Lately, since I’ve started dating non-monogamously, I’ve gotten a lot of questions and comments regarding jealousy. Usually something to the effect of, “You’re poly? Damn, I’m waaaay too jealous for that!” After mulling it over a while, I’ve come to the conclusion that jealousy really has nothing to do with it. I’d like to propose that we are not inherently jealous, but that we’ve been taught that jealousy is an appropriate, perhaps even necessary, reaction to these kinds of situations.
Jealousy is a secondary emotion. In other words, this means that the jealousy is blossoming from another emotion– almost always fear (which, coincidentally, is also anger’s primary emotion). In the context of relationships these fears tend to be fear of losing your partner and/or fear of not being good enough for your partner.
Let me first say that your fears are unfounded. For one, your definitely good enough. Could your partner still leave? Of course. That’s the risk you run with relationships. But from my experience, people don’t leave a relationship they’re happy in. Even in situations where there has been “someone else,” they were the catalyst to ending an already failing relationship, not the cause. Which isn’t to say things couldn’t seem blissful and then one day your partner does a 180, it happens. But it’s unlikely that if there have been no warning signs, something will happen out of the blue.
So jealousy is really just fear dressed up for the party. And if everyone is communicating openly and honestly, there’s little to fear. So what’s with the jealousy? Do we just enjoy tearing ourselves down? Or do we think, somehow, that we’re protecting what’s ours? Defending our claim? Does anyone else think that sounds weird?
Relationships are just that– the way you relate to people. You aren’t employing a servant or buying a flightless bird to keep in a cage. You’re relating, you’re learning, you’re getting to know another person and sharing yourself with them. So the possessiveness that can arise in relationships is actually kind of a scary thing. We become defensive and greedy when we’re afraid, we try to hide our partner away and keep them close to us… and when they get fed up with being treated like a pet, we use this outcome as validation for our fears when, in reality, the fear created the problem from the get go.
No joke, if you want to chase away a partner as quickly as possible, try keeping them tied down. Keep them from the other things in their life, friends, hobbies, family, etc. and they’ll leave faster than you can say, “Did I do something wrong?” A lover or partner is not meant to be the center of our lives. Our partners are supposed to enhance our lives and support our choices. If that’s not happening, it won’t last long.
The more we flesh out jealousy as an idea, the clearer it is to me that it’s a hallmark of monogamy, oddly enough. Think about it: Where is jealousy more likely? In a relationship where each partner is emotional and physically exclusive, or one where partners, though emotionally committed, are free to find others attractive and pursue that? Instinctively you want to say the latter, but the latter situation is one where boundaries have been established that allow partners to engage with other’s sexually without threatening the trust or the emotional intimacy of the relationship. Your poly partner is going to tell you if/when they sleep with someone else. In monogamous situations, we consider that cheating, which in turn encourages lying.
An example might help. If I’m walking down the street with my monogamous girlfriend and I see someone else attractive, I keep my mouth shut. If I mention the attractive person instead, the response is usually something to the effect of, “And I’m hideous??” or something as equally insecure and needlessly aggressive. When I’m walking down the street with my poly boyfriend and we see someone sexy (which happens a lot) he might say, “Wow, she’s beautiful!” and I might say in return, “Yeah she is! Why don’t you go talk to her?” One of those is going to result in a fight, and it’s not the poly example.
Listen, I’m not saying everyone should be polyamorous. Clearly, monogamy works for some people and I do believe that some people are better wired for a monogamous situations. What I am saying is that it’s funny to me that people associate jealousy with polyamory since what polyamory does is basically remove the barriers and insecurities that cause and feed jealousy. To me, it’s more honest in that you’re admitting up front that you WILL find others attractive. The difference is that in poly situations, we know that finding someone else attractive doesn’t mean NOT finding us attractive. We know that both can and do co-exist. What’s even better, though, is we don’t make you choose, either. It’s not like you have to leave one partner to be with another.
