Thursday, July 18, 2013

Taming the Green-Eyed Monster: Tips for Those Considering Polyamory

Photo courtesy of Alyssa L. Miller
For people who have been monogamous and are considering opening their relationship, a major concern is jealousy. It's the most common question posed to people who are poly. How do we deal with jealousy? Do we feel jealousy?

Of course, everyone feels jealousy. Monogamous people feel jealousy. Everyone gets jealous. People feel jealous of their siblings, of their coworkers, of their friends; it's not limited only to romantic relationships. So of course, people who are poly get jealous, just like everyone else.

Thus people who are poly come up with mechanisms to handle jealousy in the context of romantic relationships. These are probably unique, and different from the way monogamous people handle jealousy. So if you are monogamous and thinking of opening your relationship and you're concerned about jealousy that's a very good start. You're already thinking about it. You're anticipating it. So here are some tips that you might employ to deal with it.

My best advice is to prevent or reduce jealousy before it even starts. This can be done by, early on, having discussions about what will help you not feel jealous in the first place. Try to do this before either of you has any actual, specific interest, so you're not thinking about a specific person. You're just thinking in general, hypothetical terms. And try to focus on statements of doing instead of statements of not doing. What your partner doesn't do with someone else is an endless list. You can't cover everything and you'll be upset with yourself when they do something you forgot to mention, and you'll quickly have to write it in. So try to stay away from the "do nots" and focus on the "dos."

Some examples of a "help me not feel jealousy" list could be:

  • I would like to know the name of the person that you are going out with before the date.
  • Before you have sex, I would like for your partner to have negative test results six months or more recently for all major STIs and not have had any new partners in that time. (Sex safety is a very important thing to people who are poly!)
  • I would prefer that you meet in public when you start your date.
  • I would prefer to meet your potential dates before you go out with them.

Having that list already made before the date (write it down if you need to!) can give you reassurance that your partner is providing the things that you need to help minimize your stress.

There is an idea I think a lot of monogamous people have, because they've only been in monogamous relationships, of themselves sitting at home on their couch, bored and jealous, while their partner goes out and has the best sex of their life. I'm sure that that happens. I know that it does; I have been in that situation myself. But the reality is that, when you are seriously involved with more than one person, you become very, very busy, and you forget that your partner is on a wonderful, fulfilling, sexually charged date with someone else, because you are too busy doing the thing that you are doing and really enjoying.

So before either of you starts dating someone else, start doing some things on your own. Do these things separately, not as a couple. I know it's very easy to fall into "couple habits" when you are partnered up. But get your own hobbies that don't involve that other person. Join a sports team, or play board games with other people, or join a karaoke league or quilting club, and do not include your partner. Specifically exclude them from that activity. And then deliberately try to schedule their dates with other people during that time. So your partner has their dates with other people while you are at your karaoke league and you have your dates with other people while they're at their racquetball game. Because when you are sitting around dwelling on your jealousy, you're feeding it and making it stronger. When you're actively engaged in doing something you enjoy, with people you enjoy doing it with, you won't have very much attention to devote to the fact that your partner is out with someone else. And, if it does occur to you, you won't have much time to think about it before you need to think about something else. This is not smothering it and it's not quashing it. It's just not allowing you to dwell on it and make it any bigger.

But as I said, you are going to feel jealousy. It might come up when you don't expect it--maybe not when your partner is on that date. So when it does come up, sit with it. Acknowledge it. Realize that this is happening and it's real. And it's okay. You can either embrace the feeling, or you can confront it, or you can just mull it over, but don't ignore it. And try not to feed it. Try not to go down a spiral of imagining all the things that your partner is doing with someone else, because that is only going to make things worse. Remember that you have felt jealousy before and survived it. You have felt this before; this is not a new emotion. And you have felt it with people that you are still on good terms with. You've felt it with your family members or friends or coworkers. This will turn out okay too.

It seems a lot of people who are monogamous have some very rigid ideas of what they think will cause their jealousy. They think this because they haven't actually been in these situations. They say things like, "Well, I would have no problem if my husband fell in love with someone else, I just can't abide the thought of him spending a Saturday night in someone else's bed," or, "I would be fine with my girlfriend kissing someone, but I just don't want her to suck anybody else's cock," or, "You know, I'm totally okay with my boyfriend having all the sex he wants with all the people he wants, but I can't imagine what would happen if he watched Game of Thrones without me." And the truth is, you're wrong. Maybe those things really would set you off, but things you never even considered will set you off too, and you won't know until you encounter them. It may be that, in fact, waking up and having to make breakfast alone maybe is the biggest deal you could have possibly encountered and suddenly you're consumed with jealousy about it. Maybe it never occurred to you before.

Right now, you might say something like, "Oh, I can't imagine having Christmas without my partner." But at some point you may be passionately and deeply in love with someone else and very committed to them, and you may prefer then to spend Christmas with their family, learning about where they came from. And you may be happy for your partner to spend that same holiday with another person, having a similar experience.

So having a set script of what will and will not make you jealous is just completely unrealistic. You need to realize that it's going to come up, and it's going to happen over things you didn't expect, and you can mitigate it beforehand by having some agreements and some idea of what is going to happen, and by keeping yourself busy when things that are likely to produce jealousy are happening. And remember that, at some point, the situation is going to be reversed. At some point it's going be you going on a first date with someone, having the excitement of the first time you have sex, and it's going to be your partner who is dealing with how they feel about that.

