The biggest obstacle many people seem to have with being an ethical slut is jealousy. In conversations about polyamory, I have heard the same comment from a surprisingly large number of people: “I’d love to have multiple partners, but I could never be polyamorous. I hate the thought of a lover with someone else.”
That’s where I started, too. My adventures in polyamory began when I realised it was possible for me to be in love with two people at once. At the time, though, the thought of either of them loving or fucking someone else gave me a sinking, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
The book The Ethical Slut, from which I disgracefully nabbed this blog’s title, has fantastic advice on dealing with jealousy that I won’t repeat here, because to paraphrase would be to do a disservice to the original. (Read the book, if you haven’t yet. Even if you aren’t interested in being polyamorous, read it.) Surprisingly, though, what really made the shift for me was something very simple.
If you’ve ever been a kid with exactly one friend, you might be familiar with a feeling of horrible jealousy you might get when your friend decides to play with someone else, and not you, on the playground one afternoon. You might mope and kick rocks and cast sad looks in their direction and get angry that they aren’t noticing how clearly upset you are not to be included. Your attention is focused entirely on the fun you aren’t having.
If, however, you happen to be a kid with a lot of friends or a strong confidence in your ability to make new ones, that pang isn’t so strong. Sure, you might be upset that they are playing without you, but hey, there are some other kids playing a different game, and doesn’t that look fun? The confident child who makes friends easily is focusing on what SHE’S doing, not what her friend is doing with someone else.
It’s a similar story with a kid who is happy in her own little world. “Okay, so Sam won’t play with me today, but there’s an interesting rock and an interesting bug and I sort of feel like taking a walk, watching people and letting my thoughts wander, anyway.”
My flip from emulating the first, lonely child, moping about the fun others were having without her, to being more like the second or third child, enjoying what she’s doing, mostly took place over the course of an afternoon. One day I was feeling bad as my lover was at his friend’s house having sex, and my other lover called. We talked for about an hour, laughing and enjoying each other’s company, and when I rang off I realised I wasn’t jealous anymore.
My perspective had been all wrong. I had still been thinking of love, fun, sex, and happiness as limited resources, as though my lover could hog them all and leave none for me. That wasn’t at all the case. There were a thousand happy things I could be doing rather than sitting alone in my flat feeling bad that my lover wanted someone other than me, could have fun with someone other than me.
I apparently believed, somewhere in my head, that I should be my partners’ sole source of love and fun and happiness – and that they were my only source of the same. Even in a monogamous relationship, that is a very unhealthy perspective.
My lovers should love people other than me! They should have fun with people other than me! Don’t I have a huge tribe of family and friends whom I love and have fun with? Why should I begrudge my partners the same happiness? I lose nothing by it, and, in fact, have gained beloved friends by getting to know the people who have loved my partners as I have.
I still get jealous from time to time. But I am less jealous when I remember that I am not a princess in a castle, waiting for my prince to come home and wake me so I can be a person again in his presence. I am not dependent on my partners to bring me to life and give me something to do and be and love. I am a whole person, and there is so much I can happily do and be and love even without one of my partners around.
I love my partners, and I love spending time with them and sharing sex with them, but those are not the only things I can do. Life doesn’t stop if your partners are busy, even if they’re busy with someone else.
Although my initial viewpoint changed pretty quickly, I still deal with jealousy from time to time. There are many great resources on handling your jealousy in the context of a polyamorous lifestyle: check out poly support groups and workshops, find forums and blogs written for poly people, and read The Ethical Slut. (I’m not being paid to shill that book, by the way. It’s just that helpful.)