O has been suffering a lot more jealousy, specifically about my relationship with A, than we were prepared for in recent weeks. It got particularly bad over New Year’s, to the point that I spent a lot of time turned inwards trying to figure out how to best communicate the major changes I needed him to make. Through talking to a long-time poly friend who I’m hoping to make my girlfriend (more on that in another post!) and doing some intense soul-searching, I figured out what I wanted to say. It started with his reactions to my collar and then some stress about being at my house with A and his wife on New Year’s eve, and he recognized what was happening and spent some time self-reflecting and trying to come up with a method to deal with his jealousy and move forward in his chose life.
O has given me permission to share his self-reflection, which he shared with me so I could provide feedback:
Solo Poly, Mono/Poly, Poly-saturation
I am a solo poly man. I have fallen head-over-heels in love with what I consider my main (primary) girlfriend. She doesn’t like labels, so I am careful to qualify that I treat her as my primary even though she wouldn’t agree to that title. She has good reasons. I started a relationship with her while she is also in a well-established relationship with another man. She loves us both intensely and I have no doubt of her love for me. The issue I have found difficult to negotiate for myself is the fact I have nothing to temper my love for her in terms of relationship commitments. Like I said, my other relationship seems to be in decline and I am just starting a new one. Love is not a factor in those cases (yet). Because I am jumping without a net, so-to-speak, I have had some very stressful episodes where I either felt like a fool for giving my heart so completely so fast to someone who will always also be committed to at least one other man (or woman), or, I have felt I am in over my head and need to protect myself. Neither of these feelings are productive or wanted. I am actively working on ways to more positively work with these feelings.
One idea is that I need to nurture at least one other loving and sustained relationship so that I don’t feel these stressful episodes when I am not with my main relationship. She is exceptionally good at helping me work-out my doubts and fears, checking-in with her and cuddling are very effective. She is very patient with me, but I also understand that everyone has their limits of patience. However well she helps me in the short-term, I still need to work on the cause. I believe it is that there is an imbalance in that she loves two partners completely, whereas I love one—her. Direct Action: I need to have another partner (or two) to help balance the scales. At this point, I am in still making connections in the poly community and I hope another quality relationship starts for me soon. I feel this will help me both temper my unbridled love for my main relationship into a more realistic/sustainable framework and it will also help me feel compersion for her in her other relationship rather than jealousy or abandonment.
I have been questioning whether I could be in a mono/poly situation with my main relationship. This is partially due to the fact I don’t have a strong second relationship at the moment and I have been functionally and unintentionally mono/poly over this past holiday season. I can’t predict whether I will always want multiple partners. At this moment in time I do, but down the road I may not. I have also been imagining focusing solely on my main relationship and the idea of being monogamous with her is surprisingly attractive to me. She is pretty amazing, after all. She, of course, will be poly forever and I will still be “poly” even if I go through episodes of monogamy focused on her. When I reach the point where our relationship has enough history and an even more solid foundation (we are only two months in at this point), I foresee that I will be able to feel the compersion and not the jealousy while she goes out on date nights and I do not. For the time being, however, I intend to pursue a completely poly lifestyle to its full advantage.
Digging out Jealousy by the Roots
I mentioned that my main relationship has a partner who she has been with for a year. They have a highly developed BDSM relationship even to the point where she wears his collar to work and other public places.
I have been dealing with jealousy of my partner’s partner since the beginning. This is not normal for me. I had twinges of jealousy when my now ex-wife was seeing other men when we opened-up our marriage in Toronto. In fact, I have seen her, and other partners of mine, have sex with other men while I was watching. The jealousy I have been experiencing lately from my partner’s partner is different and it has been perplexing me. The following are some of my self-discoveries.
I initially thought it was a personality conflict. My initial meeting with him was sudden and stressful and I wasn’t left with the best impression. But, to be honest, there hasn’t been any conflict and I really am only starting to know him as a person. Our third time in the same room was only yesterday.
I thought maybe it was because we are “so similar.” Well, we may look similar, but it is becoming clear we are very different individuals. When I first started seeing my main relationship, there was a good deal made of how alike we were. That gave me no end of insecurity wondering why my partner would be with me if I was a less experienced, and more vanilla version of her established partner. Thankfully, that insecurity dropped away when it became clear how different we are as people and what I provide my main relationship that no one else does—on all three levels of connection: physical, emotional, and intellectual.
