On Jealousy

When I talk about polyamory there is a particular sentiment that always comes up: “I couldn’t do that, I’d be too jealous.”

And I’m happy for those people.  “To thine own self be true” was one of the most potent droplets of wisdom in the ocean of Shakespeare’s work.  Acknowledging that jealousy is present and accounting for that fact by avoiding situations where it would drive you mad is a very smart thing to do.  However, when I go on to say that jealousy is a worthless emotion that is only destructive, many of those same people will object.  That’s where I think they’re wrong.

The first objection is usually that our tendency toward jealousy is natural.  While this is true, I can’t help but think…so what?  Our compulsion to overeat (or to eat junk food) is also natural, but who in their right mind would argue that we should indulge it for that reason?  Acknowledge its presence, sure, but we all know we should fight that natural tendency if we’re to be happy.

Then again, if we could choose our emotions, we’d all just choose to be happy instead of going out and actively doing things to make ourselves happy.  Even if we acknowledge that jealousy is bad for us, we can’t just will jealousy away, just like we can’t just will ourselves to be happy.  However, we can change the way we look at things, which can change the way we feel about them.  For instance, praying once made me phenomenally happy when I believed in god.  Now that I know god doesn’t exist, praying makes me feel lousy for wasting my time.

So, in the pursuit of examining our situation (admittedly with the hope of changing how you look at it), let’s ask what makes us jealous with someone we love?  It can’t be that we don’t want them to be happy, since we spend a lot of time in our relationships thinking of ways to make our partner happy.  But it may very well be that we don’t want our partner to be happy in that particular way.  Why?  We have no issue with our partner being happy with others, or even with other men/women.  So what is it about them being happy in that particular way?  Are we afraid we’ll lose them?  Are we afraid they will love someone more?

Let’s look at the first concern, that you’ll lose your partner if they love or become physical with someone else, and let’s clear one thing up: wanting to have sex with someone else does not mean that somebody does not love you and/or does not want to have sex with you.  There are certain qualities that your partner finds attractive, and other people on this planet are going to have them besides you (otherwise the porn industry would be broke).  People find many members of the opposite sex attractive for a variety of reasons.  If you’re jealous because you’re afraid of losing someone you love, ask yourself how much jealousy helps you accomplish that.  If your partner wants to sexually be with another man/woman, do you think that desire will evaporate because a rule has been put in place to give your jealousy priority over your partner’s desires?  It just means she won’t indulge it for fear of losing you.  Why is that a win for either of you?

And if your partner wants to explore other relationships to the exclusion of the one she’s in with you, why would you want to maintain that relationship anyway?  Why would you want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you?  As Christopher said:

If your partner wanted to explore other relationships because they didn’t want you anymore, though, then the relationship is already over.  I, for one, don’t want a relationship, even (especially) a marriage, where my partner stays with me because her exposure to other people’s minds and bodies is being arbitrarily limited.  It’s exactly because my marriage is romantically and sexually open that I know that my wife genuinely wants to be with me.

So jealousy will not keep someone with you, not in any meaningful way.  What it can do is drive them away from you.  If a person wishes to be with others in some way, whether it’s sexually or whether it’s just hanging out with their guy/girl friends and you forbid it, it may very well create resentment.  And I don’t think it can be argued that resentment is an effective way to keep someone enamored with you.  What can keep someone with you in a meaningful way (as I would argue, the only meaningful way) is their own choice.  But they must be free to make it.  If you insist that your partner is making that choice of their own volition, then why the constraints of monogamous rules?

I am not against monogamy, I simply think obligatory monogamy makes no sense (unless your goal is to assuage your own fears of loss).  If a person forgoes possible happiness because I’ll be hurt if they’re happy that way, I’d feel like I was holding them hostage.  If someone has the whole world to choose from, without the weight of guilt or their partner’s jealousy bearing down on them, and they still choose you…that’s beautiful!  If they honestly don’t want to be with anybody else, more power to them!  So elective monogamy is fantastic in my eyes.  To me, it’s love in its purest form.

