Open Thread: Is Jealousy Okay in a Relationship?

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  1. Deanna Ogle says:

    I think Christopher Ryan is right on, especially when he says that society celebrates a kind of possessive, pathological love.

    It seems like if you expect for your partner to never find anyone attractive ever again once you’re together, it becomes the perfect breeding ground for jealousy and insecurity. IMO, if your partner can’t see a hot girl/guy in a magazine, in a movie, or on TV without “being in trouble” or you flipping out, that’s a very unhealthy place to be.

    We had a friend whose wife just had a baby. We went up to the visit them, and while I and the wife were down at the NICU seeing the baby, the husband and my husband were flipping through channels back in the room. They came to a sand volleyball game and my husband said, “Oh! Sand volleyball! I love volleyball.” The other husband responded, “No dude, have to change the channel.” My husband asked why and he said, “Look at what they’re wearing–they’re practically naked! Andrea will kill me.”

    I just don’t think that’s a good way to foster a healthy partnership.

  2. In traditional Asian cultures, the woman is expected to be faithful and limited to the home under her husband’s or father’s rule…the man can have several wives and the ideally the wives are taught that they should not be jealous…of course, in real life, jealousy and rivalries are inevitable…

    Christopher Ryan mentions in another video about how when societies transitioned from hunter-gatherer to agriculture and domesticated animals, our social structures and power-relationships changed, too….men needed their women to be faithful to them so that they could bestow their land and property to their biological sons….

  3. I think the whole issue of non-monogamy is interesting and it is something I have given a lot of thought to, after some discussions with my boyfriend. He has expressed some interest in it, but when I really pressed him, he admitted he’d probably be bothered if I had sex with other men. I considered the prospect of a on-moogamous relationship, and decided that personally I would find it extremely stressful if my boyfriend was having sex with other women. I would definitely feel diminished. I don’t think I’d be able to connect with him emotionally or feel safe; I think I could do it (non-monogamy) but the price would be shutting myself down emotionally and treating my relationship with him like I treat, say, a restaurant. That is, I eat at a variety of restaurants and I have some favorite restaurants and some I like better or worse than others, but honestly at some level they are all just places to eat and satisfy my needs. I don’t really think about whether even my number one favorite restaurant is happy or sad about my patronage. I also dont care that many other people eat at the same restaurant. My boyfriend would just be one of a bunch of places I meet my needs. We wouldn’t be building a life together. Nothing about our time together would be that special. Thinking about the prospect, it seems emotionally empty to me and very depressing.

    I also really have a lot of questions about whether non-monogamous relationships are good for middle aged women like myself. I can see it might be a lotof fun for younger women who are highly in demand and have many options for interesting partners. At age 45, I assume my options would be more limited and it is unlikely that prospects will improve over time, as I get older I realize I become less desirable to men every day. So I what am I supposed to do while my bf/husband is out banging other women, stay home with the cats? Seems like an extremely poor deal for me. Maybe pretty good for him. :-)

    So basically what we talked about is that I have no desire to control him. He’s free to pursue other women but that would probably be the end of our sexual relationship, though I hope we could remain friends. It’s completely his choice, I’m not insisting on anything either way (although I would be very sad if our relationship ended).

    • Nick, mostly says:

      Sarah, non-monogamy doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom like you describe. You can still build a life with someone, the time you spend together can still be special.

      Using your restaurant analogy. (which the way you’ve phrased it makes it sound depressing and emotionally empty – but I don’t think it’s a a fair description) Let’s assume you have a restaurant that you love, such as Navarre in Portland, Oregon. You had a really enjoyable meal the last time you were there. In fact, every time you go there you enjoy your meal. The hearth baked breads with grassy and fruity olive oils, the sautéed baby carrots, the roasted broccoli and gruyère omlette – all are delicious. One day instead of eating at Navarre you decide to eat somewhere else – Bamboo Sushi over on Southeast 28th Ave. Normally you don’t have sushi, but you’d heard this place was good and it lived up to your expectations.

      Does your having enjoyed your meal at Bamboo diminish at all your previous enjoyment at Navarre? Does it mean those previous meals meant nothing? Does it mean you can’t go back to Navarre and enjoy another meal?

