When you talk about polyamory to non-polyamorous people, the first question you get is usually something having to do with dealing with jealousy. I’m not going to lie, I really dislike that question and generally like to defer to other people to pontificate about it if I can. I tend to avoid workshops about it or read articles about it. Why? Well, primarily because I feel a lot of shame about the fact that I struggle with jealousy and talking to others about it can be triggering for me and often sends me down to places I’d like to forget exist within me.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m MUCH better than I used to be, but it is still something that is there, manifesting for bizarre reasons and poking at my insecurities which ARE TRYING TO SLEEP THANK YOU VERY MUCH! My insecurities are like a resting mother bear with a nasty past who is NOT going to deal with your shit. Mauling and maiming of…well, my good mood…often ensue.
Another reason that I don’t particularly like talking about jealousy with people is that jealousy, or at least the inspirations and insecurities behind it are unique and deeply personal to an individual. Asking me for advice on how to deal with your jealousy in your relationship will likely not actually be particularly helpful to you because the issues that make you fearful are likely different than mine. And if there are things that need to be addressed, they shouldn’t be addressed with me but with your partner and I’m probably just going to want to tell you to Just Fucking Do It…a concept a lot of people don’t want to hear.
But I also acknowledge that I am not a special snowflake, and that my thought processes are not unique to only me and maybe people are asking me how I deal with it because I seem to be relatively successful at curbing it and maybe we have something in common! After all, jealousy is usually much more about ourselves than the people we’re jealous of, right?
So today I’m writing about jealousy! Why am I doing that? Because I have been struggling with it lately and yesterday I had some interesting realizations that have given me some insight into my particular issues and have given me some goals that I want to tackle in the next year. I’m not writing for sympathy or eHugs. I thought that maybe some of you might be interested in this kind of process.
This past weekend Shaun and I celebrated our 2 year anniversary by going camping up in the Poconos. It was a lovely and fun weekend (the weather cooperated and we got some good hiking and camp fires in) and I spent the whole time (with the exception of getting pretty out of whack when I needed to eat and didn’t…) feeling really positive and not stressed. Up to this weekend I had been struggling with stress and, yes, insecurity and jealousy and was not proud of it. And what was worse, I couldn’t really pinpoint what I was feeling insecure or jealous about! Obviously, no relationship is perfect and some of my insecurities about Shaun were founded in actual things that happened. It was the same way with Wes when I was dealing with really terrible jealousy in the first couple of years of us being poly. Sometimes they were actual hurtful things, and sometimes (more often than not) they were things that I deemed hurtful that struck a chord with me fears and feelings of self-loathing. So, with time, a lot of commitment to personal growth, a lot of processing and being pretty hard on myself in an effort to change for the better, and ultimately some therapy and medication, these things don’t feel so insurmountable anymore.
It also means that I am way less tolerant of them when they rear their ugly heads. The good thing is that I try to use those feelings as inspirations to really think about where the badness is coming from. What is it that I believe is true that is making me afraid or feel bad about myself? Is it true? If it is, what can I do about it? If it’s not…what can I do about it? Isolation and identification of the badness leads to action and generally progress towards being the best possible version of me.
So, I won’t really go into what inspired my most recent realization, but I was sitting on the couch thinking about why I was having a jealous reaction to something. I thought for awhile, teetering on the brink of a tear in my eye when I suddenly realized what all my recent jealous and insecure thoughts have really been about. I am sort of ashamed to admit this, but the first step to not feeling shame is just owning up to the thing, right? Yes, sure.
I have been jealous watching other people have people interested in them because not only do I not perceive anyone being interested in me, but I also don’t see why they should be anyway.
Granted, I’m not even looking for new relationships of any degree. Why? Well, I don’t have a lot of time or resources to put towards anymore relationships, but if there was someone great, I could make the time. Really, I’m not looking because…I’m afraid of course! Why am I afraid? Because I’ve had a few lousy experiences that convinced me that it’s not worth it. I have my house full of awesome people. What more do I need or want? I mean, there’s not really anything, but ultimately it’s just that I don’t want to deal with something bad or disappointing. I had four brief dating experiences. One of them resulted in a wonderful, close friendship but the other three were just terrible and while I try to be positive, the terribleness makes it seem like putting myself out there for anyone is a bad idea.
