I’m the back right tire. And who wants to be a tricycle when you can be a tandem bike? Or something to that degree. Nevertheless, the conversation builds and we agree to meet at Blush wine in the Castro for a quick drink over light bites.
“Take a chance on me,” I coach inner me, and I agree and go with the proverbial flow.
As the date comes closer and closer on the calendar, I’m doing light but eye-intensive Google searches. “How do poly people meet?” “What is the difference between poly and open relationships?” “How many relationships are too many for a poly person?”
Confidently, I’m an investigative journalist with a nose for nonsense.
Digging a hole doesn’t even begin to describe the research that came out of asking “how do you do a poly relationship?” At this moment, laying in my Lower Haight studio, I found more information on what poly is. The word “polyamory” was first coined in the 1960s and means “many loves” in Latin.
Trust is created by open communication, respect is giving each other space to meet others, and love is made by our care for each other.
The arrangement and number of partners often vary depending on what works for each. For many, polyamory means having multiple committed relationships. It is different from polygamy, which means a state of marriage to many spouses. The level of intimacy and emotional attachment makes it deeper than an open relationship, a hookup, or a one-night stand, which is mostly based only on sexual acts.
By some estimates, there are now a half-million polyamorous relationships in the United States, though underreporting is common. New York University Sex Researcher Zhana Vrangalova’s research suggests that 4 to 5 percent of general heterosexual U.S. adults, or 10 to 12 million people are engaged in consensual nonmonogamy. There are so many titles for this type of lifestyle, consensual nonmonogamy, ethical monogamy, conscience coupling, and so much more.
Unfortunately, being a polyamorist faces many stigmas as swingers, kinksters, and promiscuous people; they’re all about sex. It can be hard for society to wrap its head around polyamory. The big misconception is that polyamorous relationships are purely sexual and noncommittal, whereas, in fact, polyamorous arrangements involve a high level of commitment. Was I ready for a high level of commitment? In a first-time relationship, no less?
My mind had raced and I hadn’t even met this person yet.
But with apps like Hinge, Tinder, Grindr, and the newly founded Feeld—it makes it easier to put out what you’re exactly looking for without the idea of bumping into someone at the coffee shop. Imagine if you will, you grab your iced black coffee from your favorite coffee spot in the city, turn around too quickly to then bump into the person of your absolute dreams, to only then say hello coyly with a follow-up: “poly playmate looking for noncommittal sub for FWB (friends with benefits)” or “intersex queer looking for 4th to enhance emotional standing.” It doesn’t happen like that.
You rarely and on occasion find a Queer person looking for a strictly monogamous other. Is this the new way we date, is being overly specific and particular the best way to find love? In the past dating trends, we see them be cyclical from strict hook-ups to those looking for their soulmates, to whatever hottest dating app is hot on the market.
The time was now 2 p.m. on the dot and my date was in 5 hours. And I started to question what I really wanted. At the end of the day, I want someone to love me unconditionally. And that I can love unconditionally back. How does one align their wishlist goals with what current reality is presenting to them? At this moment, the clock had struck 6:30 p.m. and I was getting my baby green bag to head into the wild of polyamory.
Fast forward, my partner and I are going on one year and my takeaways of our year are as follows. Trust is created by open communication, respect is giving each other space to meet others, and love is made by our care for each other.
Anthony is a SF-based writer, photographer, and creative strategist. Find them in beautiful general stores and more.