My entire life, I thought of myself as a deeply jealous person. I’ve attributed it to the fact that, as an only child, I never properly learned to share. And, as a self conceived jealous person, the concept of open relationships used to be utterly baffling to me. How does that even work? Why would anyone want to do that to themselves? My only exposure to polyamory was listening to the Savage Lovecast and during each story on open relationships I’d vigorously shake my head. Nope, nope, not for me. I could never do that. Could never share my partner and still feel secure in myself, in my relationship. Could never imagine that it might be ok to fall in love with someone else.
As it turns out, I had a whole lot to learn about myself. And about relationships. And about jealousy.
Last year, my husband of ten years and I decided to open our relationship. It has been the scariest, most thrilling and most surprising thing I’ve ever done. It has also been the occasion for the deepest and most honest inner work I’ve had to do.
The first time he slept with someone I, predictably, completely lost my shit. He came home late, smelling of another woman’s perfume, which set off some primal trigger in my brain. I paced the house like a trapped animal, aching sobs catching in my throat, only slowing down enough to slam down shots of booze at the kitchen counter. He followed me, staying close, but sensing correctly that I didn’t want to be touched. I hurt so bad I felt punched. In ten years we’d never had as much as a single fight. I’d never felt this kind of space between us, the space in which another woman could fit. We were both equally lost. Eventually he did ask, Do you want to hit me? That question stopped, softened me. I realized I didn’t. That what I felt in that moment wasn’t jealousy. What was it, then?
It would be days before I could trace and name it, but what I felt that night was grief. Grief that he wouldn’t, couldn’t be mine forever. Grief that we’d ultimately, inevitably, be separated. By death, if we were very lucky. And that, since he couldn’t ever be fully mine, then maybe he need not be mine alone. That maybe I didn’t need to be his only one.
It took some doing and lots of feeling of feels, but soon enough I was high-fiving him when he’d come home from a date and had scored. I hardly recognized myself. Was I becoming one of those non-jealous poly people? I had faced what was one of my greatest fears my partner sleeping with someone else and on the other side of that wall of fear was a wide open space of tremendous freedom. If I wasn’t crippled by jealousy, if I could do this thing I never, ever thought I could then, what else was I restricting myself from? I was exhilarated to find out I no longer needed to limit myself to old stories of who I thought I was. What else could I dream of being, of doing?
Fast forward several months to me having just started to date a most wonderful man, my current beloved boyfriend. Our relationship had built slowly over weeks of intense chat conversations, and we’d just slept together for the first time. Though I wasn’t quite there yet, I could feel that I would soon be falling in love with this person. Then one day we found out – accidentally, abruptly – that he and my husband were dating the same woman. And I lost my shit. Spectacularly. Again.
That very morning, I had put a finger on an ancient bruise. I’d realized that the flavor of feeling jealous of the women I knew my then-not-quite-boyfriend was dating was the same as the feelings of envy I sometimes had towards other people. Yoga teachers at the studio where I teach, for example, who I feared were better than me. Feeling I wasn’t the best one. Feeling I wasn’t good enough. Feelings I realized I’d felt forever.
At some point in my freaking out at learning that both my partners were, in fact, sharing two women, I paused just long enough to remember that moment. I recognized that I was being presented with an opportunity to shed some light into some dark, tender places. Well, fuck. I thought. Might as well deal with this now. And I began to do just that.
I sat in the middle of the mess and I felt the fuck out of my feelings. I cried. I raged. I dug in my heels and resisted the process, fought the flow of this river that wanted to carry me downstream to a place of more freedom and ease because all I could see was cold, black water. I don’t want to feel this. I didn’t want to reach into the muck. But deep down I knew that the only way out was through. So I let go. And I went deeper in.
I was hoping that this keen, sharp feeling of jealousy would, again, subside and vanish, just like it eventually had after my husband first had sex outside our marriage. I was hoping for the same dramatic shift in my feelings towards my boyfriend and his partners that I’d experienced with my husband and his. I did my work, and I waited for a release. Which hasn’t come. Not entirely. Not yet.
It’s proving to be much harder getting to that feeling of security that feels like the opposite of jealousy in a brand new open relationship than it is in a ten year strong mono marriage turned poly. But maybe security isn’t the opposite of jealousy. And maybe looking for security is preventing me from living a bigger, more fluid and open life.
If there’s going to be more love in my life, more love to give, to receive, I don’t want that love to make me feel smaller. I want love to make me bold, to make me expand beyond the limits of what I thought was possible. I want to be willing to let love crack me open so that, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, the light might get in.
I still struggle with feeling things I don’t want to feel. But I choose to see jealousy or any uncomfortable feeling as, in the words of my favorite Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, “the natural energy of life as is it manifesting right now.” While feeling jealous is most certainly a sign that feelings need to be unearthed and examined, it is not necessarily a sign that there’s something wrong in the relationship. Maybe nothing needs to be fixed.
What masquerades as jealousy can be something completely other like grief, or feeling not good enough. And the best way I’ve found to move through these feelings and get to the other side is to let myself feel them. Not to fight them, but let them flow around me so that I may move through the muck and into freedom. To face them, name them, and to make myself vulnerable before my partners and share with them. And again, I am left with the most wonderful questions: What can I do, now that I’ve let go of needing to be the only one, of needing to be the best one? Now that the old limits that lived only in my mind need not apply?
As it turns out, the opposite of jealousy isn’t security. The opposite of jealousy is a willingness to welcome our own energy even, especially, when it comes in a form we don’t like. It is daring to love boldly, to let our darkness expand us, and to reach always for the freedom that lies beyond our fears.