Life in the Jealous Closet

people don't cry cuz they're weak

When I first dipped my toe into the polyamorous pool in 2009, it was to date our friend Megan with my husband Seth. Megan said she was a very low jealousy person and was not very emotional seeming in general. She was low on both positive and negative expressions in general, very even keel. It wasn’t your typical ice queen scenario. She wasn’t harsh or distant. Just… more poised. There was an exquisiteness about her. But her emotional volume was set on low. She wasn’t one to get very excited or very upset about anything, really.

Seth didn’t experience much jealousy either. He’d always been like that, long before our relationship opened up. Nothing really made him afraid of losing me, insecure.

So as I entered poly, my two closest models, and the other two-thirds of my first poly relationship, were cool as a cucumber.

And MY brain was SCREAMING at full volume all the damn time. Before I even agreed to trying nonexclusivity, I spent hours lying in bed, envisioning Seth leaving me for good. I had to imagine and accept the worst possible outcome to proceed. I mourned. And then I came to a place where I realized I was afraid of losing Seth because I felt that what we had together was good and valuable and should last. It dawned on me that if it were lost so easily from the challenge of close others in our lives, then maybe it deserved to be lost. It seemed then unreasonable to helicopter parent, worry, protect it from outsiders. If we really had a bond worth having, it would thrive with others in the picture. If not, then I’d lose something, sure, but I’d rather know the truth.

When I told Seth this thought process, he said it was unnecessarily pessimistic, that we’d be fine, but he was glad I was ready to take the leap. As it turns out, Seth and I are no longer together, and we’re now both involved with people who are much more compatible with us and living lives that suit us better. What I feared would happen, happened. But – and this is important – while stressful as it unfolded, it was ultimately a positive thing.

This is how my brain has always worked. Things in theory are TERRIFYING and set off jealousy, fear, anger, and sadness spiral through my brain like a storm. But reality? It isn’t so bad.

I ran into this as a brand new poly person the first time I saw Seth and Megan kiss. I was taken aback by how I felt. I wasn’t jealous, like I thought I would be. When I actually saw him kiss her the first time, I thought it was the most fucking adorable and hot thing ever. This was before I had even read about compersion, so I was extra confused by this reaction.

So jealousy for things in theory, compersion for things I could see. This pattern is more or less still my own. It’s a lot of emotion.

Those early days with Megan and Seth were rough. I felt like I was worse at poly — because it was so easy for them, the jealousy thing. It wasn’t that I acted badly, that there were outbursts, bad behavior, restrictions placed, any of that… I pushed through the jealousy, present for a short time any time the nature of my agreement with Seth fundamentally changed: a big spike at the theoretical open, a big spike when we started seeing Megan together, a big spike when I suggested that Seth and I should abolish the package deal so that Megan and Seth see each other without me since my chemistry with her was off but theirs were great, etc.

I think maybe what was hardest for me during it all was that I felt like I couldn’t express or show whatever jealousy or insecurity I did feel because I felt like they’d judge me for it and say I was inferior. It was a clear source of pride for them both that they were low-jealousy, and I just wasn’t. So I stayed in my jealous closet.

I generally behaved very, very well even when I was totally falling apart inside.

I judged me for those feelings, too.

I judged myself for my fear.

What has resulted from all of this? Mostly, I’m good at hiding when I’m uncomfortable. Recently, I checked in with Skyspook (my current husband and anchor partner) about a conversation several months ago that happened with him and me and a girl he was involved with (i.e., my metamour). The metamour said something kind of insensitive about his sexual encounter with her that made me bristle a little and felt like she was kind of rubbing it in. I recognized that she was being clumsy and let it drop rather than addressing it, but it hurt like fuck at the moment. When I brought up this exchange recently, Skyspook remembered the conversation, said it bothered HIM when she said that, and told me he had no idea it even bothered me but understood why I hadn’t made a big deal of that (we had a lot of other relationship-type things to talk about that took precedence).

But it did underscore to me that I’m good at hiding those feelings. And I’ve realized I don’t need any more work in that department, refraining from making those feelings other people’s problems, acting out, or being otherwise disruptive.

What I should be working on? Strengthening my personal sense of security so I feel them less often and less intensely. And also not beating up on myself when I do feel insecure.

It has been EXTRAORDINARILY educational operating in all things poly with a very different primary. Skyspook is not a low-jealousy person. From what I can gather, he is probably about average in all things jealousy. And he is significantly more open about it than I ever was. I think there is much to be learned from him and how he operates.

I talked to him about these issues yesterday – about how I felt jealous and ashamed of my jealousy, and he reminded me that it is not weak to be emotional. It is strong. It is coming in without armor, being terrified of the battle and yet fighting it anyway. It is BRAVE to be emotional, to engage and to RISK. He is right. I know it. It’s so easy to be self-critical.

I also realize I didn’t have the best relationship model growing up, especially as pertains to jealousy. There are so many examples of my mother being consumed with jealousy, being controlling towards my father, not allowing him or her children any privacy. My mother once had a fight so large with him that she left for 2 days and upon her return didn’t allow him to sleep in their bed for weeks after… she found a Hooters receipt in his jeans pocket. He’d been on a business trip and gone with his work buddy to have dinner there and didn’t tell her. She’s also in the habit when there’s sex in a movie they’re watching together of getting up out of her chair and placing her hand over the naked woman. Sometimes she’s completely turned it off if she found it inappropriate. She tells me these things after the fact, with a laugh, as if they are entirely normal and healthy things that reflect well upon her character.

But this is no excuse. I am not my mother.  I want to love with trust and not control.

The funny thing is that I’m told I’m pretty good at this. But I want to do better, and I see where I can. I want to feel as secure as I can be, and while the jealousy closet has been a helpful tool for me in the past, moving forward I want to need it as little as possible.

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