Who Benefits From OkCupid's New Polyamory Feature?

Everyone keeps sending me this Atlantic article about a new OkCupid feature for nonmonogamous people, so I might as well respond to it.

The new setting, which became available for some beta users in December, allows users who are listed as “seeing someone,” “married,” or “in an open relationship” on the platform to link their profiles and search for other people to join their relationship.

[…] Though specialized dating sites for polyamorous people exist, this appears to be the first instance of a mainstream online-dating platform allowing two users to search for sexual partners together, as a unit.

[…] “Finding your partner is very important,” [OkCupid chief product officer Jimena Almendares] said, “you should have the option to express specifically and exactly who you are and what you need.”

Honestly, I know I should be excited about this Great Leap For Polyamory Recognition, but at this point, I’m not. I just can’t care. This feature only serves and makes visible one incredibly narrow, very privileged, and often harmful version of polyamory, and it has nothing to do with the polyamory that I or any of my partners practice.

Let’s start with the fact that Almendares refers to “your partner” (singular) and that the feature only allows you to link to one partner. When are non-poly people going to understand that polyamory is not about “your partner,” “the couple,” or “the relationship,” but rather about “your partners” and “your relationships” and the people in those relationships? This sort of couple-centric language may seem like an innocent holdover from everyone’s monogamous days, but it can have serious implications for how we treat partners who are more short-term, casual, or recent than others.

Sure, some people are totally fine with “joining the relationship.” I’m not writing about those people. I’m writing about those of us who dislike being solicited to become some straight couple’s fun queer sex toy, and those of us who are not interested in relationships where we are treated as intrinsically lesser because someone else got there first.

None of that means that the new feature is bad or wrong; I’m just explaining why I don’t care about it and why I’m annoyed to see it portrayed as a big victory for poly folks on OkCupid.

Would you look at that! OkCupid has already explicitly included nonmonogamous folks.
Would you look at that! OkCupid has already explicitly included nonmonogamous folks.

What really is cool is that OkCupid already lets people list their relationship style preference (I’ve included mine here as an example) and it lets you link to other users’ profiles in the text of your own profile. Many poly people use that to let others know who they’re already dating. You can also, of course, use it to mention friends and fuck buddies and whoever else you’d like. It’s lovely specifically because it doesn’t force you to categorize anyone based on importance. OkCupid also lets you filter by monogamy/nonmonogamy when browsing your matches, which helps people find potential partners who are interested in the same types of relationships they are.

If OkCupid already includes all these options that recognize polyamory, why is this one being touted all over my online feeds as evidence that the dating site is “finally including options for poly couples”? Probably because this particular option caters to such an easily-recognizable version of polyamory, by “allowing two users to search for sexual partners together, as a unit.”


AND you can search for people by (non)monogamy preference!
AND you can search for people by (non)monogamy preference!

Of course, if you ask just about any bisexual woman, poly or not, she’ll tell you that there has been absolutely nothing stopping two users from searching for sexual partners together as a unit this whole time. They do it quite often, and trust me, there’s never any confusion when I get a message from an account with two headless bodies in the profile pic that says, “My wife and I are looking for a hot young woman to have some fun with…” It is abundantly clear to me from the first message what sort of arrangement this is and how much value as a human being I have to these random strangers.

Certainly not all “unicorn hunters” (as they’re called in the poly community) are as objectifying, entitled, and heterosexist as the prototypical example, but in my experience, even the nicest and most consent-oriented ones are operating under a lot of flawed assumptions about queer women and what constitutes an equitable, mutually satisfying relationship. But whatever, this isn’t really the article to hash all that out in. I’m just saying that for many of us polyamorous folks, queer women especially, there’s no “victory” in any dating site feature that claims to make it even easier for these couples to target us.

Calling unicorn hunting “polyamory” feels to me a bit like calling same-sex marriage “LGBTQ equality,” except admittedly without the implications about oppression. Yes, both of these things are components of polyamory and LGBTQ equality, respectively, but both of them are frequently treated by the media (and even by many activists) as if they are the same thing. In the end, I feel similarly about unicorn hunting as I feel about same-sex marriage: do it if it floats your boat, but try not to trip over the rest of us on your way there and definitely don’t act like it’s all there is to fight for and make visible.

Before the chorus of But At Least They Did Something So Just Be Grateful For That begins, I’ll just say this: I’m not sure it’s at all a positive thing to continue perpetuating the idea that polyamory is all about couples looking for a hot young woman to “add” to the relationship. (By the way: even in an arrangement like that, the woman is not being “added.” She is forming two new relationships, one with each person in the preexisting couple, and each person in the preexisting couple is formingnew relationship with her. This is an important distinction.) I don’t celebrate it for the same reason I don’t cheer when a TV show adds yet another conventionally attractive white bisexual woman who sleeps with a ton of people and can’t commit to a serious relationship: there is absolutely nothing wrong with being that way, but it’s a stereotype that causes many people to have a negative impression of bisexual women, so can’t we at least portray a greater variety of bisexual women? Can’t we acknowledge that it doesn’t always look this way?

I would love for more people to know that polyamory can look like this. I would love for more people whose polyamory looks like that to have an easier time using dating websites. One very small and easy thing OkCupid could do (as could Facebook) would be to allow people to list multiple partners rather than just one, especially if the context is open relationships.

