“What would be the hardest thing for you?” I asked Rob.
“You mean, what would really push my buttons?” he replied.
He leaned back on the wall behind the bed. “It’s a tough question. I don’t have a lot of jealousy.”
I nodded. It had taken some doing to explain to Rob why his dating my ex-girlfriend might be difficult for me. Even after I’d explained how she had kept leaving me for boys.
I had told Rob that I wouldn’t forbid him from pursuing her but that I felt really insecure when he waxed poetic about how fantastic her body was. Especially since Rob had been clear that I wasn’t his preferred type physically. I was curvy and femme, and he liked slender athletic types. Tasha Yar, not Deanna Troi.
“I guess,” Rob finally said. “It would be really hard if we were going after the same women, and they preferred you to me.”
“Interesting,” I said.
It wasn’t at all what I expected him to say. I hadn’t seen any rivalry between him and his wife Michelle. She identified heteroflexible but from what I could tell was strictly a passive oral recipient when having sex with other women. Y’know, a pillow queen.
And more than that, she didn’t “go after” anyone, as near as I could tell. She waited for others to approach her with a hopeful look in her eye.
So it was puzzling where this feeling of rivalry came from.
I saw it only one other time from Rob, with Skyspook, a friend who rented a room from them. “We’re always fighting over the same girls,” Rob said.
“Well, we’re poly people in the same town. It’s gonna happen,” Skyspook explained.
Still, when Rob started seeing me, he was eager to brag about his success in front of Skyspook, especially since his friend had spent a long time single. “Who has a wife AND a girlfriend?”
And later when Skyspook started dating again, Rob made it a point to grab lunch with the bubbly redhead Skyspook had started dating. It didn’t go any further, though Rob certainly tried.
And so did I, to be fair. I made out with the bubbly redhead briefly at a party. Gosh, she was cute.
We were all chasing the same women. And it would seem that when it came to jealousy and managing the varied overlapping dynamics, Rob treated me more like Skyspook than Michelle. Rob considered me one of the boys. Primarily a rival, not a conquest.
Given this, it should come as little surprise that the first time that I ever saw Rob get jealous was when I started dating Skyspook. His rivals were dating.
Not that Rob said so. I only heard through Michelle’s intimations that Rob was struggling.
When I checked in with Rob for his take, I got, “I’m not threatened by him.” Forced through clenched teeth, his tone and his facial expression telling an entirely different story.
“Good,” I said. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
And there really shouldn’t have been.
At every turn, Michelle had terrible reactions to my making new friends — an important facet of my social survival as I had moved 900 miles to live with her and Rob. Regardless of how much anxiety my being social caused Michelle, I thought it unwise, verging on dangerous, not to build other supports in the area. For his part, Rob continued to struggle, viewing both Skyspook and me as rivals.
As I write this piece 5-1/2 years later, Skyspook and I are still thick as thieves, emotionally entrained in a way that delights us both. After the web-burning and a series of domino effect breakups, we found our relationship the sole survivor of it all. We are still very much in love. And most importantly, very good friends.
After the web burning, we took a break from forming new relationships to work on ourselves and had a very poly-aware monogamy.
But when Skyspook and I reopened to new partners a few years back, I was amused to note that it was the same as the good old days: We liked the same girls.
And, just like the good old days, Skyspook and I didn’t have the same tension that Rob had with either of us.
Skyspook and I just aren’t rivals.
Instead, we each think the other has really good taste in women. Bit of an ego boost for me, really, seeing as he’s dating me. But more than that, it helps to make our care-based carte blanche agreement lower stress. Because I know that Skyspook chooses in a way that’s very similiar to my own process, it’s very easy for me to trust his judgement.
This is not to say that if he chose differently than me that his judgement would be suspect. His partner choices aren’t for me to dictate.
But there’s much to be said for how comfortable it is that he makes very similiar choices. It’s ridiculously reassuring.
That Rivalry Tore Us Apart
Looking back on how things went with Rob, that’s really the most senseless part of it all: Our similarities could have very well been our strength.There was more than enough love to go around.
As I wrote in “Nocebo? No Thanks“:
When we expect good things to be taken from us, when we interpret the fortune of others as being our own personal misfortune in contrast, we begin to see it happening. We react to phantoms, to threats that seem real to us, and before we know it, we’ve created actual demons through our frenetic fear, through our misbehaviors.
Or, to put it another way, spooked by noises in the night, we grab our guns, fire at imagined intruders, and shoot ourselves in the foot.