|In which I talk about jealousy
||[Aug. 30th, 2016|11:48 am]
When people find out that I’m poly, the first thing they ask is “oh, I could never do that, I’d be too jealous, no way.” |
Ha! Who am I kidding! The first thing they say is “I don’t even know what that means.” And then as I tell them, a look of horror, disgust or curiosity comes over their faces.
So, the first thing a curious person asks about/mentions is jealousy. The rest of them make a funny face and in the future get twitchy whenever I mention the words boyfriend, girlfriend or partner. (Right now some of you are going "wait, what?" We'll wait for you.)
Ask any poly person and if they’ve been at it for any length of time, they’re going to have advice or strategies for dealing with jealousy. Ask ME about anything and I have advice and strategies for dealing with it, so pull out your Surprise Faces, children, because I’ve got this covered.
“I’m monogamous, so I don’t need to read any further” you may be thinking. (Again with the kidding…you’ll totally keep reading because I might invent a new phrase you want to steal, teach you a new vocabulary word or otherwise enrich your life that 15 minutes of pawing through Facebook will NEVER do.) Personally, I think there are some nuggets here for you on working through things, thinking your way through them and developing a stronger self. I may be biased. But seriously, you will.
Y'all, this is going to be long; I've put a lot of brain against it.
I’m a firm believer in self-examination. I don’t meditate so much as I take out my thoughts, spread them out on the kitchen counter, put on my magnifying glasses and tinker. Jealous thoughts are no exception. It’s my belief that the first thing you should do with bad feelings is to try and peel them apart until you really get down to the core. I use the analogy of unpacking a suitcase after a trip. You open up the suitcase, unzip all of the pockets, pull everything out, determine whether it needs to go into the wash, be folded up and put away in a drawer, thrown in the trash, whatever. (Empty your suitcase often, my pets, no one likes smelly baggage.)
Critical to this process, however, is that you do need to own your own shit. Seriously. You have to be very, very honest with yourself. Question your motives, pull your cowgirl panties up, put on your big boy Underoos, be a mature adult. You may have to admit that you’ve been lazy, that you’ve been obfuscating, that you’ve been unclear or dishonest or undercommunicative in your relationship. If you are not ready for this…then you certainly have no business being poly. I would argue you have no business even being in any kind of relationship where you'd risk harm to someone else’s heart, but clearly that isn’t stopping a lot of people.
So, open up your baggage (and some of you have so much that even Southwest is going to charge you extra. Er, for those of you that don’t fly a lot, airlines have started charging a fee per bag, but Southwest is one of the few that still lets you take your two bags for free. That joke is a lot funnier in person. With people who fly. Trust me….or is that the hollow echo of a pity laugh I hear?) ANYWAY.
Here’s the first thing you do: separate jealousy from envy. I know, you thought they were sort of the same thing. You're not alone. Some dictionaries hint at the difference - the resentment inherent in jealousy. But here's how I define it, especially as applicable to relationships. Envy is when someone has a thing that you want as well. Your best friend gets a promotion and fat pay raise. Your colleague takes a two week vacation in a lovely cottage in Provence. You might actually even be happy for the other person, or at least neutral – but you sure wish you had that thing too.
Jealousy is when someone has a thing that you want – and you want it but you really don’t want the other person to have it. You want it and you feel that the only way you’ll be happy is to take that thing away from someone else, or not let them have it in the first place.
See, envy is fixable. There’s a solution – it may be hard – what do you have to do at work to get a raise/promotion? Maybe work harder, longer, get a certification, go work for another company. You, too, can have a vacation in Provence…you just might need to get a part time job, do without that new car, wait until the kids leave home, whatever. But there’s way for you to have that thing – it’s just a question of whether it’s worth it to you. In any case, you can’t BLAME THE PERSON WHO GOT IT that you didn’t.
Your boyfriend took his new girlfriend to that restaurant you’ve always wanted to go to, but you never got around to making reservations? Well, whose fault is that? You could have made reservations…but didn’t. (Note: it’s possible that you’ve hinted several times that you wanted to go there and now you’re butthurt that he not only didn’t pick up on the hints, but then took the new girl to YOUR SPECIAL PLACE. You want to be mad at the two of them, get on that Jealous Pony and beat him with a stick. But seriously, you’re actually the person who created that situation. Hints? What you are, twelve?) When you admit that the only thing that stopped you from being at the restaurant before now was your own inaction…you really can’t be mad at anyone but yourself. You can admit that you’re envious and figure out what you want to do to solve it. Maybe it’s time you made those reservations, ya big slacker, huh?
Envy can be a very useful emotion – calling your attention to a need or want that maybe you didn’t even know you had. It gives you something to work with – a problem to solve.
