Teen reporter looks at how poly works for his peers
A high school student in Oakland, working for Youth Radio, interviews Dossie Easton and evolutionary psychologist David Buss about why jealousy is not an issue for a poly friend. Buss seems at a loss for an answer, except to say that poly can't work because theory says it can't. (Sometimes the youngest journalists trip prominent people into saying the most revealing things.) The story was reprinted on Youth Radio's Huffington Post blogsite. You can leave a comment both places.
The Evolutionary Role of Jealousy In Teen Dating
By Sam Fuller
A few years ago, my friend Kina, whom I’ve known since we were toddlers, told me she had started dating a girl I’ll call Lexi. Kina had already told me she was queer so that part of her news didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was that Lexi was dating another girl I’ll call Janie, and that they had all decided to begin a polyamorous relationship so that Lexi could continue to date both of them.
“It seemed really natural to me,” Kina told me over the phone a few months later. As she put it, she “didn’t have any hang-ups” about sharing her girlfriend with Janie. “I was just happy that I got to be in a relationship with Lexi,” Kina said, “I didn’t really think about it that much.”
But I did think about it. I had a lot of questions. Some that Kina could probably answer: “How do you stay happy dating someone who has another girlfriend?” And some that I’d have to ask experts: “How does polyamory fit within the history of human sexuality?” As I looked for answers, I started to think that we teenagers bring a lot of evolutionary baggage with us on our dates....
Polyamory was new to me. Dossie Easton is a prominent psychotherapist in San Francisco who works with sexual minorities and who wrote the book “The Ethical Slut,” a guide to navigating polyamorous relationships. I asked Easton: why some people become polyamorous?
“I certainly don’t believe it’s some kind of gene that we’re going to find that you’re either monogamous or polyamorous,” said Easton. But even if it’s not genetic, Easton said biology is full of non-monogamous examples....
Research psychologists who study jealousy say it is a nearly universal emotion, although one that is experienced in many different ways. Some people are more jealous than others....
David Buss, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Texas in Austin... said a person’s level of jealousy isn’t constant. He likens the emotion to a biological defense mechanism, like a callous that forms depending on how much friction your skin comes up against. When someone cheats on you, you become more wary, a more jealous person.
To evolutionary psychologists like Buss, emotions are adaptive traits that are passed down through human history in the same way as physical traits, like eye color and disease resistance. According to Buss, that extra wariness that comes with jealousy gives you a better shot at reproductive success. “Jealousy is usually explained as an immature emotion, as a character defect,” Buss said. “But in fact it is an emotion that evolves primarily to protect a valued romantic relationship, and that is highly functional in most cases.”
Except, perhaps, in the case of poly relationships, when jealousy would seem to cause only dysfunction. According to Buss, it’s what makes polyamorous relationships inherently unstable and much more likely to result in breakup than monogamous ones. Dossie Easton calls jealousy the most common fear that stops people from forming open relationships. And as an advocate for open relationships, she spends a lot of time thinking about why that is. “You have to ask the question, why are we so afraid of it?” said Dossie Easton. “We expect to deal with sadness, we expect to deal with frustration, with loss and grief. Why is jealousy the only emotion where you are supposed to get a gun and shoot somebody?”
...Kina’s survey results made me wonder: had being poly and working on her insecure feelings actually made her a less jealous person? When I asked her about it, Kina said she thought it had, and she was glad for it....
...In Kina’s case, she found ways to get rid of her jealous feelings, and that’s made her feel happy. In the end, evolution aside, that’s the question that mattered most to me.
Read the whole story at Youth Radio and/or at Huffington Post (Jan. 8, 2013, for both).