When I realized I preferred non-monogamy as my relationship orientation, it was as big of a surprise to me as it was to everyone around me. I grew up a very traditional Christian, and I had never heard the word polyamory, even after I had basically started practicing my relationships that way. But now I have a little over four-years practicing non-monogamy under my belt and I cannot imagine my life any other way.
One of the most interesting things to come from living my life being open to and/or having more than one committed romantic relationship at a time has been all the wonderful things I have learned about myself and how I have grown through the process. There are many side-effects to non-monogamy I could never have predicted.
1- Developing wonderful new friendships
Sometimes when you meet someone and start to date, you pick up a few extra friends in your partner’s circle. I never expected to pick up my partner’s partners! You almost automatically have something in common with the people who care for your people. I have made some very good friends from my lover’s lovers.
I also found freedom in my own circle to grow and develop very strong friendships. Freed from the need to be everything to one person, I had the time and ability to get to know new people and develop strong friendships. I have an amazing tribe of friends in Berlin I would never have had the time to cultivate if I was dating one person who expected me to be their everything and meet all of their needs, or if I expected the same from them.
2- Knowing my boundaries and how to express them
As a monogamous person, I was terrible at making boundaries. Heck, the whole idea of boundaries terrified me. I had completely internalized the idea that it was my responsibility not only to be everything to my partner but also that it was my job to make sure they were happy and well adjusted. If they wanted or needed something, I thought I had to make it happen.
As I grew into my polyamorous self, I learned that it was important and better for all involved if I knew where I started and others ended and how to express what I needed that to look like. It was not easy, but by learning this skill, I became less weighed down with care in my relationship and I could enjoy the people in my life exactly where they were, without taking on the responsibility to fix it.
3- Having time to enjoy my own company
Being in an open or polyamorous relationship by definition means you will find yourself alone at some point while one of your partners is out on a date with one of their other people. I have always found it pretty easy to be alone, but I had never tried to be alone when I was in a relationship (see the previous side-effect.) Turns out, having your own time within a relationship is a joy. It allows me to reenergize, to connect with my art or my writing, or even just to chill with a glass of wine in the tub.
In my previous monogamous relationships, it felt like I was sacrificing “couple time” to enjoy my own hobbies or even just take a nap or read a book. It can be draining to be constantly on, constantly in another person’s presence. But being polyamorous, rather than take more of my time with multiple partners (and of course in some ways it does) it also gave me the gift of allowing me the time to focus on me. No one expects me to be their all in all, to satisfy all of their needs, but my partners do expect me to come to them whole and taking care of myself. It’s my responsibility to meet my own needs or find ways to have them met. I can do that better when I have the freedom and time to do so. My partners understand this too and give me that time. Having my own time within a committed relationship is a valuable gift I will always enjoy.
4- Giving up expecting relationships to look a certain way
When I went into this, I think I expected that each of my relationships would look like all the other relationships I’d had before, but I would just have more than one of them at a time. Foolish, foolish girl! Instead what I learned is that relationships work best when they are allowed to find their level. Once I gave up the notion that relationships SHOULD go a certain way, I was able to settle into a number of relationships that I thoroughly enjoy and get a lot of satisfaction from, but don’t look like what people from the outside expect from a relationship.
Instead of placing value on a relationship for the certainty of longevity, or because I know it will turn into something that looks like a traditional monogamous relationship, I can enjoy a relationship just because we enjoy each other’s company. I can be ok with seeing you once a week or once a month if that’s what works for us both. I can date you and your partner, or see you alone. I can maintain a relationship long-distance over many years and still find you as valuable in my life as when we were living close by one another. It’s been wonderful to allow people into my heart and life, regardless if they are going to be a “certain” kind of relationship only.
5- Having more confidence
Maybe it’s because sometimes I am having sex with a lot of people in any given week or month and I feel beautiful and sexy. But I think it’s more because I know I don’t have to accept behavior that crosses my boundaries or doesn’t feel respectful. I know my value and I know I don’t need anyone, but I get to choose other people for the way I connect with them.
I’m not restricted to only one kind of relationship, which gives me the confidence to pursue people and situations I might not have allowed myself to choose in the past. (See side-effect 4) I might really enjoy your company and know you are married. We probably won’t move up the relationship escalator together, but I can confidently seek your time and commitment because I don’t need our relationship to look a certain way.
Some people assume when you are non-monogamous the quality of your relationships goes down. They don’t think you can be in a committed open relationship. They assume because you “share” your relationships are not special. But for me, it was the complete opposite. If I make time for you, and you make time for me, even though we also do the same for others we love, it shows me you value me and WANT to spend time with me. That gives me confidence in us and in my own worth.
This confidence gives me the patience to wait and only date people with whom I really connect. I am better at seeing red flags and reacting to them rather than ignoring them than I was before. I attribute this to the confidence I have gained with age, learning about myself and my boundaries, and knowing things I like and want in relationships. Almost all of that came to me when I started to date polyamorously.
I understand an open relationship or being polyamorous is not for everyone, and that is ok! If you had asked me only six-years ago if I would be living a polyamorous lifestyle, I would have looked at you so confused. I didn’t even know the word when I started this journey. Monogamy was the only option I ever knew until I wanted more. Now that I have more; more love, more connections, more sex, more friendships, more confidence… I will never turn back, especially with all the terrific side-effects of being non-monogamous, I have experienced!
Are you non-monogamous?
What are some of the unexpected benefits you have encountered?
Here are a few other posts about non-monogamy you might enjoy:
And here’s one by a good writer friend of mine: