Polyamory 101: Jealousy

I'd been meaning to write some Poly101 articles for the blog and I believe it's only fitting that I start with Jealousy. Anyone who has attended just a small number of poly forums and discussion groups would tell you Jealousy is the first concern folks have when starting their polyamorous adventures. It has the potential for being a lengthy narrative so I'm going to try to keep it as succinct and practical as I can in my own pleasantly assertive way.

I'd like to begin by making a distinction between two terms: envy and jealousy.

Envy is the emotion felt when you covet what somebody else has and you want it for your own; jealousy reflects the fear of somebody taking away something you already own.

Anyone can experience envy for a relationship, a possession, an experience, or a person. At its core, envy is want, desire, and passion. We want for ourselves and we're envious of others.

Jealousy, on the other hand, is the an emotional response to potentially losing something we own. At its core, jealousy is fear. We're afraid to hurt and to be wounded by others.

The moment that a couple chooses to identify as polyamorous, it's intrinsically possible to think outside of the confines of a relationship being between just two people. You want or she wants, but regardless, opening up permits envy to be acknowledged and acted upon.

Further, the moment that a relationship opens up it's instantly vulnerable; with the promise of exclusivity removed, Polyamory risks jealousy and insecurity.

People who identify as Polyamorous are not superhuman. They experience envy and jealousy in the same way that anyone else might. Instead, how the polyamorous examine and exploit their emotional responses may be what separates them from others.

Now please don't take offense if I'm to assert that a traditional Western view would look at envy and jealousy as potentially negative emotions capable of painfully-aggressive acts; that Western thinking might encourage these emotions be suppressed, ignored, or morally shamed as to avoid discomfort, volatility, and violence; and that the Western practice of marriage might be seen as a control to insure accord in a civil society. Here, I'm obviously passing along my own value judgement on marriage.

Yet if you were to buy-in to my argument that the structure of traditional marriage exists to avoid these complex emotions rather than confront them, then you'd see the difference I'm trying to articulate.

Polyamorous folks engage in a lifestyle where they are forced to contend with these raw, base emotions all the time. In general, those who participate in polyamory engage in a social order that puts them at greater risk of exposure to envy and jealousy than monogamy. How they confront their emotions, rationalize their actions, and deal with their responses, is what separates the Polyamorous.

I'm often chided for calling Polyamory "Relationship Models for Critical Thinkers" because it denotes a tinge of arrogance or elitism that many find distasteful and I won't argue with that, but I think "critical thinking" adequately describes what I find to be true in my community.

Instead of reacting to want and fear, Polyamorous peeps in my circle like to examine their emotional responses spurred on by envy and jealousy. In my circle, it'd be unconscionable for a partner to fly off the handle in a jealous rage - I'd expect a calm invitation to talk, have tea, and explore those responses so that all parties could find a mutual resolution; in my circle, envy and jealousy are something to be puzzled out to best understand your nature, and to improve upon your responses over time.

Envy and jealousy are real emotions. Certainly they're difficult to rationalize, but they cannot be dismissed or suppressed for very long without doing long-term damage to an individual. Shoving these feelings into a box, or back onto a partner as "their issue" and "they're just going to have to get over it", isn't loving, caring, or consensual. Ignorance and suppression don't deal with the core problems of want and fear. Instead, Polyamorous seek resolution to these emotions through puzzling them out and through negotiation, to set expectations for how all parties within a relationship will get their needs met.

In short, I believe the Polyamored tend to regard envy and jealousy constructively: as means to understand who they are, how they respond to circumstances and emotions in relationships, and how to improve their skillset. This trait gives them a coping mechanism to contend with the relative insecurity they must contend with in comparison to traditional concepts of Western monogamy.