Rip off the Band-Aid

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Photo by nathal / CC BY

I’m often asked by people newer to poly – how do I make sure I’m never jealous or uncomfortable?

The quick answer is that you don’t. When you dig into things, that’s pretty unsurprising. Anything that involves other people has the potential to have its uncomfortable moments (heck, I can be get pretty uncomfortable by myself in my own head sometimes), regardless of how close they are to you, how much you have in common, and how well you communicate.

But if you’re looking to minimize that discomfort in the long term? You need to grow, and part of that means welcoming in the kind that helps you grow.

There’s a saying in counseling – “The only way around the pain is through it.”

As counterintuitive as it may seem, the easiest way to get more comfortable in the long term is to practice letting uncomfortable things happen, seeing how you react, and noting the world doesn’t end and that you can bounce back from upsets.  The monster under the bed isn’t so bad as all the rumors would lead you to believe.

And it’s true. Our panic systems are ancient relics, gifts from pre-civilization where our very survival was tenuous. A freakout could save us from getting eaten. Now we’re instead constantly pelted with low-grade threats, the spectre of social rejection (“What will they think of me?”), a looming deadline, etc. Most stress is anticipatory, wrapped up in worry about the future, in speculation of the negative consequences something could have, in fear of the unknown. And our bodies often don’t know the difference between perception and reality.

Poly is no different.

Too often, I see elaborate rule structures that are there to ensure that no one ever feels uncomfortable, ostensibly baby proofing the relationships – but the moment something happens that isn’t quite covered by these rules (and I’ve seen this happen so many times)… everyone involved is defenseless, confused. There may even be some finger-pointing.

And trust me, it’s gonna happen. I’m yet to see a rules structure that thinks of everything.  The parallel poly arrangement you’ve worked out where you don’t meet any of your metamours is suddenly undermined when you have mutual friends on social media and you see them in your feed. What you meant when you said “sex” isn’t the same thing they meant when they said “sex.” When you said they could have other play partners, you never meant they could take another sub. When you made a rule that new partners could never live with you, you never expected to get her pregnant. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera .

Sometimes you’ll feel scared, jealous, sad. It’ll happen. This happens in good monogamous relationships sometimes. You’re a person. You feel. It’s okay. You’ve survived feeling things before – you’ll get through this, too. Even better, with practice you’ll adjust. You’ll figure it out. And you’ll wake up one morning more courageous and unstoppable than you ever thought possible.

Stop worrying that it’s going to hurt. Rip off the Band-Aid. Get it over with.

I like Slate Star Codex’s take in Scott Alexander’s essay “Polyamory is Boring”:

The other thing people always bring up is the jealousy issue. I feel like the correct, responsible thing to say at this point would be “Yes, of course everyone experiences jealousy, and it’s hard for the first few months or years, but eventually you just learn to live with it and the sacrifice is worth it.”

But the responsible answer is wrong, and the incredulous-stare answer is right. At least in my very limited experience, jealousy is a paper tiger, sort of the post-9/11 al-Qaeda of emotional states. You spend all this time worrying about it and preparing for it and thinking it is going to be this dreadfully imposing enemy, and in the end it sends one guy with a bomb in his shoes onto a plane, whom you arrest without incident.

Don’t cringe away from the punch you worry is coming. Take it on the chin. Don’t flinch. See that it doesn’t kill you.

Become a badass.

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