Please Be Jealous

a cat being pet on a bed who looks jealous
Image by Gustaaf Prins / CC BY

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.

Brené Brown

*

I was on fire again. Staring at Seth, watching him sleep.

I wished I could sleep, too.

No chance of that. My own brain was screaming at full volume.

He’d come home from seeing Megan late, crashed. Not up for conversation. I’d stirred, pawed at him in the familiar way that meant I wanted to get it on.

“I’m exhausted, Page, and I already came once tonight.”

Then he was out like a light.

I lay still for a bit, feeling the lump rising in my throat, before turning over and studying his face. He looked so serene. He was happy.

Do I make him that happy? I wondered. This is how it begins. This is how he leaves you for her. The panic rose and started to corkscrew throughout my body.

I knew I could wake him, let him know how disappointed I was that we hadn’t had a chance to reconnect, how much I missed him. Between his nights at Megan’s and my work schedule, we’d been like trains in the night for days, weeks.

Instead, I slipped out of bed quietly, walked to the living room, and placed my head on the cold glass of the sliding door.

“I’m the worst poly person in the world,” I said to myself as I cried, pressing my head harder on the glass. “Megan and Seth don’t get jealous like I do. What the fuck is wrong with me?”

I could see the light go on in a distant apartment, far across the complex. Two shadowy figures moving behind a curtain.

I walked to the bathroom, splashed some water on my face. Made a promise to myself that I would talk to Seth the next day about my disappointment, how much I missed him. Even as I made the promise, I knew I’d break it.

Here we were, all of us committing adultery as casually as we’d shop for groceries, and the biggest taboo of all was admitting that we ever got jealous.

*

It really is okay to not feel okay.

Stop it. Stop saying you “shouldn’t” feel that way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling jealous.

Jealousy is a kind of fear, a fear of losing what you have to someone else. Fear is hard wired right in the limbic system, in the amygdala. Jealous feelings can be relearned with time, patience, and persistence, but the feelings themselves are reflexive, and it’s no reflection on you when they happen. It doesn’t make you weak.

*

When I formed the triad with Seth and Megan, I experienced far more jealousy than either of them. I felt like there was something wrong with me.

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

I judged me for those feelings, too.

I judged myself for my fear.

*

When people get jealous, they often become ashamed of the jealousy, which is a secondary trauma loop, where you’re beating yourself up over and over again, punishing yourself for feeling (pretty normal) negative feelings.

Shame is the real killer. Not the fear, the anxiety, the jealousy. But shame. In basic survival terms, if the tribe rejects you, you die. Exile was death to our ancestors. Shame is a sense that you are unacceptable, that you don’t belong. And your brain feels like it’s life or death.

The worst part is that feeling bad about feeling bad? It’s especially true for really good people.

It’s not the feeling itself but our shame about the feeling – just like it’s never the mistake that gets you, it’s the cover-up.

And while you can cover up those unacceptable feelings, by not sharing them, there’s one person you’ll never hide them from: Yourself.

So no cover-up, okay? Stick to acknowledgement. And self-forgiveness. Got it? Go.

*

These days I try to do better. I bring those feelings into the light of day, when it’s emotionally safe to do so. For me, when I’ve stabilized a bit and have time to reflect on what happened, I “fess up” about it to my partner and talk about it as a thing that I overcame. That way, they get to know that I’m human and feel things, but I don’t rain on anyone’s parade. Plus, it’s like a victory story of triumph over darkness, and we can both say “woo!” about it.

So go ahead. Be jealous. But be kind, to yourself, to others.

And whatever you do, don’t be ashamed.

 

 

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8 Comments

  1. I love this; as someone for whom jealousy is a rare thing indeed, it’s always fascinating to get a glimpse into the experience for others. I also want to add something to what you’ve said:

    Jealousy isn’t a behavior!

    One of the things that I’ve seen over and over in poly discourse is advice on not “acting” jealous, or admonishments of people are are “acting” jealous and “not admitting” that’s how they feel. Jealousy is a feeling, and one that’s visceral as you noted. You can be jealous without behaving badly and, even more to my point, you can behave badly without being jealous.

    How you feel is how you feel. Mindfulness is useful here. “This feeling is jealousy,” vs. “I am jealous” changes the timbre of the experience, and the likelihood of reactive behavior.

    <3

    1. YES! Separating the feelings from the behaviors are SO key. I’m so glad you like this one. And you give me some food for thought for a followup piece. Great comment 🙂 I’ll be thinking about the mindfulness stuff for a while (I’m on a mindfulness kick at the moment, it so happens).

  2. I admire the way you insist on being emotionally honest with yourself. So many are not honest about these survival instincts.

    I even think you can be honest in present tense without “raining on anyone’s parade”. It’s about the words you choose.

    I have decided to try changing my super anxious attachment pattern because of shame. It stole my entire life. I considered polyamory for a second when I was considering my options for growing out of my anxious survival instincts, but realised I don’t need polyamory to “grow” – my intensely avoidant partners do the trick for me :- )

  3. This is so kind… in a time and in a way I can’t even tell you.–Like I was meant to read this. Thank you for allowing me to feel things I don’t want to feel but do anyway… love this!!!!

  4. Thank you for writing this! I have witnessed how destructive it can become when jealousy takes the spotlight in a poly situation. Due to fear and lacking communication skills, sometimes jealousy can significantly reduce people’s self-esteem and drive a wedge between partners when it runs rampant, unchecked.

    I have seen how jealousy and the fear and shame in feeling that way and trying to cover it up can undermine the positive efforts of all involved in a poly group. When one or more people lack the skills of mindfulness and the ability to recognize the feeling for what it is and the ability or knowledge in how to separate the feeling from acting on it impulsively, it can take a lot more work and effort from all involved to bring partners back together than if it was properly communicated and addressed at the time.

  5. Thank you for putting this out there 🙂
    As a long time poly person, I’ve learned to share the fact that yes. I do feel the familiar pain of jealousy as it enters my relationships. I’ve kinda figured out now though that the difference now is I can own the jealousy and work out what it is fueled by and then ask for what I need to let it go.
    That’s not to say its anyone elses responsibility. More that I like to let people know that its come up, im working on it, I plan to attempt to let it go..

  6. I really should get around to something explicit re: the difference between feelings and actions — i.e., that jealousy isn’t a behavior.

    OR you could write something as a guest post, Fluffy. Just saying.

    Since the heap of things I have to write isn’t getting any smaller (for better or worse).

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