So, that brings me to where I think the root of my jealousy lies. By articulating this, I hope to better understand it, channel it, and control it. I am jealous of their relationship—of their history, their highly developed sexual play, and the level of trust they have developed. That is why I wasn’t jealous seeing my ex-wife or other partners fuck other men, because there wasn’t a relationship. This may also explain why I felt some slight twinges when my ex-wife was going on dates, but I never met those men. They weren’t important figures in my life and in the life of my main relationship.
Now that I have isolated the source of the jealousy, here are some action points I am going to try. The first action is to focus on the history that is developing naturally in my own relationship. I need to continue to make memories and collecting meaningful moments and cherish them for the relationship foundation they are. The stronger/deeper I build that foundation in my own relationship, the less their history will provoke jealousy in me. In time, I foresee feeling compersion toward their trip to Banff, or breaking the bed, etc.
The second is to continue developing our own kinky sexual play in our relationship. I don’t want to imitate or compete with their established way of conducting their BDSM but I want to explore BDSM from the ground-up with my main partner (who is a sub and passionate about it). We are early in this exploration. We had one evening that was highly successful involving restraints in my room. We have another evening planned in two days at her house where I have drawn up an agenda (approving the agenda was an indication of consent) of activities. We are both very excited. It will be my first time flogging her and I am very much looking forward to it. I am actually nervous about my rope tying skills but with her help, I am sure we will work it out. We have two more evenings plus a staycation later this month where we will have the house to ourselves to continue our explorations. The more we develop our own connection and build experience regarding kink, the less I should feel jealousy toward their kinky play. Again, in time, I hope to turn it around to compersion and enjoy my main relationship’s pleasure as well.
The third, the level of trust, is in some ways the most elusive but also the most important. None of the previous two work or hold meaning without trust. It must build over time. Part of my efforts here in articulating my self-reflection and defining my needs is so that I can be a better partner for all my relationships, but especially for my main relationship. I had a hard time this last week because the collar that was given my partner as a sign of submission to her partner is a physical symbol of their dom/sub relationship and the trust it is built on. Seeing it makes me aware of how far I have yet to travel. But I will traverse that distance and this document is a step down that road.
I received this, and it set off so many red flags for me. I had a disheartened few days while I thought about how I was going to communicate with O about how I felt about his thoughts and emotions and plan, when there were so many things I needed to say that would be hard to communicate and even harder to hear. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, or worse, lose him, because I was really not dealing well with his jealousy, or the way he thought he should tackle it.
I put together some thoughts on paper and formed an idea of what I wanted to say, then edited the shit out of it, so he knew it was coming from a place of love and support and not criticism. He came and had a coffee break with me and knew something was wrong (I completely lack a poker face), and asked, so I gave him a very condensed version of what I was writing out after I told him to remember that while it may sound critical, I’m coming from a place of love.
Here is my response:
First, let me say, I’m glad that you are working to understand your jealousy and anxiety over my relationship with A. Second, let me say that it is a huge priority for me to help you work through it. I love you and I want to just love you and have it be about us. Talking about A and I and our relationship so much is draining on me.
For some time, I’ve been concerned that you have such a hard time when I’m with A. It seemed to be getting better and then all of a sudden it got much worse. I find it a bit overwhelming, honestly, because I really don’t understand it. The fact is, I came with many relationships. I came with my kids, and my parents, and my friends. I love many people, A included. But if I have a night out with G, or my work friends, you don’t have a hard time with that. But if I’m with A, you do. Truthfully, I don’t get it. To me, love is love is love, the only difference is how I express it. The fact that I have sex with A, even in a committed BDSM dynamic, doesn’t seem any different to me than me going to Mexico with my parents because my mom loves me and pays for the trip. It’s often too much for me and I don’t know how to reconcile supporting you through your feelings while also honouring my discomfort with the fact that you react so strongly.
There are a number of things in your document that give me cause for concerns. I’m going to try to address them appropriately and add a few of my concerns to the mix as well.
