Log in

What is jealousy? - Monogamous and Polyamorous Lovers [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Monogamous and Polyamorous Lovers

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

What is jealousy? [Jul. 29th, 2009|11:16 am]
Monogamous and Polyamorous Lovers

My situation is kind of backward from the usual "how I discovered poly" story. My very first girlfriend ever already had another boyfriend. I've always been with poly people. I've felt resentful my SO's attention for an OSO, but that lasted at most a few minutes until I figured out what I wanted and was not getting that made me feel that way.

Fast forward... the only relationship in my life right now is long distance, and I meet a woman locally. We really hit it off and are flirting like crazy, even after I go out of my way to explain that I already have a girlfriend. It seems she's thinking that I'm "safely unavailable", and I finally explain that I'm very much available. And interested.

So begin the Long Talks. After considerable discussion, because this poly thing is very new and strange to her, she decides to start seeing me. "I don't know if I can make this work, but I'm really going to try." I might mention that she's good to excellent friends with most of her exes, which strikes me as promising.

And things go along very happily, but whenever I visit my out of town girlfriend, she is obsessed with thoughts:
  • Will they have sex?
  • Have they had sex?
  • Are they having sex right now?

Now, the answer to some of those questions is, of course, "yes". That was clearly agreed to when we hooked up. And I try to comfort her and reassure her, but I'm having real problems.

What frustrates her is that however I try, I don't understand her problem. I try to draw parallels to one of her exes that she goes out with twice a week. (I'm usually invited, but don't always come.) "But you're fucking! Can't you see that makes all the difference in the world?" Er... no.

She's tried to get people to explain it to me, but all of her friends are mono and only have cheating experiences to share. Which involves a breach of trust that makes a huge difference to me.

Given that I'm not going to address these feelings in the "obvious" way (by forswearing my OSO), I'd like to understand them better so that I can address them more creatively. Generic comforting and reassurance about the importance of our relationship helps the symptoms, but they flare up just as strongly again next time.

She's really trying; one option on the table right now is "maybe it'll just keep hurting and I'll have to learn to live with the hurt". But an unhappy sweetie makes me unhappy and I desperately want to show her that it doesn't have to hurt.

But the first step is understanding the problem... and as I mentioned, we have a serious disconnect about her jealous feelings. I just can't empathize. And her mono friends aren't terribly comforting, either.

So, to help me build the bridge from my side... can anyone explain jealousy to me? I've heard it referred to in stories and literature a thousand times, but it's never explained very well. I've thought it was a fear of loss to a rival, but that doesn't seem to be quite accurate.

To her it's so obvious that she can't explain it, while I feel like a blind man struggling to understand colour. Help?

P.S. maybe it's just being such a drawn-out painful process because I only visit my out-of-town girlfriend a couple of times a year. My new sweetie says she could have never considered this if my girlfriend lived in town, but I wonder if it mightn't have been better to deal with this shit when things were new and patterns were still forming. Oh, well, the course of love is not known for running smooth...

[User Picture]From: badseed1980
2009-07-29 01:17 pm (UTC)
Well, as someone who's been poly for several years and still gets jealous once in a while, I will say that she probably feels a lot like she's been locked out of her home while someone else parties in it. She doesn't know exactly what they're doing, and if she did, it's stuff that she probably wouldn't want to happen in her home, and what's more, she's not allowed in. And she might never be allowed back in. OK, sure, that last bit isn't all that likely, but it's not impossible, either. What if the person who's using her home and having a great time decides they want to stay? (i.e., what if the OSO acts as a cowboy/cowgirl?) And even if they don't, what if they decide to do a little redecorating every time they come there? (What if being with OSO changes my partner in ways I don't like?) And what if they eat all the food that's in the fridge so there's nothing left when she can get back into the house? (Like, what if Partner's OSO takes up all Partner's energy for sex and romance so that when Partner comes home, s/he just wants to collapse and not give ME any of that energy?) What if they break a window, which could let burglars in so that it's no longer safe? (What if the OSO exposes the partner to an STD?)

Now, think about how you'd feel if this home stuff happened to you. Would it be any different if you didn't own the place, but still lived there and worked to make it feel like YOUR HOME? Probably not. So it's not necessarily sheer possessive attitude that causes jealousy. It's fear of something you really care about, something that's a big part of your life, something you put a lot of effort into, no longer being the same thing it was, no longer being available to you whenever you need it, and no longer being dependable and safe.

