At some point, everyone gets jealous. When it’s because your cat is giving someone more attention than you or your girlfriend is giving some cat more attention than you, the insecurity, anxiety, totally-up-in-your-own-head feelings of jealousy — along with the nausea, or a weird flash of heat, or like the ground is out from under you — are just sometimes part of life.
Some polyamorous claim to just not experience jealousy, but I think for most of us, it’s not that we don’t experience jealousy — it’s just that we’re more experienced in dealing with it. Like any other uncomfortable feeling, you can either examine it and figure out where it comes from and what you want to do about that, or you can ignore and repress it and wait for it to come out sideways or blow up in your face.
Here are five people from Autostraddle’s Poly Pocket series on where jealousy comes from and how they handle it.
Mina, a multiracial queer woman, says that what’s worked for her is questioning ideas of what relationships look like in theory versus practice, and what she wants them to look like for her specifically. Not deconstructing assumptions, in her experience, can lead to jealousy:
“I think jealousy — at least as I’ve seen it among my poly friends — often stems from an unwillingness to interrogate one’s own assumptions about oneself and one’s partner(s). I do NOT think that everything can be resolved by communication, but sometimes it sure does help clear the air.”
Instead, her approach involves thinking about relationships as deep and unique — and if that’s what relationships look like in your life, it can get a lot easier to see them that way in other people’s lives, too:
“The idea that ‘loving more than one person is possible’ finally started to make sense to me when I realized that I describe more than one person as ‘my best friend.’ For me, ‘best friend’ is more like a level than an exclusive, one-person-only category — I love each of these people deeply, and differently, and I wouldn’t try to prioritize which one of them I love ‘more’ because that isn’t the point of how we care for each other. Happiness is not a competition. And so the idea that I could also, in theory, be in love with more than one person at once… that idea started to make more sense.”
Cecelia, a mixed-race Asian genderqueer polyamorous bisexual femme, says they don’t experience jealousy because they’re aware of what they can bring to any relationship and know they can’t be everything for any person:
“I actually don’t really get jealous, so that helps. I feel confident that I can bring a really specific and positive energy to a relationship, but I also know that I can never provide one person with everything that they need in a relationship. For example, I’m insecure about how funny I am sometimes. So it makes me happy if my partner has someone who makes them laugh for days, because they deserve to have that energy too. And it relieves the pressure on me to be super funny or whatever. Because I know that if they need a good deep and healing convo, they’ll come to me.”
For them, a fundamental part of their approach is seeing each person’s complexity and multiplicity, and taking joy from all the ways there are to try to feel complete, which means supporting others who want that, too:
“I think we’re taught that being whole means being one easily recognizable thing … I believe that each person contains a bunch of conflicting, intersecting parts, and that different people can make someone feel really vibrant in many beautiful different ways. So if I really like someone, it makes me excited when they have multiple partners who can light up different parts of their mind/body/soul etc.”
Nicole, a Latina queer polyamorous femme, says that she experiences less jealousy outside of serious relationships than inside of them, but that it still sometimes comes up in her dating life, and that empathy helps her through it:
“When people I date mention their past partners, I usually get this random slight pang of jealousy, but it’s not very significant. I try to prevent jealous thoughts by putting myself in the other person’s shoes, and realizing that I would not want them to be jealous nor see the need for them to be if the situation were reversed.”
Seeing love as appreciation, and not as possession, also helps:
“I do not believe that love is something that is limited and can only be shared with one person at a time. I also believe that love is about appreciation and not possession. Someone’s separate relationships should not affect how I feel about them. People have different aspects of themselves, and sometimes, those aspects can only all be satisfied by different people.”
Linh, a Vietnamese American bisexual grey ace polyamorous woman, experienced a lot of jealousies with her first polyamorous relationship, a long-distance secondary partnership. Discussing her next relationship, she frames the issues for her as less about jealousy and more about comfort:
“Jealousy isn’t really an issue with the two of us so we’ll talk openly about dates and crushes and it’s totally fine. Once in a while I’ll go on a date that, after I tell him how it goes, he’ll tell me it made him uncomfortable and so we’ll talk about why and come up with rules from there. … Basically, if someone feels like something’s fishy or weird, then that person’s feelings have to be first priority and decisions are made accordingly. It’s been working out for us so far because we generally have the same vibes given the same situation.”
We also can’t talk about jealousy without talking about its opposite: compersion. Compersion is when you feel happy that someone with whom you’re in a relationship — however serious or casual — feels happy with someone else. It’s an energizing empathy that can feel as good as jealousy feels bad. Linh describes what it can be like:
“[When one of us dates or crushes on someone new,] it involves a lot of playful teasing and advice-giving! We both get super flustered with new crushes (as most people do!) and I find it super cute to see him in that phase again, and I know he finds it charming when I’m all blushy and crushy too. It adds a new layer of excitement to our relationship. Similar to how your best friend would be super excited to hear you have a crush on the local Starbucks barista.”
Jasmine, a bisexual polyamorous nonbinary femme xicanx, found that looking at where her jealousy comes from helps her — not because the feeling goes away, but because she can then be honest about it and about what she’s feeling:
“I used to be really jealous, but then I learned that it came from my own insecurities of someone leaving me for someone else because the other person was ‘better.’ With therapy, I’ve gotten WAY less jealous but there are times that jealousy does come up. I’ve been able to do a lot of introspection about where that comes from and why and address it that was rather than expressing it in a way that is unnecessarily harmful.”
Figuring out where the feeling comes from can be a challenge, and so can owning what that feeling is, but you still have to move forward:
I try to be honest and have conversations about what the jealously is directed towards once I figure that out. Like, if I feel jealous about my partner’s relationship, I’ll try to be as honest as I can with my partner and let them know I’m feeling jealous/insecure so they can give me a little more reassurance.
I say ‘try’ because sometimes it’s really hard to admit when you’re jealous and insecure of someone else so it’s sometimes harder than other times to be open and honest about what you’re feeling.”