The “Real” Poly, Part I: Ethical Non-Monogamy

Because polyamory is first a form of Ethical Non-Monogamy, it is first defined by these non-negotiables:

  • Are you being honest?
  • Are you being ethical?

To be clear, I hope they’re true in all of your relationships, be they with family, friends, lovers, spouses, or whomever you consider yourself intimate. 

But, let’s dig deeper into those two items. Honesty seems pretty simple, but before you can actually be honest with another person, you need to take the time for some self-reflection. Who are you? What do you want? What do you need? What are you able and willing to offer? Honesty includes an accurate reflection and representation of who you are and what you want to get and give in a relationship.  And, please note that this will change over time, sometimes more rapidly that you can imagine. . .and that means that honesty is an ongoing practice. 

If you find yourself wanting to lie to your partner (or potential partner) to get what you want, or to avoid what you believe will be their unhappiness, then you have something to work on. Also, for those of you thinking right now, “Isn’t honesty part of being ethical?” Yes! Absolutely! So much so that I felt the need to break it off and treat it as its own thing before we went further to . . .

What does ethical really mean?

Well, a dictionary definition says, “pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong in conduct.” I have to say I disagree rather strenuously on one point. Hear me out. 

I see ethics as a code of conduct that is derived from a personal adult understanding of right and wrong that may or may not have any intersection with the morals you may have been taught as a child (which I see as specifically deriving from a cultural or religious set of rules). As a poly person, you’re probably already functioning outside of the “moral” norm that monogamy is the only acceptable form of romantic love, so we must, not only as a rite of adulthood but also in our case by cultural necessity, each determine for ourselves what is and is not ethical. This too takes some self-reflection. Do the work and draw your own map. Be so clear on what it means that you can share that information with others, especially potential partners.

I won’t include my list yet, but I will tell you that I started with, in fact, the morals with which I was raised, the ethics of people who I admired, and those knee-jerk “well, that’s just RIGHT” or “that’s just WRONG” feelings. I took those seemingly absolute or at least automatic assumptions and passed them through a logic filter that made sense to me. I used questions like “why?” and “who is harmed by this behavior?” and “is ‘this’ consistent with who I want to be/the impact I want to have on the people and world around me?” In the end, I had an internally held sense of my rules of conduct, the ethics that I could use to guide my choices.

So now I offer you, gentle reader, a choice: Put down this article and go forth and contemplate your sense of ethics unencumbered by any further influence on my part or, if it will serve you to do so, read below for the highlights of my personal perspective.  I’m including it for anyone who may want a jumping-off point and I invite each of you to subject each idea to your own questions and filters. (I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to share their ideas or questions). 

  • Honesty: First with myself, and also with those whom I value.
  • Transparency/authenticity: My mother always said, “If you’re afraid someone might find out, you probably shouldn’t be doing it,” and “If you’re going to do something, don’t be embarrassed.” (Sometimes mothers really do have all the wisdom.)
  • In the absence of better information: Treat others as you would want to be treated; better yet, treat them like they would want to be treated.
    • Have acceptance for more than one “right” way to be, and do the work to find out what works for the people around you. You may be an extrovert, but I guarantee you that if you assume your introvert friend needs the same thing that you do, you are most likely to make them uncomfortable. Different is just different, NOT necessarily better or worse.
  • Don’t assume: ASK. As an old partner of mind says, “Assumption is the mother of all f___ -ups!’” Basically, I try to take nothing for granted. The things I think are obvious almost never are.  Be open to things changing. Don’t assume that because it was a YES once that it always will be. Take things one at a time.
  • Anyone is allowed to ask for anything, but NO is always an acceptable answer.
    • I have watched people miss out on something they wanted, because they pre-judged their thoughts and never asked. I choose not to decide what someone else is going to deem possible or acceptable before they tell me.
  • Choose to believe that people are doing their best, and respond accordingly. (This may not strictly be an ethical issue, but is so closely related that I think it fits here.)
  • Always try to for a WIN-WIN solution. Simply being fair is almost never enough and frequently will hurt people.
  • Everyone is a teacher/everyone is a student.  Everyone has value and is worthy of consideration. Including me. 
    • As I (or anyone) learn(s) ‘better’, I (we/they) are responsible for doing ‘better’
    • Never use knowledge as a weapon
  • My right to swing my arm stops where “your” nose begins and vice versa  (In other words, if it doesn’t affect me, it’s none of my business.)
  • Beauty (joy/love/kindness) is sacred.  Make as much beauty as possible.
  • Don’t be an asshole.

Polyquizzically yours,


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Althea Hawk

Althea Hawk is a polyamorous, sex-positive, pansexual woman, a Reiki Master, a spiritual seeker and teacher.

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