For someone new to polyamory, these emotions can make them feel like they're no longer in control of their life, like it's all at the whim of the person with whom they're involved. It's like being in a boat and not knowing how to sail. You just have to hope the wind blows you where it's safe. Maybe rather than trying to understand jealousy, you should try to understand that feeling of fear and helplessness. That's probably what she's feeling right now.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: siriel
2009-07-29 01:19 pm (UTC)
That was a wonderful explanation. Thanks for posting it.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: badseed1980
2009-07-29 01:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks. :) I sometimes get all wrapped up in analogies that make perfect sense to me but not to anyone else, and then when I go look at them later, I think, "WHAT was I thinking?"

Anyway, what I forgot to add was that the only things that can really fix this stuff are time, continued dependability and support of the poly partner, and the slow and gentle expansion of the comfort zone of the person who's new to this.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: metamour_maze
2009-07-30 01:05 am (UTC)
Wonders how long until livejournal has a simple "like" button, as facebook does these days. Nicely said!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: final_destiny
2009-07-29 01:28 pm (UTC)
Oh my god, that was brilliant! Seriously, that was probably the best explanation of jealousy I've ever heard.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: badseed1980
2009-07-29 01:29 pm (UTC)
Hey, I try. :) Thanks!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: cypherpunks
2009-07-29 02:19 pm (UTC)

Awesome, thanks!

This really helps. The point I wasn't getting is that there's a "way the world is supposed to be" that's comforting and reassuring, and when I step outside those bounds, it's frightening. Suddenly, everything is uncertain, and boom! Insecurity and fear of loss.

Whereas for me, my SO having OSOs is familiar and comfortable and "safe", and I get anxious in the opposite situation: about being "enough" for my SO when they don't have someone else. There are things I'm bad at, and I'm more relaxed knowing I don't have to struggle to provide them; my SO can get that from someone else.

You've saved me a lot of trouble by explaining not just the superficial perception, but the causes behind them.

(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: cypherpunks
2009-07-29 02:53 pm (UTC)

One more thought...

This also makes me think how the lack of other poly people in her life, of examples and illustrations of how this can work, contributes to the problem.

Because it keep things feeling strange and uncertain. It's freaking hard to make up new social customs this important all by yourself!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: badseed1980
2009-07-29 05:14 pm (UTC)

Re: Awesome, thanks!

I'm glad I could be of some help. :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ultrapeach
2009-07-29 02:28 pm (UTC)
Agree with others - great explanation. =)
Upon reading this whole post, I realised I didn't really know what jealousy was either, but I feel like your description clarifies it a lot.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: badseed1980
2009-07-29 05:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Glad it helped you. Me, I am always completely baffled by the people who say, "I NEVER get jealous!" I have heard a few people say this, and I think that sometimes, it makes people who are new to polyamory feel like if they DO get jealous once in a while, they aren't "really" poly. But I've come to see my occasional (and increasingly rare) jealous episodes as being warning signs that something needs to be fixed in my relationship. And then I can figure out what it is and work on fixing it, thus soothing and getting rid of the jealousy.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: cinema_babe
2009-07-29 05:10 pm (UTC)
**Applauds this beautiful analogy**

Do you mind if I steal repeat this with attribution?
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: badseed1980
2009-07-29 05:12 pm (UTC)
Please, go ahead! I'm a little stunned by how well this went over. :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: lacuna_raze
2009-07-29 06:20 pm (UTC)
Totally fantastic post, and very helpful. Thank you :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: badseed1980
2009-07-29 06:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: lisanys
2009-07-29 09:01 pm (UTC)
I really like this explanation. I'm monogamous with a poly partner and everything you said rings true. I shall link my partner to this post and your comment.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: badseed1980
2009-07-29 11:01 pm (UTC)
Glad it's useful. :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: satansplaything
2009-08-04 02:04 am (UTC)
Nicely put. Thanks.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: homunculus
2010-11-25 08:59 am (UTC)
i'm a random and monogamous only, but this describes how i feel sometimes when i'm away from a significant other. i thought it was neat.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)