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Jealousy and polyamory March 4, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: , , , , ,

No! just no....

One of the most cited reasons that people are not polyamorous, even if they are not against the idea in principle, is that they simply could not do it.  They are too jealous.

But jealousy is not a sufficient reason to not be polyamorous.  Not being polyamorous for this reason is simply a way to avoid dealing with the problem of jealousy.

Ever listen to love songs on the radio? Ever watch a sappy romantic comedy where the blunt end of the joke is the presence of competition or possessiveness? The lamenting lyrics of wanting someone’s girl, seeing someone beautiful on the train but she was with another man, or sappy words about how someone belongs to someone else is so ubiquitous that not even us polyamorous people always notice it.  But it is pretty ubiquitous.

Jealousy, whether in the form of competition, possessiveness, or destruction of property is a part of our culture.  It is, indeed, part of the mythology of love in our culture. I use the term myth here because if possessiveness or jealousy are anywhere near the core of love, something is wrong.

But it often is near the core of love in our culture.  Our culture’s use of love, expectations of relationships, and folk wisdom about how to respond to jealousy are pretty unattractive.  It is not surprising that this is the case, especially given that the Bible (which is a part of the foundation of our Western culture) seems to condone this behavior in the book of Exodus.

20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

and it gets better two verses later!

20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

20:6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

[emphasis mine]

See, god loves us, but if we were to cast a casual glance to some other god, he would smite us.  And we’d deserve it, of course! How could we be so slutty….

Jealousy as a bad thing

The problem is that people don’t see jealousy as a bad thing.  As the picture at the top of this post shows, there is an idea in our culture that jealousy is somehow an indication that the love is real, rather than imitation love or whatever.  I have been told before that if I don’t mind my girlfriend sleeping with other men, I don’t really love her.  Such people say that when I meet someone who I really love, I would not want to share her.

I suppose I don’t love either of you, Ginny and Gina.  Sorry….

Bullshit! That idea is patently absurd.  I love both of them and I don’t see how bowing to any jealous or possessive feelings I may have is someone more real than recognizing that they are both intelligent, talented, and beautiful people who anyone could love.  How is it rational to love someone (or some thing) and not expect other people to love them too?  And what right do I have to claim possession to a person just because I love them? That is the implication, right; I love them, and anyone else who does is competition.

Of course, for many of us anyway, jealousy still occurs.  Sometimes it’s mere envy, but sometimes it’s not. But what do we do about it?  Do we address the object of our jealousy or do we address the fact that jealousy is damaging to relationships and love in general? Most resources I have seen seem to emphasize that the feeling is probably unwarranted; that what we fear is not happening and we need to stop being so suspicious.  But when you share your lovers, the thing you feel jealous about is happening!  The question is whether you should feel bad about that.

Obviously, if you are agreeing to non-monogamy with your partner(s), you have no justification to be angry about it happening, even if you do feel jealous from time to time.  In such circumstances, your project should be to find ways to rid yourself of those types of reactions so that your good feelings for those people are not tainted by unpleasant experiences of feeling possessive or insecure as a result.  Eventually, you may grow to like the idea of sharing (some call this compersion.  I hate that term.  It’s still better than frubble), and jealousy may be nothing but an unpleasant memory or a curiosity for reflaction on human nature.

Monogamous people may have reasons to be angry if their partners have romantic or sexual relationships with other people (since this was not agreed upon, by definition), but the jeaousy is still something they should try and transcend.  Jealousy does not stop it from happening, and if it is not happening it causes unnecessary anxiety.  It is a sign of lack of trust, security, and can only act to drive people apart, rather than help in any way.

Therefore, there is no excuse for tolerating jealousy, even if one is monogamous.

Monogamy is not a cure for jealousy

Even if you choose a lifestyle of sexual exclusivity, your partner will probably love someone else.  They will probably find other people sexually and/or romantically attractive, they will have fantasies about those people, and ultimately they will probably want more than you are able to give.  If you decide to structure your relationship such that neither of you will pursue anything beyond friendship with others, so be it, but this will not eliminate the existence and problem of jealousy.

It will just avoid the problem by treating the symptom rather than the underlying cause.

The love you have for someone is because of who they are, and should not be dependent upon who else loves them or who else they love.  So, for someone to say that they could not be polyamorous because they are too jealous, what they seem to be saying is that they do not want to deal with the reality of human needs, desires, or the possibility that they may not be able to satisfy every need a person has.

