Poly TikTok Is Basically Reality TV, But Better

Welcome to the most underrated corner of the internet.

Lais Borges/Elite Daily; Videos from @Janiecfrank & @sinnabunny; Getty

“What’s your take on the queer Ultimatum?” My friend was looking at me, smiling conspiratorially. She was talking, of course, about The Ultimatum: Queer Love, a spinoff of the Netflix dating show that asks contestants to temporarily open their relationships before deciding if they’ll marry their partner or leave them for a new one. Though branded as a social experiment, The Ultimatum is pure reality TV — the kind where participants are either crying or making out and no one is ever more than 20 feet from the ocean (or at least a hot tub).

I knew what was coming when I responded, “No, I still haven’t seen it. And honestly, I’m not planning on it.” We were sitting with a group of friends, and nearly every head whipped around toward me in shock.

I couldn’t blame them. I am pretty much *the* ideal demographic for The Ultimatum: Queer Love — I’m a lesbian who literally wrote a book on relationships, commitment, and non-monogamy. Plus, as a writer, I eat queer pop culture moments for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But excluding my brief, very deep obsession with Married at First Sight, I don’t watch a lot of reality dating shows. Mostly because I’ve found something much, much better: poly TikTok.

PolyTok is a rich but underloved corner of TikTok where polyamorous people share their lives, discuss their relationships, and draw back the curtain more or less on what it’s actually like to be non-monogamous. It’s pretty much everything you’d ever want from reality TV: a mix of winky, scandalous situations and the intimacy of sharing moments in real-life relationships. You can find people to root for, couples to hate-watch, and see how others navigate love and conflict with multiple people IRL — except you don’t have to wait for Netflix to drop a new season to enjoy these bite-sized posts.

Here’s just a sampling of what you’ll find: Bigger creators like @Janiecfrank and @sinnabunny make vlogs about normal life in a polycule and managing date nights in a throuple. In her most viral post, Janie Frank gives viewers a tour of the little things in a polyamorous household that “just make sense.” In the somewhat cluttered kitchen, she shows off a set of glossy, ceramic initial mugs, one for each partner. “There’s three of us, and you can never find a his and hers and hers thing,” Frank explains.

Then the video cuts to three matching cat carriers nestled on the floor (“The only thing we get jealous over is who is getting more cat attention”) before Frank takes a sweeping tour through two bedrooms and three closets. The camera is shaky and the house feels lived-in, like your long-distance friend giving you a house tour on FaceTime, except this is a video with 1.2 million likes.

And while it may not be a particularly mainstream community on the app — Frank, one of the biggest names in the space, has 507,000 followers, and many creators’ audiences are significantly smaller — poly TikTok’s fans know they’ve discovered something great. “I absolutely love peeking into the lives of other non-monog people, especially because I only personally know a few people IRL who also practice ENM [ethical non-monogamy], and I am looking for relatability, plus I am nosey,” says fellow PolyTok fan Hayley Folk, a 28-year-old writer in New York City. “It feels like a guilty pleasure or indulgence to watch what other people do, how they handle common ENM struggles, and how they engage with their partners.”

Yaz, who runs the account @2queers1closet, often posts the kind of down-to-earth advice Folk looks for. In one video, Yaz sits with their partner, Pat, as they discuss the pros and cons of polyamory (hint: it’s a lot of work). Dressed in a denim vest and pink sweats, Yaz looks relaxed, like they’ve had this conversation a million times before and just so happen to be doing it publicly. With their leg in Pat’s lap, Yaz says, “Another con? Having to almost constantly be sitting with big emotions.” Both partners laugh in recognition. The reality of the tougher parts of non-monogamy are given out gently, sparking recognition in more experienced practitioners like me and reassurance for newer folks.

PolyTok seems so much less edited [than TV], like the real in 'reality' is actually there.

Generally speaking, non-monogamy content online is usually more akin to a self-help book than the latest season of Love Is Blind. On platforms like Instagram, there’s often a strong emphasis on gaining practical skills: You can learn concepts related to non-monogamy, sex education, and sex positivity, and find new frameworks to help improve or deepen your own relationships. You’ll still find a lot of that educational vibe on TikTok, too, with accounts like @polyphiliablog, @polyamarla, and @bygabriellesmith.

But PolyTok adds in the “unscripted” feeling of reality TV you won’t find on other social platforms, while also bringing a sense of realness that shows can struggle to capture. “I watch Love Is Blind, Married At First Sight, and most recently, I watched The Ultimatum queer edition and had a love/hate relationship with it,” Folk tells Elite Daily. “In comparison, PolyTok seems so much less edited, like the real in 'reality' is actually there.”

For me, part of the joy of PolyTok — and of reality TV — is the slightly voyeuristic aspect of seeing the intimate moments people share together. And even though everyone knows there’s still a performance happening, and things get edited and re-recorded all the time, it still creates a sense of investment.

There’s the purely unhinged content that mimics the messy, “I-can’t-believe-they-just-said-that” aspect of reality TV. Accounts like @cliquebaittv14 are (no surprises here) click-baity, and likely meant to feel as outrageous as locking a bunch of horny, single people in a house and rewarding celibacy with thousands of dollars. There are jokey posts about showing up to a party as the only throuple, as well as snippets into the creator’s experience with pregnancy. You probably won’t be 100% convinced that every throuple or polycule is for real — I’m definitely not — but it’s fascinating to watch anyway.

For Nicole Mikulis, a 28-year-old living in Paris, this side of TikTok can be a bit too sensationalized to really enjoy. “It feels like a lot of it is … meant to shock you like reality TV. Usually when I get too much of that I switch to something else,” she tells Elite Daily. Anything with misogynistic elements (like the posts wondering which girlfriend a man will “pick” for date night or the worn-out “unicorn hunting” jokes) means Mikulis is swiping away.

But even when it’s cringe, PolyTok is refreshing because it refuses to pit monogamy and non-monogamy against one another. Most reality dating shows can’t say the same — The Bachelor, Love Island, Are You The One?, and The Ultimatum all rely on non-monogamy for drama and tension by forcing people to open their relationships, or at least date multiple people simultaneously. Ironically, “winning” the show always means finding a monogamous partner to settle down with or even marry. As a result, many dating shows reinforce the idea that polyamorous relationships are disposable and monogamous commitments are the goal.

But on PolyTok, no one is agonizing over which date deserves a rose or who has to be voted off the island. Here, an open relationship isn’t treated like a stepping stone toward a closed one. Instead, non-monogamy is allowed to be its own messy destination.

For a good place to start, both Folk and Mikulis say @OpenlyCommitted is their fave corner of PolyTok. The account’s creator feels like your cool older sister as she talks about boundaries, jealousy, and communication, all while getting ready for date night. “I love that this wife pokes fun at poly haters and also makes educational videos on being in a poly marriage,” says Folk. She also likes @chillpolyamory, an account that shares practical advice on dating, sex, and breakups. “I love her honest, fun takes on polyamory after being in it for 11 years.”

Suffice to say, I still haven’t watched The Ultimatum: Queer Love with my friends. But I may be open to a marathon — as long as no one minds if I’m scrolling PolyTok the whole time.