Remember: the whole point of polyamory is multiple partners. You may not feel the same way about all of them, you may not see all of them as often, they may not have the same genders, you may not share homes or bank accounts or parenting responsibilities with all of them, and you may even (though this makes me cringe for my own reasons) have rules about what you can and cannot do with some of them, but they are all your partners. There is no “your partner” and “the relationship” in polyamory unless you are currently only seeing one person. Hopefully the folks over at OkCupid realize this soon.

P.S. Here are some great perspectives on this from Ozy and Neil, because I like their writing and I want to show you that this isn’t just me.

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Who Benefits From OkCupid's New Polyamory Feature?

10 thoughts on “Who Benefits From OkCupid's New Polyamory Feature?

      1. *deep breaths*

        *calming breaths*

        Lemme explain real quick.

        Just for context, the “he” I keep referring to, and referred to above, is my jackass abusive ex. He went from “let’s have an open relationship” (okay, I get to go out and be social!) straight to “but only if you never leave the apartment or have any friends or family members of any gender over because you might cheat.” (Just ignore what he was doing right in front of me!)

        When I eventually pointed out the double standard, he didn’t take it well at all. Argument ensued, just like every other time I dared to raise my head and tell him he was wrong for doing X, Y, or Z thing. And he tried to resolve it the same way he’d resolve every argument. Physical violence. Didn’t matter what it was that set him off, his main response, when intimidation (by way of size and volume) didn’t work, was to hit or kick the first person he could reach. Usually, me.

        When you present polyamory as this thing where everybody’s all happy all the time and nobody ever has, like, human feelings or anything, I just feel like you’re glossing over the dark side. And it’s not that I hate polyamory or the concept of sharing — I find it intriguing! It’d be nice to have a good cuddle-puddle going. But it’s also really really scary due to previous negative experiences.

        1. Sorry to hear about your ex (although congratulations on him becoming your ex). I can see how that would make you bitter towards poly relationships. Personally, I could never do it because I’m generally not very social so not having to go out and look for somebody to be with is one of the better aspects of being in a relationship. The poly people on this blog seem to be happy to be in a relationship and still get to date, but I have no desire to go on one more first date than I have to.

        2. Jon

          Sorry to hear that.
          But it sounds to me that you were in a relationship with jerk who was controlling and physcially abusive.

          Poly/Mono/… whatever…. You had a bad relationship.
          By definition, “open” relationships require consent from all parties involved. None of that was happening.

  1. 3

    Alright, y’all, I respect your experiences and struggles, but these comments are closed to further comments from non-poly people about why they’re not poly. This article is not about why you–yes you!–should be polyamorous, so arguing against something I didn’t write is a derail. The comments section is a place to discuss the issues raised in the article. Thanks!

  2. 4

    Fair enough Miri. Here are my on-topic thoughts. It seemed like a good idea to me when I first heard of it, but not being poly, I didn’t put that much thought into it. Obviously as something that might actually be of use to you, you have a much better perspective on whether or not it would be something you would use. From the way you explain it, this feature sounds like something that would be useful for a couple looking for somebody to fill out a threesome, but not much else. I’ll be optimistic and assume it was a well intentioned attempt to be more inclusive (something they have a profit motive to aspire to), that fell short of its intended goal. Of course, t’s not my ox being gored, but I generally have low expectation for first attempts. It’s not like other mainstream dating sites are doing anything for poly people.

    I think you’re right, just let poly people link to the OKCupid pages of their partners, so that anybody who sees your profile and wishes to be in a poly relationship can also see the other members of it. Hopefully, they’ll realize their mistake and set up something like that.

    Also, I agree with you about the trope of the hyper-sexual, bi-woman. Bi-women are the path of least resistance for LGBT representation in popular culture, as it appeals to the male gaze. So, that explains why they’re relatively prevelant in stories that are not specifically about the gay experience, but there’s this idea that bi women (and it’s almost always women) are otherwise straight, but are just so hyper-sexual that they spill over into wanting to be with women too. It would be nice to see some better stories about bi-women (or anything at all about bi men, for that matter), but Hollywood is nothing if not lazy. If the current Bi-tropes work, they’re not going to put in the effort and risk to change it.

  3. 5

    As a poly bi woman, I can say I’m definitely not going to be using this feature. For one thing, it totally doesn’t fit my style of poly at all (which one of my partners should I link to? I don’t live with any of them, and I’m certainly not looking to co-date someone with them…) and for another thing, what benefit would it give me to use it? I’m not even looking for any more relationships (I am so utterly polysaturated), I only keep my OKC account active because I’ve been having some really interesting conversations on there (yes, they know it’s not going to become anything more).

    It’s just going to attract more unicorn hunters, because it’s now a site that has a feature that specifically caters for them above all the other non-monogamous people. The rest of us (especially the HBB – Hot Bi Babes) are now just the passive targets to be searched for, instead of active searchers. Very few bi women I know go out of their way to search for a couple to join as their ‘third’. The few times where I’ve seen successful relationships with three people all dating each other is where the one person in the original couple started dating someone else, who over time also gradually fell in love with their other partner too. I very rarely see a situation where someone is dating the *relationship between two other people* (which is what they’re offering) and it works out happy, stable, ethical and sustainable long term.

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