How Not To Feed the Green-Eyed Monster and Tell Your Brain to Shut Up
“Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy — in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other.” — Robert A. Heinlein
Tears had started welling in her eyes, a slight tremble to her shoulders, as she sat beside me on the garden bench. It was late Winter, but the light and warmth of the setting California sun kissed the flowers all around us. I brushed away a tear with the back of my half-closed hand, and told her it was okay, and that she was beautiful. She was so breathtaking in that moment of complete vulnerability, and I leaned in to kiss her, watching for her response. She looked comfortable, receptive and desiring of this moment, and taking her cue we kissed sweetly for the very first time, my hand holding her tear-dampened cheek tenderly. This was our first time meeting, and it wouldn’t be our last.
Part of the history with this woman, that would become my partner, was that she had been in what she thought was a monogamous relationship. Her long term partner cheated on her and fell in love with another woman. In time he convinced her that he loved both of them, but he knew nothing of ethical non-monogamy, much less polyamory, nor did he want to learn. The reconciled and entered what could be described as a DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) polyamorous relationship, with her learning everything she could about polyamory and trying to find her own way.
I didn’t see the warning signs then, as I was fresh to dating after the ending of my marriage. Having been polyamorous in theory, but never practice, she re-introduced me to it in practice. I never met my metamour (her other partner), nor did he know anything about me other than maybe that I existed. She was such a beautiful, sweet woman, but still deeply hurt by her primary partner’s betrayal. We spent a lot of time together, exploring mutual interests, enjoying walks in botanical gardens and sharing romantic meals. Our intimate time, while limited, was sweet, affectionate and wholesome. I grew to love her and we became partners.
Becoming partners was the start of the end. As soon as we made our partnership official, she started to pull back. I made all the effort to spend time together. The evening dates stopped, the alone time never really happened again. Eventually we only saw each other each Friday when I would take her to lunch. She spoke of moving to a nearby city where we could spend time together more, as her primary wouldn’t be staying over as much. I had hope, but it was for nothing. After she moved, she never communicated with me again.
In time, I realized that she simply wanted to reach parity with her primary partner. She wanted two partners, as he had two partners. That fact that I saw other women didn’t seem to faze her at all. She was jealous of him for what he had done, and was deeply insecure due to his infidelity. I was simply a pawn to that end. I will always wonder what played in her head to allow her to completely ghost me, to throw me aside so casually as if I didn’t matter, despite my caring so much for her. I simply didn’t factor to her anymore and it still hurts to this day. Closure would have helped, but that is life.
Humans have a deeply innate tendency to be territorial over their intimate partners. Even among active philanderers, finding out a partner is also cheating can bring about incredible anger. Cultural and religious ideas have rooted into much of humanity the belief that only monogamous relationships are healthy, valid and moral. The truth is that being in a relationship doesn’t grant one fully autonomy over the other person’s body or what they choose to do with it.
The two hazards of many a relationship, monogamous or non-monogamous, are jealousy and insecurity. Monogamous people often assume a relationship guarantees a sexual and romantic exclusivity agreement. People of varying levels of non-monogamy can have a potential spectrum of fidelity agreements. But wherever a relationship falls on that spectrum, it doesn’t automatically prevent jealousy from being experienced and insecurity felt. The two feelings are deeply entwined and the former is directly caused by the latter.
The sad state of humanity is that everyone is an island unto themselves. Every word or action can serve to further isolate or engender closeness in others, and we are always second guessing ourselves. As the old childhood song goes, “If you’re happy and you know it, overthink!” How many times have people been completely content with themselves, only to remember some awkward past memory, or mistaken statement, that results in feelings of angst normally reserved for a comic book teenage superheroes. The problem is a human is inherently a social creature, and social ostracization is one of our biggest core fears.
Pair bonding is the norm for people, and the desire and need to have someone that will be there for you through adversity is paramount in our sense of well-being. Non-monogamy compounds these fears as partners are often out spending time with, dating and “mating” with sexual competitors. Analyzing the context of insecurity and jealousy, as it relates to us as the human animal, helps to frame the understanding where these emotions originate.
Simply put, the emotion of jealousy stems from the fear that you could lose your partner and that you are somehow not good enough. In non-monogamous relationships, this often means that the jealous person is feeling that their needs are lacking on some level. Does one person have more partners than the other? Is one person not getting the attention that they need, or feel they are entitled to? Is the other partner doing things that were assumed to be special and reserved for the original couple? All of these stem from insecurity, which may or may not be valid, based on the non-jealous partner’s actions.
When the jealous partner isn’t being neglected, the important thing is to focus on the things that made your partner love you and want you originally. Bolstering one’s own self-confidence is critical in a world full of largely insecure people. It becomes the responsibility of the individual to own their emotions, to step outside of their ancient animal instincts. I’m not subscribing the often scoffed opinion that polyamory is somehow a more evolved way to love and have relationships than monogamy is, but to be comfortable with the nature of sharing your partners with other people requires a bit of personal growth. As a counterpoint to consider, at some point the jealous partner will be out with someone else, leaving their partner to address the same potential fears.
If the jealous partner is being neglected, and there is a true imbalance, it’s time for a discussion to occur. The best antidote for insecurity and jealousy is always communication. Letting your partner know how you feel can often make them aware of something they are being oblivious too. It’s easy to get lost in the euphoria of a new relationship, and to do things that make your partner feel diminished. They own their own emotions, but if you’re being an ass, you need to be called out on it.
Obviously, people change. In time, their wants and needs often change with them. It may become time for one partnership to end. It is always painful, but without some pain, the pleasure of love, companionship and fulfilling sexual engagements would be lessened. Still, communication is always the key.
Often unique to polyamory, is another powerful weapon against jealousy — compersion. In essence, compersion is finding happiness in witnessing and understanding the joy and happiness your partner is having in being with another. Remembering all the reasons you fell in love with them can help remind you of how great it must be for the budding metamor’s experience with your partner. Compersion can be a very tricky emotion to learn, but when you can embrace the happiness that is occuring for your partner, and their new partner, so many more experiences are possible. Having the potential of a new friendship, possibly even another partner for yourself, are things that can be found on the other side of compersion. But beyond that, finding a true unconditional love for the ones you love will do much to fill your own life with happiness.
When people I love are happy, I am happy. We all have that primitive human deep in our inner being, but when I can remember what I am worth as a person and a partner, I can find the ability to master the caveman within. It is love that sets us apart from our more base emotions, and it is up to us to remind ourselves of why we are valuable, and why we can eschew insecurity and jealousy, and just believe in our own self worth. While I am no longer polyamorous, these are still lessons worth integrating into any relationship.
I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!