Polyamory, Sex and Jealousy

In Too lazy to assign a category on February 10, 2008 at 2:23 pm

While browsing posts around Vox tagged with 'poyamory', I came across the post Love and Sex by Paxton, who was linking to my posts tagged with 'relationships', portraying me as an advocate of polyamory. I wanted to comment on the article because in my opinion he overemphasises the importance of sex. Unfortunately commenting was disabled, so I sent him a private message, with some random thoughts that came up:

Polyamory is the idea that we should shuck the old shackles of matrimony and jealousy, and feel free to create bonds with multiple sexual partners in a non-exclusive arrangement.  It has some very well-spoken proponents.

I just now ran into your post where you are linking to blog posts of mine. As I can't comment on your post, I feel compelled to send you a private message and I might post about this on my own blog.

In the above, and in the entire post, in my opinion, you emphasise the sexual aspect too much. Polyamory isn't about sexual partners per se, although there always is the option to make a bond sexual as well, and for poly people excluding sexuality feels unnatural. It is however about creating long term lovin g relationships with more than one person, where all parties involved are aware of the situation (no cheating). Swinging is more about sex, and not always long term, although some couples swing with the same partners  over periods of years and years.

One can run into the same problems as within a monogamous relationship, and the situation is perhaps more complex, as there are more people, with their emotions and insecurities, to keep in mind. Poly people are usually very committed … to several people.

Bonding may occur in some without jealousy.  People who respond this way to our chemicals are probably rare, but would be excellent candidates for polyamory.  For most, though, the two go hand in hand and jealousy is unavoidable.  I think this is why the truly polyamorous – experiencing bonding and love without jealousy – seem to be a very small portion of the human population, despite the utopian ring that it has.  Human biology can't be changed by adopting a philosophy of a jealousy-free life.

Polyamory doesn't do away with jealousy. Poly people do recognise the feeling of jealousy. Nobody is immune to jealousy. It's like being immune to fear or hunger or anger. Some people may be naturally more jealous than others, but anybody can feel jealous.

Jealousy itself is an interesting emotion, because jealousy is a composite emotion, that is based on other emotions. It's a second-order emotional response–something happens, that thing causes you to feel threatened or to feel insecure or to feel something negative about yourself, and then that fear or insecurity makes you feel jealous. For that reason, the root of jealousy is often surprisingly difficult to pin down and understand.

Instead, what happens is that people look at the event which is the proximal cause of the jealousy and assume that that event is the source of the problem. "My partner kisses another person, I feel jealous; therefo re, it's the kiss that makes me jealous. The way to deal with the jealousy is to tell my partner to stop kissing people."

It doesn't even have to be sexual. Imagine your partner having a very close friend (perhaps of the same sex) and spending 5 nights a week with that person. Even though nothing sexual has happened, you'd probably feel jealous. Probably even rightfully so.

Yes, jealousy is unavoidable. However, there are several ways to deal with jealousy.

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  1. Wow, that post was put up over a year ago! I had to go re-read it to remember what I said. I had shut it down to neighborhood only comments because I was getting some strange ones. As seems only fair, I will post a link to this post in the comments of my post.
    I wrote my post to come to terms with things I was feeling at the time about the nature of relationships. I chose to link to the relationships tag in your blog to give an example of someone who writes well in favor of the polyamorous lifestyle. I'm sorry if you took offense to me linking to your post.
    …in my opinion, you emphasise the sexual aspect too much. Polyamory isn't about sexual partners per se…
    You can decide what polyamory means to you, but in the general meaning of the word, it is understood that there is likely to be a sexual aspect to the relationships. Otherwise, why not just call it friendship? Obviously, we're talking about multiple sexual partners.
    The point of my post is that while there are outspoken proponents for both polyamory and sex without intimacy, for most people this isn't really an option. Most people cannot and will not adjust to being comfortable with knowing that your partner has other partners. If you are able to do that and choose to do so, that's fine.
    Frankly, I find it a little silly to promote polyamory as something that more people should do. If it's the right lifestyle fit for them, they're probably already doing it. If not, no amount of cajoling from the pro-poly crowd is going to make them comfortable with it. Both emotional/relationship bonding and jealousy are based in our basic biological make-up, and the strength of those biological forces will vary person by person. Why not let each person find their own way?
    The one aspect of what you preach that I truly do appreciate is the honesty and openness of the relationships. I find nothing immoral or unnethical about polyamory, as long as everyone in the network relationship(s) knows that that is what's going on. It's just not for me. Nor, I suspect, is it the right choice for many. I have a much worse problem with "friends with benefits" or people who have repeated one-night-stands, not only because of the implications for STDs, but because perhaps not everyone involved knows that that is all it means to the other person. Honesty is the key, then everyone can choose what works best for them.
    I also think that children change the equation. I would imagine that children brought up in a polyamorous household may be better off than children brought up in single parent homes, but only if it is a truely stable environment, with the same players taking part in the raising of the children. Serial monogamy has created a large group of children from homes with one parent, who also works, and therefore leaves very little familial support for the children. It's certainly something that should be discussed and considered before children are brought into the relationship.