- You identify me as your primary, despite the fact that it is important to me that we don’t have a hierarchical relationship structure. I get that you are trying to respect my request, but treating me as a primary relationship but just not calling it that is problem for me. I want us to evolve naturally in our relationship escalation, without the labels, without expectations, in a way we decide together. I would really appreciate you eliminating the idea of me as a primary from your internal dialogue. I consider all of my relationships as separate entities. I don’t compare them and they certainly aren’t competition. It’s important to me that I am not better or more than anyone else, but I can’t dictate how you think of me. I just want to be me, for you. One relationship should never restrict the other’s development except within the parameters agreed upon within that partnership, in my opinion. (For example, A and his wife’s relationship and their mutual commitment to their marriage and cohabitation naturally limits my relationship with him.) I love you. You are a game changer and I want to have you as a life partner. That doesn’t mean we need to escalate to every level of relationship status now. It means we are committed to making our relationship work, grow, evolve, and thrive moving forward. It doesn’t mean we are committed to making it fit a specific mold. I feel like you are trying to move us towards a very mononormative escalation and hierarchical level of poly that I won’t ever be comfortable with, and I really need this boundary observed. What I really want is for us to work together to define what we want together in an ongoing, continuous, and loving capacity.
- I feel like it would be beneficial for you to look at our relationship and the length of time we’ve been together. We are totally in love and that’s amazing. We are still new and you are new to polyamory AND I haven’t been doing this for a significant amount of time either. What I do know is that I’m solidly polyamorous. Your experience seeing your wife and others fucking other men is not a comparison to dating a fully polyamorous woman in a committed relationship with someone else who came before you. She didn’t have loving committed relationships with those people. In addition, she abused her right to fuck others and broke your heart. I’m not sure that you were completely OK with it and I suspect much of what you are experiencing now is actually triggered by that experience at least in part.
I feel like you are overthinking everything and not giving yourself time to just feel the feelings and adapt through a natural evolution. It seems like you are trying to control things and direct them and that’s impossible. The evolution of multiple simultaneous relationships and the feelings that you have with them is so important. Things are changing too fast and I suspect you are not adapting as fast as you’d like. I think you are happy with your decision to embrace polyamory, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be smooth sailing. I am very concerned that with all the emotions you are experiencing, starting another relationship, in fact, actively looking for one, may not be the best idea. A new relationship will add a different level of confusion to your life, navigating new emotions, specifically to distract from the emotions you are having with me? The idea that you need to get another girlfriend to distract you from the fact that I have a date with A really bothers me. I think that it might make you feel better temporarily, but it’s not owning your emotions or processing your feelings or working through your challenges. I think you need to feel all the feelings. Work through them. Accept and understand them and accept and understand my relationship with A. Compersion isn’t necessary, but acceptance is. We should not have to talk about jealousy and triggers several times a week. Jealousy is normal, but this intense form of jealousy is a very real problem that needs to be worked through as a priority.
- Finally, I’m concerned about us venturing into kink. It’s just not the relationship dynamic that you and I share. I find it forced and unnatural. I don’t find myself naturally submissive to you. I love our vanilla sex. Loving, caring, passionate, and fun. I have this feeling that you are venturing into kink with me as a sort of end goal because you want to be what A is for me. Like if you can fill the spot he does, you’ll be more important. But the whole premise behind polyamory is that no one person has to scratch all your itches. By moving towards a relationship dynamic more like my relationship with A, we’re losing the dynamic we established that felt so right and perfect and full of connection. The fact is, I don’t want a kinky relationship with you, apart from the occasional spontaneous fun play. I would encourage you to find a girlfriend to explore that area of your sexuality with you, but I don’t think I can be that person. I’m glad you want to understand what I get out of it though. I really really really want to return to ***our*** natural state..
Remember everything here is from a place of love. I want to work with you. I can clarify as you need and I am always here for you. I love you.
In true academic fashion, he read and reread this and made notes and then responded. Here’s how that went:
First, let me say again, you are right on all fronts. I recognize that I was trying to move us toward a mono-narrative, hierarchical level of poly. Intellectually I was resisting but emotionally I was. I see that too. Consider that issue identified and dealt with.