So keep those things in mind when you're on both sides of this equation, and behave in ways that are respectful toward each other. Make sure you're doing what your partner needs. Just because it wouldn't bother you doesn't mean it won't bother them. Avoid those things you know will bother them as much as possible.

And finally, the idea that sharing your partner's body or heart with another person makes you vulnerable to having them stolen from you is completely ridiculous. If the person you are with is the type of person who will leave you for someone else, they are going to do that no matter what kind of relationship you are in, whether it's monogamous or polyamorous. And if they are not that person they are not going to do that, regardless of the type of relationship you are in. You need to trust that you know what type of person they are. If they are the type of person to leave you for someone else because they think that person is better, then you should go ahead and face that now, because they will. And if they are not the type of person to leave you for someone else, then have faith that that is not going to happen any more in a polyamorous situation when they love someone else deeply than it is when it's just the two of you. Trust in their commitment to you and their love for you, and know that they will behave in a committed and loving manner toward you, regardless of the circumstances.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Regarding the War on Women

Recently, Ohio and Texas made national and international headlines when women's rights once again came to the forefront of state legislatures.

In both of these states, a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body is under attack. In Texas, conservatives seek to cut funding to family planning clinics statewide, limit the time a woman has to choose to terminate a pregnancy from 24 weeks to 20, and force doctors who perform abortions out of business.

In Ohio, the GOP has not only defunded family planning clinics and rape crisis counseling centers, but has redefined "pregnant" in such a way as to outlaw many types of safe, effective birth control, such as IUDs.

Disguised as "protecting women's health" or "protecting unborn children," these laws are actually legislation designed to punish women who have recreational sex.

The double standard when it comes to sex laws is so staggeringly ugly it's no surprise that women legislators have begun to fight dirty.

Stop and think about the state of reproductive health care in the U.S. Under the Health Care Reform Act, employers are required to provide health insurance for their employees. Religion-drenched organizations like Hobby Lobby wish to deny their workers access to birth control. Sadly, they now have that ability. However, under the same health plans that deny women access to contraception, men can get pills for erectile dysfunction.

So women cannot get medicine that, in addition to preventing pregnancy, can help regulate uncontrolled bleeding, stabilize mood, reduce the severity of skin disorders, and prevent cancer. Men, however, can get pills that offer little benefit other than allowing them to have sex.

The message: if you are a man, it is your right to have as much sex as you want, regardless of the consequences. It's a matter of health. But if you are a woman, you may only have sex in order to make babies, and any other sexual activity should be punished in the harshest manner possible. By having sex, you risk forfeiting your life and health. Sex is a right for men only.

Does this infuriate you as much as it infuriates me?

Monday, July 1, 2013

"Nice Guys" Are Passive-Agressive Douchebags

I'm usually a big fan of The Good Men Project. They say interesting and often useful things. So I'm completely dumbfounded as to why they would publish Andy Bodle's self-pitying whine-fest about a pretty girl who turned him down.

It's a well-written and nicely composed whine-fest, I'll grant you that. But fuck! He thought he was madly in love with a girl for nearly a year but didn't bother to mention this to her, instead cultivating (what she thought was) a deep, meaningful friendship in which they supported and cared for each other. And he's surprised when he springs on her, soon after a party at which she hooked up with someone else, "Hey, by the way, I'm in love with you!" and she doesn't feel the same?

Here's the thing, girls absolutely do not fall for jerks. We loathe discovering that the guy we've recently started dating is, in truth, an enormous asshole. We hate being treated badly, we don't enjoy being cheated on or lied to, and we can't stand when men reveal that we were a notch on their bedpost on the way to something younger and hotter. That shit really goddamned sucks.

We adore guys who treat us like royalty. We love men who comfort us when we're down, who are thrilled with us when we succeed, who cuddle us while watching movies and dance with us when we go out. When we discover that our new beau has these qualities, we are absolutely over the moon. No woman says, three weeks into a relationship, "Well, he hasn't called me a slut or cheated on me once. I'm not sure this has long-term potential."

You men who think girls only go for "bad boys" and never "nice guys" like you (and I'm pretty sure this is only a problem with hetero boys), it's not "nice guys" we don't like. It's you.

You are, in fact, not nice. Wheedling your way into a woman's pants by pretending to be her friend is not nice. Expecting sex in return for a shoulder to cry on is not nice. Wishing she could read your mind and realize you love her but never actually, you know, asking her out is not nice.

That's passive aggression, and it's one of the biggest turnoffs in the world.

Contrary to what you might think, women do have male friends they don't fuck. Some men genuinely are nice, and some of them like to have women friends, to have conversations and stuff with. Some men don't have a secret agenda of getting every pretty girl who gives them a modicum of attention into bed. Some men (gasp!) actually just like women and enjoy their company. We like being friends with them.

And if all you ever do is offer friendship, don't be surprised when we completely fail to fall in love with you. If you're expecting friendship to lead to sex, too goddamned bad for you. That's not the way it works. To quote a friend (who I'll credit if someone points out who first said this), "Women are not vending machines you put 'nice' tokens in and sex comes out."

Furthermore, "nice" is not a selling point, so quit offering that to women as if it's some holy grail. Niceness is, in fact, a basic requirement. It's like trying to get a date based on being clean. If your best quality is that you're "nice," expect to get passed over for men who would never call themselves nice, but actually are nice, in addition to things like clever, funny, interesting, and talented.

We expect better. And we're not remotely sorry for your silent suffering.