I recently came across a question on Quora that asked how it’s possible not to feel jealousy when you see someone you fancy choose someone else.
As jealousy is a perennial subject amongst those polyamorously inclined, I felt it might be helpful to copy my answer here.
I opened an answer window for this question and then realized, it’s deceptively complicated to answer. How do you describe how not to feel a thing? There are ways to describe what a feeling is like, and how you can process a feeling, and tools you can use to manage feelings, and where feelings come from, but…how do you describe the technique for not feeling an emotion?
I don’t feel jealous when someone I fancy is with someone else. I have felt jealousy in the past, so I’m not saying I’m, like, magically immune to this basic emotion or anything like that, but I haven’t experienced jealousy in a donkey’s age.
Okay, let me try to take that apart and unpack it a bit.
I mean, the shallow, superficial answer is “you’re polyamorous, Franklin, of course you don’t feel jealous.” And on the one hand that’s kind of absurd, because poly folks can and do experience jealousy—being polyamorous doesn’t exempt one from the palette of basic human emotions, as many poly folks discover to their chagrin.
On the other hand, there is some truth to it. A woman being with someone else doesn’t automatically mean she isn’t available to me, if she’s polyamorous (and of course if she’s not, I don’t want to be with her, so it’s a non-issue). So I don’t have that “oh, she’s taken, that means I can never be with her” reaction.
On the third hand, that doesn’t really explain it, because people can and do feel jealous of folks that they know they’re incompatible with and wouldn’t choose to be in a relationship with even if they could. So there must be something more than just ‘I’m polyamorous’ going on.
A woman I fancy dates someone else, in a way that makes her unavailable to me. Maybe she says she’s now polysaturated, and not open to any more partners. Whatever. Point is, she’s dating another bloke and that means I can’t date her.
Why don’t I get jealous?
For one thing, I genuinely don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me. If I fancy her, but she’d rather be with some other bloke, that means she doesn’t really want to be with me, and my attraction to her wanes.
I’ve been in relationships with people who were only lukewarm about the relationship, many years ago when I was much younger. They were never worth it. (In no small measure because a person who is with you even though she doesn’t really fancy you will often try to change you into someone she does fancy, and that…never ends well. Seriously, choose partners who celebrate who you are, not partners who think who you are is a problem to be worked around.)
Plus, people…have the right to not want to date me. If she thinks someone else is a better match for her, and I actually like and respect her, then that kinda means I have to respect her right to make her own choices about her life. Feeling like she should pick me over him necessarily implies feeling like she can’t make her own choices. Which, what kind of respect is that?
For me, part of loving someone is valuing her happiness. That’s a basic part of love as I understand it.
I think, though, a core part of it is I am not entitled to another person’s time or attention. If she decides not to date me, I don’t feel that something that belongs to me has been taken away.
That doesn’t mean I don’t feel anything. I might be disappointed, for example. I might be sad. But what I don’t feel is jealousy.
I think jealousy is an emotion made up of other emotions, two of them being insecurity and fear of losing something that rightfully belongs to you. Without those two things, you might feel sorrow or regret or disappointment or whatever, but you’re not likely to feel jealousy.
And if she handles it with meanspiritedness or cruelty or dishonesty, I might decide that I don’t want any connection with her at all. But again, that isn’t the same as jealousy.
It’s actually, truly, genuinely okay for someone to say no to me.