Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

July 13, 2022

In The New Yorker: A smash-hit dating app "for a new type of human," meaning us. Chosen family explored. And other polyamory in the news.

●  For a lifetime The New Yorker has cultivated its reputation as the acme of long-form journalism. Just out in its "Annals of Inquiry" department is A Hookup App for the Emotionally Mature (online July 11). It's by staff writer Emily Witt, author of Future Sex (2016).

The article is a personal deep dive into Feeld and its user community. Feeld has emerged as the go-to dating app for polyamory, CNM, and many other varieties of, it says on its site, "responsible open-mindedness." (Though #open is running to catch up.)

This comes after at least 20 years of poly dating sites that never reached critical mass and/or suffered from usability problems. There also were, and are, poly-specific ways to use mainstream apps for those who know the methods or install the plug-in; OKCupid long held that title. 

Those seem old after this article. It's New Yorker-style long, 6,600 words. Excerpts:

Modern romance can feel cold and alienating. Feeld, by encouraging open-mindedness and respect, suggests a way forward.

The New Yorker is also known for its graphics. Look closely, then more closely.
Illustration by Benedikt Luft

By Emily Witt

In the late summer of 2020, when much of normal social life was suspended, a relationship that I had been in for several years abruptly collapsed. I was thirty-nine and scared by the idea that I would not be reproducing the kind of heteronormative nuclear family I had grown up in. ... This is when I downloaded a dating app called Feeld.

Feeld describes itself as a technology for “open-minded singles and couples who want to explore their sexuality.” ... Feeld was started in London and today is available in more than a hundred countries. You can join linked with a partner or as a single person, and choose from among twenty different categories of gender and sexuality. The app is popular with nonbinary and trans people, married couples trying to spice up their sex lives, hard-core B.D.S.M. enthusiasts, and “digisexuals,” who prefer their erotic contact with others mediated by a screen. It is a place to be yourself.... In a setting sometimes described as “non-normative,” there are asexuals, cuckold fantasists, kitchen-table polyamorists, eco-sexuals, and collectives of men offering group sex to single women. ... Using Feeld, I often think of a line I read in Jeremy Atherton Lin’s book-length monograph “Gay Bar,” about the nature of queer spaces in night life: “Inclusivity might not mean everybody,” Lin writes. “It could indicate the rest of us.”

...Thirty-five per cent of users are part of a couple. ... I describe it to my friends as “the grownup hookup app.” By “grownup,” I mean not only that its users are above a certain age but also that they favor a kind of maturity and decorum; by “hookup,” I mean that the app facilitates not romance but sex, broadly defined. It is not the place to find your “down-to-earth, no-drama girlfriend” or your “partner in crime.” Love languages, attachment styles, tacos, and other clichés of Internet dating surface only rarely. Data points such as diplomas and fancy jobs do not confer status. Instead, the aim of self-representation on Feeld is to describe a sexual desire in language that won’t repel the kind of person you would like to meet, a skill that in a sexually immature culture turns out to be something of an art. ...

...The most commonly expressed desires are “ethical nonmonogamy,” “couples,” “sexting,” and “casual dating.” The interests are more prosaic: “Malbec,” “glamping.”

...Feeld was the first app I’d used that expressly differentiated the search for erotic friendship from the search for romantic partnership. It was also unique in that it did not advertise this search in the language and imagery of cis-male fantasies of no-strings-attached sex. Its culture indicated some understanding of the precautions and reassurances that the rest of us might need.

...[My] first date that worked out was with a couple in Bed-Stuy. ... In my memory of their faceless photo they stood in tasteful wool coats in front of a backdrop of snow. After they sent me pictures of their faces, we met in Fort Greene Park, and then I went to their brownstone apartment, which had crown moldings, vinyl records, and plants. The formulaic Brooklyn décor was comforting. I’d moved out of my apartment in a state of duress, with no time to find a new place. Most of my belongings were in a storage unit in Queens, and the rest were stuffed into the trunk of my dad’s Toyota Corolla. Meeting up with the couple was a way of pretending that everything would be fine. They made a vegetarian dinner for me and served orange wine; their linen sheets were freshly laundered. It was nice, but I was lying to them, cosplaying a sexual optimist instead of being a person with no idea how to start over.

