Jealousy In Flux

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Jealousy In FluxIf you have been reading my Life on the Swingset blog – The Novice Non-Monogamist – since the beginning, you might remember, way back at the start of the year, I wrote a piece about jealousy, about my struggles with it, and how I was learning to breathe through it. Since then I am happy to report that I have been feeling jealous far less often, and that when the emotion does rear its ugly head, I find myself able to untangle the knots in my stomach and diffuse the scenarios screaming through my head with much more ease. This feels like excellent progress for a girl who once wanted to cry every time a guy she liked so much as sat beside someone else. Clearly, I am growing.

Better still, I’ve noticed that lately it is almost exclusively scenarios wherein the people I adore are with someone else and not enjoying themselves that trigger my sense of jealousy. I find it much easier to wish my lovers well and smile for them when they are off having fun. It’s when they return downtrodden and stressed that I feel envious of the time they’ve given to someone else.

I sometimes hear the phrase “healthy jealousy” and I used to think this was just a handy term to justify what has always seemed, to me, to be a wholly unhealthy, ugly emotion. But perhaps there is something healthy about the way I’m experiencing jealousy now. If I’m only jealous when my partners are elsewhere and unhappy about it, then the thing that’s triggering said jealousy is not so much about me, but about them.

I suppose you could argue that this isn’t jealousy at all; it’s empathy. I feel bad when my loved ones are unhappy. But it doesn’t come from a place of empathy, and although the focus may have moved a little from me, there is still something selfish at the core of this emotion: there is still a part of me that believes, if my partners spent more time with me, they would be happier, which is perhaps somewhat misguided, but there you go. My feelings are not wholly selfless, but I still reckon jealousy that stems from the desire to make someone happy is better than jealousy that comes from possessiveness. Perhaps I can argue that this is, at the very least, a step up?

However, relationships are complicated, and I can’t expect my partners to be constantly happy when they are with their other loved ones. Furthermore, whilst I do think my relationships are pretty damn good, it’s not like we have never had any rough moments of our own. I’ve sobbed beside them, and behaved terribly, and generally done my fair share of adding to the drama, and perhaps they have returned home to wives and lovers who wish they could reclaim the stressful time our partners have spent with me. But in the end, relationships take time and work, and we all have to do our bit to stay afloat, and know when to butt out. Still it is hard to watch someone suffer when all you can think is “if you’d just had tea with me, we’d have had a lot more fun.”

Meanwhile, as I write this, it occurs to me that perhaps the healthy turn in my dealings with jealousy is not to do with its rather convoluted source at all, but, instead, to do with how I feel about it overall. Once upon a time jealousy was the great black cloud that destroyed relationships. It was amongst my greatest fears, and I found the very notion of it devastating. Nowadays it seems like no more than one of the little difficulties of love. Like nagging someone to help with the housework, or wishing a lover would give more in bed; sure, it’s still something that holds the potential to get out of hand, but at its root, it is no longer quite so worrying.

I don’t really have an answer to any of this, but in the end I am glad jealousy is now a smaller foe, and I’m also glad my dealings with it are in flux. Because letting jealousy stagnate doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea.

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Harper Eliot is a writer and podcaster whose work mainly centers around eroticism and social observation. You can find an archive of work, and links to all her other projects, on her website Harper Eliot. Harper lives in London, but rarely sees her own house, spending most of her time on public transport, listening to podcasts and tweeting too much. Her vices include cigarettes, lubricant, Earl Grey tea, opera, nail polish, and pinwheels.

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