But I do understand what people are getting at. They want to know how I can handle seeing someone I love love others. (It sounds like a silly question when I put it that way, huh?) And the answer is two-fold: (1) I’m secure in the relationship my boyfriend and I have, and he does a great job of making me feel special and loved even though I’m well aware that I’m not the only person in his life in that capacity. (2) I got over my insecurities. And this really is the key. For a long time I didn’t think I could handle non-monogamy, but at least I was honest about why: “I just think I’m too insecure for that kind of relationship.” And at the time, I definitely was. Confidence is sexy, sure, but confidence will also preserve your sanity. That is, it doesn’t bother me seeing my boyfriend with another woman (or man–actually, that sounds hot, but I digress) because I’m confident in who I am and that he likes and cares for who I am, regardless of whether or not there are other attractive people around.
This isn’t a call for polyamory for all, that just wouldn’t work. But this is a call for confidence for all– whether you’re monogamous, polyamorous, single or asexual. Faith in ourselves is essential for survival, and if you only get yours from other sources, one day your well will run dry. Learning to love myself (because it’s still a work in progress) has been simultaneously one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s hard, but it’s well worth the rewards.
Consider starting small. I know I did. My therapist gave me these post-it notes to put around the house with positive messages on them. I tried not to gag when she first gave them to me. (Yeah, I’m definitely that person who rolls her eyes at “positive affirmations,” even knowing they can work.) For weeks I sat with the post-it notes, unable to think of a single nice thing about myself that I actually believed. And then it hit me, “Love yourself anyway.” I started writing things like, “You’re a ridiculous human being, but I love you anyway.” or “I have seen your struggle and I love you anyway.” It managed to acknowledge my resistance to loving myself while still sending a positive message. Go figure. But those words have come to mean quite a lot to me. They mean that even on days when I just can stand myself, when I muck everything up, when I want to just pull all my hair out and throw a tantrum, they mean that despite all the imperfections I should love myself… anyway.
Love more, fear less.
Last night was yet another amazing evening spent with my new beau. I was recounting some of the night to a close friend of mine, telling her about how happy I was, how a meteor could fall on my head right now and I’d still have a smile on my face, but inevitably “the future” came back to haunt me.
“Don’t hate me,” she began, “But what does this mean for the future?”
I get it. I understand the path we are taught to take always ends in marriage and kids and this one doesn’t. But why is that so scary?
“Uh, lots of hot sex with someone who adores me as much as I adore him?” I responded.
But of course it’s more than that. Of course I’m emotionally invested (meaningless sex really does it get me off, but power to the folks it does!) in this relationship, non-tradition though it may be. And of course a relationship has to go somewhere. Even if the habits stay the same, even if one doesn’t progress towards marriage or living together, being together for a long time will inevitably lead to a deeper connection– and that, admittedly, is something I do desire.
But let’s pretend, for argument’s sake, that he were single and monogamous. It really wouldn’t change where we are right now: enjoying each other’s company, figuring out each other’s quirks. We’re still new to each other, and at this stage, we’re having fun and learning. All relationships start this way, regardless of where they end up.
So I can’t help but wonder, what’s the rush? What’s the rush to see it “evolve”? And why does evolution only look one way (i.e. marriage)? I think Darwin would be disappointed by the suggestion. Yes, my options would be different, but so what? Even if I had options like marriage and kids and living together, is that something I even want? Right now I can definitely say, “Hell no!”
“Wouldn’t you eventually want to live with your partner?” asks my concerned friend. “Not necessarily,” is the answer, but more the point, who says I couldn’t? I’ve seen some very creative polyamorous households, for the record. But really, I don’t know. I’ve never actually lived with a partner (unless you count that semester from hell back in college, I don’t) and I don’t know that I’d want to. I very much enjoy having my own living space, and even if I did agree to move in with someone, it would be with the caveat that I had at least a room that was all my own space. A place to escape to, in case of emergency.
“But don’t you get jealous?” she asks. A fair question, and I tell her honestly, “Yes, sometimes. But actually it’s good for me to get confronted with my jealously. When I stop to think about it, I realize there’s really nothing to be jealous of. When I’m with him I feel loved and sexy and desirable and heck, even important. Each relationship is unique, and when I’m aware of this comparison begins to seem so foolish!”
