“I’ve [39F] been married to the most amazing man in the world [45M] for the past fifteen years. Four years into our marriage, I discovered that I am polyamorous and I asked him if I could start dating other men. Not only did he agree, he was so supportive. He helped me plan dates and talked about my poly-specific problems with me. He has befriended all of my current partners and is an integral part of my polycule. I love this man with all my heart and I cherish him every day.
Last night, he approached me about his recent desire to start dating other women. This instantly crushed me but I kept a straight face as I knew my only fair option was to agree. I asked if he thought he was polyamorous and he said no. He just thought it could be exciting and a new way to meet people. I told him of course and we sat down and discussed boundaries. We only have two which is our relationship comes first and to always use protection. I hate to admit it but I am feeling jealous, insecure, and guilty for feeling this way. Obviously he isn’t going to start dating right at this moment and that’s reassuring. But I am feeling a lot of insecurity about when he will start dating. I need a way to tackle my jealousy and insecurity so I don’t ruin ENM for him. It isn’t fair to him that I’m being a mopey sad sack about after he’s been so supportive of me and my lifestyle.”
Sad Green Monster on /r/polyamory.
Dear Sad Green Monster,
I am really sorry to hear that you are struggling with managing jealousy in regards to your husband’s new interest in dating others. You have acknowledged and identified a problem that you need help addressing.
First things first, I think it is important to acknowledge that there are two very different set of skills associated with dating polyamorously. The first is whether or not you can date multiple people ethically. This involves managing logistics & scheduling, upholding boundaries & agreements, and appropriately addressing the NRE you feel in your new relationships. The second is whether or not you are okay with your partner(s) dating multiple people. This involves properly developing metamour connections (if kitchen table poly), creating space for your partners’ other relationships to blossom, and addressing jealousy & insecurity in a productive way. Both of these set of skills are important to develop and maintain for any ethically polyamorous folks.
It sounds like in you’ve been able to really hone and fine-tune that first aspect of the polyamorous identity for you, but have not had much of an opportunity to develop the second set of skills – at least not in your relationship with your husband. And because you haven’t had an opportunity to pick this second set of skill, you are now in the middle of a crash course through your feelings, which feel almost unmanageable for you.
I also want to point out the slight difference between polyamory as a relationship orientation compared to polyamory as an identity.
There is a bit of debate on whether polyamory should be an identity or a relationship orientation. And I personally believe that polyamory can be one or both, depending on the relationship. In my honest opinion, identity is something very much set in stone, as in you cannot do without. And for me personally, I do not think that I can ever have a monogamous commitment in my partnerships. So I am decidedly polyamorous by identity.
Polyamory as a relationship orientation is a bit different. I also recognize that monogamy to polyamory is much more of a spectrum than a binary, much like the gender and sexual orientation spectrum. There are many who fully round up to one end of the spectrum (explicitly monogamous or explicitly polyamorous), but there are many more who sit in the middle between the two extreme ends. Those who can do either monogamy or polyamory are classified as ambiamorous. For ambiamorous folks, mono-poly spectrum is a relationship orientation; something that they may have mild or strong preferences for that might inform them of the kind of relationships they would like to have.
When you asked your husband if he was polyamorous, you were really asking to gauge how much emotional labor you should be committing to your marital connection so that you can maintain this identity of a polyamorous woman in your own head. A better question to be asking your husband (and retroactively, to yourself) is if he wants to date polyamorously or if he thought he could date polyamorously. Based on his answer, I get the sense that he doesn’t fully know whether or not he can date polyamorously. And that’s okay. He’ll have to figure that out on his own. He can theorize and predict the kind of relationships he would like to have. And I am confident that he got to know a lot about polyamory through experiencing relationships vicariously through his married partner. But his own personal preferences and style of non-monogamy could be very different from yours.
I’ve managed my own jealousy through mitigation action. A couple years ago when my nesting partner decided to meet and date on her own, I made a very concerted effort to connect with her partner / my metamour. When my partners were out on dates while I was alone at home, I took advantage of free time to treat myself, whether that is a self-care day out to a spa, a night-in to play computer games that my partners are not into, or finally catching up on my sleep debt by going to bed early. I would compartmentalize and filibuster my jealousy until I had the resources to analyze and process them either by myself or with the help of my therapist.
My girlfriend had a completely different spin on managing jealousy in her own personal way.
I can remember the exact conversation. We were on a date, earlier on in our relationship. We were both dressed up for after-dinner cocktails at a local upscale lounge. We had two great drinks before we started walking around the neighborhood. During the walk, she told me how she used to struggle with jealousy during one particular former relationship. She went on to tell me that she recognizes that she too is human who feels insecure at times. For her, labeling jealousy for what it was helped her process through jealousy because it helped her recognize that jealousy was also just a feeling. That jealousy as a feeling was often temporary. That if it wasn’t temporary, then there’ll be future opportunities in which to address it in a more meaningful and mindful way.
What I am trying to say is that your jealousy management strategy could look very different than mine or my girlfriend’s jealousy management strategies. But the first and most important step for you to recognize is that while jealousy is yours to own, you don’t always need to anything immediate about that jealousy. Sometimes, breathing through that jealousy and insecurity could provide a better perspective on why you feel that way. Long-term and consistent triggering of jealousy could indicate a potentially toxic situation where a partner is using your inherent jealousy to manipulate your behavior to feel more desired. But I don’t get that feeling with your husband, and I don’t think you do either.
The guilt you feel comes from impatience. Because your husband was so accepting of your intention to start dating polyamorously at first, you are feeling inadequate in being just as accepting as your husband was. That is not fair to yourself. One. You are clearly open to your husband eventually dating others. Since you’ve already set your intention, you just need to set a goal, establish a step-by-step, and follow through. Two. You’ve accepted your husband to not be interested in dating anyone else for the past eleven years that you’ve been married. So in a way, this new revelation uproots the mental image you’ve had of him. But most importantly, you are a completely different human being than your husband. He was able to be so understanding with you at first because that is who he is. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be just as successful in accepting his non-monogamous orientation as he had been.
So give yourself some more time and a bit more patience to figure out your own jealousy management strategy. It could take some time and a couple erroneous trial attempts. But allow yourself to forgive the mistakes you will make.
Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.
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