  2. Thank you for your elaborate comment. I didn't take offence in you linking to me, not at all. However, I have to say most of those posts I tagged with 'relationships' I haven't written myself, I merely was linking to articles, blogposts, images e.a. I found on line, because those sources made me think. Another misunderstanding perhaps is your impression I want to promote polyamory as something more people should practise. Polyamory isn't better than monogamy, nor is monogamy better than polyamory. They're just different. I agree polyamory isn't for everyone, if you're 'wired' for (serial) monogamy, you'll probably never feel happy in a polyamorous relationship, of whatever nature.

  3. You're right in that I came away from reading some of your posts over a year ago as feeling that you were promoting polyamory as something that should not only be accepted, but promoted. I agree that it should be accepted (as any arrangement between consenting adults should be), but promotion of one type of relational arrangement over another seems likely to be unproductive, and perhaps harmful if people are trying to do what is essentially the same as cramming a square peg in a round hole. I accept that you say that wasn't your intention, so I apologize for misinterpreting.

  4. Paxton said: Frankly, I find it a little silly to promote polyamory as something that more people should do. If it's the right lifestyle fit for them, they're probably already doing it. If not, no amount of cajoling from the pro-poly crowd is going to make them comfortable with it.
    As Irma well stated, it is rare indeed to find a polyamorist who goes around promoting polyamory as better than monogamy. The mission of the well-established voice of the poly world, the LovingMore organization, emphasizes helping people understand that they have choices or options as to how they conduct their intimate relationships. They do not pretend to know what is best for others.

    In that same vein, it is not at all true that "If it's the right lifestyle fit for them, they're probably already doing it." Quite the opposite is true – we routinely see people come into our community who say that they never imagined they could live such a life until they met someone or read about polyamory and immediately recognized that it was a better personal option for them. Western culture so thoroughly marinates people in monogamous thinking that despite finding monogamy lacking, they still had no thought that there was another option. This is why polyamory outreach is so important. Those who only fine misery in monogamy need to know they have a choice.
    Lastly, as to jealousy, Irma's response is also right on. It's not at all true that poly people don't get jealous. Just as you point out, jealousy is a natural part of the human condition. Certainly it served an important purpose for our ancient ancestors for whom perpetuation of the species was not at all assured than it does today. Nevertheless it is human to feel jealousy. The difference for polyamorists is that they learn how to effectively take away it's power and make it more manageable. The typical response to polyamory by those just learning about it is "I could never do that, I'd be too jealousy." And there's a lot of fear in their words. Because the emotions that make up jealousy feel so powerful, people think they're a deal breaker, but we polyamorists who are living this life and making it work (12 years myself) know that it doesn't have to be.

  5. Oops, a clarification – When I say that the typical response to poly by those just learning about it is to dismiss it because they'll be too jealousy, I'm referring to the portion of the population that consciously prefers monogamy, not those for whom finding out about polyamory is a big "ah ha!" moment.

  6. Intersting comments Irma, For a male perspective, I can say that you will lose either way you go, If you are Jealous, then you get accused of choking that person, and restricting their freedom and development, If you are not jealous then obviously you dont love them enough. Ho Hum at least the endless human parade of life goes on 🙂 and thereis no end of delicious people to …………..