I really appreciate how open my friend is being, I know it’s hard for her to think I could be happy without getting married. “When you do believe that marriage and babies is the path that people take and the structure you believe in, its scary when people you love step outside of that.”
“I guess it’s just dawning on me now, truly, that marriage isn’t the ONLY path to happiness, to family, to love. It’s disorienting, to be sure, but freeing too.”
But really, what I can’t get over is what’s the rush? Honestly, what is it? Is it that my biological clock is ticking? Don’t worry, my ovaries never let me forget. Is it that everybody else is doing it (I’m at that age, I’m going to at least a wedding a year)? Or is it that life is short?
Well that’s the irony, I suppose. It’s because life is short that I DON’T see the rush. Why am I going to plan for 5 or 10 years down the road when, in reality, the world could explode this evening? I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I could win the lottery, I could get hit by a bus, I could find a baby goat on my doorstep and be tasked with raising him to be a proud, badass adult goat. I don’t know! And that’s the beauty of it.
So yes, I’m staying in the here and the now as much as possible. I’m focusing on all the amazing things happening in my life right at this very moment– the future will come soon enough no matter how (un)prepared I am. So why concern myself with the amorphous FUTURE, when I can spend my time being grateful for everything already present in my life?
THE FUTURE, as far as I can tell, has already arrived.
Thanks to prolonged peer pressure from some of my coworkers, I finally caved in and watched Orange is the New Black, which I highly recommend. For those who are unfamiliar, the show is based on the memoir of Piper Kerman about her time in a women’s prison. The show itself is rife with prison and lesbian drama and while I certainly wouldn’t call it a comedy, it has it’s lighter moments.
Towards the end of season one, Piper asks her on-again-off-again lover what exactly the “end game” of their relationship is. That is, are they going to move to Vermont and have a baby, or will they hop around the globe from one fabulous party to another, free-falling through life? These are but two lesbian stereotypes in an ocean of possibility, of course, but the point is clear: Most of us date because we’re in search of a particular end game. And, for many of us, that looks like monogamous marriage with kids and, yes, a white picket fence.
I’m not knocking marriage or monogamy, but I don’t know what the rush is to get to the end of the game. I mean, the world we live in is such that many people live into their 80s, 90s and beyond– so why the rush to pop out a kid by 25? Why the need to plan your wedding when you’re not even engaged? Why the insistence on labeling a relationship (and the associated expectations) so quickly? What ever happened to living in the moment?
I reconnected with someone a few weeks ago who’s company I’ve been thoroughly enjoying. I guess it would be fair to say we’ve been enjoying each other. It’s rare, at least in my experience, to find someone you’re just comfortable being with– where silences are just silences without the awkward, where looking at one another is endlessly engaging, where you’re free to be yourself, whatever that looks like. But that’s how it’s been with us. We sincerely like each other, we enjoy spending time together, and beyond that their are no expectations.
I think it’s kind of perfect, actually. I love adding interesting and passionate people to my life, so why not do so without worrying about labels? Why not enjoy the company of those around you without concerning yourself with where you’ll all be in ten years? Not everyone sees it that way, though.
One of my closest friends is getting married next Spring, and unlike me she’s all about the wedding planning. But she’s also all about monogamous marriage and sincerely doesn’t seem to understand that I am not worried about the long-term right now. My last relationship was all about the long-term, empty promises and sweet nothings. I don’t want any more of that… but the idea that maybe I changed my mind, that maybe I was wrong about what I wanted (a long-term committed relationship, for example) and just want to have fun in the NOW is very foreign to my soon-to-be-bride friend.
To use an analogy, our conversations feel like this lately:
Me: Oh wow! Look at this delicious cake! I’m so going to eat this cake!
Friend: NO! Don’t eat the cake! You might get diabetes in 10 years!
Me: Yeah, but, I want cake right now and right now I don’t have diabetes.
Friend: But you have to plan for your future!
