One in five Americans has engaged in consensual non-monogamy. Actually, it’s probably more than that.
And yet, there are no good dating apps for non-monogamous people. What’s out there already is not necessarily for dating, but hooking up. Well-known dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge don’t give users much of an option to explain their non-monogamous lifestyle outside of the bio or, in Hinge’s case, the cutesy prompt/answer model.
To clarify, there are some terms to describe different relationships involving more than two people. There is no one way to be non-monogamous or polyamorous; here is a primer with different terms and types of more-than-two relationships. Some people are in romantic partnerships with one person and sexual partnerships with others; some are in romantic and sexual partnerships with more than one partner — every non-monogamous relationship is unique.
Being non-monogamous has become “en vogue” as of late. Google search results for non-monogamy and polyamory have soared in recent years, as have coverage of these relationships in the media. As a twenty-something queer woman with a Tinder account, I’ve also personally seen interest spike. It seems like every time I use the app, I come across profiles with bios stating they are “ethically non-monogamous” or, it’s a couple attempting to “unicorn hunt” — i.e. find a woman for a threesome.
Many of the apps used by the non-monogamous community are “trash” or solely for sex, said Steve Dean, online dating consultant at Dateworking.com, a dating coaching and consulting business. Dean, who’s been non-monogamous for the past nine years, referred to one called Pure, as “Uber for sex.” (It’s an “on-demand” hookup app and its logo is a minimalist drawing of a vulva.)
Feeld is another one that falls into the hooking up category. The most-sought-after activity on the app is threesomes and more-than-three sexual experiences, according to the app’s spokesperson. “Long-term couples come to Feeld to take their relationship to the new level” and test those waters, they said.
Then there is #open, an app that claims to be an inclusive community for any type of user. More than 94 percent of the app’s 40,000 users report they prefer some form of open relationship, according to #open’s cofounder Amanda Wilson. Additionally, 37 percent of the profiles on #open are partnered profiles and 60 percent of those are confirmed, partners.
While #open sounds like a solution to the gap in the market, its user experience leaves something to be desired. When asked about his experience on #open, Dean said simply, “not.” He could never log in. Dedeker Winston, relationship coach and author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory, also spoke of #open’s technical woes. She told me that she found it too buggy to use.
The most “mainstream” app that provides a tailored experience to non-monogamous people is OkCupid. In 2016, OkCupid added a feature for polyamorous couples. It subsequently replaced its “open relationship” status option with the term “non-monogamous.”
“At OkCupid, we welcome everyone and support all types of relationships, including non-monogamous ones. Inclusivity has always been important for us,” a spokesperson said in an email to Mashable.
Both Winston and Dean, however, said that feature changes have curbed their OKC usage. Years ago, during Winston’s OkCupid “heyday,” which she estimated to be 2012 to 2015, she was able to link her account with multiple partners. When OkCupid added the specific non-monogamous feature in 2016, it actually made the experience worse. Now, users are only allowed to link to one account. OKCupid’s spokesperson didn’t respond to questions about these changes.
Dean said OKC is the best app for non-monogamous people right now, but technical changes have made it “virtually useless.” This is because a 2017 change that filtered out unwanted messages had an adverse effect. When you message someone new on OKC now, the note goes in a queue and the receiver has to swipe. It’s only if they swipe right that they receive the message. “They’ve reduced the expected value of sending a message to essentially zero whereas it used to be the highest in the industry,” Dean explained. “You [used to be able to] send a long, detailed message as a response to someone’s long, detailed profile.”
Winston said she and others she knows left OkCupid when it switched to the swipe model and when it required real names on profiles; these changes were implemented in 2017, as well.
In the past year, less than one percent of users in the United States who joined OKC is looking for a non-monogamous relationship, and this percentage reflects international users, too. So while it has made efforts to include non-monogamous users, a relatively small amount of people are actually looking for that on OKC; and Dean and Winston are not satisfied with the offerings anyway.
And forget about Tinder. “Tinder especially is just flooded with couple profiles right now,” said Winston. “Like just absolutely flooded.” And those couples are just there to unicorn hunt — not great if you’re seeking something more.
As I mentioned earlier, I have seen “unicorn hunting” first hand. Many profiles of women I come across on Tinder are not queer women — or at least, they are not single queer women. They are, rather, women “hunting” for another woman to have a threesome with their boyfriends.
The phrase unicorn hunting itself is pejorative. For educators, community leaders, and content creators in the polyamorous community, “it’s generally frowned upon to unicorn hunt,” Winston said.
Winston understands why people would unicorn hunt. Couples can be non-monogamous but still have the security of “couplehood,” making it feel like a risk-free introduction. This can, however, be a slippery slope into insidious behavior. If a man in a heterosexual relationship claims he wants his girlfriend to explore her bisexuality with another woman but has a problem if that woman is trans, for example, he just went from zero to transphobic real quick.
So if no app’s “right” for non-monogamous dating, what would such an app look like?
Winston would like to see an element of some in-person polyamorous parties to be translated into an app: stickers that make it clear what someone is looking for. That way you easily figure out who is open to new partners, who are single, who wants to date as a couple, and the like.
Dean echoed the desire to incorporate components from real-life meetups, such as play parties, into an app. A sense of community similar to the offline non-monogamous community would be powerful, he said. He suggested incorporating a network referral system.
This brings to mind the question of whether the non-monogamous community needs an app at all, especially if there are real-life meetups where connections blossom. Despite the negatives of dating app culture, they do have their benefits. There is evidence that relationships formed on apps are stronger, partially because they are more compatible. Apps allow you to “meet” people you would not gravitate towards in real life; they encourage you to look outside your usual type.
Then there’s the convenience. On nights you don’t want to attend a party and actually interact with other humans — even if you want to connect — apps are there. You can expand your social circle from the comfort of your own bed.
Furthermore, the dating app landscape is cluttered with hundreds of dating apps at our disposal, from the giants like Tinder to the niche ones like J Swipe. Shouldn’t non-monogamous people have an app of their own?
The idea of an app for non-monogamous people itself is unique, and Winston feels like that itself would be a plus. She’d like to see an app where she didn’t have to explain she is non-monogamous with every new match, an app where users don’t have to explain their preferences over and over. “You’re the main demographic — there actually is something really nice to that.” She even suggested something a friend thought of — a polycule maker to chart one’s partners and their relationship to each other.
She also likes Bumble’s “women message first” model. It made her more intentional with her swiping — swiping on who she wants to talk to rather than just to get a match — and it cut down unwanted messages from men. While gendered, this feature could potentially cut down unwanted messages on an app aimed at non-monogamous people as well, she said.
The dream of a non-monogamous dating app may be far off, however. Dean noted it would be difficult to get an app like this off the ground partly because advertisers, Facebook, and Instagram would block it. Developers would need to market it as a broader social media app. Getting funding may also pose a challenge.
So in the meantime, folks who are non-monogamous have to stick with what’s out there.
And whether online or off, you must talk to your partner(s) about what you want out of non-monogamy, Winston added. “Whatever you put into place, you’re still gonna have to have conversations with the person you’re dating,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any way to completely remove that labor.”
No matter what features an app has, good communication is imperative in any relationship — especially if there are several people involved.