But is it possible they’ll love someone more?  Well, maybe.  But why does that matter?  Since when is love a competition?  If you have a second child, is it a matter of which child you love more?  Of course not: you love them both.  Time is a finite resource, love is not.  Yes, it would mean your partner is spending time with someone else, but as long as they were hanging out with friends beforehand, they were already doing that, and nobody finds it unreasonable for their partner to have their own time with friends (if someone does take issue with that, they’re generally viewed as possessive).  You could even spend time together with your partner and someone else they love.  It can be a very enjoyable time (as long as jealousy doesn’t gum up the works and rob you of what could be a lot of fun).

Love is a tricky word.  It will mean something different when I say it than when you say it.  It seems to me that if you were to unpack the word “love” the way a lot of people use it you would find a lot of qualities that, without their Trojan horse, are obviously qualities people don’t pursue by themselves.  These are things like obligation (in the sense of feeling like you own another person’s actions), jealousy, guilt, etc.  They are the  enemies of happiness, but somewhere along the line movies and other societal factors convinced a lot of us that love isn’t love without them.  That’s a damn shame, because I think they cheapen the concept.  If you love someone, I cannot think of a more noble definition of that word other than this: you want the person you love to be happy, no matter what, no matter who it is with.  That, to me, is the most care you can demonstrate for another person.  It’s also the most selfless.

It’s why I gave Michaelyn a copy of The Ethical Slut for Friendsmas and wrote this inside the cover.

Ultimately, I find that supporting someone in exploring their desires is the most likely way to produce gratitude in another human being.  Finding happiness when they are happy in every way makes me feel as though I’m caring for them without the pollution of self-interest.  In my eyes, giving power to jealousy means giving power to my insecurities, and it means placing my insecurities higher than the desires of someone I love in terms of importance.

I’ve never seen anything but bad happen when I do that.

PERSONAL: Sorry to disappoint you, Julian.
Update and pics from #AACon15. MST3K cast members were at my talk.
You guys are wonderful.
PERSONAL: Happy birthday, Hitch.
About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • cnjnrs

    “Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” -Heinlein

  • Vicki

    Sometimes it’s worth asking “Why am I feeling jealous now? What is actually bothering me?” The answer may be not “I don’t want you to also be involved with him” but something like “I’m stranded at your house by a storm, please hang up the phone and spend some time with me now.” I suspect I would have had a similar reaction if my partner had been on the phone with her mother, rather than another partner.

    Similarly, I’ve known people to say things like “I don’t have time for a(nother) relationship right now, I’m in grad school.” If someone doesn’t have time and attention for me, that’s important, regardless of the reason. (And knowing my own limits of time and energy is why I say my dance card is full: my partners are wonderful, and I am not interested in reducing the time I spend with the people I already love for the sake of someone or something new.)

  • Sophia

    I agree with you 100% on this JT. I feel like putting chains on love will only make it struggle and break. Although I feel like most of the people I know personally in my life confuse jealousy with possession. I know that, in the past, my partners have not simply been “jealous” of my interactions with others, but more so felt as if they had rights over me that others did not. It was an awful feeling, but I think a lot of people feel they are entitled to “own” people, heart and soul. I wonder what your thoughts on that aspect of jealousy would be…or if they are basically the same thing? I just find that people seem to say the words “she is mine” or “he is mine” to a point which I find disturbing.

    I also had this in my head whilst reading this:


  • MercuryChaos

    “And I don’t think it can be argued that resentment is a poor way to keep someone enamored with you.”

    I think you meant to say something else here.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      Right you are! Fixed.

  • Kara Swan

    I was never the jealous type when I was dating. It’s not that I didn’t ever love anyone before, but I was always so busy chasing my own thing, I was never afraid of them leaving me, because it literally was more of a relief and losing a boyfriend tended to unburden me more than anything else. My husband is that rare breed of man who never dated a lot, never slept around, and only has eyes for one woman. I may find other men attractive still, but not in the way that I’d like to pursue anything with them. I’m sure he probably still thinks other women are attractive too, but I know he’d never stray, since he never behaved that way before our marriage. Actually, if he told me a girl was cute I’d probably tell him to go hit on her and then laugh at the result ;)

  • Charles

    Monogamy and polyamory are both systems. I think that to be successful, any system has to recognize that one size does not fit all.

