sex, love, and relationships for those of us who don't quite follow the rules

A little background on my personal life is in order here. Shaun, my current (and first) lover, is polyamorous. I’d heard of polyamory before meeting him, and thought it was an interesting idea, but it had never occurred to me to explore it personally. Funny how being completely hot for somebody broadens your horizons, no? So now I’m dating a man who is seeing me and another woman pretty steadily, and occasionally goes out with, or just flirts with, other women too.

It’s going well so far. Raw sexual jealousy is not part of my emotional makeup — jealousy is complicated and many-layered (there’s a great little discussion of jealousy here), and I’ve experienced jealousy springing from insecurity, but I’ve never had the visceral reaction that many people have to the idea of my lover in bed with someone else. Mostly I’m curious about the experience; often I’m a little turned on.

But it’s still uncharted waters for me, and I’m staying alert to potential problems. Bess, the other woman Shaun’s seeing (the names I use for most people here are pseudonyms, by the way), is older than both of us and at least as experienced as he is. I haven’t met her, though I’d like to. Apparently she’s said, more than once, that she’s worried about me because I’m so very inexperienced, and she’s afraid that at some point I’ll want Shaun to be exclusive to me. He had similar worries when we started seeing each other, but he says they’ve mostly faded.

The first couple times he told me about this (Bess’s worry about me) I took it to mean she was concerned for my emotional health, and Shaun’s to a lesser extent. He and I had a conversation last weekend, though, and he mentioned that she had a big traumatic breakup a few years ago, and has a hard time trusting women. Naïvely, I asked, “Wait, was the breakup with a woman?” (It wasn’t.) It’s weird to me that, to someone who dates only men, trust in women would ever be a factor. I mean, I think I get the general idea: the fear is that some devious and manipulative woman will try to steal your man, right? But granted that devious and manipulative women exist, and granted that your man might be desirable to some of them, shouldn’t you be worried more about his actions than theirs? Can a competent human adult really be “stolen”? Or is your fear an indication that you don’t think he’s smart enough or loyal enough to fight off the sirens?

I think I’m being slightly naïve here. I know lust impairs the brain, and I know that a really devious and manipulative person can run rings around someone acting in good faith — for a while, anyway. I’m reading She Came to Stay, by Simone de Beauvoir, and I’ll reserve full judgement until I get to the end, but holy cow do I want to wring the little bitch’s neck. (If you’ve read it, you’ll know what little bitch I’m talking about.) But I still expect any man — or woman — I get involved with to have enough good sense, and enough attachment to me, not to get carted off by some siren. And I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around a frame of mind that thinks differently.

Back to my specific situation: it occurred to me after this last conversation that Bess might be less worried that I’ll insist on exclusivity with Shaun, causing drama and upheaval for all of us, and more worried that he’ll agree to it, causing pain and loss for her. This makes a lot more sense to me (I was a little confused as to why she was so concerned for someone she’d never even met), and at the same time I think it’s completely bonkers. I would be an idiot to expect Shaun to be monogamous, and he’d be an idiot to agree to it, no matter how much he wanted to keep me. He’s tried monogamy, he’s tried nonmonogamy, and he knows what he wants. If I ever decide that I want monogamy, I’ll be saying goodbye to him. Love comes and goes, but strong lifestyle preferences are forever.

Even saying that, though, makes it clear to me that a lot of people probably don’t think that way. Which explains why people who want kids marry people who don’t, or why people who want to be stay-at-home moms and shop at Pottery Barn marry theatre majors.

Anyway. I’d like to know what other people think. If your partner leaves you for someone else, do you blame the partner or the someone else? If you’re anxious or jealous, is your mistrust directed at your partner or at the people who may be trying to “steal” him or her? And am I completely naïve to expect that my partner be able to ward off sirens on his own, or at least have the self-awareness to lash himself to the mast?

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Comments on: "jealousy, mistrust, and other things beginning in “3”" (2)

  1. I can think of two reasons why someone would blame the someone else for “stealing” their partner, rather than blame their partner for letting themselves be stolen. First, the partner has a claim on their affections. They want to think the best of their partner. The someone else has no such advantage. It feels more natural to blame the someone else. Second, insecurity leads people to think its the other person’s fault for successfully being “better” than them. People worry they are not good enough to keep their partner. They don’t want to take responsibility themselves and they don’t have the self-respect to see their partner as wronging them, so it was the someone else’s fault for daring to take advantage of being “better.”

    I think that’s what was going on in my situation with K and M. I’m definitely prettier than K (although she dresses better than I do) and as a bit of a tomboy I’m better at connecting with M on his level as a good friend he can have fun with. She saw the two of us having fun together a few too many times, and her insecurity got the better of her. She kicked me out of her social circle to remove the “temptation,” even though M and I were completely platonic.

    Awesome post! Can’t wait to read your next one. 🙂

  2. […] is a little hard to define. I’ve shared Ian with another girlfriend before (the short-lived Bess), so it’s not that by itself. This situation is very, very different from the Bess situation, […]

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