Me: … *shoves cake in her mouth*
I know she’s concerned that I might get hurt (that’s a risk you take when you put your heart in anything, I’m prepared for the consequences), and that she’s concerned because she cares about me but… it almost feels like concern trolling. Even worse, it feels like she’s condescending to me. I tell her about how happy I am and she says things like, “That’s so nice” as though what I’m doing is some kind of quaint placeholder until I wise up and go on a husband (wife?) hunt.
But what I’ve realized is that I don’t need to hunt– I don’t need another person to complete me or make my life work, and my life is full of dear friends who love me very much. While sometimes it’s hard to separate the peer pressure (thanks, Facebook) from my actual wants and desires, I’m finally starting to accept that maybe I don’t want what most people seem to want, and maybe there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. After all, I have a lot of love to give, who says I need to give it all in the same place?
I came across this comment on an article recently and it really resonated with me: “As mentioned above, I’m older. I do NOT want to get married or have kids. The best relationships that I’ve ever had consisted of sex and dinner a few times a week, peppered with intense conversations and some social outings as a couple. I’m fairly self-sufficient, and don’t really WANT someone who is too deeply ingrained in my daily routine. I’ve been accused of everything from being a heartless bitch to a total evil slutsicle for articulating this.”
Well, I’m “younger” by many standards, but otherwise I feel very similar. I don’t want to get married, and while I do want kids someday, that’s something I’m really not going to start thinking about for at least 5 more years. I love having my own place and I don’t want to move in with anyone or infuse myself into their daily routine. But I do want fun and great sex and intense conversations with someone with whom I share a sincere connection… yeah, I guess that does make us sluts, Internet Sister. At least by the standards of the penis-barers. (This is one of many reasons why I only sleep with feminists, no joke.)
Suddenly, English is failing me yet again. How does one even refer to the types of connections I’m talking about? The rhetoric we have surrounding dating and relationships reinforces the idea that the end game is, should and shall always be marriage, kids, house, dog, fence, etc. If you’re “dating,” it’s for the hope that you’ll turn out to be great life partners and decide to get married. I could effectively say I’m dating right now, since I’m going out on dates and having fun, but my end goal isn’t a long-term relationship and that’s the expectation with “dating.” It’s a kind of courtship, at least it’s assumed to be. So how do I say I’m non-exclusively dating and not looking for a spouse? What a mouthful. No wonder I’m a quirkyalone.
My friend says, “I’m just concerned that there is potential for you to fall madly in love with someone who won’t give you everything you want in life.” and I can’t help but laugh out loud. Is this a common sentiment– that we’re supposed to get “everything we want in life” from ONE person– one person who isn’t even ourselves? It’s just so ludicrous, I have to laugh. If I’ve learned anything from my last relationship, it’s that making yourself happy is crucial and it’s nobody else’s responsibility but your own. When we depend solely on others to make us happy or “give us what we want,” we’re not only setting ourselves up for failure, we’re being outright unfair. I don’t know any psychics so I’ve always found it good practice to ask for the things you want or need from others, rather than waiting for them to figure it out and pout passively in the meantime. But I’m single and unmarried– what could I possible know about relationships?
I wonder if this is what Peter Parker feels like when he goes home to MJ and finally takes off his mask.
After a sincere, year-long attempt at a relationship, I’m actually pleased to be returning to single life. Breakups always suck, and this one is hardly an exception, but singledom feels so natural to me– truly being the master of my own life, my schedule, my activities and, perhaps most importantly, with whom I spend my time.
I’ve never understood how some of my friends could hop quickly from one relationship to the next with barely any time in between to find themselves again. I always find myself needing more alone time than usual after a breakup, time I often refer to as “recalibration.” It’s not only that you need to figure out who you are independent of the relationship, but you need to figure out who you are after the relationship. Every relationship we have, no matter how short, changes us. Some teach us what not to do, some inspire us, but either way we are changed, even if in only subtle ways.
I’ve learned a lot of what not to do this time around, but I also feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself, and that, being the “free spirit” I am, maybe the standard courtship mold doesn’t work for me. After all, I really love living on my own, I don’t know that I want to move in with someone else, get married and start a family. Maybe down the road, but right now I want to just meet interesting people and have great connections. I don’t need a marriage end game, even though it’s a lot less illegal for me now. (Bye, bye DOMA!)
