Historically, I've been pretty snarky about who all is "in community" if you get enough polyamorous people together. But if you're going to find people who really understand you, there's going to be some organizing happening, and to do that you need to know people - and it's hard to do that if you only know people you date, and you only date people you met online. (No shade to online dating - I do it too - but meeting people in person is a whole different thing, and meeting people you know are polyamorous in person? Can be great.) Part of why I'm snarky about it, and make jokes about cult leaders, is that if all you have in common with people is polyamory and nothing else, you might realize you aren't actually in community with them at all, or don't want to be, and a particular space isn't for you. So, I want to give you some thoughts, tips, & tricks to keep in mind while trying to find or build polyam community for yourself, as you attend local events.
First: do you have strong bonds to community that supports you, your values, and your relationships already? Are you involved in political organizing or have friends and family that feel like a strong underlying base that are simultaneously supportive of your relationships? Is coming out to a polyam event just kind of fun and maybe meeting some people? You might find some people who share your values to bring back to your pre-existing community, but you're not looking to build new community that is primarily defined around your polyamory. You're going to have a good time unless this group is super insular. (Are they run by the "cult leader" I joked about in my polyamorous people you'll meet post a couple years ago? Or does it seem like such a person has a pretty major contingent and there's a secondary contingent warning you off of them while you're "new"? You might want to find a different event. Otherwise, any event is fine for you.)
Second: If most of your needs are met in pre-existing community but you want some more friends who "get" your relationships and don't accidentally ask questions in a way that feels insulting just because they don't know things and you don't want to teach while learning from experience - we can move into the deeper, values-based concerns. Someone just happening to be polyamorous is great, but they should be someone you actually want to be friends with.
Third, some questions to consider in your head about any meetup you walk into or are considering attending:
Does the meetup skew hard in one direction in age, and is that direction your age group? Are you comfortable with a disparity if there is one? I've definitely tried out events until I found the one that was neither entirely college students nor all empty nesters in their 50s+ for maximum comfort.
Does the organizer have social media presence that talks about nonmonogamy? What philosophy of nonmonogamy do they support, and does it gel with yours? Do most of the attendees seem to lean the same way? If the organizer talks badly about hierarchy all the time, and so do lots of their friends, and you're only looking to make friends with people who will be supportive of your strictly hierarchical network... it might not be the one for you. (I live somewhere small enough that all the polyam events have a pretty "all except big jerks are welcome" vibe, but when I lived in a big city there were definitely more, smaller events catering to more specific crowds. Use your common sense about which applies in your area.)
Is this meetup a social gathering to make friends or is it advertised as for dating? Or (IMO worse) is it advertised as one but the other in practice once you've attended one?
Are there hobbies that are heavily represented that people keep spinning off into conversations about? Are they things you don't mind talking about or your friends being into even if you aren't? (Some meetups especially outside big cities, overlap with kink munches, is that comfortable for you, and if not, is building your own space with the help of other polyam friends an option?) If you're going to be annoyed about "they always talk about politics" "they always talk about D&D" "they talk about knitting all the time" "they're always talking about kink events coming up" but they were up front that that's what they like to do, they aren't the jerk there. If you need to try out a couple events to find the polyamorists who are also into true crime podcasts and your favorite hobby, you will eventually find them.
What's the venue like? Is it in a restaurant and you're relatively stuck in your seat for the duration of a meal? A bar or outdoor space where people are mingling? A person's home set up like a party atmosphere? Is there alcohol? Is the organizer or host keeping an eye on people's behavior or inebriation level and did they let you know who they were and if there was anyone else you could give a head's up to if anything uncomfortable happened?
When you go to an event for the first time, by yourself, with a partner, or with a buddy, it can be kind of intimidating. Finding the organizer or host and introducing yourself can help - sometimes they can make an introduction or two or place you into a first conversation gently, depending on the type of event and if they know you or most of the folks attending or how long it's been running. As someone who sometimes helps with events and recently started running one, I try to introduce new people to very social regulars who can then make other introductions. (Or, if someone I don't know introduces themself with a detail that rings a bell about another attendee, I try to drop them into conversation with that person.) When I'm new at things, I tend to be quieter than usual and stick to the sidelines and listen for a bit before starting to contribute to conversations - I get anxious about being social with new groups of people unless I'm working and know I Have A Job Here. So if it's a conference or day long or multi-day event rather than an afternoon or evening meetup, I tend to sign myself up for a volunteer shift early on to let the anxiety and shyness wear off while I work. I haven't been to a strictly polyam one of these since before the pandemic (as opposed to a kink con that has some nonmono content) but I know some have run - PolyPalooza in Texas comes to mind - so if you ever get the opportunity to go to one and decide to, think about if that coping strategy for settling in to a longer event and shaking off jitters would help you to get into a social headspace. Weekend events are like meetups turned up to 11.
But, back to a garden-variety meetup. Remember that if you go to one and it doesn't feel like folks are "your people" that's okay. It taking a couple tries, or finding a polycule of your own who have friends-of-friends that then do private parties (potlucks, board game nights, barbeques, etc) to settle in with are valid situations to find yourself in. Once you make a few local friends, you can always start your own public event to meet more people. (If that sounds horribly intimidating now, it's ok, it may be less so in a couple years, or you may convince a bigger extrovert to do it for you in the mean time. I've evolved through all these steps.) Essentially, I share all this to make sure you know it's okay to feel uncomfortable, to trust your gut in those feelings and know that just being polyam doesn't always make folks "your people" although it can help with some kinds of understanding, and that you need to keep your own social interaction patterns in mind. Happy socializing!
Find more polyam content by buying my book at Amazon or Audible, follow me on Instagram or TikTok @readyforpolyamory, or on Twitter @lauracb88, and if you have specific questions or concerns, I offer peer support. You can book a first appointment to see if we're a good fit here.