Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.
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 polyamorous 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 in 2009, 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.
For practical how-to information on handling jealousy, please see, “How to Be Jealous in a Productive Way.”