I’ve been working through something very painful lately. Something that I’ve barely spoken about with anyone. Basically, just my nearest and dearest. And even with them, only sparingly.
Because it’s a mess. And I’m a mess about it.
But I’ve finally gotten to a place where I have enough closure that I can write an article about it, so here goes.
I was jealousy baited. Not once, but twice.
What is jealousy baiting? Basically, it’s when another person uses the fact that they were intimate somehow with your partner (whether it was a kiss or full-blown sex) as a weapon. They disclose it in terms and in ways that are designed to be hurtful. Framing that contact with your partner as though it’s a game or conquest. Or that the fact that they were so easily able to have that intimacy with your partner means that they are better than you somehow.
They brag about that interaction in ways that are targeted to provoke jealousy in you.
Jealousy baiting is distinct from normal jealousy activation in that when someone is baiting you, jealousy is their goal. It’s what they’re trying to do.
I Checked in With People Who Feel Comfortable Telling Me When I’m Full of Shit
It’s actually been quite a rarity for me to have someone jealousy bait me. For the most part, any jealousy or insecurity I’ve felt has seemed incidental and not intended as an end result.
But then in the past year, it happened twice. And even more distressingly, it came from two different individuals.
Which made it all the more psychologically damaging.
I won’t be disclosing the exact details of what happened, because I don’t want to give those people the satisfaction of knowing that they actually got to me (in case they’re reading this). While one can never be 100% sure of anyone’s intent, only their impact, I have run both scenarios by third parties who know all of us and have a history of feeling free to tell me when I’m full of shit.
And the overwhelming consensus is that I was jealousy baited in both cases. Hard. That I was treated very cruelly and badly by people who had been intimate with my partner.
The Partner in Question Was Way More Supportive Than I Expected Them to Be
In both instances, the partner whose intimacy was used instrumentally as a weapon was outraged. And they immediately adopted a position that was more supportive of me than I had expected them to.
I had been prepared for the worst: For them to doubt my accounting of events or to explain them away. Attribute benign or benevolent motives to the people I suspected were jealousy baiting me. Tell me I was being dramatic or overreacting. And that these were simple cases of incidentally activated jealousy, not bad behavior by these other people.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, they believed my attributions and were outraged.
I’m not sure why. I suppose it helps that I have a long history of easily admitting jealousy or insecurity in the past. And it probably helps that I rarely complain about metamours or even a partner’s other potential love interests. I try to give everyone the benefit of a few doubts.
But even so, I’ve had partners in the distant past who wouldn’t have believed it even if something terrible had happened in front of them.
(Although to be fair, one of these jealousy baiting incidents happened in front of multiple other friends — which made it even more humiliating.)
I Tried to Run Away From It — in the Moment and Later
When I was jealousy baited, both times my strategy was to survive in the moment socially and then escape. I laughed, changed the subject, and left when I could.
It was important to me not to react. Not to give them the response that they seemed to be going for.
I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
And in doing so, in striving to protect myself from reacting to the jealousy baiting, I shoved the painful feelings down so far inside that a few days passed before I even told the partner in question. Because part of me just wanted to pretend it never happened. Just to go on with my life.
But both times, I told myself that if I were in my partner’s shoes that I’d want to know.
However, even as I told them about what had gone on, I found myself reining in the true depth of how much I was hurt by what had happened. I tried to convince myself that it was no big deal and that I was over it already.
I Got More Hurt and Humiliated By It Than I Let Myself Admit at the Time
It was months before I could finally confess to my partner,”I think I got more hurt and humiliated by them being mean than I let myself admit at the time.”
There was an awkward pause, one I found myself scrambling to fill.
“But that’s okay,” I continued, needing something to restore the imbalance I felt. “Sometimes you feel the punch later, y’know?”
“Totally,” they replied.
Because you don’t want to give them the satisfaction, I explained. So you freeze it. And then it thaws when it wants to. On its own schedule. Not yours.
Feeling Stupid for Trusting People
Being jealousy baited is the kind of moment that makes me feel stupid. Makes me feel like all the women who raised me were right. The women who told me over and over that a particularly socially isolating form of heterosexual monogamy was the only path that made any sense. And that deviating from that would be giving up any potential for security, stability.
The women who told me that men were something you were supposed to trap and then use.
The women who’d think I was dumb to live as I do. And all of my choices wrong.
And in the aftermath of being jealousy baited — not once, but twice — I found myself struggling with those feelings. That I deserved this for being so damn stupid. That this is what you get when you trust other people and allow your partners freedom: Disrespect. Pain. Humiliation. Everyone making a fool of you.
That’s what you get.
The Calls Came From Within the House
It was extra hurtful that both of these jealousy baiters were supposed to know better. They were polyamorous. I considered them friends before any of this happened.
But looking back, I think I get why it happened. And where they were coming from. Both of them were dealing with acute identity and existential crises, difficult life circumstances that probably left them hungry for a way to score points somehow. To puff up their chests and feel powerful for a few moments. Even if it meant hurting me in the process.
It doesn’t make any of it right, of course. But I understand how it feels to be on a long free fall into a bottomless pit and to find yourself lashing out at random people, flailing as you descend, trying desperately to lay your hands on anything that can save you from a life-threatening crash landing.
We Don’t Talk Much About Jealousy Baiting
Jealousy baiting is not something I’ve heard many people talk about. In my own case, I haven’t written about it much before because it rarely happens to me. In spite of a long history of consensual non-monogamy, I’m happy to have not experienced very much jealousy baiting. To find it to be a relatively rare event until quite recently when it happened twice (hopefully, this is a fluke).
It doesn’t help that it can be really tough to confirm if you’ve been jealousy baited. Because we really have no way of completely accurately understanding someone’s intent. Even when they say something so blunt and cruel-sounding that it strains credibility to believe it could be meant any other way, we’re never exactly sure, are we?
Yes, you can ask them about their intent. But if they’re in an ethical and moral place where they’re jealousy baiting on purpose, it’s really not that much harder for them to also lie to you about what they meant by a mean comment. Nor is it hard for them to then twist it into some situation where they’re telling you that you’re overreacting and concern trolling. The old “you’re just jealous” conversation ender.
And I can see why if a person is jealousy baited that they’re not exactly excited to talk about it openly in public.
If You’ve Been Jealousy Baited, You’re Not Alone. And You’re Not Stupid for Trusting People.
Anyway, I just want to let you know that if you have ever been jealousy baited, you’re not alone. And you’re not stupid for trusting people and letting them do their own thing.
The reality is that the fact that you were jealousy baited likely has a lot more to do with what’s going wrong in that other person’s life than it has to do with you at all.
Update 7/9/2019: I received a lot of feedback after I posted this, so I wrote a followup post responding to the most frequently asked questions.