Next to grudges, jealousy is my most persistent vice — the one I feel the worst about and can’t seem to get a handle on. I feel material jealousy over things I can’t afford, career jealousy towards people who are younger and more successful than I am; I get lunch jealousy almost every day. I get jealous of a moderately successful tweet, for Christ’s sake, which is why I’ve always been especially dumbfounded by people in open relationships. How do they manage their jealousy in what seems to be the most jealousy-inducing situation?
“I am ABSOLUTELY a jealous person,” Dani, 25, tells me, after I launched an investigation into this phenomenon. I was curious what non-monogamous people could teach me about the nature of jealousy. Dani and her husband have been married since December and non-monogamous for five years. She quickly dispelled my theory that the non-jealous horse comes before the open-relationship cart. “I used to say I wasn’t [jealous] until I got serious with my now-husband, and I realized I could be really territorial if left unchecked.” She admits that she still experiences jealousy, but doesn’t let it snowball the way she once would. “I’m more conscious of the why behind any jealous feelings now, so even though my jealousy is still there, it doesn’t control me in the way it used to.” She thinks that pretending jealousy doesn’t exist is “the number one reason why open relationships fail.” I wonder if the same is true for other life experiences.
Alice*, a 22-year-old woman who recently got out of a non-monogamous relationship, tells me that she doesn’t think anyone is a naturally jealous person, but rather jealousy is something learned and stems from feeling like we don’t have enough. “Of course there have been times where I have felt jealous, but this is not who I am — it’s what I sometimes can be,” she says, before echoing Dani’s sentiments that jealousy can be used as a tool. “[It] is a good indicator of what we want and we can learn from it.” Both believe that part of practicing non-monogamy is actively addressing and moving through those feelings.
“For me, the biggest trigger for what we call ‘jealousy’ is actually insecurity in disguise,” says Dani. She’s developed tools to help break down intrusive or illogical thoughts. “You filter a thought (i.e. My partner is going to leave me for someone better) through several rounds of questioning like, What’s the worst that could happen? What evidence do I have to support/refute this thought? What are my emotions right now? and so on… by the end of this I almost always feel more secure, confident in myself, and emotionally grounded.”
This kind of self-work and introspection was referenced by many of the non-monogamous people I interviewed, along with the importance of boundaries and communication. “Non-monogamy is all about communication, like, a gross amount,” says Jade, who’s been practicing for three years. Being forthright might sound straightforward, but many confirmed it’s not a perfect science.
“Even with the preparation — anticipating jealousy, intellectualizing it — it’s different than actually hearing your partner tell you they’ve been with someone else,” Julie, 22, tells me. She and her partner have been together for a year and non-monogamous for six months. “I was very surprised at my emotions when I found out my partner was with someone else for the first time. Initially I actually didn’t feel anything at all… then I found myself trying to fall asleep that night just wondering what he had done with her, what she looked like… Suddenly, there was this whole swarm of never-ending thoughts, and I found myself feeling angry, betrayed, and hurt.”
Right away, she shared these feelings with her partner who was “supportive and listened to and validated everything I shared.” She says they talked through it. “I cried, he listened. And then, as crazy as it sounds, we moved on.”
Ultimately, everyone I spoke with regards openness and honesty as crucial to helping them shift what was difficult into something that, even if it never felt right, balanced out in the end, because it resulted in a happier and healthier relationship. “Open communication, acceptance of your feelings, and a willingness to dig deeper into a particular emotion are all things I gained from having an open relationship,” Dani says. “I find it really rewarding whenever things work out in the end, or click just right and I feel incredibly healthy in my emotions or in sync with a partner.”
The vulnerability that open relationships require, that from the outside seems so scary, is actually an asset in so many of these relationships. As Dani says: “Non-monogamy isn’t for everyone, but I think some of the lessons we can take about communication and processing/owning our feelings IS for everyone.”
In conducting these interviews, I can confirm this is true. Knowing that jealousy happens to most people, that it’s all about coping with those feelings healthily and not pushing them down and paving over them with a smooth layer of guilt (my go-to), makes the whole being-a-human-with-feelings thing a little less scary. Now, before I go back to my grudges, tell me: How do you handle jealousy in your life or relationship? And what’d you eat for lunch today?
*name has been changed
Graphic by Madeline Montoya.