Fuck Your Jealousy. Try Mine.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“You used to enjoy having sex with me,” someone says. “Now you’re seeing your new partner all the time, and we haven’t had sex in a month, and I really need a cuddle date. Can we schedule that?”
At which point CAPTAIN ANARCHY leaps out of the closet like a ninja referee to pass judgment on your relationship: “FOUL! FLAGRANT JEALOUSY! TWO POINTS, PLUS THE IMPLICATION THAT MAYBE YOU’RE NOT CUT OUT TO BE POLY!”
Then Captain Anarchy disappears, leaving behind a bunch of snide leaflets on why No True Relationship Feels Jealous.
But that’s not jealousy. That’s “You are no longer doing a thing that used to make me happy, and I would like to open negotiations as to whether I can get that happy experience back.”
You’re not asking because you’re resentful of this new love – you’re asking because you’re no longer getting all the things you require to be satisfied in a relationship. The new lover is the root cause in this instance, but you don’t have to be jealous of them any more than you have to be “jealous” of someone putting in too many hours volunteering for Burning Man or “jealous” of a 70-hour-a-week work schedule.
You do not have to personally loathe everything that’s getting in the way of getting your needs met to say, “Hey, would it be okay if we did this?”
And what Captain Anarchy is trying to do is this spectacularly toxic assholery that tries to shame people into silence for things that should be healthy to ask for.
Look. Relationship Anarchy is a valid approach. But what it does not mean is that you should be a quivering snail, never requesting anything of someone you’re dating, passively accepting whatever some douche of a date chooses to dole out to you.
Because communication is complex! Sometimes the people you’re dating don’t know that doing more of this thing would make you happy, and they’d be thrilled to do more of it! Sometimes your lovers get distracted, and are happy to be refocused!
Never opening up a discussion on What You Need is not a fucking strength. It is a weakness. It presumes your partners have a secret telepathy that tunes them into a full knowledge of what thrills you, and it passes on the toxic idea that actively requesting things that make you happy is somehow a downer to other people.
No. What’s a downer is getting too attached to the answer. It hurts getting an an honest response of “You know, I’m no longer into you sexually, maybe it’s time to move on” – but it saves time. It means you don’t spend months reserving emotional space for someone, hoping wanly that maaaaybe this NRE will wear off and they’ll get back to you. And it means maybe you get an answer of “I don’t want to pull back on this relationship right now, because this is the way I operate, but past history shows I’ll probably return to our old pattern after another month or two – at least until I find someone else.”
It’s fine for them to say that. It’s fine for you to say “yes” or “no” to that pattern. But none of that happens unless you’re willing to open up a discussion without some idiot drive-bying to say “JEALOUSY IS BAAAAADDDDDDD.”
Look. There is jealousy out there, in the sense of “They are taking you away from me and I deserve you.” And that is bad.
But there’s also, “I used to get this thing that made me excited about being in this relationship with you, and I no longer get that.” And in that case, bringing it up isn’t “jealousy” so much as it is saying “I’m with you because you provide certain experiences, and if those experiences are no longer going to be a part of what happens between us, I deserve to know what’s going on so I can make sane decisions as to whether to stay involved with you.”
And sometimes, those experiences are no longer provided to you because this person has decided to give them to another person. Sometimes that can be rectified by saying, “Hey, you know, I miss that.” Sometimes it can’t.
But generally, I find the people who are most enthusiastic about suppressing discussion of What Makes You Happy are trying to quash this discussion because they don’t care what makes you happy. They care about what makes them happy, and when you bring your tiresome ol’ self into the discussion then you’re bringing them down, and why can’t you just shut up and let me do what I want?
To which I’ll go to one of the other definitions of jealousy: “fiercely vigilant of one’s rights.” That kind of jealousy, I can get behind. And one of your rights in a relationship should be to have the information you need to make informed decisions about what you’re willing to do within a relationship.
Anyone who tells you otherwise, well… they’re probably hoping nobody knows too much about what they actually provide.

14 Comments

  1. Mightydoll
    May 4, 2016

    A thousand times this.
    This is why I shy away from poly groups.

