Dear Daemonum X,
I started dating someone about six months ago named K who already had a long-term partner of two years. For context, I also have another partner named L. Everything has been really great and smooth and things have been going well until fairly recently. K started dating someone new about a month ago and is already spending a lot of time with her and I’ve never been so jealous in my life! I’m not sure what’s going on with me. I tried to talk to her about it but I got super upset, mostly with myself for feeling this way. I’ve never felt anything more than low grade jealousy that passes super fast with any of my other partners in any of their other relationships. I’m starting to feel resentful towards K, I think, because her relationship is the cause of all these feelings. How do I deal? I don’t want to feel like this anymore!
Dear Jealous Judy,
Congratulations if you’ve gotten this far into polyamory and haven’t had difficult jealousy feelings yet. Truly, a miracle! People think jealousy is something that only polyamory newbies feel, and once they’ve spent an arbitrary amount of time in several relationships at once they simply ascend to a higher being that doesn’t feel jealous. This must be true because why would people continue to do things that make them uncomfortable? Why would anyone choose to suffer in polyamorous relationships when they could easily go back to the land of monogamy where jealousy simply does not exist!? All jokes aside, it’s understandable why you’re feeling really out of control and down on yourself about this considering you’re not a newbie. If you’ve never had these feelings before, of course you don’t know how to deal with them.
Let’s start there, JJ, in hopes of ridding you of some shame. This is my campaign to normalize jealousy at all levels of polyamory. Actually let’s go one step higher and normalize jealousy in all relationships, period! It happens, and it means you’re human, and it is okay! This is super annoying of me to say but most of the time I see jealousy as a gift. You feel it’s scaly little body start swimming in your stomach and you want to get rid of it immediately but hear me out! What if it’s actually here to teach you something.
Jealousy is mostly irrational (no one is *making you* feel jealous), but there are instances where jealousy is a beacon of intuition that we need to actually listen to. Jealousy can signal to us that something is wrong. If your partner is actively doing some shady things that make you feel jealous, that is totally not cool and you should listen to your gut. Hopefully you’ve already discerned that this is not the case, but let’s talk about that real quick for our readers at home. It is possible to incite jealousy in someone else. For example, years ago before femme4femme was more popular, I was dating someone masc and we happened to have the same type—femmes. Because of the way our community prioritized masc-femme relationships, I didn’t have much dating luck at all. My date knew this, and constantly threw it in my face. He would brag to me obnoxiously at length about how many femmes were interested in him, practically banging down his door to date him. While no one owes me a date or attention ever, trust me when I say that he was trying to make me feel badly by constantly pointing out how desirable he was. I unfortunately didn’t listen to my gut when I knew he purposely inciting jealousy and that ended very badly. I recommend diving deep to understand if your jealousy is actually stemming from reality by asking if someone is truly trying to make you feel insecure or unworthy?
Most of the time you will likely discover that your jealous feelings are completely irrational. The useful axiom “feelings aren’t facts” comes into play here. In other words, what you’re feeling is real, but it’s not necessarily true. That’s the pesky thing about jealousy that everyone hates so much—if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that it’s highlighting a story you’ve made up, or a story that others created and you’ve internalized. “My partner is dating someone with a PhD and I have a GED. Soon she will realize how stupid I am and break up with me!” This is an example of a made up story that’s fueling jealousy completely founded on internalizing wack ideas that higher education actually makes you smarter, better, etc.
A lot of times we get bad feelings as a result of comparing ourselves to other people. Making a list in your head of why you don’t stack up to your metamours is a fast track to being miserable. Therapist and mindfulness teacher Tara Brach said something about comparing yourself to others that kind of changed my life. She said that (paraphrasing) the second you compare yourself to someone else, you vacate your own life experience and disrespect yourself and the other person. In comparing, you’re projecting onto other people, which also denies them agency. It’s helpful for me to think about the act of making comparisons in this rather extreme way even if these comparisons are only in my head.
Maybe you’re someone who’s pretty secure and emotionally adept and you just haven’t had your very specific spot poked at yet. What spot? The spot that turns you into Jealous Judy. We’ve all got it! The sensitive spots can be so different for each person. Some people have ten while others have one. Sometimes people can’t deal when a metamour is similar to them because it makes them feel like there’s a master plot to replace them. Some people can’t deal when a metamour has a skillset or career that they wish they had. Sometimes it’s all about the looks—is K’s new partner so hot that it makes you feel like Gollum in comparison? Once you start to feel this unpassing form of jealousy try and map out what spot is being poked. Is there a story there that you’ve created or internalized that you now have to work to unlearn? Try to be kind to yourself and remember that beating yourself up or shaming yourself for having a hard time will not help you at all.
It’s a cliche at this point but just naming exactly what The Spot is really is half the battle. I’m a huge horror movie fan. In movies about demonic possession like The Exorcist or The Conjuring 2 it’s always part of the plot line that once they figure out the name of the demon they’re trying to exorcise, the demon loses some power. Jealousy is just like that, duh! Once you’ve learned what’s going on, and can speak the story out loud or write it down, it will disempower your illusions or unfounded beliefs that are underneath it all. The work, however, doesn’t stop there. Next, you have to try to step outside the story that you have about yourself that’s making you feel insecure.
The last way that jealousy can be a gift is that it can illuminate when we have needs that aren’t being met. The fucked up thing is that sometimes it’s a need you didn’t even know you had! Let’s say that you don’t feel an ongoing jealousy about K’s new partner and you can pinpoint very specific times where you have felt jealous about their relationship. For example, let’s say that K brings her new date to her friend group’s zoom hang out and then tells you that all her friends really loved her, which sends you into a spin of jealousy. You play it cool because acting out on your jealousy is not a good look. After spending some time thinking about your feelings on your own you realize that you don’t even remember the last time K asked you to spend time with her friends. Friends are super important to you and you have the realization that you would love to get to know K’s friends better if she feels comfortable with that. Bam! Your jealousy shined a light on something you didn’t really know you needed until you saw someone else getting it! Now you can talk to K about your revelation and ask for what you need. Just be careful here to discern that it is actually something you need, and not something you want just because you saw someone else getting it.
In summary, there are three main things that conjure jealousy— someone’s actions are actually making you feel bad (a red flag), your spots of insecurity are being poked, and/or you have needs that aren’t being met. You say “I don’t want to feel like this anymore” at the end of your question, and while that’s a fair desire, I can’t guarantee you will magically stop feeling this way. Getting to the bottom of what thing is conjuring your jealousy is a good way to start working through those feelings though, and hopefully you’ll eventually be able to “deal” or at least not resent K and her new relationship so much for spurring these realizations in the form of jealousy. The good news here is that a lot of this work can (and must) be personal work, so ideally you can redirect your energy from resenting K to exploring your own wants and needs. Or, if K’s behavior really is providing a red flag, you will come to that realization, too. I have confidence that you can figure this out!
Lucky for you, jealousy is a super hot topic in polyamory, so if you’d like to delve deeper into your feelings there is no shortage of self-help resources on the World Wide Web (like The Jealousy Workbook and this episode of Multiamory about Deconstructing Jealousy!). The number one thing I want you to remember is to please be kind to yourself on this journey — and remember to name your demons.