In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Polyamory: a bouquet of lovers

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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.

7 thoughts on “Polyamory: a bouquet of lovers

  1. I love it, the woman will use sexual aspects to induce jealousy. Oh man do I know that tune, but—- if she’s a beautiful and desirable woman, you haveto let a girl keep her power. Not reacting to manipulation is what a man must do to remain sane if he has a good looking mate that pulls the riff raff out of the woodwork. She will say, “I can always go back to my old boyfriend”, shit like that. You have shrug it off, she’s testing your limits is all, but it ain’t an easy test, this is the SAT on steroids. Having a beautiful girlfriend or lover is truly a test of the will as she has the power of a 60 megaton sex bomb going off 24 hours a day. If you’re going to hang with the likes of a woman like that, you have to have the confidence to let it ride, knowing that she is coming home with you. You have to let her indulge in the rewards of her beauty or suffer the consequences. It’s can be a hard thing to do, but get ready, unless you have a large bank account she will fly, sooner or later, just the nature of the girl beast.

  2. “Polyamory: a bouquet of lovers”

    For some, I imagine, it is a bouquet of roses. But for others – and I would imagine most – it is a bouquet of deadly Nightshade. The idea may titillate but the reality will decimate.

  3. Yes, it will decimate your emotions, your wallet and even your health considering those that are unknowingly involved in such a “bouquet”. In other words, regardless of the the number and content, limitations and trust are the natural barriers to mental and physical health and prosperity. I recall these were the same barriers for other types of sexual arenas, limitations and trust.
    I used a beautiful woman because when you’re out with her, men will put their hands on her and try their best. You certainly get the chance to be jealous and look like a dork, pouting or protesting. It’s like that saying, if you love something, let it go, if it doesn’t come back, you hunt her down and bring her home kicking and screaming if you have to, but she’ll love you for it, she’s that kind.

    • Jim, you must have dated some wild beauties. I can visualize the kicking and screaming woman slung over your shoulder, though I am not a big fan of over generalizing behaviors and attributing motivations to “types,” i.e., beauties or all women.
      I agree with MPM that it is difficult to reign in jealousy to be able to enjoy or even survive an attempt at polyamory, but people do it. Like the article says, it’s not for everyone.
      The attraction of the concept, to me at least, IS the mastery of that powerful emotion, jealousy, as well as the rational approach to recognizing, respecting and treating the relationships as agreements that are situationally derived. It’s all very zen-like in some way but like zen and meditation, getting beyond the suffering of want and desire, it is so difficult in practice. I am not a zen master, and so battle with base human emotion based on wants. But I sure would like to be more like one.

  4. I love the “double rainbow guy” comparison. 🙂
    This is a very difficult emotion to harness. I know of many (and myself) who have tried to do the rational intellectual approach especially when there are gray lined relationships. There is a push pull battle raging within and it gurgles to the surface in many ways (ugliness, jealousy and passive aggressive to name a few) while we try to maintain some sense of dignity.
    I always find the most important question one can ask of yourself (and I know this sounds psychologically cliche) is “How does this make me feel? What are my instincts and does my gut feel ravaged?” I know our intelligence wants to find a way to deal with it and rise above it, but your insides (for lack of a better word) will tell you what situation and whom is right for you. Underneath all the intellect; it has never failed you, it has always been there to guide you. It is my best friend in life. It saved me from 9/11 and it was there for me when I listened in many relationships I had to leave. I went against it twice, wanting to test myself being attracted to the flame. It was exciting for me and I must admit, gave me a sense of being alive in some thrilling way that was all wrong for me and I was rebelling against my gut and instincts as if they were my parents looking over me. Both those relationships “ruined me” so to speak. They stole part of my integrity and character, but I ran with Wolves then. So they became part of my psychological clean up on top of the first relationship that still left emotional scars even though my gut said “this is my big love” (for now). It was easier to deal with the baggage from the first relationship, than the baggage I created within from not following my instincts. The first set of luggage didn’t just happen to me, it came from a relationship ending because it was its’ time. It had gone way past its’ milk carton expired date and curdled. We still loved the milk, but we just couldn’t drink it anymore. The last two sets of luggage though, the two I created by not listening were very different and left so much scar tissue to cut through. I caused that to happen, or I allowed myself to be in relationships I knew should have been long affairs (I say long, not short, because I know myself). You have to go thru them to know yourself though, but what damage we do to ourselves is far worse in my opinion. If you look back underneath all the intellectual rationalizations and conceptual ideals, your instincts and gut, your core within was always there letting you know.

    Ironically, I find people who have done this to be quite fascinating and far more intriguing than one who always went with their gut. I want someone who knows what that is like, I want someone who has been to hell and back again, because when they do finally find me (and they will because I will be looking out for them), they will know from the very start and in the very depth of their “insides” that this is the one and that is rare, and try not to fuck it up too much.

    I must say I find Jim’s comment with the saying of “going after her and bringing her Home, and her loving you for it” very appealing, and I know that really rings true with me and other women I have known in that particular female genre. There is a lot of testing in relationships, testing ourselves and our “partner.” Personally speaking; I want a man to let me go to my own natural rhythm but he lets me know “where I belong.” I am using the line from the song “I Let My Woman Flow” by It’s A Beautiful Day. How whimsically 60s of me right?
    Or how the expression goes “I hope you will value your freedom with me more than your freedom to be free.”

    • There is so much to respond to in your post and thank you very much for taking the time to write this thoughtful comment. I particularly love that last quote, which I had never heard before. I think we never outgrow our childlike desire to know our limits by testing them and we need someone to circumscribe us so that we don’t go too far or wide, especially for those of us (me) who have a tendency to exceed limits whether it be speed or patience.
      I agree that our gut can guide us in so many situations but we humans are complex beings. Sometimes we are so self-deluded that we think we ARE listening to our gut when we are listening to our heads or our hearts above our instincts. That is when we sometimes make the mistakes with indelible consequences, those that burn into memory and create new instincts, ones based on lessons learned. Those lessons learned in fire are painful but necessary for growth and the procuring of wisdom.
      You say that you would like to find someone “who has been to hell and back again” so that he or she will know instinctively the right thing when seen. I like that idea of such a deep knowing. Relationships are so complicated because they consist of at least two people who come to each other at specific times in their lives with the experiences they bring with them and the mindsets and scars those experiences produce. Each brings to the relationship the genetics and family and history of living thus far at that very moment with all of the associations, opinions, conclusions, traits, chemistry and heart bruises. It’s a wonder people get together at all. It’s so much work. That’s probably why it feels good somehow that notion of being struck caveman like by another and carried away. It’s like crawling back into the womb–safe and warm and easy.

      • Thank you, it is a wonder that two people can connect as you say over such a battlefield landscape. Images of Terminator 2 popped in my head in a comedic way. You brought the most inviting image of the womb to my mind; the haven of shelter that one can offer unconditionally, even if just a rest stop along the way. Thank you for inspiring such thoughts, it really does help. The “real gut feeling” vs the deluded gut from our mind; I know it well. This is where our instincts in their most primal way can help. If only we could tune out and allow them in, humans are so complex and tragic.

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