      As Christopher Ryan said, culturally we view sexual relationships as a zero-sum game. This does not have to be true. You can have a casual sexual relationship with one person without it taking away from your serious sexual relationship with someone else. All it requires for it to be true is that you both believe it and be committed to honesty and openness and dialogue, but frankly that should be a part of any relationship.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        Also, sexual monogamy doesn’t have to be like eating at the same restaurant over and over again because people are always changing and in a truly intimate relationship, we change to satisfy the other as much as we can manage.

        Though I’d never push monogamy on anyone, I think it gets a bad rap. Monogamy is awesome for me, but I’ve developed a highly intimate relationship with my husband, emotionally. He may feel differently, haha, but if so I better be the first he tells!

        • Nick, mostly says:

          Reading that, I’m thinking maybe it’s more like a restaurant than I thought… a restaurant where they have reliable standards along with a few specials to mix it up. The chef knows exactly what you like, but sometimes you mix it up by ordering something different, and sometimes he surprises you with something new. Over time your love of spicy food has subsided and now you go more for subtle spices. Okay, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away…

          But, I think for a lot of people monogamy is unfortunately synonymous with monotony. Not the best place from which to explore polyamory.

  4. Nick, mostly says:

    If jealousy is “fear of loss” then what am I losing if my partner has sex with another person? I don’t need exclusive access to her vagina, nor to her affections. Perhaps I might be jealous if I don’t feel like her priority but I’m not even sure about that.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I feel the same way, despite being in a totally monogamous relationship. Which is odd, I guess. I think I get both sides. Not the jealousy side, but the monogamy side and the polyamorous side.

    • I don’t think love is a zero-sum game, but time and attention certainly are. You only have so much time and attention to give to any one person. I’ll get away from the restaurant analogy, and just think aboutmthe practicalities. As it is, I see my boyfriend a couple nights a week and on weekends (we don’t live together). Most of his time is dedicated to work and other obligations to his friends and family. Add a couple other girlfriends in there, and how much time could he really give to me? Will he be around enough to meet my emotioal,needs? Just to be blunt, will I get enough sex only a weekly basis with him to build our intimate relationship? Will I be sexually satisfied? He’s in his 40′s, it’s not like he can have sex every day anymore. We have sex 1-3 times a week. If we were polyamorous, that would probably drop to 1-3 times a month, I imagine. He would not be as available for me when I have emergencies, need a ride because my car broke down, need a ride to the doctor’s office, or a shoulder to cry on. He’s just not going to be able to be there for me as much or as consistently. He’ll have other girlfriends making the same demands. Say I’m feeling down one night because I had a horrible day at work. But I can’t call him because tonight is his night with Gloria or Lola. that would suck. That takes away the main reasons I want to be in a relationship, which are companionship, emotional support and sexual intimacy.

      So, like I said,, it seems like a bad deal for me. He might get more of what he wants (sexual variety) but I get less of what I want (his time, attention, and emotional engagement).

      • Nick, mostly says:

        There are a lot of assumptions in there that I’m not competent to address, however there is a giant frame that underlies your skepticism.

        Your concerns are based on a monogamous framing of relationships. You see polyamory as threatening your exclusive access to his time, attention, and emotional engagement. He has multiple girlfriends but you only have him. Where are the other people to support you? You’re only having sex 1-3 times a month because…? Yes, if his time is limited and you don’t have paramours yourself you will be competing for his time. But who says you can’t call him because it’s his night with Lola? Why isn’t Lola your friend? Why wouldn’t they both come over to comfort you? If you approach poly as a timeshare rental, where you schedule your time with him and need to be out by 11am Saturday for Lola’s noon arrival, then you’ve set up a relationship designed to fail. It won’t work for you because you’d still have monogamous expectations (indeed, it sounds like you’d continue to be monogamous yourself in your scenario).

        There are a wide range of poly arrangements. Some are what Dan Savage terms monogamish: monogamous relationships that include license to occasionally get a piece on the side. Some are fully involved relationships with multiple people – the triads and quads (and more) where everyone is bonded with everyone else and live in a single home. And there’s everything in between. I think the underlying message of the video, and of the book, is that our cultural imagination is somewhat stunted, where we see monogamy as the only feasible path. It hasn’t always been this way, and it doesn’t need to be this way. And for a lot of people, it just doesn’t work. Laura Kipnis, in her polemic Against Love, argues that we’ve pushed a rigid monogamous structure that can’t help but fail because for a lot of people it doesn’t provide happiness.