    Poly intrigues me, but I do not think that it is a good fit for me. I think that I would fall more into the Dan Savage’s “monogamish” system than in a fully open/poly system. Basically, I think that sex and love are very potent reagents and need to be used carefully. I have no ethical issues with polyamory (and in many ways think that the system is superior to the standard monogamy that our society prefers), but I think that it is difficult to pull off. Relationships are hard, polyamory amplifies that and I don’t think that most people in our society have the communication chops, emotional self-awareness and empathy to carry it off.

    At the same time, it think that one of the ways that Christianity most messed me up is in regards to sexuality and love (long story). I was married to someone with severe bi-polar disorder for 17 years. I would be still married to her if, I could, because I love her. But I couldn’t continue to be nearly sexless. Some sort of opening of our relationship would have allowed us to stay together. Instead we are divorced with major negative consequences to both of us.

    The book Sex at Dawn came out right as we separated. I have more underlines and margin comments in that book than in any other book that I have ever owned.

    Now, I am engaged to a wonderful woman and we are in discussions with each other about all aspects of our sexuality, relationship and ethics. I think it will be interesting to see where we end up. I don’t know where that will be.

    Anyways, I am happy for you in our journey. Keep up the updates.

    • Charles Bartley

      I got distracted and missed my main tie to your post…

      Jealousy was the main thing that kept my ex and I from exploring any level of opening of our relationship. She couldn’t even take talking about my need for sex and physical affection-it was too big of a threat to her. I was left with essentially all bad choices and made the one that seemed the least evil. There is no way that this was good for either of us. I wish we could have come to some other ending. I wonder how much of this was due to the socially conditioned expectation that getting married = owning another person’s love and sexuality

    • Vicki

      Relationships can be hard, but for some of us, polyamory doesn’t amplify that. In fact, one of my partners says that trying monogamy would amplify that for them.

      • Charles Bartley

        Agreed. That was part of why I opened with my no one size fits all line.

  • dfl42

    Everyone always nods significantly when the that, “Those who would sacrifice a little freedom for a little security”, line is brought up in political contexts. A lot of the time, I think it applies just as well to relationships.

    • anteprepro

      Personally, I tend to think the line is trite. It’s all well and good in some circumstances, but you’ve got to realize that government itself is effectively an example of all of us giving up some freedom for some security. We give power to the government to restrict our own activities because we feel it is in our best interest to have those restrictions on behavior enforced, and to have the stability that comes as a consequence of it. Those who give up legitimate freedoms in the name of a false sense of security, I can approve of mocking. But the idea that any freedom, no matter how trivial, is more valuable than any security precaution, no matter how many lives it helps protect? That’s just foolish.

      Not that any of this is a criticism of you, dfl42. I just really don’t care for that quote being used as a political philosophy :)

      • dfl42

        Well said. Good on you for making me think.

  • Stacey C.

    I completely agree. I’ve actually been bouncing around lately because I’m so excited that my husband has a new girlfriend. He and I are very different. She likes things that I don’t and can share those things with him. She and I may also become good friends (i’m hoping) and that would be awesome! Making adult friends is *so* damn hard. He’s super attentive to me and always checks in with me to make sure it’s still okay that he’s seeing someone else. My usual response is “are you going to leave me for this person?” and the usual answer is “no” and so i say go forth and be merry. If he ever answered “yes” then that would be a time to sit down and talk about what was wrong between *us* not an excuse to suddenly say no to the other relationship. I just can’t imagine getting jealous of my husband’s happiness, no matter from what quarter it came (within the normal bounds of reason).

  • Jay

    I think it’s worth looking at how insecurities also play into jealousy and desire for possession. These issues would go way back into childhood, traumatic events, how your parents/guardians raised you, etc. Looking at your insecurities and how you deal with people in general would be very useful for unpacking your in-the-moment feelings of jealousy.

