Should Facebook Recognize Polyamorous Relationships?

A petition calls on the social network to recognize multiple partners

(Illustration: Diana Quach)
Apr 05, 2016 at 5:40 PM ET

Philly Cashion is in a romantic relationship with her two best friends—she calls it a triad, a throuple or a triumvirate. “The three of us are very happy,” she writes in a petition. Except, their polyamorous relationship is rarely ever recognized. “We are constantly faced with the idea that one of us is an add-on,” she explains. Just one of those ways is Facebook’s insistence that users list only one partner on their profiles.

That’s why Cashion, who lives in the U.K., is petitioning the social networking site to begin recognizing polyamorous relationships. “A small step for recognition would be if Facebook opened its relationship linking function,” she writes in the petition, which has well over 3,000 signatures as of this writing. “Instead of two, make it three or four or any number the people involved care to choose.”

Polyamory, which Tristan Taormino defines in her book, “Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships,” as “the desire for or the practice of maintaining multiple significant, intimate relationships simultaneously,” is enjoying unparalleled visibility—from trend stories to a reality-TV show to celebrity spokespeople.

Estimates of its prevalence in the United States range from 500,000 to 2.4 million—and some tech companies are taking note. Earlier this year, OKCupid responded to a rise in non-monogamous daters by allowing users to link their profiles to a partner’s profile, while looking for a third partner. (While this was widely heralded a win for polyamorists, it failed to actually recognize the possibility for multiple committed partners.)

Currently, Facebook allows you to choose one of nearly a dozen relationship statuses: “Single,” “In a relationship,” “Engaged,” “Married,” “In a civil union,” “In a domestic partnership,” “In an open relationship,” “It’s complicated,” “Separated,” “Divorced” or “Widowed.” Polyamorists can, of course, choose “It’s complicated,” but what if their polyamory isn’t complicated? “In an open relationship” is another obvious choice, but it forces users to choose only one partner to link to on Facebook. As Sara, a signee of the petition from North Carolina, writes, “I’m polyamorous, with multiple partners. Currently I can only list one, which is not fair to the others,” she said. “Because so much of my social interactions happen through facebook, I would really like to honestly represent myself.”

Besides, not all polyamorists identify as being “open,” which is sometimes defined as relationships in which outside sexual relationships are allowed and other times used as a catch-all for non-monogamous relationships. “Facebook does have an ‘In an Open Relationship’ option, but this doesn’t define all poly situations,” wrote Mishi from British Columbia. “For example, my boyfriend and I know we want at least one more partner, but we do not want our total unit to exceed five people, and we are being very careful to pick people that both of us agree would make good long-term partners for both of us. Closed, long-term relationships in the polyamory world DO exist, and they should be recognized.”

Facebook expanding its relationships options would hardly fix the lack of recognition given to triads like Cashion’s, but she says it’s a meaningful step. “This may seem silly to some people, but to me it’s another way of being told our relationship isn’t real,” she wrote. “It wouldn’t change much, and it wouldn’t be hard. It would be progressive and inclusive. Two things Facebook claims it is.”