Jealousy is not a reason not to be polyamorous; it is a reason to consider not being in a relationship with anyone.  Jealousy does not go away just because you are not sharing, it just isn’t challenged when we are not sharing.  It’s sort of like teaching children how to share toys; if you just keep them all separate and let them play with their toys separately, the problem never arises.  But when you put children together, they fight over toys.  Separating them does not alleviate the problem, it only avoids it.

Similarly, separating everyone out with monogamous pairings does not make jealousy go away, it just tries to create a dynamic where it ideally is never relevant.  It is an unrealistic expectation and is rarely possible.  So why try?

Only because it avoids the problem most of the time.  From a practical point of view, it is easier to not deal with hard problems.  But this is short-term thinking, and does not lead to us growing up to emotional adulthood.  Jealousy is one of the many aspects to human behavior which we need to address as a species, and too often it is shelved in the name of practicality.

We can do better than that.


1. Jill - March 4, 2012

Perfectly put!! I want everyone I know to read this, so they can understand where I’m coming from. Thank you 🙂

2. Polyamory | Pearltrees - March 4, 2012

[…] Jealousy and polyamory « Atheist, polyamorous, skeptics Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society , Polyamory . Tags: compersion , envy , frubble , jealousy , monogamy , relationships trackback No! […]

3. Desires, tentative goals, and polyamory « Atheist, polyamorous, skeptics - March 18, 2012

[…] many people, this binding is conflated with exclusivity, especially in the presence of insecurity and jealousy.  Ideally, issues with jealousy and insecurity will have been dealt with in one’s pursuit of […]

4. Luna - April 17, 2012

“See, god loves us, but if we were to cast a casual glance to some other god, he would smite us. And we’d deserve it, of course! How could we be so slutty….”

– THIS is entertaining writing, and I find many examples of it on your site. I remember reading this part of the Bible, along with a bunch of others that paint god as a petty,violent, woman-hating closet-case, as a devout Baptist at 12 and deciding if the Christian god IS real (which I firmly no longer believe he is) he is a total dick and not worthy of my worship.

However, again this article again seems to argue that monogamy is simply too hard, so don’t bother. Not sure that’s a great, or intelligent, argument for something. “Medical school is too difficult, why bother?” A lot of people cheat or can’t stay with one person because (as I argued elsewhere) they lack the social, emotional and sexual skills to do so, not necessarily because monogamy itself is some big evil looming over the “civilized” world.

I’m not necessarily arguing monogamy is better mind you, just that your arguments FOR polygamy aren’t terribly convincing and most boil down to “people are too lazy or selfish to have a good, fulfilling relationship with one person.” I’m not sure that’s enlightened in any way. That’s more an argument that people shouldn’t work to better themselves because it’s easier to just “fuck the pain away,” as Peaches would say. You can fuck up your life, your relationships and your emotional health just as (if not more so) easily dating several people as you can dating one. You argue monogamy is limiting but then you argue polygamy has to have rules to work. So long as there are rules there are limits, so long as there are limits there are going to be things one person wants to do that they aren’t allowed, that would upset the other person. There is always temptation involved with that. There is always a constraint in life. Polygamy isn’t necessarily AS constraining as monogamy but it’s not ultimate freedom either.

shaunphilly - April 17, 2012

Have you read ANYTHING I have written? I never say monogamy is too hard. I say that monogamy is easier in many ways. Polyamory is hard. Go back and actually read my posts again, because your reading comprehension is attrocious.

5. Ananoymous - May 25, 2012

But, how do you get OVER being jealous? I’ve been in a poly relationship for almost a year now, though there haven’t been any other partners involved until recently — my girlfriend is meeting up with an old friend and they’ll likely have sex. I don’t so much mind that, really, what I mind is that I am a girl, and she is a girl, and until she met me she was more or less heterosexual — she’s meeting with a male friend, and I know she wants to because I can’t please her like a man can. It makes me feel extremely inadequate. I know logically she wouldn’t run off with him or anything since he lives far away and other not-so-good things, but it still hurts to know I’ll never really be all that appealing to my own girlfriend. It’s really put me out of the mood lately. Any advice?

Either way good article, I’m glad you wrote it. I need to go scour the rest of this site now.

6. shaunphilly - May 27, 2012


I don’t know if you ever fully do get over it. Some people don’t really experience it, and I’m not one of those people. If you experience jealousy, then jealousy is going to happen. Rather than try and get over it, think about how to live with it, accept it, and know that it is often irrational, if not always irrational.

If you trust your partners, then that is a start. Even if you are jealous, make sure you communicate this with them. If they love you, they will understand and will try and help, but at bottom it is your issue.

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