    For me, I have issues with believing – not just intellectually knowing – that a partner doesn’t love me less for being involved with other people. Can’t will it away, but it would be good to investigate what deeper insecurities are feeding into this.

  • Kara Swan

    So I’m sitting here and contemplating the whole “open relationship” thing, and I’ve got some thoughts. First, I’ve never gotten into a relationship in a “hostage” type situation. Sometimes though, they’ve devolved to that later on when boredom sets in. Unfortunately, when you make the commitment because you want to be with that one person, it’s impossible to go back to an open relationship later on. One in particular, a four year relationship, the last few months of our relationship I got bored and interested in someone else and wanted to move on. He did nothing wrong, but he didn’t stimulate me or excite me anymore, and had become clingy and burdensome. The guy pretty much begged me to stay and work things out so against my better judgement I stayed even though I didn’t really want him anymore and was completely infatuated with someone else. I have to ask myself, if he had said “we can have an open relationship and you can date who you want” would it have changed things? Not that he would, he was already very jealous (rightly so, I pretty much hated him at that point). Anyway, would I have ended up wanting to stay with him? I don’t think so. For starters the guy I wanted would not have been down for dating someone in an open relationship. And I really was over the guy I was with, and honestly, dating someone else would only have magnified that and made me less and less connected to him. Say you’re dating several women or men or both at a time. You are obviously going to become more attached to and invested in at least one of them. I agree that you can be attracted to and maybe even love more than one person at a time but let’s be realistic, there’s always going to be the one that is the most important to you. Emotionally, it’s pretty much the same as being in a committed relationship. I mean, there are people in committed relationships who think about hooking up with other people, and some do stray but others just put those feelings aside because they are invested in their relationship. Generally, when you meet someone else and become invested in them, you changed relationships, or you break up for some other reason and meet someone else. My question is, if you are in an open relationship, and dating several people, and are the most invested in one of those people, but then something changes and you are suddenly more into one of the other people, isn’t that pretty much like breaking up with one person and dating a new person? Even if you continue to date both, you are likely going to see Person A less and less and Person B more and more. It seems like the emotions involved are more like being in a relationship, having an affair, and then leaving your partner for the person you cheated with, while still having the partner on the side. Also, at some point it seems you will become so involved with one person that you will want to settle down and see them and only them, or at least that they will reach that point with you and then you have to decide: commitment or losing this person you are very attached to. I do believe that generally in each relationship there is one partner who is more committed. So say this person is ready for the full on commitment and you like them the best out of anyone you’re dating, but you don’t want to be tied down, do you lose them and then start over? I think this is a big reason why there are so many cheating spouses. We make concessions and decide we don’t want to lose someone so we decide to tie ourselves down with someone because we really do love them and don’t want to lose them and it’s what they need. But the part of us that isn’t done playing and still wants to pursue our attractions to other people is still there. I would say that probably 99.9% of relationships are like this. We’re always going to be attracted to other people. We’re programmed to want to breed with hot and smart people. Jealousy is a reality, so it seems to me that monogamy is the only way to hold a relationship together. Honestly, if your partner is out dating other people and you’re not jealous, then something’s not right in your relationship, or you really don’t care. It’s bad enough to be jealous over imagined slights, but knowing full well that your partner is out flirting and perhaps even sexing is murder on your self esteem.

    I wrote this with many interruptions so I’m sure my thoughts are not as cohesive as I’d prefer but fuck it, I have a kid :)

    • Charles Bartley

      For some people I think that your are right, that monogamy is the only way to hold it together. Where I think that you make a mistake is in your comment that if you aren’t jealous then something is wrong with your relationship. One does not necessarily follow from the other. People have wildly differing levels of jealousy. I fell almost none towards sexual activity by my partner (though it has never been tested), while I would feel incredibly hurt and broken by infidelity–doing it behind my back. The difference is betrayal.

      • Kara Swan

        Thanks for that perspective! I have never been cheated on so I can’t weigh in on that. I just know myself enough to know that I can be a bit selfish, and I can’t imagine sharing! Maybe when I was younger (I had a few three ways and that was fun, but never with one of my committed partners) but now that I have a child I think it would affect me much differently.

