Isn't Poly Unnatural?

On becoming a better person

Poly people are always talking about ways to defeat jealousy. Isn’t that just conditioning yourself to accept something unnatural?

This is an honest question thatseveral people have asked me as an objection to polyamory. If being able to function in a relationship requires that you work hard to overcome an emotion like jealousy, doesn’t that mean you’re simply trying to desensitize yourself to a perfectly natural and reasonable feeling, and that polyamory really isn’t a natural choice?

Polyamorous people talk a lot about jealousy partly because it’s something that we get asked about a lot, and partly because, yes, it’s a perfectly normal emotion we’ve all faced at some point in time. And honestly, if all you feel is jealousy in a polyamorous relationship–if all you do is fight against your emotions all the time, and there’s no joy in polyamory for you–maybe it’s really not the right relationship choice. It’s okay to be monogamous. It’s okay not to want to be in plural relationships if that model isn’t a good fit. If you see nothing but struggle in polyamory, and there’s no upside, hey, don’t be polyamorous!
And don’t let anyone tell you polyamory is “more advanced” or “more evolved” either–that’s hornswoggle.

But here’s the thing…

Jealousy isn’t a polyamorous issue. Monogamous people can and do feel jealousy, too. Developing tools to deal with jealousy makes everyone’s life better, regardless of whether you’re monogamous or not.

Ah, but it’s not the same if you’re monogamous! You’re not letting your partner shag other people!

Well, yes. But ask anyone who’s ever struggled with jealousy and insecurity in a monogamous relationship; that doesn’t make the feelings any less intense. Feelings like jealousy are not necessarily attached to what your partner is doing.

But that’s kinda beside the point.

Whether you feel jealous because your polyamorous partner is shagging someone else or you feel jealous because you just saw a picture of your monogamous partner’s ex in a box of old stuff, jealousy is a normal part of the human condition, and you will benefit from learning how to deal with it in constructive ways. (Yes, I know a lot of folks, both monogamous and polyamorous, try to handle it by controlling their partner.
Don’t do that. Not only is it not a healthy approach to managing your emotions, it also tends to drive your partner away.)

Point is, we all feel things all the time. That’s perfectly natural. What is not perfectly natural is acting impulsively whenever we feel things.

We learn to control our behavior. We learn not to stab the person who just insulted us in the office.
We learn not to sexually assault that really really hot person we just saw on the bus. Or at least, most of us do, and the ones who don’t belong in prison.

Jealousy is no different. As decent, civilized human beings, we train ourselves not to act out on our feelings whenever we feel them. We all feel angry, but decent human beings understand that doesn’t give us license to punch or stab people. We all feel sexual attraction; decent human beings understand that consent matters. We all feel jealousy; decent human beings understand that doesn’t mean we own our partners.

But that’s not the same! Of course we can’t just punch people who make us mad, but jealousy is different!

Oh? Why is that?

We believe jealousy is different because we’re taught to believe that jealousy is different. With any other emotion, we’re told that we need to take responsibility for our actions, to control ourselves, to do the right thing. Yet in many societies, jealousy is given a mythic status in the pantheon of emotions. People literally use jealousy to excuse murder. How messed up is that?

The history of civilization is the long, slow slog upward from allowing our emotions to control us to being the masters of our emotions. Jealousy, for whatever reason, is one of the last holdouts–the last emotion we expect not to be able to control. Perhaps it’s time to stop treating it like a special case and start treating it the same way we treat anger or fear or any other emotion.

Jealousy is a feeling. Nothing more. If we can learn not to lash out at other people when we’re angry,
we can learn not to lash out at other people when we’re jealous.

But jealousy isn’t like those other emotions! Jealousy is caused by other people!
If your partner shags someone else, of course you’ll feel jealous! How could you not?

Well, not really. Jealousy is caused by insecurity or fear of loss. Seriously,
I don’t feel jealous when my partner shags someone else; and it’s not because I’ve programmed or brainwashed myself. It’s because I don’t think my partner is going to leave me, or that she thinks I’m unworthy, or that she’s shagging someone else because I’m not good enough.

Insecurity is also something we’re taught. From the time we’re in diapers, we’re programmed with messages telling us to be insecure, because it’s easy to get insecure people to buy products. “Your partner will leave you if you’re not pretty enough! Buy our facial cream.” “Women want men with wealth! Buy this watch.” “Are you not sexy enough? Don’t lose your man, buy our magazines and learn how to be sexy enough to keep him!” Insecure people are an easy consumer demographic.

Yes, polyamory does mean needing to learn healthy self-esteem and self-confidence, at least if you want to do it well. But again, the same is also true of monogamy.

Last updated: Fri May 8, 2020