I have a good friend from high school, who grew up learning to never say the word “jealous.” Instead, she and her family would say, “I am so ‘j’.” I am not advocating for jealousy: it is an awful feeling. I strongly dislike feeling jealous. It makes me feel out of control and crazy and weak and insecure and small. But we need to own our jealousy, face it, and work through it. Otherwise, it sits there, building up over time, waiting to pour out at the worst moment.
I grew up learning from pop culture, and probably my family and most definitely my friends, that being jealous is appropriate. If you aren’t jealous of your partner giving someone else attention, something is seriously wrong with you! And how many Top 40 songs are about making someone else jealous or being jealous? “Crimes of passion” are much more acceptable and excusable in our society than I think they ought to be. In fact, my most serious high school relationship ended pretty much on account of jealousy. The first four years or so that J and I dated, I was jealous of J’s good girl friends, of girls that got onto the treadmill next to him at the gym (crazy, right?!?!), and of the girl who made his sandwich at the campus store (also whacko!). Opening up our relationship has made my jealousy dwindle to an actual manageable and faceable emotion. It sometimes comes on like a little annoying fly. I am able to hold it, examine it, figure out what is really going on, and let it go.
Since we opened up, my jealousy has evolved quite rapidly. I feel so much freer and happier and more secure in our relationship than I ever did before. At first I thought I might be jealous of seeing J have sex with other people. That quickly diminished after we read Sex at Dawn. In fact, I highly, highly enjoy watching J pleasure and be pleasured by other partners (this is sort of the opposite of jealousy—dubbed “compersion” in the open relationship world; a post on that is sure to come!). I am now on the tail-end of facing and letting go of my jealousies that have resulted from our separate play option: I was at first very jealous thinking about J with someone else, without me there. I realized that it was about a fear of losing J, and mostly about a selfishness of sharing our shared time together. I also quickly recognized that my insecurities spread like a virus when I pictured J with some “faceless” individual: she looks like a supermodel, is super smart, witty, makes him laugh until his stomach hurts, can run super long distances at his pace, skis like a pro, and can make killer cinnamon rolls. The most ideal woman for J pops into my head! Once I realized that my jealousy and insecurity stemmed from the unknown, J and I were able to have a constructive conversation about what to do about that insecurity (thus, our rule about knowing each other’s partners, as J described earlier).
I am also still processing my jealousy surrounding more emotional relationships, where J shares a deeper emotional and/or mental connection with someone else and I am not a part of that. Part of my processing comes from the recognition that J is a separate individual with separate emotions and feelings, with separate dislikes and likes and interests, and separate friends. Understanding that we can both have connections with other people helps me to mitigate this jealousy.
Another deeper jealousy that I think a lot of people in “vanilla” relationships perhaps do not deal with is the idea of one’s partner having a sexual relationship with a close, long-term, “vanilla,” friend. J has an amazing friendship with someone from his junior high years, and I actually have been able to begin confronting and working through the jealous feelings that have arisen when I think about their relationship evolving into something else. Before we began negotiating our open relationship, this would have impossible. I was jealous that he even talked to her on the phone every so often. Another issue that has come up, that has given me jealousy issues to work on, is the idea of J meeting back up with ex-girlfriends. I think because they were from his “vanilla” past, it would be interesting to negotiate a new kind of relationship with them. I would also need to have the chance to get to know them well before anything really happened between J and them.
Feeling jealousy and letting it sit inside of me allows me to move through the emotion. Bottling it up, letting fears and resentments grow, is not particularly healthy or helpful to the process. Crying, journaling, taking hot showers, getting a manicure, talking with J, talking with friends, exercising, and meditating are all ways that I have found to help myself work through jealousy. Naming and processing jealousy are integral to having clear and honest communication in general, and have definitely been important for me in negotiating our open relationship.