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.

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6 responses to “Poly Means Many: but don’t you get jealous?

  1. I typed out a really interesting comment and managed to accidentally refresh the page and delete it before posting! Damn! I wonder if I can remember any of it…

    I think it’s terrible how jealousy has such a bad reputation that we feel compelled to deny that we ever feel it. We need to work out *why* we are having those feelings, rather than hiding them away and pretending they’re not happening. It’s not that bad. It just needs to be talked about. Hmm… I also wrote about how I thought it was a shame that many people seem to think that possessive jealousy is the only type. It confuses matters.

    My original comment was far more interesting. I apologise for my clumsy fingers this morning!

  2. Ignore me – I was wrong! Jealousy isn’t an umbrella term. Apparently, it’s specifically rooted in fear of losing something/someone, so it *is* the possessive type. Sorry about that!

    • Actually (and perhaps uncharacteristically for me!) I’m not sure the dictionary definition, and the envy/jealousy distinction, is necessarily too much to worry about. It can be a useful way of ordering your own thoughts, and examining your feelings (and can perhaps be reassuring to look at feelings and think ‘ah, that’s envy, not jealousy’) – but given how widely the two terms are conflated, and given that the sensations are very closely linked, I don’t think there’s anything lost by talking about them in the same breath.

      Feelings don’t necessarily fit into neat little linguistic boxes, and if lots of people (as they do!) use jealousy to refer to the emotion that some other people refer to as envy… how much does that matter, if we can talk about all of it and the reasons behind the fears?

  3. One thing I point out to friends who ask about my jealousy is that jealousy is an emotion, a fairly negative one, like anger, fear, and grief.

    But…guess what? We all have ways of dealing with anger, fear, and grief. Or we search for ways. There are workshops, counseling, books written, even, on the topics.

    There may not be as much literature out there on dealing with jealousy (I haven’t looked, though, to be honest), but I’ve found that I easily find ways to deal with my jealousy. And, if I’m feeling really down-and-out, my loving partners are always willing to listen and reassure/adjust as needed.

  4. Pingback: Jealousy « Poly Means Many

  5. Pingback: Poly Means Many: Series summary - Rarely Wears Lipstick

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