...“Feeld is for a new type of human,” Dimo Trifonov, the app’s founder, once wrote. “A human belonging to a new world, one of creativity, openness, respect and exploration.” This was one way to make my unwanted future tolerable, to at least make it interesting for myself: to pretend that there was such a possibility as a new kind of person in a new kind of world.

Feeld began in 2014 as poly-specific, or actually threesome-specific, under the name Thrinder. But after Tinder sued for trade-name infringement, the re-brand to Feeld

gave the startup a chance to reassess its purpose. Feeld arrived at a time when the trans-rights movement was changing ideas about gender; mainstream sexual culture was shifting, too, with the language and etiquette of polyamory and nonmonogamy becoming more commonplace. 

...Half of Feeld’s users identify as something other than heterosexual, so the company tries to be as responsive as possible to variations in language. It allows users to change their gender selection on their profile up to three times, and their sexuality as many times as they want. Other revisions have come in response to safety, such as requiring that both members of a couple have individual profiles. On the company’s blog and in a literary journal it publishes, Mal, sexual trends are discussed and explored; an issue from 2020 was devoted to sex negativity, with essays about the incel phenomenon and “heterofatalism.”

...Feeld is now a fully remote company with sixty team members, and it tries to be as progressive in its corporate culture as it is in its product. Nearly half of the leadership team identifies as female, and salaries are transparent, with a floor of eighty thousand dollars a year. Under Kirova’s guidance, the app has seen immense growth, in part because of the strategy she deployed to get through the pandemic. ...


“Ethical nonmonogamy,” often abbreviated as E.N.M. and one of the most popular “desires” on Feeld, is a term influenced by a canonical self-help guide to open relationships, “The Ethical Slut,” written by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy and first published in 1997. “G.G.G.,” another popular tag—which stands for “good, giving, and game”—is a phrase popularized by Dan Savage, an alt-weekly-newspaper sex columnist turned podcaster. Ten years ago, these terms might have indicated a person who had undertaken some kind of sexual study of themselves, but today they have become the clichés of open relationships. ...

Kirova suggested that the typical Feeld user represents not a demographic so much as a “mind-set.” The company has noticed that its users tend to change their conduct as they become more comfortable with the app, and with the way people on it express themselves. This kind of adjustment is also probably driven by conversation. My friend Anna recalled an instance in which a guy wouldn’t lay off after she’d decided that she didn’t want to meet him. “He was, like, ‘Why don’t you block me?’ ” she said. “I said, ‘Because I want you to make the decision to not bother me.’ He said, ‘If I can’t write you, it’s the same thing.’ I’m, like, ‘No, it’s not the same thing, because I’m giving you the possibility to just do the right thing.’ ”

If Twitter-style scolding is your fetish, there’s a lot of it on Feeld, but it’s also a real-time working out of gender expression and sexual identity before a knowing audience. ...

Feeld is popular in cities that have nurtured subcultures with ethics of anti-harassment and respect, places where parties often post their philosophies of inclusion and consent on event listings. ... Taking cues from the policies of queer spaces would make good business sense. A publicist for the company told me that in New York the users who make the most connections and stay active and engaged for the longest time are nonbinary people, a group whose numbers on the app grew more than two hundred and forty per cent between January, 2021, and January, 2022.

...Charles Fulford, Feeld’s chief creative officer, said that the future of the app will have less to do with the notion of “dating” than with creating a safe space for people to explore undeclared or unquestioned aspects of their identities. “We believe this dynamism and fluidity is preternaturally human,” Fulford wrote me, in an e-mail, “much like the eroding taboo we see around psychedelic drugs going from perceived weirdos on the fringe to mainstream medicine and pop-culture acceptance. We want to help people navigate this change and push forward this next age of how we view identity, sexuality and relationships.”

