Eventually, this was bound to happen. For years, I’ve been explaining to folks that I don’t experience jealousy, and have been met with a fair dose of reasonable skepticism. I completely understand that jealousy is natural and normal, even for non-monogamous folks, I would explain. But I just don’t feel it. Mild envy, sure, but jealousy? Well, I’m not quite sure that what I recently experienced does qualify as jealousy, but I think envy would be accurate, and given the unusual strength of the feelings I dealt with in a single weekend—despite the fact that my metamour is one of the most awesome people in my life and part of my circle of close friends—I thought it might be helpful to others if I wrote a little bit about what I experienced and the strategies I’m using to address the possibility of these feelings cropping up again. And yes, I’m scheduling this post for Valentine’s Day, because practical communication and addressing challenges in relationships is romantic, dammit.
First, the context. I’d been seeing Partner (P) for about six months. I’ve known Metamour (M) for three-and-a-half years, and the two of them actually met at one of my classes on practical skills for introspection around sexuality (irony!) called “Meet Your Sexual Self.” I strongly encouraged their budding romance, and early on confessed that they’re totally my OTP
. I ship it, man. Hardcore. What’s more, I absolutely love being metamours with M and we occasionally joke that we’re only dating P so that we can be metamours. We have metamour dates and we talk about our needs and how things are going with P and what wibbles we’re experiencing so that everyone can work through them together. Serious poly bliss.
The day before the weekend in question, another of my partners broke up with me in perhaps the most amicable way possible. It boiled down to “hey, I don’t think what we’re doing is really a romantic relationship by my definition, but I still want to do everything exactly the same, just not call it a relationship.” We have plans next weekend, and all is great, but even so I think I took it harder than I realized I was taking it. After the weekend, I realized that the conversation with Former Partner had actually given my self-esteem and confidence in my relationship skills a hit (entirely unintended by her), and so I was carrying that silently in my heart and my body throughout the weekend.
The point of the weekend itself was a roadtrip to an awesome queer event of the clothes-off variety, one that both M and I had attended several times previously. The initial plan was that M, P, and I would drive up along with M’s long-time partner (also a dear friend of mine). That dynamic seemed like an awesome idea. We’d all get to hang out, P and I would share a hotel room, and M would share a room with her partner as well as two other folks in their poly circle (we’ll call them Q1 and Q2–Q for queer, as they are both in fact quite fabulously queer). Unfortunately, M’s partner came down with a nasty case of bronchitis and had to cancel last minute, so P ended up there with the two of us, needing to very carefully split time and attention throughout the event. To make matters worse, a couple of M’s exes were going to be there and she was feeling wibbly. I felt really strongly that it was important for P to support her in that, and pointed out that I’d have lots of friends present at the event and would be good.
To shorten the story a bit, I’ll gloss over the details and focus on the good juicy practical bits that folks might actually find useful. What I learned is that it’s really damned important for me to set intentions for an event and check in with them throughout, which is something I usually do. But what with work and the recent breakup, I hadn’t really bothered for that weekend. It was also my first event really attending With a Partner, and I hadn’t reviewed what that might mean for me or talked with either M or P about expectations.
When a question came up—for example, whether I was comfortable after the first night of the event with P going back to the room with M and Q1 and Q2 for a couple of hours—I realized that I didn’t actually have a ready answer to hand. It was still a wonderful poly moment, with M checking in intentionally with me and insisting that I be honest about my needs, and P coming back to ask the same question feeling all joyful that the two of us were totally taking care of ourselves without her input, but I had to be honest that I didn’t know how I’d feel. It ended up all right, but an open question from that weekend is how the heck one really does answer questions like that when the answer is “I don’t know,” or “I might feel slightly better with Option A, but I also really want YOU to have Option B.” Sometimes caring about everyone in the equation actually makes things more complicated!
