Tag Archives: questions

I’m way too jealous for that!

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.

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Great Expectations

(Cheesy title, I know, but it’s my favorite Dickens novel and it fits the topic perfectly!)

As much as we all know we shouldn’t be held to anyone’s expectations in our pursuit of happiness, except perhaps those we impose on ourselves, the expectations exist nonetheless.  I had a wonderful, impromptu conversation with a coworker the other day who shared with me some of the pressure she regularly gets from friends and family about the progression of her relationship.  In anything new this usually happens: the people who care about us want to know every last detail and sometimes they do more harm than good in their relentless quest for details and updates.   And in relationships, there’s even an expected timeline for relationship progression.

Don’t believe me? You must be under 18.  Otherwise, you’ve lived long enough to notice that even if you don’t jump on this timeline personally, your friends will, and they’ll do it in waves.  Between 18 and 25 you will attend more weddings than you knew you had friends and relatives.  From 25-40 you’ll be invited to so many baby showers that you’ll take up knitting just to cut costs.  And after 40? The divorce wave cometh.

My aforementioned coworker is married, and she and her husband have been together for nearly 8 years.  However, they’ve only been formally married for a little over a year.  Despite never having been married, I know what this means, at least in terms of expectations.  The public likes hot romances and fast families.  That is, we consider it fairly normal to marry someone if you’ve been dating for anywhere from 3 months to 2 years.  Beyond that? “What are you waiting for?” “When are you getting married?” “When is he going to propose??”  Personally, I have a much more conservative timeline.  I wouldn’t marry anyone I hadn’t lived with, and I wouldn’t move in with someone who I haven’t been dating at least a year (I know, I’m shattering all your lesbian=Uhaul stereotypes!).  Then after you get married, you have exactly ONE year to get yourself knocked-up or family and friends give themselves the liberty to comment on your reproductive choices and lack of reproductive promptness.  Think of the children! Literally.

We laughed as she went through a sampling of the torrent of comments she receives: “When are you going to start your family?” “Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?” “Are you trying very hard? You know the longer you wait…” “Tick, tick, tick! That’s your biological clock!” “You should try [insert sexual position or type of medical intervention here, along with a personal anecdote]!”

Do you see it? How there’s also an assumption with the expectation?  Never has my coworker been asked if she even wants to have children, that is just assumed, but people have no problem asking if she’d prefer a boy or a girl before she’s even pregnant! Audacious doesn’t begin to cover it.  But the truth is, our friends and family absolutely think this is not just their business, but their sworn duty to ask.  Without pressure from our social circles, I’d wager some of us would never get married or have children.

The other thing that strikes me about this is how incredibly sexist it is.  My coworker noted that while she receives these kinds of burning inquiries on a weekly basis, her husband has received them… never.   Some questions are absurdly offensive, like “When are you going to start a family?” as though two people who love each other do not make a family already!  And some of the questions, like “When is he going to propose?” just make no sense.  Who says he’s going to be the one to propose?  If he is proposing, isn’t it likely a surprise?  What if they haven’t discussed marriage yet?  For some a lack of interest in getting married is viewed as an unwillingness to commit and a dealbreaker, but to others it’s just not that big of a deal.  I could go on.  Even still, these are the questions women receive and men do not.  In the case of lesbians, I’ve found that when one partner is more masculine (like me!), they’re often treated like the man in the relationship (which, ironically, is rarely the case in my experience; butches are like Cadbury Eggs, we’re tough and chocolately on the outside, and soft and gooey on the inside!).  Or, to quote a friend of mine, “There is no man in the relationship! That’s why we’re lesbians!” For gay men… I have no idea.  (Twinks, Bears, Gay men of all varieties– Enlighten me!)

All in all, these are intensely personal decisions that, for some reason, people feel entitled to inquire about.  Obviously, it depends on the relationship, but there are some friends with whom I truly have no desire to discuss my relationship plans.  But the sad truth is we do have an established structure in our society.  It approximately goes: Go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, buy a house, send your kids to school (cycle starts over with them), then work until your dead or can afford to retire.   Nowhere is it written that this is how you have to lead your life, but people will expect that this is what you want and eventually what you’ll settle on, if you haven’t already.

Gosh, it almost seems bleak.   But let me say what I said to my coworker:  “You’re allowed to not want children.”  Likewise, you’re allowed to not want to get married, you’re allowed to not actually get married, you’re allowed to not have children, you’re allowed to forgo a “regular” job for one of your own creation, you’re allowed to buy a boat or a hot air balloon instead of a house, heck, you’re allowed to run away to the nearest island and eat papayas all day.  It’s all about what makes you happy.  You are not required to live up to ANYONE’s expectations, no matter whose they are or how great they may seem.

As for single people, we have expectations too.  But the question we get is the same every time… So what’s new in your love life?!” 

Of course, I assume when I hit 40, it’ll change to, “When are you going to adopt another cat?” or “Have you purchased your grave-site yet?”

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