On guilt

When I write about polyamory, the most frequent response I receive is to tell me that the jealousy would be too much.

For me, obviously, that’s not a problem.  Sure, I get the occasional jealous impulse, but it’s easy to ignore.  Nobody mentions whether or not guilt would be a problem though, which has been the most difficult part on my end.

When I’m with Christina, I worry that Michaelyn will be jealous or that she’ll miss me.  Likewise, I worry that Christina will get jealous that I miss Michaelyn so much and see her more often (what with her being my primary).  This is undoubtedly due to growing up in a world where jealousy is given power and even treated as a wholesome part of a relationship.

That worry steals enjoyment from the time I get with both of them.

The lousy thing about it, aside from the happiness lost, is that neither is jealous (at least no more than I am).  It’s just hard to make myself expect them to not be jealous.  It’s also hard to know that by feeling this guilt I know I’m not taking two very honest women at their word (and their actions).

Any of you other poly folks have the same issue?

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.

  • Anne H.

    I am a poly novice, all things considered. I feel guilt when my affections are shifting more towards one person than another and I’m not sure how to tell either person about it.

  • unbound

    Not poly, but, putting this in context of my kids, I’ll offer what I can.

    You have to let go of your own guilt based on the realization that you can’t be in 2 places at once. And even the desire to treat each child equally is not actually possible since each child has different interests and different desires of engagement.

    The key is doing the best you can with the situation at hand. If you are being lazy, then you should feel some degree of guilt. But if you are providing good opportunities for your kids and being as responsive and involved as you can, there really isn’t anything to be guilty about. Even with my wife, I’m not going to be there all the time, and we each maintain some interests that the other has no interest in (e.g. while we watch most movies together, we don’t watch all movies together…I will find other things to do when she watches a “chick flick” and she finds other things to do when I’m watching “sci-fi trash”).

    • ash

      “The key is doing the best you can with the situation at hand.”

      Richie Rich, The Poor Little Rich Kid

  • ash

    There will always be an imbalance in polyamory. I could never do it myself, but have no problem with it for others who are cool with it. For me, sexual fidelity is the currency of trust in romantic relationships. Oddly enough though, I would find it more “do-able” if the other parties had extracurricular dalliances as well. Otherwise, sharing with two other people means I’m only 1/2 a boyfriend to each. What happens if push comes to shove? Who gets jettisoned? How much do each of them have invested in you? IOW, who do you like more (it hasd to be that way) and does the other one know it, and are they cool with it. Just seems like a recipe for heartbreak.

    • ash

      I will add, that this arrangement is way cooler than having a secret mistress/ boy-toy. It’s openess is what makes it valid.

  • D. Blackwell

    Yeah, I have the guilt thing once in a while. But after living with two men for 8 years (and being poly for 12), I don’t have as much guilt about them as I do about giving myself time. Whenever I take time for myself, I feel like a schmuck because I feel like I should be doing A or B or C. Its all a matter of communication and balance.

    • ash

      I’m curious, would either of them prefer exclusivity if it were offered?

  • Sophia

    I feel the guilt even when I am single! It’s hard to feel pulled so many directions, but in the end you just do your best. And try to realize that everyone else is probably just trying to do their best too. And don’t forget to take care of yourself. ;)

  • Ace of Sevens

    I once had a guy tell me I couldn’t handle a poly relationship because I was too insecure. He barely knew me. It turned out he was trying to get an exclusive on a woman I was interested in.

  • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

    I’m poly and admit that there are times when I feel guilty about being with one person instead of another. I don’t want to offend anybody and I don’t want anybody hurt, so it becomes difficult to remind myself that it’s ok, they can take care of themselves, and if there was a problem, they would tell me. But getting over the idea that you’re not responsible for other people’s happiness can be a problem. Ultimately, you can contribute to another person’s happiness, but you can’t make it for them, and that’s generally what this sense of not being with the other person enough or in the right way comes down to.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daisiesandshit tanyahiggins

    Truth is, it’s hard to take others at their word, regardless of how much you love and respect them, when it comes to emotions based in a sense of self-worth – most of us have been trained to swallow “petty” jealousies and feelings of being left out because those emotions suggest that we think we’re deserving of another person’s time and energy; how dare us!

    I have no way of knowing if this is true for you, but for me, I find that this type of guilt creeps up on me more when I’m swallowing emotions that I ought to be sharing. Setting the stage for sharing, maybe by letting my partner know when I’ve felt a bit lonely and could use a little reassurance, seems to help ease my mind.

  • ash

    Great post. I’ve been thinking about it all day because something about polyamory really bothered me and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I am WAY lefty on all social issues so my reaction was weird and inconsistent with all my other views. I figured it out though. Envy. Plain and simple. There are people who are connected enough socially that they can count the periods between relationships in months or weeks. Mine measure in years. Coming up on 8 this time around. I think that knowing someone else(s) are out there for you helps you to relax in relationships that you are currently in. It’s very possible that I’m done. After going through protracted stretches of lonliness, you can actually feel it physically killing you. So it was envy that was my problem. like always being the last guy to be picked when choosing teams, and there was an odd nuber to start with…Or watching a party you weren’t invited to from the outside. The problem is me.

  • http://www.extraordinaryinsignificance.com Dave Churvis

    I definitely can relate. I sometimes drive my primary partner to distraction by constantly asking if he’s okay with what I’m doing. Eventually I realized that I trust him enough to tell me if he has a problem, so if he says he’s fine with it, then he is :)


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