    • Tig
      May 10, 2016

      Asking for something you want or need is not limited to poly – sure the particular example here is triggered by a new relationship – but it can be _anything_ that takes time and attention or brings a change.

  2. Dawn
    May 4, 2016

    This is important in all relationships, not just poly groups. There are plenty of things that can take a partner’s attention away from you, and communication about needs is so very important! Love this.

  3. Paul Westfall
    May 6, 2016

    Thanks, Ferret. I agree – clear communication is fundamental to any healthy relationship – poly or otherwise. In that same vein I would assert that even jealousy is not necessarily “bad”- it’s just not particularly useful or fun. However, I’ve found in my own relationships that honest open discussions about jealousy are the fastest route to dismantling jealousy’s triggers and stories. When my partner(s) and I can trust each other to listen to and hold space for each other to express difficult feelings that has inevitably led to stronger relationships.

    • DekaDarling
      May 7, 2016

      It sounds like you use any jealous feelings you have to start a healthy conversation about how to get your needs met. That sounds like jealousy is in fact useful, even if it is uncomfortable and not fun, as long as we use it productively.
      I’m a huge genre reader/viewer and one repeating theme that occurs in the media I consume is that magic/technology/power isn’t inherently good or evil. It comes down to how we use it. I think emotions are much the same. They give us information and it’s then up to us to decide what to do with that information. All emotions are useful, even the uncomfortable ones.

    • iball
      May 13, 2016

      YES, Paul! Yes!

  4. Holly
    May 6, 2016

    Brilliant! Thank you for clarifying this trap for me.