        As an aside, monogamous or poly, if you only have one person you can go to for emotional support you’re in a precarious place. I do hope you have others you can turn to in times of need.

        • Well there a few issues for me. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I’m not a hot young woman who would be able to immediately find a flock of attractive guys to,have sex with! One of the advantages of being in a relationship is that I was able to stop dating. I always hated dating. I’m an introvert and meeting people is exhausting for me, also, being an average looking non-hot woman, it was always hard for me to find men who were interested, to be honest.

          I do have other people for emotional support but not at the level of my romantic relationship. Most people are way too busy these days. 20 years ago, I was always on the phone with my girlfriends, You can’t even call people on the phone anymore, they just want you to text or use Facebook. None of my friends can be a consistent source of emotional support for me, most have kids and they don’t really have much time for anything else. Maybe coffee once every couple months and they tell me what the kids are doing.

          Finally, as an introverted person, it is hard for me to really emotionally connect with others. It takes me a long time to feel comfortable enough with someone to open up. If my relationships consist of a bunch of guys I occasionally have sex with, I don’t think I’d feel that close to any of them, going back to the restaurant analogy.

          • Nick, mostly says:

            As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I’m not a hot young woman who would be able to immediately find a flock of attractive guys to,have sex with!

            Does it need to be a flock?
            Just one more guy (or girl) makes you non-monogamous. You don’t need to be able to field a baseball team.

            Do they need to be attractive?
            If you limit yourself to only hot guys, it is a tautology to say you’ll have fewer options than if you expand the pool of eligible men. Kerry Cohen has an essay in which she describes her mother’s new attitude towards sex after she threw off the cultural weights:

              She asked herself whether she felt safe. If she did, she thought, well why not have sex?

            Does it need to be immediate?
            I have a friend who was “theoretically non-monogamous” for a number of years before he met another woman he wanted to form a relationship with. He now lives with both of his partners.

            One of the advantages of being in a relationship is that I was able to stop dating. I always hated dating.

            Don’t date. My friend above didn’t date, he simply reciprocated an attraction he felt from an industry colleague. But he and his first partner had lots of conversations beforehand (years of conversations) so there was no question as to what limits (if any) were in place. He went from being “theoretically” non-monogamous to non-monogamous in practice.

            I’m an introvert and meeting people is exhausting for me, also, being an average looking non-hot woman, it was always hard for me to find men who were interested, to be honest.

            Are these the “attractive” guys above or everyone? I ask, because I know plenty of people who are average-looking and they have partners. Although our culture would have you believe otherwise, looks aren’t everything; attitude is discounted far too much.

            I do have other people for emotional support but not at the level of my romantic relationship. Most people are way too busy these days. 20 years ago, I was always on the phone with my girlfriends, You can’t even call people on the phone anymore, they just want you to text or use Facebook. None of my friends can be a consistent source of emotional support for me, most have kids and they don’t really have much time for anything else. Maybe coffee once every couple months and they tell me what the kids are doing.

            Maybe you need new friends. My wife is frequently on the phone with friends and they hang out at each other’s houses and local coffee shops (our little corner of the world is blessed with an overabundance of indie cafés). That said, none of them are a constant source of emotional support either but nor should they be. But in having several friends one of them is bound to be available when others are not. They connect on facebook in addition to connecting on the phone and in person.

            Finally, as an introverted person, it is hard for me to really emotionally connect with others. It takes me a long time to feel comfortable enough with someone to open up. If my relationships consist of a bunch of guys I occasionally have sex with, I don’t think I’d feel that close to any of them, going back to the restaurant analogy.

            Are you a shy introvert or an outgoing introvert? I used to be a shy extrovert myself, which is a tricky pairing, but was able to get past the shyness part. But usually when someone points to the introversion it’s usually the shyness that holds them back.
            And who said anything about a bunch of guys? Again, we’re not fielding a sports team here. It could simply be one other guy, a guy you do feel close to, that you feel safe enough to also be sexual with.

            • I’m not really shy anymore (I was when I was younger) but I find socializing to be draining rather than invigorating, a lot of the time. I need space and time with my own thoughts. I’ve never been very social.

