If you've had more than one pey, you know that jealousy is a universal experience for us mammals. Pet dog #1 and dog #2 is all over you for attention. So how do ethically-non-monogamous (or ENM) people deal with their partners having sex or falling in love with others?
Let’s consider jealousy in other areas of life for context. Kids have a tendency to be jealous of their siblings, or popular kids in school. In fact, part of what we learn in school is how to transmute envy into positive social fiber. We learn to be good teammates or to cheer on our friends when they get a raise. When it comes to love, however, everyone gets a pass to be jealous.
We’re taught that jealousy can be a healthy form of expressing love. Think of the rom-coms where the female lead has to choose between her new city-boy fiancé or the old flame from her smalltown high school days. We write off the fiancé when he compassionately cheers on the woman who leaves him to be with her old heartthrob. No big jealousy? No big love.
After all, there is scarcity in the monogamous model we are shown. We have one chance to find “the One,” and if we don’t fight for them, we will be sad, single, and lonely. But how about those ENM folx? The swingers, the throuples, the solo-polyam singles with several partners, the married adventurers with play partners on the side?
As an ENM person myself, I can share that the feeling of love shifting from a scarce resource to a plentiful one is an exhilarating, beautiful thing. It’s a clouds-parting-forthe-sunshine, rainbows, and butterflies big feeling. Still, jealousy happens. The best prevention for jealousy is great communication from day one. I feel safest and most supported when I know about all my partner’s partners, and that we’re all tested regularly for STDs. Other ENM situations might be more or less transparent. Some share partners, others have a hard boundary against it. If you’re interested in ENM, it’s on you to be ready for these conversations. You’ll be called to be the most selfaware and communicative version of yourself. You’ll be checking in constantly to see how things may have evolved over time—it’s not a one-time convo.
I recently noticed the jealous reflex go off when I saw a picture of my partner kissing their girlfriend. I heard the script of society going off in my head, telling me ‘this is your cue to be angry.’ But my emotions weren’t in sync. I felt nothing for a second. Yes, I missed my partner’s adorable face, and there she was, on vacation, maybe feeling that big love rainbow feeling…and I felt…peaceful happiness in my partner’s happiness. I am mindful that I have a lot to unlearn about jealousy, and moments like this to re-learn give me practice being happy for my partner. After all, as lovers, we get pleasure from our partner’s pleasure. What if we practice trying that outside of the bedroom?