Jealous, on the other hand, wants to you basically hippo-poop all over someone else’s thing. (If you don’t know what I mean by hippo-poop, I suggest you google it. NOT AT WORK.)
Oh, your boyfriend and his new girlfriend seem to have a fun, flirty thing going on in Facebook messenger? And you’re stuck with stodgy e-mail and phone calls? You feel sad and left out. So, ask yourself: is that something I want? If so, then, well, girl, get thee on Facebook and do that. Make it happen. Death before Facebook? Okay, then, talk to your boyfriend about how you would like to have some of that instantaneous, fun, flirty thing to and see if you can work out a different path. Maybe it’s post-it notes, maybe it’s texting, or some other technology that I, as a 50+ year old, don’t even know exists.
But here’s where being honest with yourself is so crucial. Hey, the thing you're feeling bad about, angry about, hurt about, may not even be envy or jealousy – one friend got upset when she found out that her partner had brought a date home. When she really thought about it, she realized that felt that her house had been violated by a stranger. And then she took the next most important step, visualizing and really demanding an honest answer from herself – would I have been upset if they hooked up at the date’s home, at a hotel? She realized that her answer was no, it was really having someone she hadn’t met in her house. So, solvable, right? If you want to bring someone home, I need to meet them first. Of course, the acid test is then – meeting someone and then being okay with it. And she was. So, not jealousy, just some safe space making.
You can set rules to protect yourself – hey, this is a really stressful time for me personally and I can’t handle one more complication, so could you give me a couple of weeks to process before you go out on a date with this new person? Or, I need you to come home and not spend the night for the first couple of times. But there should be deadlines/time limits on those. If you need some time to deal, then that’s okay. But if you keep expanding the scope of the timeline…you’re hippo-pooping. (Have you looked that up yet? It’s an effective method for someone who spends most of their time in a herd in the river, where you want to disperse stuff, make it fish-bite-sized. Not so much for opposable-thumbed, big brained hominids.)
(Rules about staying safe, whether it’s sexual protection or letting your partner know that you’ve arrived safely or that you’re heading home, or limitations meant to keep children feeling safe/comfortable are a whole ‘nother thing and never have to expire.)
For example, if Facebook messaging is really the thing that would enable the interaction with your partner that you’re looking for and you’re rejecting that medium, and no, you don’t want to G-chat or Snapchat or (again, I’m out of my depth on what the options are here), whatever. Then you may have to face the fact that you actually are jealous. Because it’s not the Thing that you want, so much as you don’t want to the OTHER person to have the Thing. If what you really want is for him to stop spending so much time flirting with her on Facebook, you’re definitely feeling jealous.
Jealousy is motivated by fear, usually fear of loss. When you’re there, when you realize that you’re about to hippo-poop: wanting the other people to stop the thing, feeling awful or sad or destructive, wanting to set up rules to “protect yourself”, wanting to destroy, damage or limit your partner’s joy in their other relationship…you need to get out that magnifying glass and tweezers and figure out what’s going on in your head.
Try going down a checklist of the things that you might be afraid of – and if you can, address them, face them, talk yourself down.
The underlying theme of jealousy is fear of loss, right? You’re afraid they’re going to leave you. You’re afraid you’re not going to get what you need – time, affection, love – that this other person will take up all of the room, all that your partner has to give you and there won’t be enough for you. That the other person is more attractive, smarter, better at things than you are, gives your partner things you can’t. Here you are, filled with fear that you’re going to lose the thing you love and then you get a gut punch to your self-esteem – why aren’t I enough, right?
As a poly person, when you look at them one by one, those are actually all ridiculous thoughts. Please note, I said ridiculous thoughts. You are NOT ridiculous for having them. You are far from alone and even people who've been in successful poly relationships for YEARS can suddenly find themselves, once again, keeping company with these ridiculous thoughts. But let's kick this poor company to the curb, shall we?
#1. You’re poly – no one has to leave anyone for any other reason than this: your relationship is not working. It is no longer a valid or desired option for at least one of you. Is your relationship working? Well, then, they don’t have to leave you. Why would they leave you when they can have you, plus this other thing? Who would leave THAT?
#2. There won’t be enough for you, is that your fear? You can love your child more than anything else in the world and then you have another one and you love that child more than anything else in the world, except for the first kid who you love…love is infinite and not diminished because it’s spread around. Time is actually the enemy here – we do only have so much time, so much attention span we can devote to anything. But here’s the thing – you don’t solve that by limiting someone else’s time…that’s hippo-pooping. You just concentrate on making sure YOUR needs are being met. You let your partner figure out how to solve that problem. Maybe he/she has to give up a hobby, get up earlier in the morning, whatever – your job is to make sure that you're expressing your own needs and making sure they get met, not policing time that actually isn't yours.
