So a little while ago I shared this article on Twitter, and no one liked it. That’s fair, I didn’t like it either. It’s poorly written and has some huge problems.
It does make a few interesting points though, and I’m still thinking about it a week later. So you win a blog post on the subject!
Towards the end of this piece, the author suggests a few tactics to deal with jealousy that are different from what I’m used to hearing.
Among them: create a “we” feeling amongst your social network and seek out social support for your relationships.
I do a lot of this already, but this article has really set me thinking about how important these things are. They’re not the whole answer to dealing with interpersonal jealousy of course, but they’re critical to my ability to have healthy open relationships.
After college I saw many of my friends and former lovers try to continue being sexually adventurous and non-monogamous in a variety of contexts. Most of them crashed and burned their existing relationships and had trouble forming new ones.
A few of us stumbled into existing communities of sexually non-mainstream people, where there was support for our relationships and the ways we wanted to be sexual with each other. That made a huge, visible difference in how successful we were able to be at creating sustainable, healthy relationships & identities that were kinky, poly, queer or otherwise outside the standard cultural script for who and how we should love.
Nothing else in my life has been as powerful and protective of my relationships as the feeling that they happen in the larger context of a supportive community. It’s fucking awesome.
Unsurprisingly, social support hasn’t completely eradicated jealousy in my life. I still grapple with it, sometimes bitterly.
Again, this Salon article stirred a lot of thinking for me even though I didn’t agree with much of it. While they pin jealousy as a social problem, they ignore the ways in which it is socially constructed as part of a larger system of oppression. The status quo *wants* me to perceive my lover’s lover as a threat, especially is that lover is another woman. Strong ties between oppressed people threaten the powers that be. Best to keep us fighting each other.
I see this powerfully in how I experience jealousy: I feel jealous of my partner’s partners and what I think about is how they’re thinner/richer/prettier/younger/fitter/smarter than me. How they’re more successful at mainstream models of beauty and wealth and responsible adulthood. I see my flaws reflected in their imagined perfection.
It makes it hard for me to work as an ally with these women (and let’s be clear, my jealousy issues tend to focus on women, even though my partners also have partners who are not women).
But I keep working at it anyway, because being a strong social support for my partner’s relationships is important to me, and because being an ally to the women in my life is important to me.
Social support for my relationships helps me deal with jealousy not by erasing its existence, but by providing me with peers who share my values and beliefs about how to do feminism and relationships and sex and all the rest.
I have people in my life who respond to my jealousy by respecting the feelings that I have, giving me space to work through them, and affirming that my relationships are still valuable even if they’re impacted by jealousy.
That’s invaluable to giving me the strength and flexibility to feel as bad as jealousy can make me feel and choose to continue doing my relationships the way I do.
That “we” feeling this article talks about is also really important. The more I feel a sense of being in community with my partner’s partners, the more I’m able to build trust with them and see them as fully human, flawed and wonderful just like me and my partners and other friends.
Social support and a sense of belonging aren’t the only things that help me with jealousy. I also get a lot of benefit from the “traditional” poly approaches this article cheerfully slams, like getting reassurance from my partners and exploring how to get my needs better met within my relationships. Taking care of myself is important too: I’m much less likely to be jealous of what other people are doing or being if I’m happy myself.
But sometimes I’m jealous anyway. It’s part of my emotional weather, like the occasional crying jag or angry outburst. It doesn’t happen out of context – my jealousy is generally triggered by real events in the world – but it does happen as a result of a complicated intersection of those real events with relationship dynamics & personal well-being.
I don’t think I’m especially good at dealing with jealousy, either when I’m feeling it or when my partner is. I glare and cry and say dramatic, hurtful things.
What I am good at is having a life where jealousy is an occasional irritant and not a life-changing disaster. I’m good at holding space for big feelings in myself and others, and in seeking out social support for both the strengths and foibles in relationships. I’m good at meeting my own emotional needs most of the time and at communicating with the people I love.
I’m not interested in denying that I feel jealous, or in eliminating that emotion from my life, both of which seem to be goals this author has. Rather, I’m interested in continuing to build strong relationships with friends and lovers who are willing to be together in loving, radical and sometimes difficult ways.
I’m really interested in hearing how you manage or experience jealousy in your own relationships. For entirely personal and selfish reasons as well as theoretical ones. Comment away!