Anyhow, it’s good to be back. I’ve missed blogging a lot, and I felt so out of place not being my single self, even though it was nice to feel a little bit “normal” for a hot minute. And I can’t forget the love I’ve shared, even though things were hardly perfect most of the time. I try to hold on to the good and let the rest fall away, but it takes time.
Cheers to Single Life!
I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, Jade, where’s the bitter Valentine’s Day post?” After all, what else do us singles do on V-Day beside grumble? Truth be told, I was earnestly trying to ignore Singles Awareness Day this year. And I thought I was going to get away with it, too! But then the sun came up. I rolled out of bed, got myself to work and had the misfortune of witnessing this encounter:
Coworker1: “Hey, why aren’t you wearing red today?”
Coworker2: “Oooh, I don’t have a Valentine. I’m a rejected Valentine!”
CW1: “What?? Noooo, we love you!! We all love you!!”
CW2: “No, no, it’s OK, you don’t have to cheer me up.”
This was around the time I vomited all over everyone and promptly put a stop to the conversation. No? OK, that didn’t happen, but I wish it had! Because all this Valentine’s self-pity makes me nauseous.
Listen, I agree that V-Day mostly blows. It glorifies couples (heterosexual couples, in particular) and shames single people into hiding. It’s a dumb holiday created for profit– and as such greeting card companies, chocolate makers, florists and restaurants alike rejoice. But if you do not own one of these establishments and you’re single, Valentine’s Day probably sucks. Because it’s not just about “celebrating Love,” that I could get behind! No, it’s about flaunting your coupled privilege if you have it. (Which is pretty rich considering how we constantly talk about gay people “flaunting” their relationships with hand-holding .. Can you imagine what hell would break loose if we behaved like straight couples do on V-Day? Kissing– in public?! Why I NEVER!)
I’m sure there are plenty of couples out there who celebrate V-Day quietly. And for every one of them, there are pairs that have to have the BIGGEST Teddy Bear, the MOST flowers, the FANCIEST dinner and overall the most adoration poured over themselves. In high school, I remember the popular girls would compete over who got the most flowers/gifts/admirers on Valentine’s Day. Sadly, life after high school isn’t much different in this respect, except some of us have figured out how trivial it all is. So you’re pretty and someone brought you flowers. BIG DEAL. What have you done to contribute to society besides look pretty? No, seriously. Looking pretty isn’t in and of itself something commendable, yet there is nothing we commend more (in women in particular). No wonder this holiday has turned into a kind of pissing contest. It’s all about being superior!
And the whole thing just makes me sad. It seems like if you’re not busy feeling superior to the singles, then you’re busy throwing yourself a pity party. JEEZEUS, Stop! Seriously, stop competing with one another for the titles of Most and Least Loved of the Year. Can’t we just Love? Can’t we just be grateful for the people in our lives who Love us and those whom we Love? Can’t we just see this as an opportunity to remind them that we care?
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.
I’m starting to wonder if the trouble with relationships isn’t simply, well, relationships. Or, to put it another way, becoming too comfortable with another person.
Right now I’m learning a new language, and even in just the first three class sessions we’ve spent a considerable amount of time talking about the difference between addressing someone formally versus informally. All languages and societies that I’m aware of have these rules of decorum and politeness. When you meet someone for the first time, you’re suppose to speak formally to them, usually until they give you permission to do otherwise or you two become close.
But it feels like once we get close to someone, that’s when we start taking them for granted.
Think about how you act when you’re in a brand new relationship. I don’t mean the butterflies and the almost constant sex, there’s that too, but I mean how you treat the other person. In the beginning, you’re much more likely to do thoughtful things for them, go out of your way just to make them smile, and even send them little notes to let them know you’re thinking about them. Now, I’m not saying these things disappear as the relationship ages, but they become much fewer and far between or are reserved for special occasions (anniversaries, birthdays, etc.).
Emotionally speaking, I think we become more careless as time goes on. A new couple hangs on each other’s every word, frequently wants to know what the other person is thinking, and is highly aware of the other’s emotional state and, perhaps more to the point, how your actions affect your partner. But with time, we seem to become less aware of how our behavior impacts the relationship. And, sadly, in some cases we outright start to abuse one another.