  5. Shaun
    May 7, 2016

    I wish a resource like this had come to the attention of my family nine years ago.
    In our family, the claim was not “jealousy.” Jealousy was a complaint easily dealt with. The accusation was that I was being abusive, and feeding off of and/or contributing to rape-culture. I have always been sensitive to accusation of wrong-doing, and to hear that a request to sit beside my wife on the love seat or to go to a movie together made me as bad as a rapist (backed up with links to everydayfeminism.com or articles on related publications) would be enough to silence me. If I would suggest that the article she shared was being taken out of context, applied too broadly, or read wrongly, that’s when she’d explain that, as a man, my interpretation was not valid–although she’d try to dress it up in language like, “But you don’t understand a woman’s perspective…” or “These are the kinds of things I face as a woman daily.”
    Things escalated from there. If I wanted to see a movie with a friend at a discount theater, spend $20 on pop-corn and ticket, then it couldn’t be found in the budget. If she wanted to spend $50 on concert tickets and another $40 on shirts to go out with her friends, it turned out not to ever be a problem. If I complained, more links to everydayfeminism about how I’m keeping her a slave. Explain that I’m not saying she can’t go, but I want to go to. That was when the classic line came out: “You get to go to work.” Try to explain that work is not social time? “It’s more social than staying home with the baby.” Ask how having friends over or going to the mall with friends and the baby is less social than working? More links to feminist articles. That’s when I said, “If the reason I am not allowed social time is because I work, then I quit. If you think work counts as social time, you go to work, I’ll stay home with the baby.” She didn’t like that one bit. She relented.
    But sure enough, a few months later, we were back to the same patterns. We had started our marriage open, and closed it down a bit after the baby came. Now we both wanted the chance to explore again. Thinking my freedom was on the comeback, I was as eager to negotiate openness as she was. But quickly, the restrictions started building overlaps. No one in our town, because it might get back to our parents. No one out of town, because it would mean driving away. No one younger than 23. (“Why 23? Can’t we make it 21?” “Nope, 23 is the number.” “How am I supposed to know if she’s over 23?” “Ask her age.” “You can’t ask a girl her age. Do you know what that sounds like? It sounds like I’m looking for the youngest girl I can find. It makes me sound like a jerk.” “Too bad, not my problem.”) But if I were to mention a restriction? “You’re just trying to control me.” Even if it’s the same restriction. She starts seeing a guy at a local theater group that lives in town? “You can’t tell me who I can and can’t see.” Links to feminist and poly-discussions. “But you do.” “Fine, we’ll open it up to local people then.” “But wait, I’ve been operating this way for two years, and now all of a sudden you find someone, and you want to change the rules?”
    The budget stayed tight on me. No buying a girl a meal. No motels. No spending money on the date at all. If I complain? “I find guys that buy dinner.” “The cultural standards are set that way.” “Not my problem.”
    So I tried working on our relationship. I got nothing from her. She would go to parties and find people to play with, and be exhausted all week from play and wrangling kids at home. No time or energy for me. I asked her to set aside a day every two weeks for me. “That’s way too demanding. You know you sound like a rapist.” She followed it with, “I think we should just manage our own relationships.” “Fine. The first relationship I’m taking management of is my relationship with my paycheck. I get a $50 per week allowance, no questions asked.” “But that will cut into the family budget for food, etc.” “No, it will come out of your play money. If you’ve given up play and the family still needs money, I will too. But if you’re not giving up play, I shouldn’t have to either.” I didn’t discuss, I just changed it. Sure enough, she goes to a party and buys a guy dinner, but the family runs out of money for some milk. “Should have thought about that Wednesday.” “But we need it.” “I’ll loan you the money, but it gets taken out of the next paycheck before I deposit it.” “You’re just controlling me.” “No, I still want you to be the one to go to work and I’ll stay home. If you want me to be the one to go to work, I deserve to have some fun with my paycheck, too. You’ve been consistently controlling me by limiting my access to money. I’ve just taken it back.”
    I kept working on our relationship. “I’d like to take you out with my money.” “I’d like that.” So we’d go to a party together, on my money. Then she’d disappear with someone else ten minutes into the party. When I complained after, she’d say, “You didn’t buy me for the evening.” “No, but I want to spend time with you, try to fix this before I don’t have any choice except to leave.” “You can’t leave. The baby will think you left because of her. That’s a horrible thing to do to your daughter.” “But I’m not getting much out of this relationship. I am just asking you to set aside a day once every two weeks to spend with me. Just give up one day with other people every two weeks.” “Why would I want to be with you when I can be with someone else?”
    Location, age, and allowable methods of meeting continued to be a discussion which altered according to her ability to use or need of a restriction.
    Two and a half years ago, after seven years of trying, I finally told her that I was done. That she had no more chances. That if I didn’t start getting anything out of the relationship, I was leaving. “I deserve to find someone who wants to be with me,” I told her. More accusations of being basically a rapist. “No, it isn’t that I want to control you, it’s that I want to be with someone who wants to be with me. You’ve clearly demonstrated that it isn’t going to be you.”
    She promised to try again. Six months later, I walked out of a party because she declared it selfish of me to want to spend time with her. I planned to go home and pack, but one of her friends came after me and talked me out of it. I agreed, on the condition that we close down the open part until we got things worked out. My wife agreed.
    Not much changed for a long time. She tried to make a show of putting aside time for me, but she didn’t want to talk about the issues. I knew from past experience that without resolving the underlying issues, if I relaxed, we’d be right back in the same place. This last December, she wanted to go to a play party. When I said that going was not a problem for me (my work schedule prevented me from going, but that’s not a reason why she can’t go) but that we weren’t to the place yet where play was open, then the accusations of being a controlling and domineering husband came out again. “You’re controlling my time,” was the accusation. “You know what, you shouldn’t have to put up with that. I’ll pack and leave.” “That’s not what I mean!” “If you’re ready to be back into play, and I’m not, then there’s obviously we’re not connecting. We have’t talked about any of the issues I brought up a year ago. When I try, you just say you aren’t ready. If you want to play, that’s fine. I deserve to find someone who really wants to be with me and isn’t just trying to use a facade of a relationship to to keep access to my paycheck.” “Is that really what you think?” “Yes. You don’t want anything else from me.”
    In the four months since, we’ve made more progress than in the seven years before that. I remain skeptical, but she seems to have finally grasped that this relationship won’t work without her help. She’s made time and freedom for me at her own expense (money and otherwise.) Then last night, she sent me a link to this with her own caption of “I was really this bad.” They say the first step on the road to recovery is to admit what you’ve done. Maybe it’s real this time. Maybe hearing it from you was finally the step she needed.