    • Vicki


      Good for knowing how you work, but you’re overgeneralizing. At what point do you expect me to decide that no, I don’t want more than one person, because I don’t have the same shape of relationship with each of them? If I haven’t noticed after seven or eight years, I don’t think it’s a major concern.

      I think we have different ideas of commitment: mine is about agreeing to stay together, and support each other in varying ways, because we love each other and make good partners. (Full disclosure: I share a household and finances with only one of my partners. But I’ve dropped things at my husband’s suggestion to go take care of my girlfriend when she needed me. He knew I’d coming home, because I love him and want to be with him.

      And if I didn’t want to come home, not having another lover waiting, “only” a platonic friend or my aunt’s couch, wouldn’t heal our relationship. When you didn’t want your ex anymore, monogamy didn’t magically heal that.

      People differ in a lot of ways, and that includes our emotional reactions to events. Difference is not bad.

  • Mark

    But isn’t there something just really special about someone saying, “for you and you alone, for the rest of my life, of my own volition, I am yours”?

    One of the most valuable assets a person has is his/her free will. To give that up willingly, joyfully to someone else is one of the most precious gifts that a person can give and elevate the worth of another.

    • Freemage

      What you’re missing, Mark, is the significance of the word “gift”. If one is obligated–by society, or by a lover, to make that gesture, then it is no longer a gift.

      • Mark

        I am not missing that, I meant gift in the fullest sense of the word, even to the point that it is a choice and the other person need not do anything to deserve it.

        • http://shaunphilly.wordpress.com ShaunPhilly

          I think the larger question is why this is a good thing at all. What kind of person would ask another person to sacrifice their happiness…to be happy.

          This gift of using our free will to be exclusive with another person seems to be based on the idea that this exclusivity is better by default. That’s what was meant (I think) in talking about obligation v. gifts.

          If I showed up to a party with a case of beer, and I chose to freely give that beer to only one person, would that make that one person special? Perhaps. But would it make me possessive and selfish? Yes.

          I think to see someone as so special that I have to keep them to myself is to deny that special person to the rest of the world. Why would I keep wonderful people from other wonderful people besides selfishness and possessiveness?

          • Mark

            “If I showed up to a party with a case of beer, and I chose to freely give that beer to only one person, would that make that one
            person special? Perhaps. But would it make me possessive and selfish? Yes.”

            Do you really value intimacy on the level of beer? One glaring problem with your analogy is the “case” of beer. It would be more like a single vessel that people would have to pass around and share. For the second person you share it with, do you tell them the who first person was that put their mouth in it? What about the fifth person, do you think they care who might have backwashed into it? Maybe you don’t care enough to give them a history. Maybe it doesn’t matter (to you) who might have been chewing tobacco while they took a drink, or who might have been sick. It is none of the next person’s business, is it? Just as long as you are sharing, right? Another problem is the party atmosphere, this is characteristically unlike the topic under discussion, at least I hope so.

            Thanks for the analogy though, it gives me a much clearer picture of where you are coming from.

          • http://thebrunettesblog.wordpress.com Ginny

            Mark, at 7:12 on Jan 7th, said:

            It would be more like a single vessel that people would have to pass around and share. For the second person you share it with, do you tell them the who first person was that put their mouth in it? What about the fifth person, do you think they care who might have backwashed into it?

            You seem to be implying that intimacy with more than one person causes contamination. Is that intended, and if so, of what does the contamination consist? In what way is a person damaged by having been intimate with other people? And do you also feel that it’s preferable for a person to have had fewer previous partners, or does the contamination effect only happen with concurrent partners?

            In my experience, having multiple healthy intimate relationships improves a person, whether those relationships are sequential or concurrent. From different partners I learn different things, develop new sides of my personality, get stronger at different skills, and these developments also enrich my other relationships. So your backwash/tobacco-swill analogy seems almost opposite the truth, from my perspective.

