I hear it all the time and everywhere when the subject of Polyamory comes up, “what about jealousy?” or “do poly people get jealous” or the declaration, “I can’t deal with jealousy so I could never be in an open relationship”. At times these repeated questions and statements are heard so often that many poly people have almost rehearsed speeches to talk to people or reporters about poly and jealousy.
I was reading an article this morning, as is often true the article stated that “jealousy is human nature” and of course this is why polyamory and/or open relationships can’t work. Jealousy is certainly a part of human nature but if we allowed the fear of the emotion of jealousy stop us from doing certain things, most of us would not have made it through kindergarten. The truth is that we as human beings can and do experience jealousy. This started me thinking about the adult avoidance of jealousy and the hypocrisy of many people’s attitudes when it comes to jealousy. Yes, most human beings deal with jealousy from the time we are small children and we learn both to deal with it and to overcome it.
Jealousy is a strong and often painful emotion. As children we are told by loving adults to get over it and/or deal with it. How often do parents say to a young child, “Cindy, don’t be selfish, share your toys with your little brother.” When our kids experience serious challenge with jealousy, whether it is a new member of the family or sharing toys with the neighbor kids, we as adults try to help them. We do not tell them to horde their toys or decide not to have another child to save our kid from the emotional pain of jealousy. In fact the opposite is true, we will put our children into situations we know challenge them in hopes they will learn to deal with the emotions and be a well rounded person. Most parents do their best to teach their children a balance between boundaries and sharing. We expect children as young as two or three to deal with this painful emotion and move through it.
The irony is sometimes so astounding to me when I hear someone proclaim that humans just can’t get past jealousy. Even as adults, we have to learn sometimes to deal with jealousy. Perhaps our spouse has a demanding job and they love it. We want them to be happy but we may feel jealous that the job is taking them away. Maybe your best friend loves to golf and you hate it, then they meet someone who also loves to golf and become close friends leaving you feeling left out. Human beings may be jealous by nature but they are also intelligent and can work or move through these emotions.
Why is it in our culture that in our romantic sexual relationships we condone acting like the three year old when we feel jealousy? Jealousy can even be used as a defense for assault. When a sexual partner strays or cares for someone else, it as if we accept bad behavior because they were jealous. Yet the pain of possibly losing a friend to golf or a husband to his work can be just as painful. No one, however, would condone a person vandalizing someone’s car or smashing in their window while they are driving. This is no different than the child who pushes over his little sister and grabs her toy. Many would say it is because the stakes are higher but to a two year old that toy is high stakes.
If we expect a two year old to learn and move through jealousy, then how is so hard to imagine that a group of adults have chosen to do the same? It is not always easy and it can be painful. You can feel like that two year old who just lost his toy forever as you sit crying and looking over at the brat who has taken your toy. If we sit with these feelings, don’t judge them and allow ourselves to grow and learn, we can move through it. This can be made easier when our partner, just like our parents did as children, comfort and reassure us while allowing us the opportunity to grow.
I continue to be baffled by the looks of disbelief when I say many poly people use jealousy as a tool to grow. That they learn to move through it and that over time it does get easier. Why is this such a hard concept? I know that many adults in our world avoid emotional pain at all costs. Emotions are the water of life and like water, become polluted when stagnant. Embracing difficult emotions instead of avoiding them keeps the water flowing and life moving forward. Polyamory can certainly do this but there are many other ways. Polyamory is just one way and it is not for everyone, but jealousy is a poor excuse for declaring polyamory does not work. If poly is not your cup of tea then it is ok to own that and say so, you don’t need to explain or make any excuses.
Jealousy is an emotion about insecurity. It gives us insight into ourselves and information we can use to feel better about who we are.
The next time you hear someone say that poly can never work because of jealousy, ask them if they learned to share their toys with the other kids as a child. Yes, jealousy exists in polyamorous relationships along with love, understanding, compassion, sharing and compersion. This is what makes it so worth experiencing for many people; to move through emotions to a place of connection and love and wait for the next wave to crash.