    • Ed Mechem
      Jan 6, 2017

      Wow, that’s a heck of a story. Thanks for sharing it. Glad this article helped clarify this crucial issue for you both!

  6. Rose
    May 8, 2016

    I’m not really all that enamored with throwing relationship anarchy under the bus in this instance. I ID that way and I’ve always been in favor of communicating and asking for what one wants, but entirely too often people doing the asking allow for only one answer, and if it is “no” then they start acting as if their partner is a horrible person for saying no.
    And I know I’d correct any person saying it’s not okay to feel hurt or communicate what one wants in a relationship.
    I like the subject material you’re going for, but you don’t need to do this pretty cruel mockery and othering of relationship anarchy to do it. RA folk get enough fearful reactions from others and treated as heartless assholes enough without well-known poly bloggers egging them on.

  7. SK
    May 10, 2016

    Perhaps the setup is incomplete here, but I cannot imagine starting this conversation with “You used to enjoy having sex with me,” unless it is obvious that they no longer do enjoy it, in which case I can’t imagine making a plea to resume it, so much as a plea to end or change it.
    What I mean by that is if I suspect a partner might just be distracted by someone else and need to be reminded of our relationship and my own needs, saying that phrase can be seen as a slap in the face – a guilt-move akin to “you don’t like me anymore!”.
    I know that isn’t the direct point of the post, but I still thought it important to point out that any conversation that starts out like that may end poorly regardless of jealousy.

  8. Leela
    May 10, 2016

    It may have felt satisfying to lay a smackdown on a fictional caricature of “Captain Anarchy,” but there’s more merit to that position than you’re giving credit.
    To recap, the options that were presented were:
    1) Accept the request because you think you can focus energy on the person in need.
    2) Decline the request because you don’t think you can focus energy on the person in need.
    3) (Captain Anarchy) Decline the request because of the nature of the request, regardless of your ability to focus energy on them.
    Perhaps choice #3 is needlessly mean if it’s caught in the idea of labeling and policing a specific notion of jealousy. Other concepts of Captain Anarchy (Empress Nihilist?) could rationally dispute the idea that anyone actually “really needs a cuddle date” with a specific person and would decline the request to avoid being perceived as a purveyor of cuddles. Using the word “cuddle” as a cutesy reference to “sex” is downplaying the gravity of the request, which would otherwise sound like a plea for needy sex.
    Frankly, I don’t like how this article handles the conversation of “what makes you happy.” The phrasing of “getting all the things you require to be satisfied in a relationship” makes me wonder whether the priority is to make us happy or to fulfill a concept of relationships, and why those things need to be attached in the first place. All parties in “the relationship” would better be served with conversing about why someone wants what they want, rather than whether each other fit their relationship standards.

  9. Autumn Hedonia
    Jun 5, 2016

    Hey there, I loved this post and I incorporated a link to it in my blog about jealousy. Your thoughts really complimented my exploration. I’d be flattered if you wanted to have a read, but I also thought I’d let you know where the unexpected traffic is coming from. http://auhedonia.blogspot.com.au/2016/06/how-not-to-be-jealous.html

  10. Jürg
    Jun 20, 2016

    Polyamorie, as far as I understand it, is on the one hand a personal disposition (I can be into more than one person at the same time) and on the other a relationship form (a couple or several people decide to run a polyamorous relationship following certain pre-defined rules). Neither nor is a solution for relationship problems nor a guidance or contains rules how to interact with a partner.
    The article names the popular issue of sexual dissatisfaction in a relationship (quantity issue). That occurs in monogamous as well as polyamorous relationships. The action taken – e.g. complaining about not having enough sex and asking for more sex – is, according to my view, a destructive approach and not goal-oriented in any form of relationship since sex should be motivated by mutual attraction and not based on emotional pressure. A more constructive way would be suggesting participating on an event, spending a weekend or cooking together. Such interaction may lead to sex or might just be a nice way to spend time together.

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