And yet, even though I haven’t been interested in anyone myself, I still want the validation of people wanting me. Perhaps it’s the fact that as a woman, I am socialized to only know my value in terms of people who want me. Perhaps it’s because I grew up learning that you have no value besides how hard you work (for others) and how good you look doing it. Maybe it’s that I have internalized the fact that very rarely does anyone just look at me from across a room and find me attractive (that I know of. I realize the silliness of this statement, since I can’t know what anyone is thinking when they see me or talk to me unless they tell me).
When I was dating my first long term boyfriend I had asked him if he thought I was hot, like other more traditionally attractive women were. He told me that just looking at me, not knowing at me, no I wasn’t hot like that. But once you got to know me, then yes, I was very attractive. I would hear this again and again up to now. I’ve been told that I am understated, so people have to make an effort with me apparently. I’ve also been told that I am intimidating (which makes me laugh heartily, but I’ve been told this a few times over the years). Wes has said that I am intimidating at bars because I seem to be content doing whatever I’m doing so no one approaches me. A stranger has never purchased me a drink. This is apparently strange. Shaun said that people might be intimidated by me because I’m a very real person (I have been called the “Anti-Doll” before by someone who saw me perform. I’ve never quite known exactly what that meant, but I think it’s that when I am playing my music, I am there as myself completely). I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t get approached much and people don’t develop crushes on me (that they or anyone communicates to me).
So my jealousy comes up for two reasons: 1. I fear that a new person will remind my partner (and me) of everything that I am not and 2. I see other people having people interested in them and not me and assume that this is because I am undesirable in general (either due to lacking certain qualities, or because I’m scary and cold and people don’t want to come up to me).
And from that jealousy is the reminder that I am scared of dating. Like, really scared. I am scared to say no. I am scared to say yes. I am worried about being manipulated. I am worried about a lot of things because I don’t really trust many people and I don’t for pretty good reasons. I am cynical about relationships beyond the ones I currently have and I am terrified to step into the unknown knowing that I can’t trust myself necessarily to say what I want or don’t want. And while that is something I definitely need to work on (the confidence to say those things), my mind immediately goes to the place “But everyone else close to me want to date people. There must be something really wrong with me…good thing no one wants me anyway”.
See? My feelings of jealousy ONCE AGAIN have nothing really to do with anyone else but me. I am afraid of being comfortable and happy with the person I am because I am so imperfect (you know, because I’m human and stuff).
So, realizing that is, to quote the vice president, a big fucking deal! Why? Because when you figure out that something is about how you’re thinking about things, then you can exercise some control and change if you want to! When I was sitting on the couch thinking hard about why I was feeling the way I was, and I realized the sort of petty reason I actually had, I felt instantly calm because that’s something I can deal with.
The realization had been coming for a little while, since the goal I set now has been percolating for weeks. What I want is to be confident as the person that I am. I want to be content to know the things that I like, the things that I dislike, and the things that I identify as areas for improvement. Seeking perfection is an asymptotic and ultimately unrewarding task. Instead, it should be framed as not trying to fix everything that’s wrong with you for an unattainable result, but as a road to calmness and happiness. Often people talk about the importance of being able to accept the things that are “wrong” with you. I don’t think about it that way. I need to accept the things that are true (ie what I actually enjoy and what I don’t, what I care about and what I don’t) and learn to recognize the things that are false and also accept that we can be happy and content while working on growing and improving as people.
It sounds easy when I write it down like this, but it’s not. Telling the difference between true and false in our own minds is no easy task. But I’ve been working on this generally for quite a while now and I’m at a place where I can focus more on this aspect in earnest. I want to be able to say here is what I like, here is what I don’t like. Here is what I want. And I need to learn to take rejection if the person I’m talking to does not share those likes, dislikes, and wants. And I also have to learn to reject. My not wanting/liking something is not automatically wrong or something that needs to be fixed with me. Oh, also, no more shame.
Hmm…OK, that’s a pretty tall order, but stating the goal is a place to start! Right? YES. YES, IT IS. I think. Well, it’s what I have done and I still feel good about it, so I’m thinking I’m at least going in the right direction.