So there’s this article up on Salon right now, talking about polyamoury’s age-old bugaboo, jealousy, and how one poly triad handles theirs.
In addition to talking about “transitivity” (which is fascinating, particularly when considered in conjunction with things like the annual Phamily Reunion that is Unholy Harvest), the author goes into some theories about where the whole idea that “jealousy is a problem that originates within the individual and so must be handled by that individual” comes from. She links it to the 20th Century (“Industrial”, “Modern”, “Capitalist”, etc) idealization/lionization of The Individual. Which I admit is a neat way to look at it if you want to situate polyamoury in opposition to a system (see: Nuclear Family) of isolation, alienation and the resulting anxiety that can be used to, ah, encourage people to buy a lot of stuff they don’t really need to buy. (Although her brief segue into class analysis is also kind of fascinating – again in the context of Queer Leather Tribe with its working class and broke-ass-chosen-family roots).
Given how frequently poly resources (and practitioners) talk about the unacknowledged power dynamics (maybe that’s just us kinky folks?) and ownership mentalities that crop up in traditional-monogamous romance narratives, how often those Cosmo Articles talk about finding a sweetheart in terms of (for real) acquisition, how the roots of marriage really are the literal transfer of property rights to a woman’s body from one man to another… I can kind of see how the author made the leap from “monogamous romance as a capitalist thing” to “polyamourous jealousy-policing as a Capitalist Era thing” (if I can interpret it that way).
Likewise, given how frequently the “don’t be so codependent” / “don’t merge”[1] attitudes show up in Poly advice/how-to books/blog-posts – partially for the legit reason that if we’re going to make consensual non-monogamy work for ourselves and all the people we care about, we have to drag these culturally-indoctrinated ideas up out of our subconscious and into the Light Of Day where we can get a really good look at them and throw out what isn’t working… But also for reasons of the (sorry) time-honoured countercultural refrain of “See how much We’re not like Them? See how much more enlightened[2] We are because of it?” – the position offered by the author of this particular piece is… refreshing. I mean, the author is doing the same thing – positioning her poly dynamic’s structure in opposition to that of the Unenlightened Squares – but she seems to be doing it in a way that doesn’t follow the “traditional poly narrative”[3], which makes it kind of stand out for me in large part because, as an insecure-attachment person, I find that the “traditional poly narrative” can be used by less-than-ethical sluts to justify unreliable behaviour and abdicate responsibility to – not for, but to – their partners’ emotions. It’s hella refreshing to see someone positioning mutual care as the radical relationship thing to do.
Bascially, my take-away from the article is that, rather than this scenario:
Insecure Isabelle stays home and does a lot of self-care and Manages Her Emotions, is generally Good, Giving, and Game, and doesn’t throw the wet blanket of her fear over her partner’s awesome Other Relationship because, really, it’s her problem to take care of. This way, Fun-Loving Frank and Radical Roger can enjoy their pizza-and-a-movie date in peace and Frank gets to think of his GF as being “so chill” and “such a great partner” because she never puts All That Drama on him to deal with… and Isabelle feels like she needs to Face It All Alone, which doesn’t actually help curtail her feelings, or fears, of abandonment.
…maybe strive for this one:
Insecure Isabelle stays home and does a lot of self-care so that Fun-Loving Frank and Radical Roger can have their pizza-and-a-movie date in peace, BUT she’s also able to be open with Frank (and, one hopes, Roger) about the fears that she’s managing and what she needs from him (or them) in order to facilitate this. This way, when Frank comes to see (or comes home to) his GF, he knows that opening with a big hug and an “I love you, it’s great to see you again” will mean a lot to her. Maybe Frank and Isabelle spend time together working out a few coping strategies to help Isabelle cut her fear-spirals short – rather than Frank telling her that her issues aren’t his responsibility – so that those strategies are imbued with the knowledge that Frank cares enough about her to have sat down and actively supported Isabelle while she sorted out what to do. Heck, it might mean that Roger is just as insecure as Isabelle, and that Frank has a Type, and that it does Isabelle and Roger a world of good to have a standing hang-out to watch The Game (football, hockey, Of Thrones… whatever) while Frank plays D&D with a bunch of buddies at his place.
This is sort of what goes on at the House of Goat (my place, fyi). It’s not perfect, and it’s not that We Never Get Jealous – or, more accurately, that we never get nervous, or have mental spirals where we imagine our partner going through NRE with someone New and Exciting and how that’s going to feel, or get anxious about being The Secondary, or worry that we’ll be forgotten or “demoted” if/when someone new comes along, or fret about whether or not someone loves us as much when they’re living with someone who isn’t us… you get the drift, I’m sure. And we do need to handle our own Stuff, when it comes up (I kind of love this post – on attachment styles, managing one’s emotions, and kindness towards people we care about – from Captain Awkward for that, actually), but it works because all of us clingy, needy, loving, introverts are willing to actually talk about stuff as a group, rather than all the metamours putting our mutual sweetie in the awkward position of Perpetual Go-Between (not that this didn’t take some doing, I admit).
Uh. I think that’s it.
Ms Syren.
[1] I have this feeling that, while Poly People as a group tend to aim hard for Secure Attachment styles and do a lot of self/emotional work to get ourselves there, a fair number of us – particularly those of us who “just don’t get jealous” – arrived at poly via an Avoidant-Insecure Attachment style. Multiple partners means that there’s always someone who needs a night with their Other Person(s), so you’re never in danger of being subsumed, and General Poly Community Attitudes tend to support avoidant-insecure people (“Clinginess” is “bad”. Safety nets and hierarchical relationship prioritization are “bad”. Don’t expect your partner(s) to deal with your jealousy issues for you) in the same way that General Monogamous Community Attitudes tend to support anxious-insecure people (Roving Eyes are “bad”. Not being attached at the hip 100% of the time is “bad”. Your “commitment-phobic” partner should totally change their ways so that you are happy).
[2] Hip, tuned in, community-oriented, endarkened, radical… you name it.
[3] Where jealousy is bad – for various definitions of “bad” from “you need to do a lot of work on yourself because your insecurities mean that you’re broken[4]” to “if you feel this way, maybe you’re just Not Really Poly and should walk yourself out of our way-cool clubhouse now” – and wanting reassurance from your partners makes you an emotionally manipulative monster.
[4] And “broken” is not overstating the case here. I’ve come across “how to deal with jealousy” stories where the person who feels insecure or afraid while their main squeeze is out with a different main squeeze is likened to a broken refrigerator. It’s actually a good simile, BUT maybe not so great if your showing it to a partner – the one who is being compared to an appliance in this simile – who is afraid that you’ll only want them when it’s convenient or only as long as they’re functioning properly by (apparently) never having any needs themselves but quietly waiting at (their?) home keeping the food (sex, romance, “how was your day, dear”) fresh.