...The men I met surprised me: something about the dynamic of mutual understanding that separated sex from romance made them more open, or maybe it was just my no-entitlement policy paying off. When I visited their houses, they would serve fresh fruit, they would make tea, they would lend me books, they would tell me about their childhoods, they would respond immediately to text messages. In long conversations about relationships, they would express vulnerability and talk about their insecurities and regrets. They were open about their health and their S.T.I. status. They were effusive in their enthusiasm and their gratitude. It was so different from the dynamic of scarcity and coldness that I was used to in casual dating. ...

It's a delightfully insightful read from start to finish. Here's the whole thing.

●  Chosen family. Elsewhere in top-flight media, the New York Times' widely read daily newsletter "The Morning" picked a non-newsmaking topic for its leadoff piece on July 4th: "Good morning. A chosen family can offer love and support that aren’t defined by biological kinship." It links to a pride-week feature article that ran in the Times, The Joy in Finding Your Chosen Family (June 25). "For L.G.B.T.Q. people, the bonds between friends can be liberating and transformative. Five of these close-knit communities tell their stories."

No mention of whether poly relationships help to bond these groups. It doesn't seem to matter. Excerpts from the newsletter:

By Melissa Kirsch

All in the Family

Today, as we observe the Fourth of July holiday in the U.S., I’m thinking about the permutations of family, the people we invite to the cookout, the ones we’ll be watching the fireworks with. ...

Allie Sullberg

Last week marked the conclusion of Pride Month in the United States. Pride is broadly a celebration of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, but for many members of queer communities, it’s also a celebration of their chosen family.

Chosen families are created outside the structures of (and often in place of) the traditional nuclear family. In the case of the Bickersons, a group of about 10 to 20 queer women, most of whom live near Asheville, N.C., this means raucous Thanksgivings, fishing trips and three-day birthday celebrations. It’s also meant working on one another’s homes, helping each other get sober and providing love and support when one of the group is ill.

“We didn’t have to censor,” one member of the Bickersons, Lenny Lasater, told The Times. “We were real, we were honest, and we could expect to be met with compassion and understanding.”

When a family of origin is absent or unsupportive, a chosen family is essential. And even if your biological family is intact, cultivating close, supportive relationships with neighbors, friends and colleagues can provide welcome kinship. ... Once you’ve known the rewards of that sort of unexpected intimacy, it seems silly that any chosen family should be temporary. ... 

The beauty of the chosen family is that you opt into it. There’s freedom in that, an opportunity to cocreate a community that suits your values. Take the Old Gays, a group of “grandfluencers” who live in a house together in the California desert and create videos for their 7.6 million TikTok followers. ...

...Do you have a chosen family? Tell me about it. In the meantime, enjoy the holiday.

For more    
     Listen to Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris discuss queer chosen families in pop culture on the “Still Processing” podcast.
     “We don’t need to be related to relate,” sings Rina Sawayama in “Chosen Family.”

●  And more chosen family. From Argentina, Child of polyamorous family may have 2 dads and 1 mom, Buenos Aires judge rules (Merco Press, July 13)

' “Paternity and maternity should not [merely] be objective and static concepts, where the affective component is legally irrelevant,” the judge argued.'

Judge Myriam Cataldi... authorized that a baby conceived through assisted fertilization be registered under “the right to non-discrimination on the grounds of triple filiation or filial registry polyamory”, since “it was procreated in a laboratory by joining the gamete of one of the men and the one of the women”.

...Despite opposition from the Civil Registry and the Public Ministry, the judge decreed the last paragraph of Article 558 of the Civil Code was unconstitutional and granted the petition filed before her.

“It is not taking away the value of the genetic load of each one, but displacing the importance of the relationships that before were given only by blood ties, towards the heart of love and solidarity. The Court has pointed out that the American Convention does not establish a closed concept of family, nor does it protect only one particular model of the family,” the judge said. ...

