Tracing bones

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In the dungeon, tracing bones again.
With this pen.
This will end.
I just don’t know when.

Special lenses to help me sleep
Yet here I sit, and weep
What I’d give for these weary feet to be dancing in the street

Darkness invades my mind
Stillness in bones and in rhymes
There are no shadows in a room of this kind
And I have broken you from the inside

A traveller’s wife has no time
Just keep telling the world we’re fine
Getting better like aging wine
Softly falls a false lash from my eye

With a wish and a breath
Not ready for death
Where is my poet, picturesque
I promise, bones, soon we will rest


Compersion & jealousy: is that really all there is?

I often see compersion defined as  the ‘opposite’ of jealousy. I understand why it is tempting to do this. The experience of having a loved one sharing intimacy with another can bring up complex and overwhelming feelings. Intellectually, we strive to simplify this complicated emotional landscape in hopes of ‘overcoming’, or at least understanding, our jealousy.

The problem is, in my experience, it’s not so simple. Emotions are not binary.

First, there is the issue of ‘conflation’ (experiencing different emotions simultaneously). In one of my earliest experiences, a lover of mine had a particularly prolific period in which he connected sexually with seven different women in a month. Sure, it brought up some fears in me of loss and inadequacy. Yet when he and I entered intimate space together, to my surprise, my mind went to images of all these women finding ecstasy in the arms of my lover, and rather than shutting me down, I became incredibly aroused. So while feeling jealousy, I also experienced erotic compersion.  Opposites, by definition, would not co-exist.

Second, how I respond to a given situation depends in part on how my lover responds, or how I think they do, in that situation. What is the story I am telling myself, what am I making it mean?  I therefore decided to do what any good scientist would do. I created a 2×2 table:

You can see here that compersion and jealousy are not the only possible outcomes, since it also depends on what is happening, or what is being felt, by my lover. Let me walk you through it.

If my lover is having a positive experience with another lover, I have two quadrants in which I might respond, generally divided into ‘positive’ emotions (compersion) or ‘negative’ ones (jealousy). However, what if something happens that leaves my lover feeling not so happy? Maybe he gets in a quarrel with his other partner, or maybe they break up? Or maybe he has stuff come up because he loves you so much that he is worried about you so he holds back with his other partner(s)? In this case, you might fall into the other two quadrants. You might feel happy/elated/relieved: this could be considered a type of schadenfreude. Alternatively, you might feel compassion/sadness/guilt. The best word I have for this is empathy. Technically empathy can be positive or negative, however in my experience we often speak of empathy in regards to someone’s negative experiences.

Importantly, these quadrants relate to the x and y axes, meaning they fall along a spectrum of feelings. Also, with the axes themselves, it is possible to be in a place of neutrality. I remind you, it is possible to fall in more than one quadrant simultaneously (conflation).

I hope this table will help you identify feelings that arise in you in relation to your lover’s others, as a starting place to diving deeper into the work of uncovering core feelings and beliefs. I’d love your feedback.

There’s no such thing as jealousy

Jealousy: that dragon which slays love under the pretense of keeping it alive” ~Havelock Ellis

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So if jealousy doesn’t exist, where does this mythical beast come from? This green-eyed monster that leaves us sick with despair and transforms us into an angry god who fires lightning bolts at the ones we love to stop them from pursuing their bliss, on account of our own self-preservation? What causes such ugliness in us all?

The Ethical Slut (first edition) blew my mind during my first forays into polyamory over a decade ago. The authors suggested that ‘jealousy’ is not actually a feeling or emotion. Rather, it is an umbrella term referring to a collection of emotions that can come up in any number of situations. Reid Mihalko describes an octopus with eight arms, each arm a continuum of an emotion that falls under the construct of jealousy. We can fall anywhere along all 8 arms, creating a unique emotional venn diagram. Kathy Labriola prefers to simplify jealousy into three main feelings: fear, anger and sadness. She then provides a comprehensive list of feelings and symptoms falling within these categories that can help direct us towards a core underlying experience of jealousy.

While jealousy may not ‘exist’ as a pure emotion, it is real, it is alive, and it is valid. I have yet to meet anyone, even those who claim they are not jealous people, who don’t experience at least a wobble, if not a crushing blow, from this creature of the dark. I have seen friends and lovers try to tame or hide their emotions for fear of not being seen as ‘poly perfect’. I’ve even had a partner ask me, “Are you sure you’re poly?” during my own times of intense emotion (this was intensely triggering for me, btw). There is no shame in having feelings. Do not buy into the ‘stigma’ that becoming poly makes you more evolved to the point that jealousy falls off your radar. Jealousy is not weak, is not shameful, is not erratic or out of control.

My so-called ‘evolution’ only means that, in the face of jealousy, I choose to remain heart-centred, to swim through whatever is alive in me, do the shadow work, to love myself, and to come out the other side still loving you without trying to control your joy. No matter what happens, I know I will be ok, in fact I will thrive. From this place I can nurture my fear, my anger, my sadness, the way I would care for a child. There is such a thing as jealousy. She is a green-eyed dragon, but she’s a baby dragon. I’ve got this.

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