#3. Okay, buttercup, time to suck it up. Other people ARE better at some things than you are. He might be taller and fitter. He might be able to do that thing with his tongue. Maybe he loves those cheesy horror movies that she loves and you do not. Here’s the thing – you are more than just your abs, your tongue, your taste in movies. You are a big beautiful complex package of stuff. And THAT’S what your partner loves about you. No one else can be that same complex package. No one else can provide that same bundle of joyful to your partner. And it can be hard to remember, especially when your partner’s in the throes of new relationship energy, but you keep staring at that concept, you say it, write it, hug it, draw a picture, carry it around with you. Your partner loves the whole bundle of you. And you know damn well that no matter how excited you are about that new shirt you just bought, that doesn’t mean you don’t love that flannel shirt you’ve had for years, the one you put on when you get home from work and it’s time for comfy clothes -- that shirt is soft and warm and represents so many lovely memories. You still fucking LOVE that shirt. Okay, that may be stretching a metaphor. But I really do love that flannel shirt.
Seriously, you need to internalize that concept – that you are worthy -- and understand it in the very marrow of your bones.
Because otherwise you’re missing out on one of the great benefits of being poly – you don’t have to be EVERYTHING to your partner. Just ENOUGH. That can take a lot of pressure off of you. Oh, look, now she has someone who will watch those movies with her! You can be relieved that you no longer have to sit through them, or feign enjoyment (like she hasn’t picked up on it…) or whatever. And she can really, fully engage and enjoy those movies, not alone and not without having to feel guilty that you’re not having fun. And YOU GAVE THAT TO HER. Said “go, go do that thing, with my blessing and support.” Of course she loves you! How could she not?
Tap into your own experience, if you have it. When you were out on a date with that guy and you found yourself really liking him, and you had a great time, did you love your other partner any less? Did you think to yourself, okay, maybe I should trade up here? No, of course not. If you thought about it, you probably loved your partner EVEN MORE at that moment in time. That she’d made enough room in your lives together for you to go out and have a great time with someone else. That you could have both. All the things! Yeah, so now that you’re the one at home – remember that. Tap into that feeling. Remember how much love and affection you felt, how undiminished your love was for the partner that wasn’t there.
#4. But okay, now maybe we’ve scared the monsters out from underneath the bed of jealousy. But there’s still that last one, way back there in the corner. The one that maybe knows your relationship is not at its best right now, (which means maybe that's a talk you need to have with your partner) or hasn’t been. Maybe your partner’s still with you just because she hasn’t found anyone better. Maybe this new person IS a better fit. Maybe they will love this other person more than they’ll love you. And maybe the only way they can keep this new person is to leave you behind. Maybe this other person is so perfect for them and you are so not, not anymore.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE WITH A PERSON WHO DOES NOT WHOLEHEARTEDLY LOVE YOU? You’re worth more than that. They’re no longer the person they were. Maybe you aren't either. Or maybe you are. It's sort of moot; the puzzle pieces just not fit anymore. Sure, it’s scary being alone, it’s scary to even think about disrupting a familiar situation. But you keep trying to answer that all caps question I wrote above and see if you can come up with a good, true and valid reason. You explain to me, yourself, the infinite universe, how staying with someone who devalues you in comparison to another person is a good use of your short time on earth.
Hang on, I’ve got feathers to unruffle. I've been there, got the t-shirt, rode the pony, wallowed in the pool of tears, self-doubt and fear. But then you're out the exit and you don't even have to get your hand stamped. You've got this.
I make it sound easy. Let me assure you it is NOT. If your main activity is clearing a path to the couch each night, you’re not going to be able to hop in the pool and swim a mile. You might actually have to practice, work up to it. If you’re struggling to really believe these conceptsm then you might have to put some time into chewing on them, thinking about them, mediating on them. Do reps with your brain, if you will. The first time you tried planking, how long did you last? Did you make it to double digits? If you then gave up and said, oh, that’s hard, too hard, that’s not for me, did you get any better at it? Yeah, changing the way you think about things is hard. But thinking in new ways can make everything else so much easier.
So, to sum up:
Rather than wallow in a sea of hurt, question why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. Divvy up your emotions into envy vs jealousy, find the issues that can be fixed via communication or logistics. Deal with your fears by staring them right in the eyes, demanding that they stand up and face you, and then assail them with reason, my friend. And for pity’s sake, give yourself some time to get good at it.
(Disclaimer – I’m a mostly neurotypical person who’s not struggling with anything but physical issues. Your mileage may vary. And I’m just starting to put my thoughts about this down – consider it a rough draft. While I may sound like I know exactly what you should be doing…that’s just my natural voice. Debate is cool and helps me refine my thinking.)