Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

July 15, 2014

"Jealous of what? Solving polyamory’s jealousy problem"


Quite an interesting societal perspective here. A social-science researcher living in a long-term MFM triad describes her situation. She contends that poly that breaks away from the individualism of mainstream culture tends to be more secure and jealousy-free.

Jealous of what? Solving polyamory’s jealousy problem

Everyone asks my polyamorous family how we handle the jealousy. It's easy, because that's not how it works.

By Elizabeth Stern [Pseudonym]

The first question people ask my polyamorous family is “How do you handle the jealousy?” Befuddled, we answer, “What jealousy?”

I am lucky; I live with the two loves of my life. I am smitten with my husband of 16 years, and adore my partner of four. The three of us depend upon and nurture each other; we are a family. When my partner and I hadn’t had a date in a while, my husband encouraged us to take a holiday at the art museum, knowing how the visual connects us. When my husband and I hit an emotional snag in discussing our issues, my partner helped us to sort it out and come together. And when I was picking out Christmas presents, I gave the foodies in my life some bonding time over a Japanese small-plates cooking class.

The existing polyamory advice literature pushes individualistic solutions to jealousy. Polyamory gurus such as Dossie Easton (“The Ethical Slut”), Deborah Anapol (“Love Without Limits”) and, more recently, Franklin Veaux (“More Than Two”) advocate personal responsibility as the solution to insecurity. You must “work through” your jealousy, making sure to not “control” your partner, all the while viewing the experience of jealousy through a lens of personal growth. My family has never needed to rely on these individualistic methods because jealousy is a social problem, not an individual one, and so are the solutions.

Prescribing of individualistic methods for management of jealousy is nothing new.... Polyamory advice on jealousy is not radical when held up to this light; it is simply part of the larger 20th century context....

I think back on my life of four years ago as we first formed our polyamorous family. My new boyfriend was surprised that he felt no jealousy of my 14-year relationship with my husband. He felt supported and welcomed into our lives, and longed to make a commitment to us, but the absence of jealousy was perplexing to him. Doesn’t jealousy naturally emerge from a partner having another partner, he wondered? He waited for over a year before he made a commitment, just in case jealousy would emerge. He was waiting for Godot.


Eric Widmer, a sociologist at the University of Geneva shows that trust in any dyadic (two-person) relationship is influenced by the density of the larger social configuration in which it is embedded. Research indicates that people feel more comfortable when those persons they are close to are also close to one another, which is termed transitivity. This leads over time to dense networks, where the number of actual connections between members comes close to or equals the number of potential connections.

In my polyamory family there were three potential dyadic relationships and all have been realized either through a love relationship (my partners and I) or a close friendship (between my partners). A dense, socially cohesive network allows for a greater degree of trust between any two members. [Emphasis mine –Ed.] My family’s wider social network of friends and family varies in its transitivity with us. But the cohesiveness within our immediate family alone begins to account for the seemingly surprising lack of jealousy....

Most of the polyamory advice literature does not advocate for dense interdependent networks over a lifetime anyway. Their brand of polyamory is individual freedom rooted in personal responsibility and self-actualization, which fits much better into our current neoliberal opportunity structure.... As one polyamory advice website states succinctly, “polyamory encourages, allows, and almost demands that you be an individual first and foremost.”

...My hypothesis is that the more shifts that occur within a polyamory network, the more jealousy that occurs, which then requires higher degrees of individualistic emotion management. In other words, individual freedom in relationships has an evil twin of individual constraint of emotion.


...The common denominator is social rather than personal responsibility. Seeing ourselves as part of a larger system (whether of three or 300 people) leads to taking social responsibility for the health of that system. Can we solve polyamory’s jealousy problem? Perhaps, perhaps not. But what we can do is stop pretending that we don’t know where jealousy comes from.

Elizabeth Stern is the pseudonym of a PhD social scientist and freelance writer living on the East Coast.

The whole article (July 13, 2014) is well worth a read.

As it happens, I am typing this in the lodge during the Network for a New Culture's annual Summer Camp East — which is all about creating an intimate, transitive-network culture in a modern context. We find it a better way to live.