Next time, I’m definitely going to talk about expectations in advance with everyone involved. For example, what does it mean to be going to something “together?” What are the important things that I need to get out of the event, and what are others’ priorities? I find that even writing my needs and nice-to-haves down on paper in advance can be super helpful, which I’ve done for the next event (actually occurring even as this post drops). Who’s going to be sleeping where, and is it the actual sleeping that matters? For example, I learned on a later metamour date with M that whom she wakes up with is super important to her, whereas for me it’s actually more about who I spend time with up until I go to sleep. I’m a big fan of morning kisses and cuddles, but if I get that once over the course of the weekend, I’m more than happy to have some quality time with a partner at some point in the evening and then say goodnight when I’m feeling good. I sleep pretty well alone. So in this case, our needs pretty much align, and if we talk about it, we can probably reduce stress for P quite a bit!
Another thing I learned is that some of the techniques I’m familiar with from therapy, as well as energy work and meditation, can be really helpful here. A lot of what came up for me that weekend was not about P or M or the three of us together. A couple of times when I was alone in the hotel room, I said to myself out loud, frustrated, “but I really LIKE M!” It annoyed me that I was feeling these things, because her happiness is actually really important to me. But as P pointed out later, while having a close relationship with both my partner and my metamour might actually make things tougher and more complicated as we sort this shit out, it’s ultimately going to grow into something stronger and way more awesome than what most people have. Go team!
So it comes down to doing a little work around myself and my own anxiety, beyond whatever we can tackle as a group. With the event coming up, I’m asking myself to not only identify my needs, but also be gentle with myself. Anxiety is going to happen. I always experience anxiety during these weekends. There’s a lot of adrenaline, making and breaking plans, and trying to figure out how to do All the Things while still remaining healthy. Setting intentions can quell some of this, providing a touchstone to refer back to, as can setting self-care rules for the weekend (sleep enough, eat relatively healthy, etc). But I’m also doing some Havi
-style straight-up talking to my anxiety, trying to find out why it’s there and what’s up with it. It helps to take a step back, to acknowledge the anxiety, and to get to its root. “Hey, anxiety, why are you here?”
Its answer isn’t super clear, because Anxiety is one of my most chaotic friends, but the jist seems to be “OMG lots of things could go wrong and you don’t have these weekends that often and what if it SUCKS? What if you MISS AN OPPORTUNITY?” That’s a hard one to answer, because hey, missing opportunities is pretty common. And I realize that I sit with a lot of resentment around missed opportunities in my past. It’s part of why my birthday can be a sore point for me, for example, because I want people to celebrate me and no one ever actually shows up. But sitting around wallowing in bitterness doesn’t help much. So my plan is to destuckify (see link to Havi above) some of this by pushing it out of my body and into the open, recognizing that it’s hard and that things often don’t work out as planned but also embracing the unplanned things that do happen. I tend to focus on the negative, but there’s so much positive out there!
So another strategy for dealing with envy and jealousy is reminding myself that while envy is all about not having a thing, there are lots of Things out there. I can take action to seek out a different Thing, a Thing I really like, and focus on that rather than on the Thing I don’t have at the moment because someone else—someone I really like and want to be happy, even!—has it. (Oh, and also, P is not a Thing, she is a person, and I care a lot about her stress levels and happiness and not feeling strung out between partners, so that’s also a good thing to remember when it comes to poly-land.)
In fact, during that last weekend event, I got a lot of great Things. I shared some moments with people who are totally new to me, and had a couple of fulfilling conversations. I got to cuddle a mercreature. I made out with a couple of someones I’ve been longing to make out with, and made plans for this next upcoming event with one of them. I had some lovely moments with P, and with M, and with our friends.
So for this next event, I’m focusing on those unplanned, unexpected moments. Hopefully, as you’re reading this, I’m off cavorting and laughing and cuddling queers and getting into long meaningful conversations that would never happen if I’d scheduled myself to within an inch of my life. Maybe I’m even being annoying and sappy and making P mark Valentine’s Day with me in some way. Or maybe I’m celebrating the birthday of a member of my polycule with Dinosaur Cuddles, which is a thing I haven’t quite invented yet but which really needs to happen. Life is too short for sitting with resentment, so fuck that and fuck my sarcasm and holding it close to the chest that isn’t really me. Misanthropes, cover your ears now, because I’m about to say…
Happy Valentine’s Day!!!
And may it be ever so queer.
Interstitial comics for this post from Kimichi Cuddles, the most amazing poly comic that ever was.