Poly being seen as a next cool thing… and some history

Poly in the Media 23 November 2014
This is my 1,000th post to Polyamory in the News. So maybe it’s time for a look back, and ahead.

When I began this project in 2005, the future of the poly movement didn’t look so promising. Loving More magazine (printed on paper) and its conferences had been the movement’s centerpiece since the early to mid-1990s, but Loving More had nearly collapsed after the departure of its sparkplug Ryam Nearing. Newspapers and other media rarely allowed the word “polyamory” to appear in stories — because, we were told, it was unknown to readers, technical-sounding, and not in the dictionary.

Few people had even heard of the concept. Those who did mostly thought “old hippies.” An article around that time mused about whether this idea could ever attract more interest or was destined to remain a small, little-noticed corner of the human potential movement.

Nevertheless, things had advanced a lot since my last tries to advocate for group relationships in the early 1980s. At that time I’d given up on finding any kind of movement at all. I was impressed by the quality of the new people and the sophistication of their ideas.

But the most active poly site I found was polyamory.livejournal.com with about 1,300 members. The internet gave the impression that the late 1990s were the high point, or at least the start of a plateau. The breakup of one well-known quad threw much of the community into a panic of self-doubt, as was parodied in this comic.

So I never thought the movement would grow and mature as incredibly fast as it has in these last nine years.

In 2006, the well publicized entry of polyamory into dictionaries seemed to break the dam against the media using the word. As a result, interested people could find something to google. Meanwhile Loving More had gotten back on its feet, the Washington Post gave landmark coverage to Loving More’s Poly Living conference in 2008, and in 2009 a big Newsweek feature stirred up national attention. “America’s next romantic revolution,” they called it. Activity seemed to be increasing everywhere (thanks, people!!). At the beginning of 2010 when Wired announced “Internet Pushes Polyamory to Its ‘Tipping Point’,” I wrote that we campaigners for poly awareness “sometimes get a sense that big things are actually starting to happen.”

Since then the story has been all about growth and increasing confidence, much greater public awareness, and widening diversity and maturity. There are ever more websites and blogs, social groups and meetups, conferences and gatherings, advice and discussion sites (a few topping 20,000 members, one at 41,000), a TV series, and so much media attention that it’s become routine. There are now 40 nonfiction books about polyamory, 25 of them published in the last eight years. And we’re seeing a demographic shift toward millennials, many of whom take the availability of the concept for granted.

What’s next? The poly movement is just one part of wider changes in attitudes about relationships, especially a growing public interest in what sociologists are calling “consensual non-monogamy,” or “CNM.” A much more dramatic shift, of course, has been the rapid public acceptance of gay relationships. Together these are part of a trend toward relationship choice: people gaining the knowledge and skills, and then seizing the right, to build their intimate lives as they choose.

Which, as Barry Smiler points out, is just another step in the 500-year arc toward freedom and personal agency that defines Western civilization. Which makes it look hard to stop.

Here are some recent straws in the wind of people seeing the poly movement as the future. Some of them may be a little starry-eyed, but here you go.