Monthly Archives: March 2012

Stranger in a Strange Land

I recently read Heinlein. A lot of people I know read Heinlein in their teens; I never did. And you can’t have an opinion on something until you’ve read it, right? (same reason I can’t bear the Daily Mail Offended Brigade, who are keen to complain about how offensive something was that they haven’t actually watched).

So I read Stranger in a Strange Land, and now I have Opinions on Heinlein. I won’t post spoilers, but here’s roughly how my thought process went – first half of the book, this is great! Interesting exploration of a contradictory culture, a bit ‘of its time’ but I can forgive that (Wyndham is one of my favourite writers, ‘of its time’ is perfectly reasonable, and all the scifi I find interesting tells you as much about the fears and concerns of the society in which it was written as it does about anything else), some characters seem more fleshed out than others, but we’ve a long way to go…

Then half way through the book it’s as if he decided ‘fuck that, I’m writing a different book now’. Sympathetic-but-flawed characters turn out to be utter twits, the women really are that two-dimensional and without volition or personality (and in fact are shown to be genuinely interchangeable). Anything of any interest in the first half of the book is ditched in favour of bizarre semi-magical semi-religious woowoo rubbish – I want to say deus ex machina, but it’s not quite that; it’s not that it resolves the plot at the end, it’s a change halfway through that swings everything in a completely different direction, without explanation or justification. Yes, there’s a lot in there that is a version of poly, but it made me deeply uncomfortable. It was all a bit ‘stop being on my side, you’re making my side look bad’ – I just wanted to throw it against a wall.

The Rake and Poppy both asked me why I was persisting with it (it’s not a particularly short book); I never leave books unfinished*. I want to know how they resolve! Same with this. It’s not impossible – unlikely, but not impossible – that it could have completely turned around in the final pages. It didn’t. I wonder if this is one of those authors that you have to read as a teenager? Gentle readers, thoughts on Heinlein? Am I wrong?

* except for Proust. After attacking that three or four times, a few years apart, I never managed to get further than about half way through the second book. I accepted this year that it wasn’t going to happen.

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Poly Means Many: but don’t you get jealous?

Some people genuinely never get jealous – not just in romantic contexts, but in any. It suggests an extraordinary level of self-security and general awesomeness. But I don’t think that’s many people; I think most people get occasionally jealous about some things, sometimes, whatever type of relationship/s they are in.

The two classic responses to disclosing or explaining non-monogamy are ‘I couldn’t do it’ and ‘but don’t you get jealous?’.

Though I am ‘guilty’ of presenting an overwhelmingly positive story (though that really is my experience and my truth) it would be disingenuous to pretend there are never wobbles over anything, ever. As always, I can only speak from my own experience, but I’ve found that any jealousy I find in myself has nothing to do with anything happening around me, and everything to do with my own emotional state. It’s completely internal.

Let me explain. The only times I’ve dealt with jealousy, it’s been about what’s going on in my own head. When I am happy, secure, confident in different areas of my life, sure of my place in my lovers’ hearts, then I can find no jealousy in myself. It doesn’t matter whether that place is (metaphorically) near or far, it’s not about wanting to be the most special and adored; it’s about being confident that the relationship is balanced and even and in a place or on a trajectory that we both find happy and fulfilling.

But when I’ve been feeling unconfident or insecure or unhappy in myself, that’s the only time I find flickers of jealousy. The occasional self-flagellating ‘oh I am so BORING and rubbish and faily’ can be quickly magnified into ‘I am so rubbish – but look at those amazing people over there! They are so much more interesting and funny and attractive and brilliant, I bet everyone I care about secretly wants to spend all their time with them and never speak to me ever ever again.’

It’s not that jealousy is always just about your own emotional state; in my case, it always has been, because it’s always come up in a situation of honesty and assumptions of good-faith communication. I suppose jealousy is a feeling of not getting the whole story, of there being something your partner is not telling you. The examples of triggers for jealousy – feeling not good enough, fear of missing out – have an underlying sense of being lied to, whether intentionally or inadvertently. If you have a jealous panic over not being good enough because your partner’s new boyfriend is better at tennis than you, it’s not about the tennis; it’s about the fear that your partner is secretly thinking ‘thank god I’ve found someone at last who can play tennis well! Phew, this is SO much more fun than playing tennis with Other Partner, that was rubbish, perhaps I’ll leave them now I’ve finally found someone who can play tennis so amazingly well, or perhaps I won’t but will always be a bit disappointed and saddened by Other Partner’s uselessness at tennis. I mean, zie really is useless. I’m so glad zie’s not here getting in my way. But this guy is incredible!’

Perhaps this is why people in poly relationships are sometimes (not always) keen to say that they never get jealous, even if they do. Admitting to getting jealous means one of two things: either you’re seeing lies and deception where there are none, which is a ‘failure’ in oneself, especially when you’ve gone to great pains to talk about how the whole point of poly is that there are no lies and isn’t that wonderful; or you’re seeing REAL lies and relationship threats, which ‘proves’ that poly is a terrible idea and was always going to bring about the horrible flaming collapse of all your relationships. When you’re very invested in polyamory being awesome, either of those options feels like a bad admission, even though both are an extreme caricature of reality, at best.

It also makes sense of the fact that a common response to polyamory is ‘but don’t you get jealous?’ and that the poly response is often ‘well sort of, but…’ – both are using ‘jealous’ as a placeholder for other feelings. From a monogamous perspective, the thing that jealousy represents is the fear that your partner is sleeping with someone else – and in a poly relationship that’s actually happening, so of course, surely you must get jealous? And from a polyamorous perspective, that jealousy may or may not happen, but if honest communication is happening it is an irrational feeling, because it’s not about the fear that your partner is sleeping with someone else, but the fear of other forms of dishonesty.

So here we are, back at honesty again. And it’s why possessive jealousy is such a damaging emotion, because at its heart is a persistent belief that your partner is lying to you. No relationship can survive that, whatever form it takes.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month five bloggers – Amanda Jones, An Open Book, One Sub’s Mission, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick – will write about their views on one of them.