she's a tramp, she's a tramp, she's a vamp
11 September 2010 @ 08:49 pm
I find that I end up repeating myself a lot in online discussions about jealousy, so I'm going to collect my main points here for easy linking.

Stuff I believe about jealousy:
  • Jealousy is normal. Just about everyone will experience jealousy at some point -- yes, even ethically nonmonogamous people. People who feel jealous are not inherently bad or unenlightened or controlling or bad partners. Our emotions don't define us. Our actions do. If you hurl baseless accusations, throw things, cause dramatic scenes in public, or lock your partner in the basement -- yes, you are a huge fucking jerk. But feeling jealous doesn't automatically make you that guy.

  • Jealousy is not inevitable. A lot of folks describe themselves as "a jealous person," as though jealousy is a constant characteristic. It's not. It's a feeling that arises because of our experiences and thoughts, and it's possible to feel it less often and less intensely by changing our experiences and thoughts. On the other hand, some people will always experience intense, painful jealousy when they think of their beloved being with someone else. The sooner you know that, the better. It allows you to make better choices about which relationships will work for you and which ones won't.

  • Jealousy is a composite emotion. I think that understanding our emotions is a great first step to changing them, and jealousy is a slippery one to pin down. That's because it's actually a label for many other emotions. Is it envy? Is it insecurity? Is it possessiveness? Is it fear? Fear of what? Sometimes, we label our emotion as "jealousy" and then stop. It's important to go further.

  • Jealousy may or may not have much to do with reality. Particularly when fear is involved. How likely is it, really, that my partner is going to leave me for this other person? If my partner is a flake, or a serial-monogamist-in-denial, pretty fucking likely! But if my partner has demonstrated commitment and steadfastness throughout life, and genuinely believes it is possible and desirable to love more than one person simultaneously, why would I get dumped? I encourage people to look for evidence related to their fears. If they can't find any in their current relationships, then evidence from the past may be coming into play, evidence about "men" or "women" or "human nature."

  • It's okay to feel jealous, even if you have multiple partners yourself. I see poly people fretting a lot over this, in both directions. "My husband loves sleeping with other women, but when I sleep with other men, he gets so jealous! He's not allowed to feel that way!" Actually, yeah, he's allowed to feel that way. "I have a boyfriend, and things have been great, but now my fuckbuddy is seeing someone else and I'm jealous! I'm such a hypocrite!" Actually, no, you're not. Again, there's a difference between feelings and actions. You'd be a hypocrite if you actually implemented a double-standard -- and even then, sometimes people are happy with unequal arrangements. Fundamentally, emotions do not respect "fairness."

  • Dismissing jealousy as "irrational," "ridiculous," or "unfounded" does not help. First of all, of course jealousy is irrational -- it's an emotion. All emotions are irrational. Love is irrational, but when your partner says "I love you," do you roll your eyes and say "Stop being irrational"? We discount people's emotions when those emotions are inconvenient for us. When we do it to someone else, we are potentially doing serious harm to them. When we do it to ourselves, we are absolutely doing serious harm to ourselves. The more energy we put into denying and repressing our emotions, the less energy we have to actually work through those emotions.

  • Jealousy can be expressed compassionately or abusively. I think a good indicator for this is, how vulnerable do you feel when you express yourself? Are you opening up and talking quietly about how sad and hurt you are, or are you shouting at your partner that he's a lying whore who always betrays you? It is possible to seem compassionate but still subtly manipulate -- watch out for guilt trips like "If you really loved me, you'd ...."

  • Jealousy is strongest when we aren't getting our needs met. The more secure and treasured we feel, the less likely it is we'll flip out when our partner gets involved with someone else. One of the biggest unmet needs that triggers jealousy is self-esteem. We need to feel fairly good about ourselves. We can accomplish lots of things with that need unmet or undermet, but we probably cannot tolerate our partner fucking someone who seems "better" than us. And most people will probably seem "better" to someone with low self-esteem.

  • Jealousy is part and parcel of compulsory monogamy. Remember, feelings are related to thoughts. If you've lived in a culture where monogamy is expected and even demanded (i.e., nearly everywhere), you have been told many "truths" about love. You can only love one person at a time. If you desire more than one person at a time, you don't really love either of them. Everyone should try to get the prettiest, richest, funniest partner possible, so if someone prettier, richer, and funnier than your current partner comes along, you should move on. A real man can satisfy his woman, so if she wants another guy, you must not be a real man. Identifying these thoughts lets you openly evaluate them, and then dismantle them and the power they have over your emotions.

Some awesome stuff other people have written about jealousy:

If you hate reading shit on your computer monitor:
  • Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino, has a great chapter about jealousy.

  • The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt, talks more about sexual jealousy than romantic jealousy.

  • I've seen Deborah Anapol's Love Without Limits recommended for people curious about jealousy, though I haven't read it myself.

  • Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg is a wonderful resource for people trying to navigate emotionally complex waters.

I am absolutely interested in updating this as more stuff comes to my attention, so gimme what you got.