I woke up with angst this morning, and when that happens, all the ugly appears. Today’s ugly came in the form of jealousy and not just the kind commonly thought of in relationships–the other man or woman–but the all encompassing kind that takes in a little of everything including envy, such as how come some stoned guy who repeats “double rainbow” twenty or thirty times in a video can garner such attention and semi-fame?
However, the sharpest jealousies come from the investments I make with other human beings. My teenage daughters and I have discussed the friend jealousy, the one where the best friend gets a boyfriend and then has no time for the friend. Then there is the jealousy that comes with a significant other spending time with an ex-lover/girlfriend or boyfriend, the jealousy of time spent at work over the family, the jealousy of a significant other’s memories of past loves, etc. Jealousy is a host of ugly, and I don’t mean the emotion itself, which is merely an emotion. I mean the way it makes me feel and think.
Poking around the Internet for enlightenment on jealousy, where it comes from and how to deal with it, I came upon an extremely informative article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “Multiple Lovers Without Jealousy” so thorough and well presented that it was impossible not to share. I had heard of polyamory before but had never read about the psychology and lifestyle but lightly. This article challenges the reader to think about the basis of our relationships, monogamous or otherwise, and intimates not surprisingly that successful relationships are based on ever-negotiating agreements, long-term and moment by moment. Seen through the prism of polyamory, monogamy or polygamy or communal living comes down to understanding the nature of jealousy, i.e., the self, taking responsibility for one’s own emotions, and of course, trust in the other person’s feelings and commitment, whatever the parameters of the relationship is determined to be whether pre-determined or negotiated as it goes.
It sounds ideal–to have multiple partners because the pressure to be everything to someone is overwhelming as is the expectation (and probably disappointment) of someone to be that everything. But can the green-eyed monster be controlled? Is polyamory realistic? Probably not for everyone–in practice–but for some it certainly can be.
Here are a few teasers to this thoroughly interesting article, but I recommend taking the time to read it even for the tidbits of the history of monogamy and the studies to dive into further if the subject interests:
There’s a phenomenon within psychology called obsessional review, which refers to the kinds of questions that the partner that finds out about the infidelity asks the unfaithful partner,” Shackelford said. “Men ask, ‘Did you have sex with him? How many orgasms did you have?’ etc. Women ask, ‘Are you in love with her? Did you buy her gifts? Did you take her to our restaurant?’ and so on.”
Those of us who are in monogamous relationships will probably never stop being jealous—and that’s healthy. What’s not healthy is the way some monogamous people manipulate their partners’ jealousy and devotion. According to Shackelford, women in monogamous relationships “are more likely to use sexual assets to induce jealousy in their partner,” while “men will manipulate access to resources.”
By contrast, the way polyamorous people tend to resolve their conflicts is more above-board. When extramarital relations are already out in the open, it seems there’s little else to hide. “A big part of what makes someone feel jealous is when their expectations for the relationship are violated,” Theiss said. “In poly situations, where they’ve actually negotiated the ground rules—‘I care about you and I also care about this other person, and that doesn’t mean I care less about you’—that creates a foundation that means [they] don’t have to feel jealous. They don’t have uncertainty about what’s happening.”
For example, as Conley, the polyamory researcher, has noted, “polyamory writings explicitly advocate that people revisit and reevaluate the terms of their relationships regularly and consistently—this practice could benefit monogamous relationships as well. Perhaps a monogamous couple deemed dancing with others appropriate a year ago, but after revisiting this boundary they agree that it is stressful and should be eliminated for the interim.”
People in plural relationships get jealous, too, of course. But the way polys get jealous is unique—and possibly even adaptive. Rather than blame the partner for their feelings, the polys view the jealousy an irrational symptom of their own self-doubt.