A Room with a View
Yesterday, Wes, Jessie and I had a lovely poly family and another friend over for dinner. The poly family consists of a triad structured similarly to us. The married couple in the triad have an adorable 3 year old who ran around the whole time trying to get our dog, Lola, to play with her. Lola must be getting old because she just couldn't keep up with this kid. When she wasn’t trying to convince the dog to go with her places, she was wandering around trying to catch one of the numerous pantry moths that are fluttering around our house. Incidentally, this was a favorite pastime of a few other guests as well. One thing I’ll say about coming over to our house: There’s something for everybody.
At some point, we started talking about my blog and our friend, H, said that some of the posts I had going for a while had her worried or at least feeling badly about my attitude towards myself. She pointed out that I am very hard on myself. If I recall correctly, there was a stint where I was going through some bouts with jealousy and other negative feelings. I was feeling generally down and, as it turned out, it was because I was misidentifying the root causes. The jealousy I was experiencing last month (?) was about wanting to be able to spend more time with Shaun and Ginny. I loved that Jessie lives with us, but I wanted to be able to spend that kind of time, share that kind of space with Shaun and Ginny as well. The circumstances of our lives right now mean that this isn’t practical at all, but it doesn’t change the desire. Once I identified what was really going on with me, the feelings dissipated and I felt fine. But sometimes it’s difficult to discern.
When Wes and I first started practicing polyamory, I, as I have mentioned, had a lot of issues with jealousy and insecurity. At that time, I would define it as pretty classic jealousy. “What? I’m not good enough for you?” “That person you like is pretty different than me. Do you want me to be like that?” “It’s only a matter of time before you leave me.” Stuff like that. People who have tendencies towards jealousy (especially jealousy born from insecurity…which is likely what it is most of the time) have thoughts akin to this, regardless of relationship structure. Being committed to making polyamory work for us simply meant that I had to identify these thoughts and feelings and expose them for what they were: Bullshit. To do anything less would extend the amount of time the polyamory was stressful. The rational part of me knew that if I could punch through the bullshit I heaped on myself that poly would be a source of happiness for me. Those who read my entries on here and on my other blog know that this has certainly turned out to be the case.
But I couldn’t just get there. As I thought more about it and worked through things, I realized that jealousy behaves very much like a disease. It has no value except to harm….
Well, let me not exactly put it that way. It’s not so much of a disease as it is an addiction. If you have a partner who indulges your jealousy, then having a jealous fit can result in them saying nice things to you, reassuring you, taking you out…whatever. While that can be nice, you’re coercing this behavior because you “used”. When you use an addictive drug, you do it to feel the high, but there is a cost.
At least that’s the way I look at it. So yeah, I can see why someone might think I’m often pretty hard on myself. I remember talking to a friend a while ago whilst in the middle of a jealous fit and while I tried to get it together and get centered in reality again, she said something to the effect of "You have every right to make demands. You can negotiate." I responded, "No, there aren't compromises here."
When I say that, I do not mean to give the impression that whatever Wes' says goes and therefore there are no compromises. I say this to mean that I have an extremely high standard for myself. I look at jealousy and possessiveness as highly negative things, highly destructive things. I do not have tolerance for them in myself.
This is not to say that I don't feel them. This is not to say that it isn't a struggle. This is simply to say that I do not feel justified in feeling them. I do not accept them as "just a normal part of our relationship". They are things to recognize and work through in a healthy way. But they are not cute. They don't mean that my love is stronger. The costs are not worth the potential (fleeting) benefit.
What needs to be understood here is that I am incredibly happy with my life right now. A large reason for this happiness is that I have learned to deal with the negative things my mind comes up with to distract me from the positive. Polyamory has been a huge motivator in getting me to really face my fears and issues head on and plow through.
But it is never over. Self-improvement, at least for me, is generally about fighting my natural tendencies to do things that cause me stress and unhappiness. If I'm not paying attention, I can easily slip back into those behaviors. So yes, I am hard on myself because I love being happy and my efforts have resulted in my not having very many times where I have to be hard on myself. Slipping into a jealous fit just doesn't happen all that often anymore, whereas it used to happen every day. There was a time several years ago, long before polyamory came into the picture, when I would cry most days of the week. Now it might be once every several weeks, is short lived and is likely because I'm exhausted and need a nap or a glass of water.
I will fully admit that I've been really far too hard on myself from time to time. That has also made it onto the list of things I need to be vigilant about. I am developing an emotional muscle memory of sorts for dealing with old recurring issues and now it's time for me to pay attention to how big a deal any particular "infraction" is, how much real thought I need to put into why it happened (I usually know right away now), and to generally skip those moments of feeling needlessly feeling bad about myself for "failing again". There is certainly some insanity to the way I do things, but all I can say is that it has generally served me well and I am working on it. Always working on it.
I will never be perfect. I am starting to see the pleasantness in that thought. Perfection of personality and habit are asymptotic goals, but there's no harm in knowing that and working on getting closer to that ideal access. I am finding balance.
What I told her ultimately was that I share these stories of what I deal with so that it doesn't just seem like I just woke up one day and was fine with everyone and everything. My choice to be polyamorous was about wanting Wes and I to be as happy as possible. Freedom, trust, communication, personal growth...all those things are important to mutual happiness and it is a large portion of what we mean when we say that we are committed to each other. But it takes work, no matter what your relationship structure is. It just seems to me that polyamory forces the issue...relationship masterclass, if you will. Currently, the relationships we have outside of our own have made ours much stronger. The skills we have learned, the people we have connected with have added to our compatibility.
I talk about these things so that you know you aren't alone. I often thought I was alone...that people who practiced non-monogamy were necessarily not jealous by nature. I said this to our guests last night and they all laughed maniacally at me about it. Apparently, I was dead wrong about my assumption (not surprising...do I need to remind you about how I used to think everyone was an atheist Jew?). And so I don't feel so much like a freak. I hope to do that for you, too.