Ryan and Randy met at a sex party in 2019 and started dating shortly after. By month four, they made the relationship official, eventually moved into a two-story house in Los Angeles together, and did all the things happy couples do: date nights, vacation with friends, support one another’s ambitions.
Then, in 2022, they decided to open the relationship.
As Covid-19 restrictions loosened, “we were being exposed to other attractions and to other people who were seeking our attention,” Ryan says. “We both knew we had attractions to other people. We weren’t blind to that. It was, let’s talk about being open and see what that means for us. Because being open can mean different things to different people.”
They agreed on rules. Communication was prioritized, and in instances when they saw people separately, there was always a discussion beforehand. On Jack’d, a gay hookup app, they searched for prospects—but it didn’t always play out as expected. “Whenever I would say my partner and I are looking to have a threesome, it would be, ‘No, I’m not doing that.’ Maybe people realize what comes along with it, and how emotions ultimately get involved,” says Ryan, who is 33 and works in education. “In my experience I found that a lot of people are actually opposed to hooking up with a couple. But when I would say, ‘my homeboy and I are looking,’ people would be into it.”
Ryan and Randy identify as consensually non-monogamous, a term you’ve likely heard a lot in the last year, as discourse around modern relationships has taken hold of the zeitgeist (their names have been changed for employment concerns). For reasons obvious and unforeseen, consensual or ethical non-monogamy is seemingly more popular than it’s ever been. The label works like an umbrella, incorporating the many relationship structures under it, including the one currently flooding every social media feed—polyamory.
Across pop culture, on dating apps, and likely in your friend groups, there is a thickening curiosity around the variations unconventional romance can assume. “What are all these open couples, throuples, and polycules suddenly doing in the culture, besides one another?” Jennifer Wilson asked in The New Yorker.
As it turns out, it’s not all about sex.
“Today [polyamory] is just another form of self-expression,” says Noa Elan, CEO of Bloom Community, a queer-friendly app that caters to poly-identifying individuals.
What used to be thought of as counterculture is now par for the course. A 2024 Match survey found that 31 percent of singles have had a non-monogamous relationship in their lifetime, and 39 percent of online daters are open to dating a non-monogamous person they meet on a dating app. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 50 percent of men are open to trying polyamorous dating, according to a recent trends report conducted by Flirtini.
Elan tells me she found non-monogamy in her early thirties during a period she refers to as her “Fall of rage.” It was 2018. She had a successful career working in a director role at Lyft. She had friends and was a mother of two. None of it mattered because she was lonely. “I couldn’t tell anyone how I was feeling,” she says now. “I was sitting at my job like, ‘Is this life? Is this it?’ It put me on the path to find something beyond that—and that was non-monogamy.”
Newly non-monogamous, Elan wanted to generate impact in her local community in a different way. This changed outlook was what brought her to Bloom. “Let’s be honest, dating apps suck,” she says. A recent survey of 500 Gen Z, millennial, and Generation X adults found that nearly three-quarters of them had “experienced emotional fatigue or burnout” within the previous 12 months. And that’s if you can avoid the relentless—and unwanted—dick pics and messages, which a 2020 Pew Research study reported affected a third of its respondents. Bloom provides a less transactional, more organic way to meet individuals who are also poly, gathering like-minded people around various events—say, a sound bath or a pottery class—in their respective city, and letting connections sprout from there.
In the last six months, as visibility and dialogue around poly relationships permeated pop discourse, “we’re seeing an increase in all of our metrics,” Elan says. There was a significant spike in RSVPs to events on the app. On top of that, the types of offerings expanded. “Back in the day, a poly event would be sex-positive—play parties, dungeons, bondage workshops. Now it’s more—hiking, alternative parenting happy hour, movement classes. I’m seeing an increase in ‘regular’ events but with a twist for non-monogamous people.”