Still searching for The One when polyamory is more fun?

<span>Photograph: 1001nights/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: 1001nights/Getty Images

Polyamorous relationships are having a moment. Or at least they are across the Atlantic, where New York magazine last week sought to distract its readers from the January blues with an extensive feature devoted to the trending lifestyle choice. With a cover featuring a cuddling quad (that’s a foursome) of cats, it offered “a practical guide for the curious couple” and even got Whoopi Goldberg hinting at her own non-monogamous experiences on US talkshow The View.

It’s just the latest in a steady trickle of articles, books, films and TV shows whose narratives have been drawing ethical non-monogamy in from the hippie fringes (“Polyamory isn’t just for liberals”, preached a Time headline a couple of months ago), making a YouGov poll less surprising: roughly a third of Americans, it found, prefer some degree of non-exclusivity in their relationships.

We’re not quite so forthcoming in the UK, despite our reputation for being less socially conservative. Only 10% of us are ready to consider a polyamorous relationship and just 1% admit to being in one. Yet as anybody who’s used a dating app lately will tell you, folk searching for not The One but The Several seem to be everywhere.

To be “polysaturated” means you’ve no bandwidth to take on extra lovers

Along with conferences and a “bible” (The Ethical Slut), the polyamory movement has spawned its own lexicon, which seems pretty prescriptive. This is not your mother’s free love. To be “polysaturated” means you’ve no bandwidth to take on extra lovers. A “one-penis policy” (OPP) indicates that a man is on board with his female partner sleeping with anyone who doesn’t have a penis. “Compersion” is the pleasure you derive from your partner’s sexual satisfaction with another, OPPs notwithstanding. (Here’s hoping that’s a word your “metamours” – your partner’s other partners – know the meaning of too.) There’s also “solo-poly”, which it’s tempting to translate as cad, albeit minus the gendered connotations.

Why the increased curiosity about all things polyamorous? Maybe the technology is making us do it – all that swiping priming us for dissatisfaction and honing our requirements until they can’t possibly be met by just one person. Maybe it’s that we expect our partners to perform too many, sometimes incompatible roles – lover, best friend, co-parent, psychotherapist. Or maybe a narcissistic culture just means we’ve all become emotionally entitled jerks who ask too much and give too little.

The timing of the New York feature does solidify one key change in the positioning of consensual non-monogamy: what was once seen as a threat to the bourgeois institution of marriage is now being presented as its saviour. It’s no coincidence that the article dropped in peak divorce month.

As for those of us who are middle aged and uncoupled, let alone throupled, with limited time and enthusiasm for all the seduction that’s required, what appeal can it hold? I don’t often envy my paired-up peers, but there is one website that will do it for me every time: Zoopla. Oh for the extra space, the little bit of garden, maybe even the writing shed that a second salary would enable. House prices are now more unaffordable relative to earnings than at any time since 1876, but with a whole polycule on the mortgage agreement, I’m picturing a rangy manor house and countless empty rooms, since the variously entangled adults would presumably all bunk together. What could possibly go wrong?

• Hephzibah Anderson is a freelance journalist and critic