I can’t help thinking of my best friend. For years, we were as close as partners without the sexual element. We lived together, commuted together, took vacations together; at one point, we even started discussing what it might be like for two very close friends to raise a family together. Weird, maybe, but we loved each other dearly. For those years, there was no one in the world I trusted more, and the verse was true for him as well. We knew each other’s deepest, darkest secrets and had seen each other at our best and our worst. In other words, nothing was sacred anymore.
I never thought much about how we interacted, until he fell madly in love with someone. Sure, he suddenly didn’t have much time for me anymore, but that’s predictable new-relationship behavior. He didn’t have time for anybody but his girl. But people began to approach me and comment on how he spoke to me–namely, that he was rude and even talked down to me like a parent might to a child. I thought folks were exaggerating that they just didn’t understand our relationship, until I saw him with this girl he was nuts about.
Goodness. He hung on her every word, practically licking the ground she walked upon. It was almost embarrassing to witness. Things he would politely ask her, “Sweetie, can you bring in the dishes from the living room?” he would simply command me, “Jade, pick up your shit already!” He was softer with her, kinder, and a hell of a lot more tactful.
Familiarity, I suppose, is a double-edged sword. On the upside, you get to know someone and that can be really cool! But on the downside, we take each other for granted and sometimes forget to even be kind to one another.
Now, granted, the example I give is a friendship versus a potential relationship, and you definitely suck up to folks you want to fuck. In that way, I may be comparing apples and oranges, but I’ve had the same exact experience within romantic relationships, the example of my best friend is simply the starkest.
My current relationship is no different. In the beginning, we were careful with each other, kind and considerate. Now we seem to bulldoze each other’s emotions like it’s going out of style. No concern for how our actions might affect one another, it seems we’ve retreated into concern for our own needs and nothing more. I know we both frequently feel disrespected, and I certainly feel belittled on a regular basis. Is this how we treat people we Love? It makes no sense…
But, what my experience with my best friend taught me is something I think is true of all types of relationships, friendships, romances, family, etc.. What I learned there was that it’s often the people we Love the most that we take the most for granted. We just expect them to be there, like they always have been, with no effort on our part. But if the people we Love feel unappreciated, disrespected or, heck, even obsolete… then they won’t stick around for very long.
In all fairness, I’m basing this on personal experiences which means it could just be me. Maybe I’m just the kind of person people talk down to. Even most closest friends tell me I have a tendency to be a doormat, often for the sake of niceness, in my mind. I’m trying to usher some of that crap out of my life, but I have a hard time refusing to help someone when they ask for it I don’t have a “good” reason to turn them down. Perhaps this is why I feel taken for granted so often.
So I’d love some more anecdotal data on this one. What have been your experiences, dear reader? Does familiarity breed carelessness? Or are people only as careless as you let them be?
Let’s be transparent about it: I’m wary of relationships. Anyone who’s been alive more then 3 years probably is. After all, people hurt each other. And, as my best friend says, “A big front has a big back.” In the case relationships or love, the more you invest and the more pleasure you get from the whole experience, the greater devastation you’re risking yourself should it come to an end.
So, the person who’s toasting to his “forever love of forever” has been dating this gal for about 18 months. Year and a half… forever, same difference, right? It’s why we let 18-month-old’s drive cars. But the string of responses just amused the hell out of me. The first couple of responses are folks chiming in with their own relationship fodder–anything to talk about ourselves, right? But then my kindred spirits come out of the woodwork, and I’m comforted by the few folks gagging and making “Your Mom” jokes to combat the 40+ likes this post already got.
Oh well. I hope this friend isn’t disappointed down the road of whatever is to become of his “forever love of forever.” But I’m going to do my best to focus on what’s right here, right now. I have to let my Love fuel me. Whether I’ve convinced myself it’s the mystical “forever love” or any of the other, equally as worthy forms of showing Love towards another person, I’ve got to give all I can now and not worry about who I’ll have to Love later.