Adam (PolyN00b) is a 30 year old, bisexual man living happily in an FMF triad with hetaera and independently happy. His other writings can be seen at http://bisocialnews.com.
The Green Eyed Monster (Defining Jealousy) Part One
Part of being polyamorous is to be brutally honest with yourself and your partners. To that end, one of the first things you have to realize when you are embarking on the path to polyamory is that jealousy is a part of every relationship, most especially a polyamorous one. In polyamory, you are basically inviting jealousy into your life and your relationship. If you've been so bold as to do so then it is increasingly important to understand what it is. Jealousy as defined by dictionary.com
jeal•ous•y [jel-uh-see] –noun, plural -ous•ies
1. jealous resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, etc., or against another's success or advantages itself.
2. mental uneasiness from suspicion or fear of rivalry
There we have it. It is widely known that for many 12 step recovery programs, the first step is admitting the problem. Once you admit what's going on, the realization will be accompanied by a host of emotions. You may feel like shouting,
“This can't be! I'm polyamorous now! Jealousy is a dirty word. I don't want to possess my love! I want to love her!"
You may view it as a personal failure. I signed up for a relationship that would allow me to date other people and allow my partner(s) to date other people. A very normal and immediate instinct is to shove jealous feelings away. Past that, however, is the recognition and desire to defeat the green eyed monster once and for all. For me, it started with a conversation with a friend of mine (who, interestingly enough, is monogamous) who explained jealousy as:
"Your parents' influence that tells you to feel bad for something that you wanted anyway."
Another buzz word in polyamory is “programming.” Many poly people are fighting against the programming of their parents, and of society that tells them that their instinct (and for some, their need) to have multiple loving relationships is wrong. As my friend said, “influence to feel bad for something you wanted anyway”-programming-plain and simple. In order to face this programming and indeed to undo it, it’s important to understand how it got there and how it affects us. Listed below is a step by step guide on how to analyze jealousy and see it for what it is. Jealousy isn’t the exact same for any two people, however the steps can be tailored to fit any individual's need.
Step One: What is Jealousy?
Beyond the dictionary definition, what specifically is jealousy? Can you touch it? Taste it? See it? Hear it? Smell it? When looking at your feelings, what labels would you put on them? Anxiety? Fear? Possession? The dictionary definition includes fear, so let's start there. What is it that keeps me up at night? In a stream of consciousness fashion I would describe jealousy like this:
I'm scared --> I feel it in my belly. --> It’s a solid cold ball of dread. --> I know that my partner will love this other person more. --> It hurts to think about the possibility of losing this love.
So now we have, fear, hurt, and loss. The first step, defining it, means facing it. Look at it in its ugly face and bleed it out like the poison from a wound. It doesn't matter how much of it is true or not true at this point. It’s what it feels like to you. It’s causing you distress, it may be keeping you up at night in extreme cases. What is this jealousy thing all about though? If you've entered into a polyamorous relationship, then:
a.)you can feel completely fine loving other people and having sexual encounters or desire for others
b.) you have accepted that you are with someone else that can/needs to do that.
Why is it then, that so many of us feel this way? Why do we have to work so hard to conquer it?
Step Two: What is Jealousy about?
If all the triggers and reactions to what's going on around me were stripped away, what would jealousy look like? If jealousy were sitting next to you and you could grab its shoulders and look in its ugly eye, what would you see?
Jealousy isn't caused by something being done to us. It’s usually caused by a fear reaction that is based within us. Fear, suspicion, envy. These are all parts of jealousy. Thinking objectively, it becomes easy to see that your partner didn't make you jealous. The capacity for jealousy was always there. It is almost primal. The irrational fear of loss can be rooted back to the days of early man when food, resources, lovers and even children could be taken away by a bigger, stronger rival. Envy of the advantages warranted a bigger stronger rival can also be traced back to primal instincts. The fortunate thing about primal instincts is that higher brain function tends to give us the ability to rise above them. Jealousy is no different.
Step Three: Where does jealousy come from?
Why are we jealous at all? Beyond the remnant of primal instinct, does it serve a purpose? Children don't know fear or jealousy at birth. It is learned in the first 2-3 years of life and then manifests itself after age 4. It stands to reason then, since we've determined that jealousy is mostly about fear, that jealousy is also a learned response. Something learned in the first, formative years of life. Well, it won't do us much good to delve into those first years to try and figure out the specific event that triggered it, because we're not likely to remember that far back. The next best thing is to look at some of the sociological, familial and environmental factors that reinforce that behavior throughout our lives.
From a very young age, in our society, we are taught to compete. The child with better grades is praised, while lower grades are seen as evidence of laziness or a lack of intelligence and as such are abhorred; and so as siblings we learn to compare ourselves against our brothers and sisters. We learn to envy the praise they receive. If we are only children we are taught to hold ourselves against classmates. The student with higher grades gets more accolades, more privileges, can be the valedictorian, on the National Honor Society and part of the exclusive clubs. This leads to greater acceptance and popularity. Popularity is something else. The boy with bigger muscles is deemed more attractive because he's powerful. The women want powerful. The girl who is thinner with bigger breasts is deemed more attractive, the other girls envy her figure and her physical attributes. We are taught these things from a young age. More than being taught though, we come back to the very primal instincts that reinforce this. As a male, there are very clear mental and physical responses when attracted to a female. And the reverse is true as well. So, it can be fair to conclude that jealousy is about is what we are taught and what we instinctively feel. Like my friend said, "My parents teaching me to feel bad about what I wanted in the first place." Also, society coaching us as to what is and is not acceptable in relationships. Who should we date, what kind of relationship will be accepted as "right for you"?
The programming of what kind of relationship is “right for you” is also something that begins in childhood. Prince Charming wooed Cinderella and they lived happily ever after. He was so taken with her beauty that he never once got aroused looking at someone else. He never once wanted to feel what it would be like to have experience sex with another partner, or so we're led to believe. Cinderella, on the other hand, in going literally from rags to riches, was equipped from the beginning to take care of Prince Charming's every need. Prince Charming, being royalty, rescued Cinderella from her life of servitude. As such he was automatically set up to be the best provider she could ever hope for. Clearly, it just can't be possible to love more than one person at a time. If that were the case the ending of the fairy tale would be, "Happily until they met and fell in love with someone else", wouldn't it?
I think jealousy is at best a defense mechanism left over from a more primal time when it was necessary to protect the things we love. At worst, it is a defeating emotion that is capable of bringing even the most secure and self confident individuals down to their knees wondering why they deserve such pain. No matter what type of relationship we're in, jealousy only serves to feed the insecurity we feel. The inferiority complex that we're fighting against. Eliminating its influence might be impossible, but limiting it is certainly a worthwhile endeavor.