          • Mark


            Maybe I am wrong, but your view, as you have presented it, appears to be self-focused, i.e. how multiple relationships help YOU. Physical contamination aside, you have admitted that intimacy with others changes you, which reinforces the concept of the single vessel. Quality of contamination is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak, but a contamination none-the-less. It is opposition to this change in the other person that engenders jealousy. Back to my original comment, to commit to a single person is to allow only them to influence that level of change, which will cause both to grow closer than is possible with multiple partners. Hence the concept of “one flesh.” It is a choice between breadth vs. depth.

    • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

      No, not really.

    • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

      Sounds BDSM-ish to me. :)

      • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

        Yea, a little bit like T.P.E. Or maybe a lot like it.

        • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

          OK. So I’m going to posit that if we (or at least some of us) support the BDSM/kink community and also support people’s individual sexual expressions, then we should be supporting people’s desires to give up whatever sexual rights they feel the urge to give up, from total power exchange to traditional monogamy. And I’m sure most of us do. But when I see some people being all shocked and trying to talk people out of getting pleasure from monogmay, but not shocked or trying to talk people out of TPE, I see a double-standard.

  • http://livinglifewithoutanet.wordpress.com/ William Hamby

    Good article!

    Jealousy is like every other emotion. It can be good, bad or neutral. And like every other emotion, it’s a gigantic evolutionary template. It’s not designed to nudge us in precisely the right direction in every circumstance. It nudges us towards the kinds of behavior that worked in *enough* evolutionary situations for us to survive. And as we all should know — evolution cares not a whit for our happiness past the point where it contributes to our survival.

    With all that said, sometimes jealousy is good, even in a poly relationship. If one partner, for instance, starts going to the gym and working out, losing a few extra pounds, and getting healthier, it’s natural to feel some jealousy at the thought that our shared lover might be more physically attracted to the other guy/girl. It’s probably true. All things being equal, most people are more attracted to more physically fit people. And our jealousy would have some basis in reality. Maybe we should go to the gym, too. Maybe it would be better for everybody. In this context, jealousy serves a beneficial purpose.

    This is no different from how jealousy works in a mono relationship. If my girlfriend went to the gym, started working out, and got… well… hotter than me…. then I would have a reason to be jealous that one of those buff hunks at the gym might be more in her league than me now.

    I’m using the gym and working out because it’s cliche and easy, and just about all of us struggle with our physical fitness at some point. But the same principle applies anytime we compare two people. Jealousy is the emotion we feel when we’re worried someone is better than us. It can be a healthy motivator, or an unhealthy obsession.

  • Gwenivere

    The words, “To thine own self be true,” were spoken by an utter fool who was the real clown of Hamlet, not poor Yarrick. The whole quote shows how misguided was Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes:

    “And this above all, to thine own self be true,
    For it follows as the night the day,
    Thou canst not be false to any man.”

    This isn’t true. It does not follow.

    Nice piece, however. I am of the crowd who would fear loss, and appreciated seeing the other side from your perspective.

  • http://cubiksrube.wordpress.com writerJames

    Very interesting, and kind of expands on a few vague ideas I’ve had knocking around my head for a while. It’s largely an academic concern for me, because monogamy’s suiting me fine, and the minimal sacrifices required to keep jealousy from being an issue are more than amply rewarded.

    But I do think it’s an area where the status quo deserves to be questioned much more than it generally is, and our ideas of the standard norms are so firmly entrenched as to be unjustly restricting in some cases. There definitely needs to be more of this sort of conversation, until the whole matter’s far less of a big deal.

  • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

    People often cite jealousy as the reason for monogamy. I agree that jealousy can be a negative emotion that leads to being controlling and insecure. But sometimes things look like jealousy that aren’t, or at least are different flavors of jealousy, for example the desire to be close to someone.

    I am okay with my partner going out and having fun including sex with other people, so long as I get to do the same too (no double standards). But when we do things separately, I miss having him around. The world seems a little dimmer, less magical. Things constantly remind me of him, and I wish he were there so I could see the smile on his face when he gets the punchline too.

