A couple of months back somebody was running a workshop on jealousy and was collecting together ideas from a few different people who’d written on the topic. Here’s what I wrote for them.
What is jealousy?
Actually jealousy means different things for different people. When I asked openly non-monogamous people what jealousy meant for them as part of a research project, people came up with the following answers:
comparing oneself unfavourably against others, longing for a certain kind of look from a partner, an internal confusion – feeling knotted up and tangled, an outward spikeyness and defensiveness, insecurity and vulnerabilty, terror of the loss of partner like falling into an abyss, a melodramatic sense of ‘oh no’ at the thought of being out of a partner’s mind , a feeling of left-outness and exclusion linked to feeling unattractive and ugly, feeling very small as if one might disappear, feeling uncomfortable in your skin, the hunger of seeing a banquet and being unable to get to it, feeling stretched and having to cram everything in in order to maintain relationships, feeling fearful that you will gradually be pushed out, painfully aware of your flaws, feeling shaky and nervous, bereft, murderous, or full of self-righteous rage.
Some common themes here are insecurity and fear about the potential loss of something important – usually a romantic relationship (although people said they felt it about other relationships too), and wanting to grab hold of it and protect it to avoid losing it, often by denying the person other relationships which are perceived as a potential threat, perhaps because you compare yourself unfavourably against the other people concerned.
What are some tips for managing it?
The painful paradox of jealousy is that the way we habitually respond to the feeling often contributes to the very loss that we fear will happen. If we respond to the tough angry, helpless, insecure emotions that we feel by grasping onto our partner (or other person) and trying to restrict their freedom then we are likely to lose them: either because they end up resenting us for this and leave, or because the person we keep hold of in this way is not the free person who we loved in the first place.
The very challenging alternative is to try to hold people, and relationships, gently, instead of trying to grab hold of them tightly to keep them safe. We can recognise that there’s no real safety in trying to force people to be what we want them to be.
When the painful feelings of jealousy arise we tend to act immediately to try to make them go away (e.g. by blaming our partner or the other person, and trying to make them stop doing what they are doing; or by making contracts, rules and the like). On the other hand, if we don’t feel like it is okay to be jealous (as some openly non-monogamous people do not), then we respond by repressing the feeling or beating ourselves up for having it.
The alternative to this is to sit with the painful feelings as they are – not trying to tell a story to justify them, or attempting to eradicate them, but just experiencing them. We might notice how they ebb and flow over time. We might understand more fully what our insecurities and vulnerabilities are which underlie these tough feelings. This isn’t a solution to ‘manage’ jealousy in the sense of preventing it from happening or making it go away, but rather it is a way of making jealousy more ‘manageable’ as we learn that we are able to tolerate it and it is okay to feel it
Useful quotations on jealousy:
Simone de Beauvoir describes the feeling beautifully:
They are in their pyjamas; they are drinking coffee, smiling at one another…There is an image that hurts me. When you hit against a stone at first you only feel the impact – the pain comes after. Now, with a week’s delay, I am beginning to suffer. Before, I was more bewildered – amazed. I rationalized, I thrust aside the pain that is pouring over me this morning – these images. I pace up and down the flat, up and down, and at each step another strikes me. I opened his cupboard. I looked at his pyjamas, shirts, drawers, vests; and I began to weep. Another woman was stroking his cheek, as soft as this silk, as warm and gentle as this pull-over – that I cannot bear.
…Between them there is an intimacy that used to belong only to me. When they wake up does he snuggle her against his shoulder calling her is doe, his honey-mouth? Or has he invented other names that he says in the same voice? Or has he found himself another voice? He is shaving, smiling at her, with his eyes darker and more brilliant, his mouth more naked under the mask of white foam. He appeared in the doorway holding a great bunch of red roses in his arms, wrapped in cellophane: does he take her flowers?
My heart is being sawn in two with a very fine-toothed saw.
Simone De Beauvoir – The Woman Destroyed, p122-123
Also I like this quote from Martine Batchelor, not just about jealousy but anything really (people, relationships, identities…)
Let’s imagine that I am holding an object made of gold. It is so precious and it is mine – I feel I must hold onto it. I grasp it, curling my fingers so as not to drop it, so that nobody can take it away from me. What happens after a while? Not only do my hand and arm get cramp but I cannot use my hand for anything else. When you grip something, you create tension and limit yourself.
Dropping the golden object is not the solution. Non-attachment means learning to relax to uncurl the fingers and gently open the hand. When my hand is wide open and there is no tension, the precious object can rest lightly on my palm. I can still value the object and take care of it; I can put it down and pick it up; I can use my hand for doing something else. (M Batchelor, 2001, p. 96)
Pepper Mint’s writings on jealousy are also very helpful and can be accessed here.
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