This blog was originally posted in Life on the Swingset on January 31, 2o12.
I go to trivia pretty frequently. At the venue where I play trivia, the rules change halfway through the game. Our host, as we get into the new round, reminds us every week that “Shit’s different, pay attention.”
I’m telling you this because I’m using it as a metaphor for my poly life. Yes, really.
One of the most common questions that gets thrown out into the ether by people entering the world of non-monogamy, is “How do you deal with jealousy?” This is a totally valid and important question, but it’s also important to remember that jealousy is a different animal in a polyamorous relationship than in a monogamous one.
I recently explained my feelings on jealousy in one of my family’s non-monogamy discussion groups. My step-husband-in-law (or “metamour,” for those of you who prefer fancy terminology) said it was one of the best explanations he has ever heard, so I thought I may be on to something worth sharing. Here’s my take. In a monogamous relationship, if I am jealous of someone, it is because I believe my partner is interested in that person and therefore might leave me. If I am not in a monogamous relationship, if my partner is interested in someone else, he will pursue her, maybe date her and he will not leave me. I am free from the fear that my husband’s romantic involvement with someone new will necessitate the end of our marriage.
This does not mean that there is no jealousy in polyamorous relationships. If it weren’t utterly gauche I would put that sentence in enormous red text. I’m not trying to tell anyone that poly relationships are jealousy-free. I’m also not saying that some people don’t fear abandonment within their poly relationships. I’m just saying that shit’s different. So. Disclaimer done, back to me.
I don’t get jealous.
Yep, I just said that. Really.
Please don’t start throwing things at me yet.
Here’s the thing about jealousy. Jealousy is all about fear. It’s about being afraid of losing your partner to someone else. I experience a lot of challenging negative emotions, ones that are often mis-diagnosed as jealousy, but what I don’t feel is fear. What I do experience are insecurity, loneliness, and envy. These feelings are easily confused with jealousy, because they arise at similar times.
For example, when my husband is on a date with someone, and I have no plans, I might feel loneliness. If he’s met a new girl, and she’s especially beautiful, I’ll feel insecure. If we’re at a party, and he’s getting lots of attention and flirtation, I may be envious. But none of those things are jealousy, because they do not come with the fear that my husband will leave me.
This is the reason that jealousy in others confuses me. Oh wait, I haven’t told you that yet. Here’s another tidbit about me and why I’m abnormal – and, I think, wired for the non-monogamous life. I don’t understand why people get jealous as often as they do, and I have a hard time communicating and empathizing with a person experiencing jealousy. I’m unable to relate to an irrational fear of abandonment, because I don’t experience it myself.
You could argue that it has to do with my parents not getting divorced when I was young, or some other fascinating thing about my childhood, but the fact is, when someone tells me that s/he is going to stick around I believe it. I don’t worry that abandonment will come out of the blue – that one day my spouse will up and leave unexpectedly. And so when he does meet a new girl, or spends a lot of time flirting with someone, it doesn’t cause fear. Therefore, when I see jealousy in someone else whose relationship is apparently stable, my reaction is confusion. I want to help and sympathise, but I simply don’t get it.
“My partner is interested in someone new and that fact in and of itself is upsetting to me,” is a sentiment I have no way of mentally processing.
Change the motivation, replace it with something concrete, and I am totally there. Sympathy hat is on.
“My partner is interested in someone new and my belief that she is prettier than me is upsetting to me.” Yep, all over that.
“My partner is interested in someone new and the fact that he forgets to do things with me because he is spending time with her is upsetting to me.” Hoo boy. Totally with you there.
You get the idea. So when I say I don’t get jealous, I don’t want to feel like I’m telling the world I’m the magical poly-fairy who never has negative emotional reactions to her life. What I am saying is that I feel a degree of safety in polyamory that I don’t believe I could have in a monogamous relationship. In my relationship, as it is, the only people who can end it are myself and my husband. His romantic and sexual feelings for other women do not threaten the security of our relationship because they can exist alongside it. If we were monogamous, I would fear the “other woman.” I would be afraid that someone better than me could come along and take him from me. But why would my husband leave me for another woman if he can be with me, and with her?
This does go both ways, by the way. My own wandering heart and libido used to scare me. When I was in a monogamous relationship, the flutters of attraction always came with a sickness in my stomach, a fear that I would cheat or that I would ruin my existing relationship by getting interested in someone new. But I am interested in someone new all the time. And when I love someone, I don’t want to wander off to the new thing at the expense of my love. That’s silly.
So, back to the real moral of the story: shit’s different. My mind has wandered all over this page so I’ll try to sum this up as succinctly as possible.
Jealousy is the fear that my partner’s romantic/sexual interest in a new person will cause my partner to leave me.
In a monogamous relationship, overcoming jealousy involves establishing complete trust that my partner will never develop an interest in a new person to a level that would violate the boundaries of monogamy and thus necessitate the end of the relationship.
In a polyamorous relationship, overcoming jealousy involves the (much simpler, I believe) process of accepting that my partner’s new romantic/sexual interest is not a reflection on the state of our relationship and can exist independently from it.