I have been thinking all week about how I need to stop thinking of you as my primary. So, yeah, I totally agree. I realized on my walk today that I was having trouble consolidating the fact you avoid labels because of people’s preconceptions of what they mean and that affects their choices, yet you have one relationship that is clearly labelled and defined (drawn up in writing as a contract) and another relationship that is not. It is true, I have been needing more definition of our relationship for quite a while but I realized today that I shall embrace the contradiction. It is part of my dynamic with you and your other relationship. It helped me greatly to read that “I just want to be me, for you.” I can solidly get behind that. It also helps me SO much to read that I am still your gamechanger and your life partner. To be honest, I just needed to hear that. That is all the reinforcement I need.
My wife totally broke my heart. Totally. I never really dealt with it while I was with the girlfriend after her. Plus, I was never really in love until now. This hurt may require a therapist, but identifying the issue is the first step. Thank you for helping me see this. I need to not react/overreact as though you are my wife, just like I am not F in how I treat you.
I totally overthink things. I need to let go and let things proceed naturally. You are totally right. You are right that I need to give myself the time to just feel the feelings and adapt naturally. I heed your words of caution regarding starting a new relationship while I am dealing with this. I am taking your words of caution to heart and will be mindful of this when I meet with anyone new. …On my walk I questioned my need for another relationship and I realize it is not for distraction (you are right, that is a stupid reason), but because I want to feel a real connection with another person for all the reasons I chose a polyamorous lifestyle last fall. I need to get back to my poly roots and be true to myself. …I foresee a time in the future where I will be content being mono/poly with you but I am not there yet. With that said, I recognize I need to take the time to evolve, feel the feelings (there are A LOT!), and learn to accept. …And I need to either GET OFF the meds and get some anti-anxiety meds to help me be the chill and rational guy I was only a few weeks ago. Walking sure helped today. I need to do that at least once a week!
Last: I TOTALLY needed to hear that you love our vanilla sex…and that I am still your gamechanger and life partner. I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear those things. …And I agree with you, I thought you would find our play even hotter with being kinky. Don’t get me wrong, I was really starting to get into it, but yes, let us return to doing what we do well. Let me do some reading on it. Let us introduce toys naturally over time. Please let me know when (and if) you would like to introduce some bdsm into our play in the future. …I Love you forever. I want to be with you. That was one thing that is never in question and the place I started from on my long walk today. I am for you.
I had to clarify from his first part about my defined relationship with A:
Let me say this: My relationship with A isn’t defined at all. Our sexual dynamic is. And part of the long verbal negotiation that happened was the contract as part of embracing that ONE part of our multifaceted relationship. If I say I’m submissive, it’s the same as saying I’m poly. There’s a lot of individual variability
Thank you for the clarification. Either way, I am choosing to embrace the variability and constant flux rather than try to control and define. That is the lesson I am learning here. To let go and let things grow and evolve. …It is that leap of faith I wrote a few days ago…the trust exercise of falling back and trusting someone will catch you.
This is a wonderful response. Thank you for responding so positively and knowing I was coming from a place of love
Talking yesterday helped me more than you know. I could also see you relax as we talked and I held your hand in the car. We are all good at the articulation of our ideas in print but nothing is better than face-to-face and hand-in-hand. You told me yesterday you were going to be critical but it was coming from a place of love. I never doubted that. Besides, I know I have been not myself lately and I really needed the honest feedback. I would never forgive myself for messing up our relationship. …Walking today helped me in ways I need to keep doing no matter the weather. …And I need to deal with my meds.
And I Love you. I trust you to always treat me fairly and with respect. Yet another reason I choose you to be my life partner.
Here’s is my twitter summary of what I learned today: “It is what it is. Let things grow over time. It is ok to feel all the feels but also important to know when to let go.”
This all happened over the course of a week or more. It was incredibly stressful for me. I was really concerned about how O would react when I responded in a critical way. I didn’t want to lose him, I didn’t want to hurt him, and I couldn’t pretend like the problems I had didn’t exist. This conversation went so very well, and it was really productive.
Since then, he and I have had a few dates and one in particular, where he took me out for dinner and I stayed the night at his place was perfect. We reconnected and reset and are back to the dynamic that made us so strong to begin with. I’m happy and excited about where we are going. I’m even happier that we were able to navigate a very difficult and heavy emotional discussion without anger or argument. I think it says a lot about where we are going in the future that we so easily discuss things with love, support, and understanding.