“I’m Way Too Jealous To Be Non-Monogamous”

“I’m way too jealous to be non-monogamous” is something I’ve heard from many people in my life when I bring up the idea of non-monogamy. For some, there is something about just the thought of their partner having feelings for someone else that shuts down the idea before contemplation begins. I used to be one of those people. Even just the thought of non-monogamy was enough to make me squirm.

I look back and can see that if it wasn’t for my jealousy, I may have never considered practicing ethical non-monogamy in the first place. It was my jealousy that led me to re-evaluate what I had been calling love for so many years. The fears that lay beneath my jealousy were getting in the way of finding a relationship that was safe and secure, and non-monogamy provided an opportunity to face those fears head-on.

Confessions of a jealous girlfriend

I used to be extremely jealous, and although I’d rather not rehash some of the examples that highlight this, it seems necessary to speak to the “extreme” nature of my jealousy. Although I have a book of stories I could share, there is one from my mid-20s that I remember with painful clarity.

At the time, I was in a long-distance relationship with a man who I would typically Skype with on Sunday afternoons. On this particular Sunday, he told me how the day before he went to a pool party with some of his friends. This was not news to me because I had crept his Facebook earlier that day and saw he was tagged in a photo at a pool party with his friends — and a woman he used to sleep with.

The thought of him being at a party where this woman was in a bikini caused a reaction in me so intense that I exploded in rage. I told him he was not allowed to go to any more parties where she was present, that it wasn’t normal or right for someone to go to a party where their ex would be present and wearing minimal clothing. It was as if because my insecurities and fears felt unbearable it gave me the right to ask him to not live his life.

I am also guilty of snooping through my partners’ cell phones, drawers, closets — anywhere that I may be able to find discriminating evidence that they were cheating on me. I swear it was almost as if I wanted to find something. I hated feeling jealous yet my insecurity ran so deep and something was satisfying about finding out my intrusive behaviours were justified.

My jealousy, and the jealousy of some of my partners, threw fuel on the fire of already unhealthy relationships and led to fights that haunt me to this day. This was no minor case of jealousy — this was jealousy that tore through my relationships, leaving me to feel hopeless and weighed down my shame and regret, time and time again.

“Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition”

It was almost like despite the fact I hated being jealous, I fed off the drama of it all. For years it fueled many of my darkest and most emotionally volatile conflicts with partners yet, I had no idea how to make it go away. For many years, I don’t think I thought it was possible to not be jealous. In Stranger in a Strange Land Robert Heinlein talks about just how much space jealousy takes up, often at the expense of love:

“Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy — in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other.”

My experiences with jealousy are an important factor in what led me to consider non-monogamy. Jealousy took up a lot of my energy in relationships. I had a lot of people tell me that jealousy was normal and that I just had to work on my reaction to jealousy when it did arise. I tried that — for years — and quite frankly, no matter how much meditation I did, I still found myself blowing up when jealousy took over.

Although hard to admit at first, I envied those who were non-monogamous for the way they were able to be okay with their partners exploring love, connection, and/or sex with another person. It seemed to be, from the outside, that this was a community of people who weren’t afraid of their jealousy. They were finding ways to work through jealousy rather than avoid it or shove it down and pretend it wasn’t there.

It was baffling to me that people were living their lives outside of society’s definition of what a romantic relationship should be. Yet, it intrigued me. It may sound counterintuitive but I don’t think I would’ve been interested in non-monogamy if I wasn’t desperate to know what it felt like to love without jealousy getting in the way.

“Only in freedom does your soul grow”

Jealousy was what I was looking to get away from — but it was entangled in the dystopian version of love that had been defining my relationships for years. I desperately wanted to believe that there was something else out there. I dreamed of a world where I could be in love but also feel free. Free of the need to possess my partner and free of their need to possess me. I think, in a way, I saw non-monogamy as a way to redefine what a relationship was supposed to be.

I remember a conversation with a man I was dating at the time. We had a beautiful connection but practically, the relationship wasn’t going to work, and I was having a hard time accepting that. He said to me, “a relationship is not a means to an end.” That is when I realized — I had been searching for someone to be my end, for all of these years. I thought perhaps he might be my end. My end was that of settling down and finding “the one.”

This end that I had created in my mind left no freedom for another person to show up as they were. I began to imagine what it would be like to be in love but not feel as though I was someone else’s end. This is when I decided that I wanted to explore love outside of monogamy. This quote by Osho in Love, Freedom, and Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships of speaks perfectly to this:

“Never treat any person as a means. Treat everybody as an end in himself, in herself — then you don’t cling, then you are not attached. You love, but your love gives freedom — and, when you give freedom to the other, you are free. Only in freedom does your soul grow. You will feel very, very happy.”

Putting it into practice

I spent a couple of years thinking about non-monogamy before I began practicing it. I read books, blogs, and had conversations with people who had been in non-monogamous relationships. I had to sit with even just the idea of my partner being with someone else. I also had to question whether or not non-monogamy was the best path for me to explore my issues with jealousy and my grand ideas of freedom and love.

It’s not that I lost faith in monogamy and if I did, I no longer feel that way. I just couldn’t help but at least question it and play with the idea that maybe my love wouldn’t look like the love that society idealizes. I spent six months in a relationship with an incredible woman and in a relationship with a man that I am still with today. It wasn’t easier than being with just one person — it was actually tremendously more complicated. Despite being hard at times, it was also rich with growth and learning that was unprecedented for me.

I am sure I could’ve landed where I am today — in a relationship where jealousy appears in more of a random spark rather than a forest fire blazing its way through my life — without turning to non-monogamy. What it did do, however, is force me to release my grip on what I thought a relationship should be.

There was something deep inside of me that was terrified of thinking that the love I had dreamed of, with a person who loved only me and whose eyes would never wander, didn’t exist. Do you know that feeling when there is something in life that scares you because it challenges you? Non-monogamy challenged my values, my ethics, and my idea of what love was. The fact that this challenge evoked such a strong reaction in me hinted that maybe there was something it had to teach me. Although I was resistant at first, I eventually leaned in to all of it, and I’m grateful that I did.

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