Not an Odalisque


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Non-poly people, on learning I’m polyamorous, always want to know if I’m jealous. I say that I’m not, and receive a puzzled look, then usually a statement that they would get jealous, that they just couldn’t do it, which is strange because I’ve never invited them to. It’s a lie, of course. I do get jealous, I just don’t get jealous about sex. Not often enough to justify telling a partner that my feelings should influence their actions, anyway. I could count my experiences of sexual jealousy on one hand, which is rather convenient, in poly.

But I do get jealous. I get horribly, irrationally jealous. I get jealous of people I hardly know. I’m jealous of friends of friends for being diverting and funny. I’m jealous of kinksters on Twitter who have more play and have better pain tolerances than I do. I’m jealous of friends’ partners because they get to see a side of my friends I’ll never know. I’m jealous of writers who have had their work published, even though I’ve never sent anything to a literary agent. I burned with jealousy when my father praised his girlfriend’s daughter’s cooking. She hadn’t even left home, my reaction was ridiculous.

I’m an only child, perhaps I never learned to share. That’s given me a useful perspective, though: I can’t help but recognise how petty I am. I can’t tell my friends not to have other friends, or boyfriends, no matter how insecure and envious I feel, it wouldn’t even occur to me, because I have no right to regulate their lives. If I did, though, there would be a helpful conversation about my insecurity or a row about the best way to make pastry, depending on our moods. There certainly wouldn’t be any level of acquiescence. Having learned to allow friends their freedom, I can’t see why friends I sleep with should be treated any worse.

Sometimes I can see the workings of jealousy in my petty mind, even as I’m feeling it. My father’s praising about his girlfriend’s daughter’s* cooking hurt. It still hurts, and it’s been a couple of years now. He never praises me, in fact he doesn’t show enough interest to hear of things he might praise me for. And he particularly never praises my cooking, because he never eats it. Offered it, he’s been known to opt for peanuts or crackers and cheese instead. He says that’s because he doesn’t like vegetarian food, but where’s the meat in a packet of peanuts? Where? WHERE?!

The comment that Millie was an excellent cook was like a fissure in the dam, a jet of my anger and hurt spewed out; all the feelings about my father’s lack of interest in me hit me in a flood. Those feelings may be big and important personally, but they really don’t have anything to do with Millie’s culinary skills. Jealousy is all about me, and it’s not going to be fixed by someone else, even if Millie serves something ugly and poisonous at a fancy dinner party. Unless it’s to my father, I suppose.

As far as sex goes, I stave off insecurity by only sleeping with people who I’m pretty confident think I’m attractive. They’re going to think other people are attractive, too, but they’d think that even if they weren’t allowed to act on their desires. I’m comfortable if I’m sure I’m near the top of the list, which limits my range of sexual partners but does wonders for my self-esteem. I do catch myself in little waves of jealousy about play partners’ play partners, which mostly boil down to “she/he has a less wobbly bottom and a better pain tolerance than me.” Those feelings have little to do with the person I’m jealous of and a lot to do with my relationship with my own bottom. I suppose if it reached a critical level I’d have to have a conversation with play partners about whether playing with someone who cries so easily and wobbles so much is fun, and reserve myself for the extremely enthusiastic, as I do with lovers. I’m hoping, however, that kinky confidence will grow with experience, as sexual confidence did.

I’m willing to work at it because jealousy is such a horrible feeling. On a selfish level, I just don’t want the experience of it, but I don’t want to be a partner who limits the people I’m with (rather the reverse). Dealing with jealousy brings freedom. I get the freedom to do what I want sexually, which is important to me because, goodness, I want to do a lot of things! I also get the freedom to refuse what I don’t want. Whenever I’ve been with monogamous people, whether I’ve signed up to those rules or not, there’s been a horrible, horrible pressure. We’re in love. He wants to be with me forever, he doesn’t want anyone else. And may he please suck my toes? And I think, how awful to have a burning desire to suck toes, to want that fulfilment, and never to get it. To go your whole life without this simple thing, to die with it undone, for me. It’s a huge sacrifice. And would it be so awful to have my toes sucked, to provide great happiness to the person who would lay down his life for me? And I try to say yes, but…no, I can’t do it. So I feel guilty, and he wonders why I look so downcast and bake so much. Eventually the relationship ends in guilt and recrimination.

I’m exaggerating (slightly), but the core point about the pressure of monogamy is sincere. To supply everything that someone wants sexually is going to require doing things you’d rather not do. After many years of trying to seem interested as sweet nothings were whispered, look enthusiastic during gentle thrusting, and pretend I like the taste of cock, I’ve come to terms with my kinks. I don’t want to go back to doing things I don’t enjoy. That’s why it’s nice to say to my partner, “You want toe sucking/gentle sensuousness/consensual sex? Go find someone else to do that with.” He can, and he will, in the same way that he presumably does with his desires for blondes, or men, for which I really don’t fit the ticket. And I’m happy, because I like him, and I want him to have things he likes.