              I think it would be hard to find even one other guy to have sex with. Even when I was younger, it wasn’t easy. I’m picky I suppose. I’d estimate that I’d be willing to have sex with maybe 5% of the men I know, or less. I’m not that attracted to most men. I din’t mean they have to be physically attractive — I had a long term relationship with a guy who was 300+ pounds. But he has to be interesting to me, he has to be kind, we have to be compatible, I have to feel an emotional connection. That’s the hard part! And you assume of the 5% of men I find attractive enough for sex, what percentage would have sex with me? Like I said, I’m average looking, so, maybe 5%? That leaves, like, virtually no one! :-)

            • Nick, mostly says:

              I have a friend I am attracted to, who I could have sworn was conventionally attractive. After a few friends pointed out she was “average looking” I realized what made her look that much more beautiful to me was her intelligence and fierceness. I would say that in general that’s how I feel – my appreciation for a woman’s personality colors my view of her aesthetic appeal. As such, it’s only on the extremes that I feel confident in judging whether someone is conventionally attractive or not; for those women that lie within two standard deviations of the mean it’s all about the intangibles.

            • Nick, mostly says:

              Also, there’s a mathematical fallacy you’ve made there – an assumption that the two probabilities are independent when they may not be (also, I don’t know any guys who are only attracted to 5% of women, so I’d say you’re grossly underestimating). Plus you’re ignoring population size. 5% of 100 single men isn’t a lot to work with. 5% of 10,000 single men is more than a girl might reasonably manage.

        • And as for being friends with the women who are having sex with my boyfriend — I hadn’t considered that, But I think I would consider those to be his relationships, not mine. I guess I think it would be weird and I wouldn’t want to interfere with is other relationships if we had reached that kind of agreement.

          • Nick, mostly says:

            It’s not an interference. You two would get to define the shape of your relationships. Some people use the timezone rule (no sleeping with people in the same timezone) while others might require vetting of new partners with veto power. Personally I can’t see why anyone would want a relationship with someone their partner didn’t like and respect.

            Just to be clear – non-monogamy isn’t something you should do for someone against your better judgement. (By the same token, neither is monogamy.)

  5. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    Limerance is a problem. Polly doesn’t work for me because either I or and/one of my outside relationships fall in love. If sex doesn’t lead to this on my part, I lose interest.

    Some people don’t get limerant, according to research. I’m glad I’m not one of them.

    • Hank Vandenburgh says:

      PS It’s odd, but some therapists act as though limerance is a problem. I disagree (thinking that they’re likely cognitive-behavioral mechanoids.)

      • Nick, mostly says:

        The therapists I’ve spoken with don’t think limerance is a problem – they think our ignorance of it is a problem. We enter a relationship, the hormones are flowing, the sex is hot and heavy and exciting, we’re flush with affection for our partners…. and then those heady feelings fade and we think something must be wrong with the relationship.

        But why do you believe a polyamorous relationship can’t include limerance? The show Polyamory: Married and Dating on Showtime presents one example of polyamory where there are affectionate bonds between multiple people. I presume there was a fair amount of limerance to go around in the beginning of those relationships.

  6. In the context of evolution, jealousy in sexual relationship is an important emotion that helped our ancestors to cope with a host of real reproductive threats. The pathological view of jealousy ignores the fact that it is an important defence designed to thwart a real threat.

    • Nick, mostly says:

      Are you all-assertion or do you have some evidence to back those statements?

      • The book “The Dangerous Passion:Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love or Sex,” by David M. Buss, provides the necessary evidence to support my assertions.

  7. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    During limerance, I think we are inclined to be monogamous, and also inclined to be jealous of the person we’ve developed feelings for. Note that I didn’t say persons. I can parse this a little more based on my own experience. I was quite capable of having sex with other people when limerant with another, but was not capable of developing limerant feelings for a second person. But I didn’t care whether I continued with the second person, at all. In a couple of cases the second person became limerant with me, however. They either had a long term person, where they’d outgrown limerance, or no one at the time. The orgiastic scenes portrayed in Sex at Dawn probably did occur in our nomadic phase, but only at large convocations and only with hallucinogens, which push limerance aside, of course. The politics of a small band can’t take much polly.

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