    Is that jealousy? To the degree that I know sharing intimate moments with other humans (sexual or asexual) is healthy, and me being there would interfere, so I am anxious for the point in the evening when they release him back to my arms again. And then maybe we decide that we want to avoid situations where we make each other feel that way more intensely. For plenty of people that’s sex outside the couple, though it could be too-frequent poker nights with buddies, or too many hours at the office, etc.

    I am not trying to sound like I think everyone is just like this. Only that humans are complex, and sometimes even jealousy isn’t a black/white issue.

    • http://shaunphilly.wordpress.com ShaunPhilly

      There is a difference between envy and jealousy. When you want to be a part of something you are not a part of, that is envy. when you don’t want your partner to be a part of something without you, that’s (part of) jealousy.

      If my fiance is with her boyfriend in the other room and I hear them having a great time (this happens from time to time), part of me wants to be a part of it to enjoy it too. That’s envy. Occasionally, I feel a desire to not have her enjoying herself with another person that way. That’s jealousy.

      I can’t imagine how not wanting someone we love (and who loves us, hopefully) to enjoy themselves with others is healthy. It’s not healthy when we have partners who don’t let us go out with our friends to have a good time over drinks, and it is not healthy when we cannot deal with our partners getting some hot sex or romantic time with other people they care about.

      Just some thoughts about your comment, not a specific criticism of your post per se.

      • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

        Ah, I see. I guess my Hoosier education never split the difference between those words. :D

      • Laura

        Thank you so much for reminding me there’s a difference between the two. I deal with envy a lot(as my fiancé has a group of friends I don’t really mesh with) and its good to remind myself that while I wish I had fun with them, I’m not necessarily being jealous.

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

    The last time I tried monogamy, I felt trapped, confined. It felt like prison. I would feel attracted to other people, sometimes intensely so, and couldn’t do anything about it. This resulted in me being unhappy in the relationship. So, I broke it off, and decided monogamy was simply something I could never be in. Interestingly, in the entire time I’ve been with my wife -through dating, engagement, and now marriage- I’ve only had one other relationship. For the most part, I simply haven’t felt a huge need to seek out another relationship (until recently). A friend once said that for a poly person, I’m very monogamous. But I don’t feel trapped.

    I’ve felt jealous in the past (not with this relationship though), and whenever I would examine that jealousy, it always had an underlying element of fear of loss. As long as I felt assured that I wasn’t losing the person, I avoided the jealousy. Thankfully, it was a rare emotion anyway. Currently, I want my wife to find a boyfriend. I can’t keep up with her libido (nor do I want to), and I think it would be great if she had someone to discuss the art things she’s interested in that I just can’t make myself interested in (if he likes cleaning and can be talked into cleaning our house, even better). Especially if that person can give better critiques of her work than I can.

    Basically, no one person can match everything for another (generally; I suppose there might be some very very rare couples that can, but I’m doubtful).

  • kerfluffle

    Here’s my twist. I’m in wonderful, very monogamous relationship that is going on a dozen years now. Monogamy works for me, I prefer to have a single partner and to explore everything that offers. At the same time, I want nothing but the best of everything for them. It makes me sad to think that they might miss out on a valuable relationship just to play by my rules.

    I gave it a great deal of thought and offered them the choice of a one-sided, open relationship. They could have whatever they wanted outside, as long as they didn’t expect me to do the same. The push-back was incredible, they were horribly offended. Long story short, monogamy is a shared kink. Nifty! That does make things easier.

    But why did I offer an open relationship before finding out how they felt about monogamy? That’s a little weird. It was partially insecurity and the pressure to fill many important roles by myself. Part of it was social conditioning. (Golly, I’m soooo open-minded, points for me!) Part of it was keeping our commitment light. An ingrained distrust of the future. Leftover scars.

    There are a lot of strange motives behind what we do for the people we love, even when the intent is good.

  • http://shaunphilly.wordpress.com ShaunPhilly

    I have not yet commented here, but I have been reading this blog for a little while now. I am glad that JT is tacking these questions here, because they are important things to think about as skeptics. I have been polyamorous for many years and have maintained a blog about polyamory and skepticism for almost three years now (I have been writing about atheism since around 1997). I even am working on a talk which is geared towards a skeptic crowd about polyamory which I would be interested in giving in the future to some skeptic events (does anyone here know any events like that? ;))

    In any case, I’ll try and keep my comments brief because I could go on for pages.

