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Pulling and fooling on polyamory

Relationships
 Polyamory is consensual and disclosed to those involved. [iStockphoto]

It is a live radio show. Adults in The Room on Spice FM is having an interesting discussion – one that touches on a sensitive topic – Being in a Polygamous Marriage.

No! It is not about those our grandparents and great-grandparents used to be in. It is about the now.

The key guest is Felgonah Oyuga, the author of the book How to Enjoy a Relationship with an African Man. She does not mince her words as she delves into the conversation. She is urging women to accept that men are polygamous for their peace of mind.

But Felgonah quickly points out that a promiscuous man is not acceptable – one who jumps from one woman to the other for the thrill – saying that such a man is irresponsible.

A polygamous man, as Felgonah states, would be open to both parties adding that the women do not have to like each other as long as their children are treated right.

"It is better to accept now… you do not have to suffer... if you want to live your life and enjoy it. At the end of the day, you cannot control another human being's behaviour and what they want to do," says Felgonah.

Asked whether she would accept to be in a polygamous relationship, Felgonah gives a firm 'yes', adding that her first marriage might have survived if they had chosen that route.

One statement came up, "polygamous until proven promiscuous", something Felgonah notes that made her realise that what she had with her husband would not suffice.

Felgonah added that she would have been happier if her husband had introduced another woman as long as they knew their place in the agreement.

"We do not have to like each other, that is the other thing that most people forget. They think that when they bring someone else, we would have to be friends, but we do not have to be… it takes a lot of humility to know that whatever you do is not about me, it is about you…" she says.

Felgonah advises prayerful women not to "waste too much time" waiting for a man to change.

"Prayer is for you because once I want to change you, it is witchcraft. Because you have your will. So prayer is for me to be able to accept this situation and find peace. Prayer does not change anything outside you, it is arrogant to think that," says Felgonah.

'How about if a woman decides to step out?' Asked one of the co-hosts – a question that sparked an even more interesting topic. The question stemmed from the fact that other women could not handle being in a polygamous relationship, as such an agreement requires one to have strength. Also, it is not the same when a woman steps out of her relationship, as society condemns it more than when a man does it.

"Yes, actually, have an affair, "Felgonah responded, adding, "it does not have to be sexual."

Felgonah gave examples of older women who have 'gone through it all' but do not air out their dirty linen to the public.

"The only problem with you girls, is you talk. Do you think we never used to do those things? Some of us, if we told you the things we were doing to keep sane, you would never look at us the same," says Felgonah.

Nevertheless, she advocates for women to weigh the pros and cons before choosing to have an affair and ask themselves if it is worth it.

Women have been deemed emotional beings compared to men, and having an affair could have led to something bigger, resulting in them drifting from their relationships and settling with the other man.

But Felgonah opines that men tell women many things "to contain us", adding that women are not as emotional as men portray them.

 Polyamorous people have multiple loving, intentional, and intimate relationships at the same time. [iStockphoto]

"Men are the emotional ones, only that they decided which emotions are for men and the ones for women," says Felgonah.

Felgonah concluded the discussion by advising women to know themselves better – their needs and wants – and go for what they want instead of feeding off of what society expects them to be.

Still, picture this: If today your partner sat you down and told you they are attracted to somebody, what would you do?

Would you end it with them or would you indulge them and let them see whoever the new person is? And if they still wanted you (alongside their new person) would you stay?

While a lot of people, rightfully, would break up and leave, some others would be willing to stay and would even approve of the new entry as part of their relationship.

Polyamory is the practice of, or desire for, romantic relationships with more than one partner at the same time, with the informed consent of all partners involved.

According to the Polyamory Society, it is the non-possessive, honest, responsible, and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously, and it emphasises consciously choosing how many partners one wishes to be involved with rather than accepting social norms, which dictate loving only one person at a time.

Polyamorous people have multiple loving, intentional, and intimate relationships at the same time.

Admittedly, polyamory is more popular in the more liberal countries like America where research shows that more than 20 per cent of Americans have participated in a consensual, non-monogamous relationship at some point in their lives, than perhaps in African countries like Kenya, but like other popular cultures, this is gradually changing.

It is founded on the belief that love is not finite and that connecting deeply with others should not be restricted to a single partner with whom we can explore emotionally and physically intimate relationships.

In many polyamorous relationships, each partner is aware of the other ones, and they may also have relationships with each other. In such situations, polyamorous relationships can either be hierarchical where one relationship takes priority over others, or they can be equal.