Added August 2: Similarly, this just in from the Vallarta Daily in Mexico: Polyamory: Judge in Mexico Grants Marriage Certificate for Man to Marry Two Women (July 25). A judge in the state of Puebla ruled that polyamory is a valid relationship style.  

●  And more: For Pride Month, H&M Clothing Stores went beyond the usual Pride symbology to focus on chosen family in a style-setting publicity campaign. H&M is a Swedish "fast fashion" clothing company with over 5,000 stores under various brands worldwide, including hundreds in the US. Its promo campaign My Chosen Family spotlights three queer polyfamilies, with high-style photography and long interviews. From the transcript:

A chosen family is made up of people who have intentionally chosen to support and love one another. It’s about being there no matter what and celebrating who you are, no matter who you love. Meet the LGBTQIA+ families who choose each other.

The Dreamers [above]

...This family of activists, writers and creators are tied together by their hopes and dreams for tomorrow. ...

The Angels

...The Angels fell instantly in love on the dance floor over ten years ago. They have texted each other daily ever since....

Lola & Los Javis [below]

After being lovers for a decade, directors Javier and Javier — also known as Los Javis — met Lola while filming a TV series. Now, the three of them are a family. ...

Go watch. Thanx to Bitsy P. for the tip.

●  Elsewhere overseas: In the English edition of El País, one of Spain's two leading daily newspapers: Dismantling the stigma of non-monogamous relationships. (July 2). (En Español: Desmontando el estigma de las relaciones no monógamas: ni capricho ni vicio, June 28). It's long.

When she was eight, Sandra Bravo wrote a letter addressed to the Virgin Mary in her diary. In it she asked her to make a boy from school her future husband and father of her children, promising in exchange to be chaste and pure until marriage. She did not keep that promise and, in time, she forgot about it. Thirty years later, she found the diary and was shocked by what she had written. “...when I had no idea what love, sexuality, or even virginity was?” she wonders. ... “This story of romantic and heterosexual love is everywhere and we internalize it through culture....”

Sandra Bravo in Barcelona's Plaça del Diamant. (El País / Carles Ribas)

That letter to the Virgin was the departure point for Bravo’s book, I Don’t Know How to Explain All This to My Mother: Polyamory, Sex and Feminism. Through her Instagram account Let’s Talk about Polyamory, the Spanish journalist talks in the book about her experience as a bisexual woman in polyamorous relationships. ...

In her hometown in Alicante, in the Spanish region of Valencia, which she left at 17, Bravo’s neighbors have been scandalized by her book. ...


...When Davinia Velázquez received the invitation to her brother’s wedding, she was a little non-plussed. ...“I wanted to go with my three partners,” explains the 38-year-old from Barcelona. So, she picked up the phone, explained to her brother how she felt and now, having made a few adjustments to the seating arrangements, the four of them will go. “The truth is that I am very grateful for the gesture and effort,” she says.... 

...Throughout history, there have always been relationships that have gone beyond the boundaries of what is considered socially acceptable, but rarely have they been openly acknowledged. This has been changing as a new generation claims their right to love differently and create bonds that defy the norm. 

...All those EL PAÍS spoke to point out that often the most difficult thing to manage in a non-monogamous relationship is the reactions from a more conventional mindset, rather than the internal dynamics. ...

●  More overseas: in Israel, a long feature on the rise of CNM appeared in the magazine section of ynetnews: Sometimes it's good and sometimes bad in non- monogamic relationships (July 9). (The English sounds like a machine translation.)

By Mor Shimoni

They use contracts and agreements, may need guidance and are generally middle class; experts explain how to conduct non-monogamic relationships in Israel and outline the various options. Will open marriages become more socially acceptable?

Racheli Tal

“Infidelity is so rampant that in practice people aren’t monogamous”. In this single sentence, Racheli Tal, social worker and director and partner at the Center for Alternative Sexuality and Sexuality and Gender Studies lecturer at Ben Gurion University, dissipates the notion that most couples still conduct “regular” monogamous relationships.

Monogamy isn’t going anywhere though. Even Tal agrees, but explains that a plethora of further options have blossomed – a whole world of a-monogamy, and no, not just for hippie-types. ...