    Our culture has many very unhealthy ideas about love, commitment, and marriage. Jealousy is a problem always. I have seen some people comment above that jealousy could be good, bad, or neutral, but I reject that; it’s always a bad thing which is grown out of fear, insecurity, and all those silly things. This is not to say that we should gloss over it or ignore it when we experience it, but it means that it is something to outgrow if we want to be more mature people. We need to be honest about our weak areas always, including jealousy.

    There are so many assumptions built into our cultural traditions around sex and romance that most people are not even aware of how bad it really is. In a sense, there is a privileged position that traditional monogamy holds which blinds most people to the possibilities of polyamory through outgrowing our jealousy and expectations. From my point of view, as a minority in our culture, I see how this privilege acts, and I would like to be part of the discussion to raise people’s consciousness.

    I have written many posts about these topics, and if readers here are interested I urge you to check out my blog (shaunphilly.wordpress.com) , but I will end by saying that monogamy should be conceived as a sub-set of polyamory. That is, what I have learned as a poly person are relationship skills which make us less possessive and better and being authentic through better communication. These skills should be universal for all relationships, and we need to stop the assumptions of exclusivity in relationships.

    What I mean by this is that people end up being monogamous by default, rather than by negotiation and active discussion about what the people involved want. If people want to be monogamous, then they need to declare this to each other willingly, which means that those people are practicing the relationship skills which people learn by being open, honest, genuine in their relationships. That’s what poly people are doing, at least the ones doing it well.

    Again, thanks for the discussion, and I hope to see more about it here.


  • http://www.speakingupanyway.wordpress.com allie

    Part of the problem that comes from the societal standard of monogamy for the sake of monogamy is that the other person gets turned into a possession, and you have value based on what your partner is like (trophy whatnot). Even the language – “This is X’s girlfriend, Y” – defines someone by their relationship. Y is not Y; she is X’s girlfriend, with her own name, and her personhood, an afterthought.

    At least, linguistically speaking. I like diagramming sentences too much.

    Charles at #6: Bipolar is really, really hard on relationships. I’m bipolar, and before I got to a successful treatment I burned a lot of relationships of all kinds. I want a partner that will love me and support me if I go batshit, but I also think that there’s a time when it would be appropriate for someone to sever ties. I’m not talking about it in an abstract way. It’s something I’ve gone through, and it sucks. But there are times when telling someone you love them, but you can’t be with them while they have so much to sort out, is a good thing.

    As for me and polyamory, it makes a ton of sense to me intellectually, but I’ve never been in a relationship while I was stable, so I don’t know if it would work for me or not. Something to learn, I guess.

  • http://thebrunettesblog.wordpress.com Ginny


    I did say clearly that my increased personal development benefits my partners… if I am a stronger, wiser, healthier person, then they get the benefits of having a stronger, wiser, healthier partner.

    I have an excellent example of the kind of relationship you describe, where two people grow together exclusively, in my parents. They have a very happy and successful marriage, and the ways they’ve grown to form a unit, “one flesh” as you say, are evident. However, even having grown up seeing them as an example of a happy marriage, I have never wanted a relationship like theirs. They’ve strengthened each other and helped each other grow in many ways, but in other ways they’ve allowed each other’s weaknesses to thrive. This is natural in any relationship: you are never going to meet a person who is a 100% perfect match, who challenges all your weaknesses while still being someone you love spending time with every day. There’s a little bit of codependency and mutual enabling in any relationship, even a very good one.

    So I get that the “we grow together into an intimate marital unit” relationship can be fine, can be great for some people, but it’s still not something I want for my life; I prefer to be continually challenged by my different partners, and to have the intimacy that comes from deep trust and relationship in a small community, rather than an isolated pairing.

  • http://thebrunettesblog.wordpress.com Ginny

    Sorry, that’s a response to Mark’s January 12 comment under #11 above. Thought I was posting within that thread, guess not.