macro photography of white flowers

11 Things I Learned From Ethical Polyamory

Please note: Ethical polyamory means having multiple relationships, where everyone involved with you is aware of the other people you’re involved with.

After growing up in a religious home, I grew “rebellious” at college. The adults in my life had preached modesty, sexual “purity,” and the virtue of waiting for “the one.” None of these “morals” came naturally to me.

At 20 years old, I organically created some version of polyamory, all while feeling like a “jezebel” or “temptress.” But I cared deeply about the people I was intimate with, all of them. Was loving multiple people so bad?

Three years and one toxic monogamous relationship later, I stumbled onto the book Open Marriage by George O’Neil. This 1970s book described what I hadn’t known how to express. Woah, this lifestyle is actually legitimate. People do this. They make it sound so healthy.

Ethical polyamory has helped me to be more myself.

For years, I’ve struggled to talk about polyamory, afraid people would think I just want to “sleep around.” The truth is, ethical polyamory has helped me to be more myself. Polyamory gave me the freedom to love on my terms.

Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, authors of More Than Two, use this principle to guide relationship choices: “The people in the relationship are more important than the relationship.” This principle helped me to release ego-based relationships and stay connected to love, openness, and compassion.

1. I love gently, not possessively.

Yes, I’ve been a possessive girlfriend. He was my partner, and that meant he owed me X amount of time. If I’m going to gift this one man with my undivided sexual attention, he better make me happy.

Takeaway: If someone truly loves you, they’ll put more energy into loving you than being afraid of losing you.

2. I became asshole intolerant.

Yes, I’ve dated assholes, men who didn’t respect me. But when I let go of an ego-based mindset, I was able to see through the superficial qualities that had distracted me. I wasn’t thinking about how I could earn the status of being someone’s girlfriend.

Takeaway: If someone doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, walk away. If your partner or date doesn’t love you as you are now, then they never will.

3. I trust my partners more.

In poly relationships, you remove expectations. No one has “obligations” to spend time with you. Whenever I spend time with partners, I know we both want to be with each other at this moment.

Takeaway: Mutual trust, not power plays, creates the foundation for loving relationships.

4. I love myself more.

I realized many of my past relationship issues came from feeling replaceable. She’s just as pretty and even smarter! Sadly, many of us did not receive the attention we needed in childhood and grew up feeling replaceable. Without using romance to fill this need, I learned to honor my whole self.

We’re always in at least two relationships: the one with our partner and one with ourselves. Both require nurturing.

Takeaway: We are all unique beings. Please walk away from anyone who makes you feel interchangeable.

5. I healed my codependency.

Codependency has been romanticized in monogamy culture. When I stopped expecting my partners to “complete me,” I couldn’t hide my dysfunctions anymore.

With a quick Google search, I found several similar stories. One woman writes about how she “healed codependency” with polyamory. Another writer describes creating “healthy interdependence” through polyamory.

Takeaway: Being a “damsel in distress” isn’t hot. Taking personal responsibility is.

6. I own my insecurities.

Feeling insecure is part of being human, but when we judge our insecurities, we feel shame. I used to have a tough time admitting weaknesses, or I’d expect someone else just to know how to support me.

“Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment,” said Brene Brown, well-known for her vulnerability research. Empathy is the antidote. Through polyamory, I learned to communicate my feelings and needs.

Takeaway: We all feel insecure from time to time. We can see insecurity as an opportunity to strengthen our relationships with ourselves and others.

7. I communicate sexual desires.

I’ve always known I was a sexual person. Yet I often felt embarrassed about what I wanted, and I expected partners to figure it out on their own. *shaking my head as I write this* I subconsciously wanted to seem “innocent.” Isn’t that what guys want?

Stepping out of an ego mindset, I stopped trying to “pin someone down.” I’m in this relationship to share myself. I also want to have great sex, and I needed to clarify what that looked like. From experience, this approach works much better.

Takeaway: When you ask for what you want, you have a much better chance of getting it. If you’re sexually incompatible, it’s better to know early on.

8. I express expectations.

Being polyamorous feels a bit like drawing on a blank page instead of coloring in the lines. There’s no preset model to follow. You’re remixing.

If you expect regular sleepovers, that you’ll eventually move in together, or that your partner will spend time with your family, you need to say so.

Takeaway: Unspoken expectations lead to disappointment.

9. I value shared time more.

Being poly has helped me to live in the moment more. You don’t take anything for granted. Every interaction, minute, touch, and experience are gifts you choose to share with this person. Sharing yourself is a gift.

Takeaway: I try to remove “have to” from my vocabulary because, in reality, we do things because we choose to. Happy relationships are about recognizing the choice that you and your partner continuously make to share time.

10. I let relationships grow more naturally.

I tend towards an “anxious, insecure” attachment style and have craved regular evidence of appreciation and commitment (about 19% of people have this attachment style). With greater awareness of my sensitivity, I share my needs when it feels right.

I don’t worry as much about “first impressions.” Instead, I focus on “authentic impressions.” I feel more able to be myself and let the relationship unfold slowly, naturally, and organically.

Takeaway: Healthy relationships are less about control and more about synergy.

11. I communicate openly, effectively.

Like the “princess in the tower” archetype, I wanted to seem mysterious, aloof, and “chill.” The truth is, I’m not those things. I enjoy being direct, bold, open, and adventurous.

Regularly sharing your feelings, especially the difficult ones, is really healthy. Sharing requires a balance of owning your emotions and trusting that your partner will want to support you, even when they don’t understand.

Takeaway: Meaningful relationships aren’t about being impressive, earning attention, or controlling people; they’re about sharing our authentic selves.

Closing Thoughts

Having many interests is human. We are constantly changing, growing, and I believe we should celebrate our uniqueness rather than pursuing “oneness.”

“The most successful people in life recognize that they create their own love, manufacture their own meaning, and generate their own motivation.” — Neil Degrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist.

The advice I’ve shared in this post reflects my applied and observed learnings from books like More Than Two, Ethical Slut, and Attached.

Many of my monogamous friends have described poly advice as being good relationship advice, period. I agree.

If you only have one takeaway from my journey, I hope it’s this: The people in the relationships are more important than the relationship.

About the author
I am a professional creative writer, focusing on feminism and self Follow Allison on Instagram or read more articles from Allison on Thought Catalog.

Learn more about Thought Catalog and our writers on our about page.

Related