  7. I like that you've started this discussion because it goes to the heart of what my boyfriend and I are dealing with now. He is jealous that I want to be polyamorous, yet at the same time he has another mistress, who has been his mistress for at least 10 years. (I've been his mistress for 5 years). Apparently, what's good for him is not good for me and I recognize this as his way of controlling me, but also it's his way of protecting himself from the negative consequences of sexual intercourse, ie, stds, which is the danger I wrote of in a previous comment. So my problem is that I not only have a controlling, jealous boyfriend, who I nonetheless love, but I also am unfree to share the same privileges that he enjoys. If I do follow my heart and my polyamorous side, I risk losing my longterm boyfriend who I am hopelessly attached to (and who I happen to be writing a novel about). For me, unfortunately, polyamory is a no- win situation.

  8. I agree with Anita that it's not evident 'they're probably already doing it', if only because of dominant societal values. Discovering you're polyamorous might be confusing, especially with feelings of guilt and shame imposed on those that don't want to 'live by the rules'. Often you might feel alone, not realising there are many others out there with the same state of mind (or heart perhaps). If you're in a monogamous relationship and you realise you want to open up this relationship, not for a short lived fling, but because you recognise your polyamorous nature, it becomes even more confusing, and difficult, because, obviously, you don't want to hurt your partner, while at the same time, you want to be true to yourself.

  9. I'm sure I'm going to sound really harsh here, but it sounds to me that you're the one doing all the dealing, while he has an open ticket to do whatever his heart desires. I for instance wonder how he is protecting you from sexually transmitted diseases. After all, he's the one having sex with more than one person at the time, and perhaps his other mistress is not faithful to him. I don't know whether he forbids her to have other relationships besides the one he has with her as well. It doesn't sound fair how he's handling the situation, in fact, it sounds like he's not handling it at all. He expects things from you he isn't willing to do himself, and while it's not a matter of 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth', or automatically, if he has the right to sleep around, you should have the same right, it is something that needs to be agreed upon by both partners, not imposed on one partner by the other partner. It is possible for a monogamous person to have a relationship with a polyamorous person, if it's a situation both parties have agreed upon, and are feeling good about. However, it seems you are not at all happy about the situation. I understand it's a difficult situation, as you do love him, and love isn't rational. I can't give you sound advice on how to handle all this but it seems to me you've got some serious reflecting to do. Have you asked him why exactly the thought of you being polyamorous makes him feel jealous? Why he feels the need to try and impose a certain life style upon you? Whether he feels he is being fair to you? Whether he has taken into account your needs and emotions? How much are you willing to take? What does it take to make you feel loved and secure in this relationship? There are many questions that pop up in my mind, as I'm sure pop up in yours as well …

  10. He knows he isn't being fair to me, but at the same time he wants to cover his ass. Too true. I think if you were me you probably wouldn't stand to be in a relationship with him–many women wouldn't–but I make concessions for him because he's from an older generation and because I'm deeply in love with him. I secretly hope that his other mistress finds out about me and discards him, but I would never approach her because then I might lose him. I also secretly hope that I fall in love with someone closer to my own age. Unfortunately, no one compares to him, no one measures up. I like to think that I am the Anais to his Henry Miller, even though I know that Anais would never settle for a closet chauvinist.

  11. Couple things, the first one purely gratuitous: great post, and great conversation.The feelings that something isn't right, something isn't working, something missing, is very common for people who don't understand that the poly lifestyle could be what they're looking for. So many of these people turn to the Internet now and find answers. Often these answers lead to more questions but that's where the contact with others is so important. I know that when I came out both as bi and poly, it was with knowledge of what others had faced and what could be. Always, knowing that you're not alone, that there are others who have done something – and live it successfully (12 years, Anita, rock on!) makes it easier to come to terms with the fact that your choosing to live outside of the societal "norm". Though I honestly believe that there are more people who live an unconventional lifestyle that no one ever knows, as you have touched on.When it comes to jealousy in a poly relationship, it happens. It's how we react to our feelings of jealousy that makes it work or not work. And being honest with ourselves – and those involved – about it is crucial to making it work. I almost lost the relationship I'm in because I couldn't admit I was jealous. And it wasn't sexual jealousy, it was jealousy of time spent with the other. When I finally understood what the problem was, and talked about it, things got so much better. The sad part was that what could have been a fabu vacation for the 3 of us was ruined by my unresolved feelings. What we all learned (it's the first poly for all of us) was the importance of communication in dealing with the jealousy.Ok, I rambled. Sorry. But I think I got all that I wanted to say in there. For now. 😉

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