And the wider picture. Shit will get real. 

We polyamorous people are a small, weird minority of social-rule breakers. Some people feel we're a threat to society — because by living successfully outside of their worldview, we expose its incompleteness. Our freedom to choose our relationship structures, and to speak up for ourselves about the truth of ourselves, is just one way we depend on a free and pluralistic society that respects people's dignity to create their own lives, to access facts, and to speak of what they know.

Such a society is only possible where people have the power to govern themselves, combined with legal structures that are at least supposed to protect the rights of all.

People, communities, and cultures that create their own lives, and who insist on the democratic structures and legal protections that enable them to do so safely, infuriate and terrify the authoritarians who are growing in power around the world and in our own United States.

Such rulers and would-be rulers seek to stamp out other people's freedom to choose their lives — by intimidation, repressive laws, inflammatory disinformation and public incitement, or, eventually, artillery.

For what it's worth, this site has received more pagereads from Ukraine over the years (56,400) than from any other country in Eastern Europe.

For now, you can donate to Ukrainian relief through this list of organizations vetted by the Washington Post, or many others. (Avoid scams.)


But that is only the start. For those of us born since World War II, this is the most consequential war of our lifetimes.

(See also, among others, Tom Friedman's I Thought Putin Invaded Only Ukraine. I Was Wrong.)

The coming times are going to require hard things of us. We don't get to choose the time and place in history we are born into. We do get to choose how we respond to it. Buck up and be ready.

Need a little help bucking up? Play this. Loud. Another version. Another.

More, you want? Just some guys near Kharkiv the other day helping to hold onto a free and open society, a shrinking thing in the world. Maybe your granddad did this across a trench from Hitler's troops. For you, and for us — because a world fascist upsurge that time was successfully defeated, though the outcome didn't look good for a couple of years there.

Bravery takes other forms. For instanceAnd this. Or cartoon animator Oleg Kuvaev. His Masyanya was a popular family webseries in Russia for years, South Park style, and made it onto TV. Then, after the start of the war, he put out Episode 160. The raucous, oval-headed mom ditches the no-politics rule, and toward the end she barges in on Putin and presents him a blistering lecture and a hara-kiri sword to solve his problems. No spoilers what comes next. English subtitles. Kuvaev is out of Russia (don't drink any polonium tea, guy), the series remains up via overseas backups, and Russian authorities have implied they will hunt down the backups and wipe them.

Remember, these people say they're doing it for us too. They are correct. The situation is going to get worse before it gets better. The global fight between a free, open future and a fearful revival of the dark past shaping up, including in our own country, is still in its early stages (start at the 3rd paragraph there).  There is such a thing as a "formerly developed country," and we know how it happens. The outcome is again uncertain, and it will determine the 21st century and the handling of all its other problems.

We'll have a better idea after the election. Whatever else you do, vote.


PS: Ukraine should not be idealized as the paragon of a free and open democratic society. For instance, see If Ukraine Wants To Stand for Liberty and Democracy, It Should Rethink Some of Its Wartime Policies (Reason, July 19). And social attitudes tend to be very traditional, though not bitter like in the US. But there is lots of room for social progressivism to thrive. The army reportedly includes 40,000 women volunteers as equals in military roles, and LGBT folks serve openly displaying LGBT pride. (Whereas wearing so much as a rainbow pin in Russia can get anyone a prison sentence.) Writes kos in the enormous lefty news site Daily Kos (July 29),

I find [this] particularly salient given American conservative hostility toward women serving in our military. People like Ted Cruz praising the supposed manliness of the Russian army, while claiming ours is weak because of “woke culture.” Ukraine puts that bullshit to bed, not just with the women serving in its ranks, but with gay soldiers very publicly sewing unicorn patches on their uniforms to denote their pride.

He retweets a meme from a military blogger, commenting on the plight of the abused young Russian draftee:

To hell with any conservatives who impugn anyone’s service as somehow less effective or honorable than white straight men. 

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