In a hierarchical structure, a person will often have primary and secondary partners. Primary partners can be those to whom they are married, live with or have children, while secondary partners may not be as intertwined in their lives (perhaps, as the primary partner) but they still will be fully committed to each other.

“I never imagined that I would be (in a relationship) like this,” says Bakari.

The 32-year-old, born and bred in Bamburi, Mombasa, is a caretaker of a beach house not far from his home (which is how this author meets him while on a brief holiday there).

“I have a wife, but I am also friends with my boss,” he says.

“The owner of this place?”

“Yes. She is a White woman from Switzerland. My wife knows about her,” he says, showing me his screen saver, which is a picture of his wife holding their daughter’s small hands.

“I met her first before I met my wife. Although it was difficult, I was honest with my wife early when we started officially dating and I told her everything. One day, I said to her, ‘I have a friendship with a mzungu, but I like you and I want to live with you.’ I thought she would leave me after that, but she did not.”

Characteristically (and, in contrast to adultery or extramarital sex), polyamory is consensual and disclosed to those involved. In this way, it also differs from "open" relationships, which often involve a committed couple agreeing that one or both partners are permitted to have sex with other people, without necessarily sharing information with the other partners.

For a polyamory relationship to work, there must be clear communication among the partners and their consent. The partners involved must be aware of the kind of relationship they are entering into and enthusiastically consent to be a part of it.

According to sex therapist Charity Danker, “Polyamory requires a great deal of work in the beginning. Very clear communication on boundaries, agreements, scheduling, child-rearing etc is a must, and not always easy. The more people you have loving you, the more people you need to love back. Learning time management, conflict resolution and healthy negotiation help greatly. A beautiful practicality is you have more emergency contacts, lovers to spend your birthday with and help around your home. You can truly have a tribe.”

For Bakari, the balance of time, emotions and affections is the secret.

 For a polyamory relationship to work, there must be clear communication among the partners and their consent. [iStockphoto]

“I love them differently because they are also different. One must learn to divide their time between them so that no one is jealous of the other. She (the boss) spends only about half a year in the country. She often comes in December or January and leaves around June. The rest of the time I am the one around, taking care of the house. I dedicate most of that time to my family. When she is around, I spend most days with her, but I find time to go home. She knows I have a child,” he says.

Doreen Amimo on the other hand does not believe in polyamory. Although she has never been in a non-monogamous relationship, she says that such relationships typically do not last.

“I cannot even imagine myself in one. That is just like cheating, and there is no commitment there. They are just lying to each other. I would be very jealous.”

Janet thinks polyamory is unnatural.

“How does it even work? What is the point if I have a husband and yet I and my husband still have other people on the side? What kind of marriage is that? There is no point. Right now, if my husband took a second wife, I would leave,” she says.

However, polyamory should not be confused with polygamy. The latter is the practice of marrying more than one wife - the wives often do not have any form of intimacy between themselves.

The defining factor is marriage. Polyamory also defers from bigamy, which is the practice of marrying two husbands, again, for the same reason.

Further, it is also different from swinging where couples in established relationships have casual sexual encounters with other couples. In polyamory relationships, partners are committed to each other.

Of course, the main question here is whether love is finite and whether it is possible to achieve deep and meaningful intimacy with more than one person.

“No love can be the same with another,” says Mercy Onyango. “It is a lie to claim that one can love two other people equally. Once somebody else is introduced to a couple’s life, it changes a lot of things. Even the bond goes.”

On the other hand, Kelvin 33, believes that it is possible to be in love with different people simultaneously.

“Sometimes, you will love something about this person and love another thing in another person. So, you will love them differently. That kind of love cannot compete.”

Although he admits he would be open to trying a non-monogamous relationship if he found a willing partner, he confesses that he would feel uncomfortable if his girlfriend was with another man.

“I do not mind my girl having another girl,” he says. “But if it is a man, then it will be very awkward. It is just weird.”

Even in its plurality, polyamorous partners commit to each other emotionally and sexually, and there is no casualness like in other non-monogamous relationships. People in polyamorous relationships can also cheat.

Depending on the relationship agreements, doing something secretive such as seeing a new partner and hiding it from someone may count as cheating.

For this kind of relationship to work, partners must intentionally communicate with each other, and be honest about their actions. Boundaries should also be set and respected.

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