When faced with the concept of consensual non-monogamy for the very first time, many people struggle to understand it. If all you’ve known is monogamy, talking to someone who says they don’t abide by the same relationship runes as you do – the ones you assumed all the rest of the world followed too – well, that can raise quite a few questions. One of the first things people often ask is, “don’t you get jealous?” The simple answer to that is, of course, yes.
I truly believe that some people really don’t get jealous. However, those people are not all polyamorous any more than they are all brown-eyed. Those people are just lucky. The rest of us will all feel a twinge of jealousy once in a while. It may be when a friend you love dearly gets a big promotion, or when a partner goes to see a movie without you, but every time you feel the touch of the green-eyed monster it will be unpleasant. The thing that poly folk understand is that those feelings of jealousy are merely an emotional pointer towards something else you need to take a closer look at.
Would you have wanted your amazing dedicated friend to have missed out on the promotion she worked so hard for? No, of course you wouldn’t! So, why do you feel jealous? Maybe you want something like that for yourself? Perhaps not the exact job she got and the long hours she will now have to work, but maybe you were feeling unsatisfied with your own career and seeing someone happy with theirs has now flagged this. If not, what else could it be?
Don’t ever lay blame as this is never helpful. Think about which specific aspect of what happened led to you feeling jealous and then try to work out what you could do to make sure you feel more satisfied. Yes, what you can do. Remember, this isn’t solely up to someone else to fix. They are your feelings and so you have to try to get a handle on them first, before you can get help from anyone else. However, don’t ever let someone tell you your jealousy is wrong. It’s perfectly natural.
Most situations where you feel jealous can be eased in some way with a little bit of thought. Jealous of your friend’s promotion? Perhaps you could investigate a career change yourself or take the opportunity to go for a night out together, to celebrate and remind yourself of how wonderful she is and how proud you are of her. Jealous of your partner’s night out? Tell them. Talk about stuff you like doing and suggest some things you could both do together.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that people who aren’t monogamous have eliminated jealousy entirely – we just understand it better than most. Getting to the root of your emotional responses is something that is useful to everyone, so why not take a few tips from the poly community. We’ve given it more thought than you could possibly imagine.
UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that I have been incorrectly assuming (for quite some time) that jealousy was an umbrella term for all of these types of feelings. According to Wikipedia, “Jealousy is the result or fear of losing someone or something that one is attached to […] while envy is the resentment caused by another person having something that one does not have, but desires for oneself.” Therefore, I have only been talking about envy so far. I may need to write about this again!
Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers – ALBJ, An Open Book, More Than Nuclear, One Sub’s Mission, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick – will write about their views on one of them.
Image two via Quasic‘s Flickr photostream. Other images by lipsticklori.
Forgive me for being a frightful pedant here but there are some examples in your (wonderful) article that mix up that concepts of jealousy and envy.
Wikipedia attempts to unravel the tangle of similar notions – which still regularly confuses me – at this link:
Interesting. So, jealousy is actually technically *only* a possessive emotion? If I don't fear losing my partner (which I don't, at all), then I can actually say that I am no longer jealous in that relationship? Wow. If jealousy is indeed “insecurity, fear, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something that the person values”, then I am rarely jealous at all. I pretty much only ever feel envy these days!
Hmm, I wonder if it's just me who has mixed up these emotions (and then never looked up the definitions), or if it's a general confusion within society these days? I'm going to have to withdraw all my advice now, as most things I've written or said have been discussing completely the wrong thing! Oops.
Thanks very much for the clarification.
I worried for far too long that I was a bad poly person because I felt jealousy until someone described it to me really simply a couple of years ago:
Jealousy is seeing someone with something you want, and wishing they didn't have it.
Envy is seeing someone with something you want, and wishing you had it too!
If only separating the two were so simple: you can see almost the reverse distinction stated in sources such as OED and Merriam Webster, which define envy as begrudging someone else something, and displaying resentment or ill-will towards them. In religious terms, too, envy is a worse sin than jealousy. Some refer to the 'nice' version of envy is defined as 'emulative envy'.
This article is quite interesting on the definitions of the two, for the word-geekier among us *raises hand*
Anyway, potato, po-tah-to, the important thing is that we're clear about what we mean when we say these things. Lori – an excellent post, I thought. Very useful discussion 🙂
Interesting, re the difference between jealousy and envy. For the last few years I've had a personal distinction along the lines of:
– Jealousy is seeing something that somebody else has, and wanting to have it *instead* of them.
– Envy is seeing something that somebody else has, and wanting to have it *as well* as them, without begrudging them having it too.
I'm not sure if those meanings are correct at all; they're just what the words mean to me. I guess that they are at least somewhat similar to the distinction that Wiki draws.
Note that by these definitions, when they are applied to people in monogamous relationships these terms are interchangeable. Only when people are able to think “I'd like a relationship with A, but I wouldn't want to take them away from B” does the difference become meaningful.
As far as I see it, and in the simplest terms, you are only jealous of something you already have in your life (either physically, or emotionally) and are envious of the things you do not.
'I envy you your Prada shoes'…you would never say 'I jealous you your Prada shoes'. But you might be jealous someone wished to borrow your Prada shoes, because they are yours and you don't want to lose them. Or if they wore your shoes and looked much better in them, but you would feel jealous of the shoes and would envy the person wearing them for looking better than you do.
Doesn't make relationships any easier, but the definition is important to avoid confusion…