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Sex & Relationships

What I’ve Learned From My Lifelong Journey In Polyamory

I’ve been non-monogamous since my teens. Here are five things I’ve learned.
By Millie Boella
What I’ve Learned From My Lifelong Journey In Polyamory

(Photo: Christie Vuong)

At just 10 years old, I began questioning monogamy. Growing up in Kenya during the 1990s, I observed my tribe’s varied relationship styles, including polygamy and even self-marriage (a ceremony in which a woman chooses to centre herself in her life). The realization that monogamy isn’t the only option led me to explore polyamory in my teens.

Today, at 39, I have two wonderful partners. I live with Nick, who I’ve been with for 14 years, and I have another partner of two and a half years. I also have more than 20 comet relationships—romantic interests whom I see only a few times a year or even every few years—around the world.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my lifelong journey in polyamory.

Monogamy has roots in colonialism

Marriage—not just in Kenya but worldwide—was originally a social contract to strengthen kinship or political ties, or it was entered into for pragmatic economic reasons. The modern concept of a “love marriage” was only globalized between the 18th and 19th centuries by Europeans, who promoted cultural assimilation wherever they colonized. Certainly none of my tribes— Kikuyu, Maasai, Dorobo and Kalenjin—were culturally monogamous before being colonized by the British.

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Today, most urban Kenyans—including my family—have adopted a monogamous lifestyle. But that shift has been marked by high rates of divorce and infidelity.

When I watched my uncle marry for the third time after his previous marriages ended due to rampant infidelity, I knew there had to be something more to relationships. In our traditional culture, there was no pressure for people—regardless of gender—to pretend to be with just one partner, so marriages remained intact.

Polyamory came naturally to me

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When I began dating as a teenager, I knew that I wanted to be non-monogamous. My first sexual encounters were at boarding school with girls who were also dating other girls and boys, and it was all tacitly accepted. Though I didn’t use the term “polyamory” until my late teens, I told everyone I was seeing that I was non-monogamous.

I’ve only been in one exclusive relationship. I met my ex-fiancé when I was 18 and he was 21. I told him I was polyamorous, but he claimed that real love results in jealousy and that, as a good partner, I should stop inciting his jealousy by being with other men. I felt imprisoned. Not only was I supposed to have all my needs met by him alone but I also had to repress the feelings I had for other people. Ironically, we broke up because he was deceitful. My brief foray into monogamy taught me that there is often a lot of performing, lying and possessiveness normalized within conventional relationships.

Polyamory thrives with open communication

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I met Nick in Montreal in 2010. Our connection was instantaneous, largely because we both had an aversion to traditional dating. By our fourth date, we were at Indigo, delving into Monica Mendez Leahy’s book 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married and using it as a tool to gauge our long-term compatibility.

Deep and honest communication is foundational for Nick and me. To ensure clarity around the boundaries and responsibilities within our relationship, we crafted a detailed five-page agreement that covers everything from safe-sex practices with others to end-of-life planning. Unlike monogamists, who often adhere to an unwritten script for managing their relationships, polyamorists like us must be intentional in crafting our own models. We also have an agreement document for our polycule (a polyamory network of partners).

Polyamorous relationships, like all relationships, require work

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I’ve learned that I need three days a week to form a secure attachment with a partner, so I schedule my calendar accordingly. Every week, I live with Nick for three days; for another three days, I visit my other partner, a musician, when they’re not touring. I also dedicate at least one day to being alone. I see my comets at most once a year, as they are based in various cities between Sweden and Vancouver. And when I’m not with my partners, I keep in touch with them through video calls.

We need more positive polyamorous role models

I’m a polyamory influencer with Nick—we share our life on social media under the moniker “Decolonizing Love.” I never planned to become an influencer, but many people sought my advice because of my rare lifetime of experience with polyamory.

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Anecdotally, many of my followers have told me that the COVID-19 lockdowns made them pause and consider whether the person they were quarantined with was the only one they wanted to be with. Meanwhile, a 2020 survey found that 43 percent of American millennial respondents viewed a non-monogamous relationship as ideal.

My tribes showed me the diverse possibilities of love. As a representative of my tribes abroad, I help spread their message that love is rooted in freedom and should not be confined to a one-size-fits-all box. I believe that polyamory is the next wave of the sexual revolution, and I’m excited to help break open the floodgates.

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