And maybe Stern's article explains why, of the 80 people here, at least half are actively poly and yet there's practically no drama about it at all. Jealousy sometimes, hurt sometimes, but handled in a spirit of "empathetic conflict." The ethos here is an interesting blend of radical self-responsibility/ individualism, something utterly modern and Western, leading to radical tribal communitarianism.

Eve Rickert says that she and Franklin Veaux are preparing a rebuttal to the Salon piece. Expect a hum-dinger.


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Blogger tosii2 said...

I like the concept (and have ALWAYS had that), but the presentation of it is littered with strawman arguments and negative trigger words and phrases which detract from getting the point across. Yeah, Salon is a bit of a tabloid, but the author could have done a lot better to get the idea across. No need for the them ('the polyamory experts') vs us approach.
I did just send this out to some email lists with some of my comments about it. The message is good, the delivery is poor.

July 16, 2014 6:16 PM  
Blogger Anita Wagner Illig said...

This is certainly a new perspective on jealousy. In my observation, the concept of jealousy is certainly firmly supported by mainstream culture, i.e. societally, by supporting the jealous partner, for example, "Hell yes, you have a right to be jealous, you deserve better than this. Dump the chump and find someone who will treat you like you deserve to be treated." Note that there is not the slightest hint of suggesting that the jealous person look within themselves. Still further missing is the concept of looking within to determine how it is that one's social conditioning has influenced one's jealous feelings.

So no, I don't entirely agree with the author's conclusions. I respect those who, like you,
Alan, find themselves drawn to and living within an intentional network of people who support each other as a social construct when someone is struggling with jealousy. Michael Rios and Sarah Taub are doing valuable work.

I, of course, have long viewed these issues through a wider societal mainstream values relationship lense. Largely in that context, I have offered jealousy workshops that address three potential sources of jealous feelings: (1) Socially programmed core beliefs; (2) Unresolved insecurities in the self; and (3) Unresolved insecurities in the relationship. I believe that my mainstream approach addresses issues for those struggling with jealousy in a mainstream point of view, a 101 and 201 level educational focus, if you will. My understanding of Network for a New Culture's work with jealousy is that having the attention of attendees over the course of a few weeks, opens the subject up for participants to deeper emotional and societal investigation for those who envision and desire such a new culture, and that in time their approach will achieve wider acceptance over the long term. In the meantime, I'm teaching those for whom that approach doesn't resonate through their mainstream emotional filter.

Here's to all who work with others who struggle with jealousy, it is indeed important work no matter how we approachi it, and it is essential in order to chip away at the tough veneer many carry without awareness, and who seek to replace it with a more societally and personally healthy model.

July 16, 2014 6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was perceived fairly negatively by mainstream readers. Largely because they made a (valid IMO) point that the article was written by the hinge person.

Having been the hinge in a Vee, and then being part of a triad, I can definitely agree that jealousy was not as much of an issue as the hinge.


July 16, 2014 9:37 PM  
Blogger Ali said...

This has irritated me cause as far as I can tell, it's a poly-fi group who is nto jealous cause they are all close and loving to each other.

I don't think I'd try a poly-fi if there *was* jealousy among the members, but I also don't find it very relevant to poly people who are all free to date as they want. I didn't note it being addressed in the article what happens if one person wants to go date somebody else that irritates somebody in the group, or if that has gone as smoothly as the closed situation.

I'd read it again in case I missed something but I'd rather not ;)

July 19, 2014 1:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was intrigued by the article because I don't often encounter someone saying something about jealousy that I haven't heard before.

After reflecting on it a bit I found the premise that jealousy is a product of our neo-liberal culture intellectually lazy, reflecting a trend that I think has infected (and yes I mean that word) a number of history and social science departments. Like most intellectually laziness I this is dangerous. It is wrong to pretend that jealousy, related to romantic partners or otherwise is anything but ancient--classical stories, biblical and otherwise are full of tales of extreme actions undertaken because of jealousy. This incorrect belief fed by laziness leads to a diagnosis that jealousy is a problem of our culture, as so many things that are blamed on neo-liberal capitalism are, and that the way to change it is to revert to an older way of being. I'm not sure if I agree or disagree with the author that a higher density of connections is helpful, but the standard "neo-liberal culture is the problem" argument is just a copy of the party line and does not have merit.

July 29, 2014 3:46 PM  

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