Non-Monogamy 101: More Ways to Date in D.C.
February 1, 2023 @ 10:00am
Non-monogamy seems to be everywhere. The term refers to a constellation of approaches to love and romance — from polyamory and relationship anarchy to monogamish and swinging. And though it’s far from new, non-monogamy is having a cultural moment. Perhaps you’re already practicing some version of it yourself or have an acquaintance who is opening their marriage. Maybe you’ve seen polyamorous relationships depicted on TV or read about them online. As non-monogamy gains more widespread acceptance and popularity, organizations and companies are rolling out events and services aimed at helping the curious learn more and meet others doing the same.
Heralding non-monogamy’s arrival to the zeitgeist is the rise of the dating app Feeld. While far from all users are non-monogamous, the app’s sex-positive, open-minded ethos and multi partner-friendly functionalities have secured its reputation as a haven for people exploring non-traditional relationship structures. Founded in 2014, Feeld (née “Thrinder”) has seen a massive increase in overall usership in the past two years, and the percentage of users listing ethical non-monogamy (or a variation) as a desire on their profiles has jumped over 240%.
A hotspot of that growth has been D.C. That, combined with a concentration of people working from home, made the District a prime market for Feeld’s latest offering: in-person opportunities for users to connect.
“We know there are people who might feel individualized in their own cities, and we understand that community is actually an important part of individual relationship journeys,” says Maceo Keeling, expansion lead on Feeld’s marketing team.
To test the waters, Feeld organized a pilot event called FeeldWorldDC, held December 13 at The LINE Hotel in Adams Morgan — the first of what Feeld hopes to be many events in the DMV.
Supporting a Growing Community
Tamara Pincus, D.C.-based sex therapist, licensed clinical social worker and founder of The Pincus Center for Inclusive Treatment and Education, has been working with non-monogamous clients in the area for more than a decade. And though she has had non-monogamous clients throughout her career, she notes that the volume of clients practicing some form of non-monogamy has grown recently, as has cultural acceptance.
“It’s considered normal now to have poly clients in your practice,” she says, “and to be affirming — not try to change them into monogamous people. That did not exist when I started.”
One of the first explicitly poly-friendly therapists in the city, Pincus says many of her colleagues now advertise as poly-friendly as well.
“I think the main problem with the Free Love movement of the ’60s and ’70s was there was a lot of ‘You should just be able to love whoever you want!’” Pincus says. “But not a lot of thinking about ‘Okay, but how do we deal with the emotions that come with that?’ I think people really do better when they have some guidance.”
Dating apps have taken notice, too. Feeld was the first app to let users pair their profile with a partner, a functionality being adopted by their competitors as well. Other features, like initiating group chats for connections involving more than two people and explicitly listing sexual desires (threesome, polyamory), alongside more predictable dating profile interests (travel, yoga), create a clear on ramp for users to be direct about what they’re seeking and find connections who are aligned.
“We think of people as whole beings,” Keeling says. “And sexuality is a part of their being.”
Hi, D.C. We’re Feeld.
Feeld users arrived at the LINE’s 3,800 square foot mezzanine event space where stained glass, vaulted ceilings, leather, wood and marble betray the hotel’s past life as a church. Attendees cycled through activities led by local sex and relationship experts — each a stop on an immersive dating game board — to learn and reflect on their own desires, interests, curiosities and boundaries.
After completing all the activities, participants could access the upstairs lounge (presided over by D.C. drag icon Pussy Noir) for dancing, drinks and continued conversation.
“We wanted to gamify this experience and make it fun, and for people to connect with themselves so they were prepared to connect with each other,” Keeling says.
The resulting experience was part mixer, part scavenger hunt, part journaling prompt.
Attendees brought varying levels of experience and interest in non-monogamy, and attended with one or more partners, with friends or by themselves. And though participants flowed through the activity stations, they seemed equally interested in just chatting with one another.
In the end, more than 1,500 people RSVPed to FeeldWorldDC. That night, a queue snaked from the event space and down a flight of stairs, looping through The LINE’s No Goodbyes restaurant and bar area. After quickly reaching capacity around 250, event organizers had to turn people away at the door.
“We had an assumption that these events would be popular,” Keeling says, “but now we’re finding that really there’s an exorbitant amount of curiosity or a ridiculously under-supported community.”
Looking to the Future
Neither non-monogamy nor monogamy are inherently superior but rather a matter of the personal preferences or identities of those involved. But the practical and emotional learning curve for non-monogamy can be steep, as it challenges norms associated with monogamy, the dominant relationship structure in our culture.
“We live in a very mono-normative society,” Pincus says. “Making that philosophical shift internally [is] a big process. You can’t just do that overnight.”
And while Feeld is ultimately a dating app designed to facilitate connections, Keeling notes that the company’s in-person experiences are not just about helping users meet in real life, but about participating in changing the culture around dating and relationships.
“People have started to come [to Feeld] not only to practice living differently, but to learn about it,” he says.
While Feeld does occasionally offer speed dating events, the app also runs glossary campaigns and desire workshops to help users learn about sexuality terms they might not be aware of, but might find they’re curious about or match their interests or experiences.
“We’re trying to not only create spaces for existing communities,” Keeling says, “but create spaces where future communities can develop — and where identities we don’t even know about yet can have a voice and experiences.”
Tips from the Pros
We asked Feeld what advice the company has for people exploring (or considering) non-monogamy for the first time. Here’s what they had to say.
Check in with Yourself.
Take this as an opportunity to be curious. Ask yourself hard questions about what you really want. Honest, authentic answers will lead you to the types of connections you truly desire.
Feelings Aren’t Failings.
Questioning the default relationship structure of coupledom requires a lot of introspection and can be deeply challenging on a personal, relational and societal level. Accept and allow hard feelings, and make sure you show yourself, and your partner(s), compassion.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
If you have a partner, make sure you make time to dive into explorative conversations openly and often, and truly listen to what everyone is looking for and going through. If you’re exploring on your own, check in with yourself and others to keep expectations aligned.
Start by reading about different relationship structures to gain some understanding and confidence around the topic. (Feeld’s blog and Instagram are great places to start.) Then seek out people to talk about your new feelings and experiences with.
Take it at Your Own Pace.
If and when you feel ready, try exploring what you might be into.
Local Non-Monogamy Resources
Feeld plans to launch additional experiences in the D.C. area this year, which could include sponsored happy hours at local bars and comedy nights to educational workshops. For more flexibility, Feeld also offers virtual events and group chats.
feeld.co // @feeldco
Meetup offers users an easy way to find or initiate virtual and in-person gatherings with others who share their interests. There are several Meetup groups in the DMV centered on different forms of non-monogamy.
Monthly Poly Discussion Group
The DC Center for the LGBT Community hosts a monthly drop-in polyamory discussion group. Facilitated by Tamara Pincus, the group offers a space for participants to ask questions, seek and share community support and discuss challenges pertaining to non-monogamy. The group typically meets every third Thursday from 7-8:30 p.m. on Zoom, with options for monthly in-person meetups as well.
The Pincus Center for Inclusive Treatment and Education
The Pincus Center offers classes on ethical non-monogamy, coaching around polyamory and dating, and therapy for poly individuals and relationships. Pincus emphasizes that her work is all about nurturing people through the process of shifting the way they view romantic relationships.
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