By far the most common question I am asked about non-monogamy is how to deal with jealousy. While I certainly don’t have all the answers (or maybe any answers) I have dealt with jealousy before and I thought maybe telling my story a bit might help someone out there. Two quick notes first:
- Lanes of Love has a fantastic post about jealousy from a woman’s perspective and I highly recommend it
- Jealousy contains the word “lousy”, which I find interesting even though the two words don’t seem to have a shared etymology
Okay, on to my story…
There was a time in my past when I was an extremely jealous person. I obsessed over where my significant other was, who she was with, and thought she was lying to me all the time. Every phone call, email, or rumor stirred extreme discomfort inside of me and I became incredibly distracted with all the possible things that were going on. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or concentrate on work. My behavior while jealous made me a bad student, friend, employee, and fiance. It was awful for everyone involved.
When my engagement broke off I became a very dark person and pretty much shut down my emotions. I didn’t feel jealousy anymore because I really didn’t feel at all. I had made a very conscious decision to view emotion as unnecessary and harmful to myself. I saw Vulcans and Randian heroes as an ideal to shoot for and modeled my behavior after them. While this helped me in many ways it was not really sustainable, and in hindsight I don’t think it was healthy either.
After some failed emotional attachments that still contained jealousy I found myself in need of some serious self-reflection. Using the tools I’d developed during my dark phase of emotionless interactions I started to analyze why I felt jealous and if that jealousy was justified. Most of this analysis happened at Burning Man where I was surrounded by friends and more than a little bit of MDMA to open myself up. My time at Burning Man allowed me to remove myself from the normal world and really heal myself from the emotional wounds that I’d developed over the years.
For me I found most of my jealousy came from two sources: lack of control and a feeling of betrayal from my past beliefs. The former is the most dangerous part in my opinion. I desired control over my environment and the lives of others, to me that is what jealousy is… it is a desire to control another person and when it translates into action it is a form of emotional slavery. The latter source stems from my upbringing in a Christian conservative home which greatly reflected an unrealistic Disney-esque version of relationships. If I just “gave it to God” everything would turn out great with a house, 2.5 kids, a golden retriever, and a cute little life in the ‘burbs. If things went wrong it was my fault and I should feel guilty. Reality is not like that at all and some of my jealousy came from feeling betrayed, I was taught one thing and it turned out not to be true.
Realizing the true foundation of my jealousy allowed me to overcome it. I have no right (or conscious desire) to control another person’s actions and my past beliefs should in no way control my future actions. There certainly is a place for emotions, even “negative” ones, in relationships but jealousy serves no purpose. I can be angry if someone’s behavior puts me in danger or betrays my trust, but jealousy is not the right emotion. Jealousy is preemptive, it assumes guilt before facts are presented. If you are with someone that causes jealousy then you need to deal with internal emotions before a healthy relationship can really develop.
I am at a point now where jealousy does not have a negative impact on my life. I still feel a little twinge in my stomach from time-to-time when I hear about the other men in the lives of people I see but it is no longer controlling and no longer harms our interactions. If the feeling gets strong I talk about it with those I’m involved with and sort out why I am feeling that way, but for the most part jealousy serves as a signalling device. For me to feel that twinge of jealousy let’s me know that I care about someone, that I love them… I don’t let it control my actions or determine my fate anymore.