In the middle of all this freedom: freedom for me to see other people, for him to see other people, for me to say no, the obvious question is whether there’s a point when I’ll want less freedom and more security. The idea of my lover chatting up men at the Folsom Street Fair this week didn’t trouble me, the idea of him having a fling doesn’t, but how would I feel if someone became so important in his life that he didn’t have time for me? Probably quite hurt. But—and I’ve managed not to say this to a non-poly questioner yet—throwing your lover over for another isn’t a phenomenon restricted to the poly world. It’s a story as old as creation, in fact, wasn’t it Lillith’s first crime? So I’ll take the risk of being replaced as we all do, but comforted by the knowledge that I’ll see my usurper coming. There’s a chance I’ll be jealous then.

*Let’s call her Millie. It’s easy to say ‘Millie’ disparagingly.

Written by Not an Odalisque

October 4, 2011 at 1:20 am

6 Responses

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  1. I could have written this post. Probably not as well articulated, and certainly with many typos and grammar mistakes, but I have the same irrational jealousy. And I have the same understanding that I’m at fault, that I’m the petty one, that it’s completely irrational. Yet despite knowing and accepting that I still give into it.

    Despite knowing that other people do not set out to make me feel inferior, that my play partners don’t play with other people to make me feel jeaous, I let the most random things make me feel like I’m nothing. My jealousy has two horrible consequences: the black cloud that descends over me, and the horrible guilt that comes after when I’ve been hurtful to those who care about me as I try to work out if they still like or love or want me.

    I spend a lot of time pretending I’m not jealous and if I can’t hide it or get over it anymore, I withdraw from that thing that is causing me to be irrational. In the case of poly I was sure that I’d end things when someone new, or in my irrational head ‘better’ came along. I thought I couldn’t stick it out, couldn’t bear to see myself ‘replaced’ or even worse couldn’t bear how unaccepting I’d be to that person compared to Haron and Catherine had been to me.

    Yet that much worried over fear never arose; I always felt loved and special. In the end a new set of issues arose.

    Thank you for writing this post. I wrote a similar one myself, just over a year ago, but wasn’t brave enough to share it. My jealousy is my dirty secret; the thing I’m most ashamed about.

    Emma Jane

    October 9, 2011 at 10:18 am

    • EJ, I just removed a rogue apostrophe, so I’m sure of my fair share of typos and grammatical errors!

      I worry that I would react negatively to my lover meeting someone new, if it went beyond a casual relationship, but I hope that I would feel secure enough in the relationship that I would just be happy for him. Generally, I find sharing the fact of my jealousy in all its absurdity helps me kill it, as long as it’s a conversation about my feelings, not a request that someone fix a problem. I think I’d have a terrible time trying to keep it secret, I’d feel like I was a horrible person, rather than a silly one. If it helps jealousy seem less shameful, almost every response I’ve had to this post has been, “Me, too!”

      Thank you for such an open comment.

      Not an Odalisque

      October 11, 2011 at 11:27 pm

  2. This really is an amazing post. I’ve been reflecting on it for several days – and that’s without having seen EJ’s deeply affecting and moving comment, either.

    I’ve never been jealous of my partners. Love, trust and honesty go hand in hand – and a slightly voyeuristic streak means I’ve found the thought of them doing hot and interesting things with others to be rather exciting. And, not least, I’ve been happy for them; glad that others love them as I do; glad they’re being taken care of and enjoying themselves.

    But when partners do deep things with others that they no longer do with me, even in ways that are entirely understandable (and where we’ve mutually agreed that they’re not right)? When they’re no longer *partners*, per se? When I fear, more than anything else, losing what share of their love and emotion I have left? Then… OMG, then, the insecurity – and hence the (shameful) jealousy – is hard to stave off.


    October 9, 2011 at 2:51 pm

  3. This post has really struck a chord with me; jealousy has been something I’ve really struggled with, especially recently. Thank you for sharing; re-reading it today has made me feel a little more comfortable about writing my own post, which will definitely not be as articulate but you are the one who’s done a writing course and it’s my own self esteem issues that cause my jealousy, not you!

    Alyss Abyss

    October 9, 2011 at 8:25 pm

  4. Thank you, Abel and Alyss, for saying such nice things.

    Abel, I’m sure you’re doing things the wrong way around! My no-longer-partners tend to move thousands of miles away and get married, usually after one of us has closed all communication. If you can make them do that, insecurity tends not to be a major issue. In seriousness, though, it is interesting to hear that even those who don’t get jealous, generally, do when they’re feeling insecure.

    Alyss’s lovely jealousy post is here. Lipstick Lori wrote a post on jealousy recently, too, which I’m linking to partially because she mentions me, and I’m vain.

    Not an Odalisque

    October 11, 2011 at 11:43 pm

  5. […] a community where many people play with more than one partner is jealousy. Not an Odalisque wrote a superb post on the subject back in October: Non-poly people, on learning I’m polyamorous, always want to know […]

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