Trouble in paradise.

In my last post I wrote about how it’s not all that difficult to be in an open relationship. This one’s about lying awake at night, worrying about your open relationship.

This is not a post about catfights and girl-on-girl hate. It’s not a post about female jealousy. It’s about the terrifying and isolating realisation that I didn’t like my boyfriend’s other girlfriend.

Some Personal Stuff

He met her in the same week he met me. I always felt we were on even footing, and I really liked that idea. It was important to me to believe everyone was separate, equal and happy. An important part of the way I conceived the relationship was the understanding that what happened in his relationship with someone else had nothing to do with me. That it was happy on its own terms and not happy because it felt superior to my relationship.

We’d been together for about 4 months when the feeling began to creep over me that maybe to her, I wasn’t so separate and equal after all.

I had never met her, and to this day have only met her once. But, petty as it sounds, I began to feel that she was trying to assert her importance against me. I felt that she wanted to be recognised as more important than me. That she wanted to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind as his girlfriend, at my expense. I wondered what I’d done to make her feel that she needed to do that. Unless you’re trying to argue about feminism with me on Twitter, I’m an extremely, almost embarrassingly polite person. I conduct all my relationships with a near-paranoid consideration for other partners. I ask how they are, I want them to be well-looked-after and I want them to feel like I’m with them, rather than against them. There is no advantage to existing in opposition to someone who basically wants the same thing as me.

This feeling of being slyly undermined via ~a popular social networking site~ coincided with the realisation that I found some of her… shall we call them ‘politics’ or ‘ethics’… troublesome. I ran an anecdote past a couple of friends whose opinions I trust and they were just as shocked and weirded out as I was. In the most basic terms, she struck me as a mean person. And a mean person who was trying to make me feel small.

I stewed in my unhappiness for a couple of weeks, gritting my teeth when he mentioned her until it felt too much. At the bus stop, in the rain, on our way home after a night out, I confessed.

I felt guilty for speaking up because by speaking up, I became the aggressor. I was rocking the boat. If I said nothing, then I wouldn’t look bad. I wouldn’t look like I was making trouble. But I couldn’t keep it up. I would literally lay awake at night wondering what I’d done to make her feel like she needed to make me sad. So I spoke, and, because my boyfriend is a kind and generous person, he understood.

In the beginning, I pushed him a little bit. I wanted to know if he’d noticed her weird behaviour too, so I remember being slightly drunk, on the top deck of the bus saying ‘DO YOU REALLY NOT KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT? YOU CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING SHE’S DONE THAT I MIGHT BE UPSET ABOUT?’ until he quietly mumbled something about Facebook. Knowing it wasn’t all in my head was a huge relief. I explained how sorry I was and how guilty I felt about falling into the one trap I didn’t want to fall into. I told him how I never wanted her to feel like she needed to act up or prove she was important and that I wasn’t sure how it had come to this. He said he wished he’d introduced us in real life, and earlier on, so we ‘understood each other better’. We both knew it was too late. I was angry and stressed but I didn’t issue any ultimatums. There wasn’t even a hint of pressuring him into choosing who he cared more about. I just needed to tell him she was making me feel unhappy and anxious. I guess that’s my one ‘lesson’ from this experience: the thing I know I did right is never, ever saying ‘it’s her or me’. Getting it off my chest was enough. Stating my case, on its own terms, was enough. Being listened to was enough. Being told no, I wasn’t being paranoid, was enough.

I don’t know if anything really changed after that, but feeling like I wasn’t hiding some secret shame, alone, really helped. He mentioned her to me less, and understood when I voiced disagreement. Even if nothing tangible changed, I felt better for trusting my boyfriend to accept my worries. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Some General Stuff

This was a time I was painfully aware of the lonely position of the nonmonogamous person. I sat on my fears without saying anything to anyone for longer than I should have, and I did that because I felt my nonmonogamous relationship would be judged as a failure.

I feel enormous pressure to be Good At This. I feel enormous pressure not to live up to many people’s banal expectations of the pitfalls of open relationships. I felt like a failure, and I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to who would understand. I guess that’s part of my motivation in writing this blog- the desire to put another voice out there expressing an experience of nonmonogamy.

But as it was, it was difficult. I didn’t want people looking at my relationship and seeing a cliché of ‘female jealousy’. I didn’t want people seeing this as being narrative when it was only incidental. I didn’t want to undermine the generally extremely happy landscape of my relationship. It showed, in particularly sharp focus, the scrutiny I felt I was under and the pressure to be a perfect partner because my ‘rareness’ as a nonmonogamous person made me feel like I was being held up as an example.

Some Gender Stuff

I feel that because I am a woman, it is expected that I will compete with other women. I will especially compete with other women for the attentions and affections of a man. Nowhere will that competition be more obvious and more anticipated than in an open relationship with multiple female partners. I feel that, as a woman, I have a huge amount of responsibility not to fall into these traps and clichés of ‘female behaviour’. They are at the forefront of my mind, and it was this pressure that made the situation particularly stressful. I felt that I was living up to the expectation of a female partner in an open relationship. Of course I would have a problem with another girlfriend. Of course I wouldn’t like her. That’s what women do, isn’t it?

But I knew all the while, even when I felt guilty, this wasn’t about women. This was about me relating to another person. I wasn’t jealous of her, I just didn’t like her. It wouldn’t matter what space she occupied in my life, and it was just unfortunate she was in such a sensitive one.

I knew this wasn’t about women because there are lots of ‘other women’ in his life that I really, really like. Women I would love to meet and talk to. Women I’ve loved meeting and talking to. Women whose work I admire. Women past and present. Women who make me laugh and make me nod my head in agreement. I really mean this, in very real terms: I seriously admire and would actively pursue friendships with past and former partners of this same guy. Kickass women make the world go round and I want there to be great women in his life because he deserves great women.

This was never about women.

Boyfriend and I bumped into her several months after the initial issues were raised. This is the only time I’ve ever met her. She was rude. I was still embarrassingly polite. He stood up for her. I was pissed off at him. I was pissed off at him until I realised I would rather he defended her to me than defended me to her. I don’t want anyone to need to defend me. 

Image taken from Flickr under Creative Commons license

(if, somehow, this falls into the hands of the subject : I’m sorry if this makes you feel bad)

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5 thoughts on “Trouble in paradise.

  1. Hats off to you for not being petty. Jealousy is genderless, and she seems to be the one suffering with it.

    By the by, would love a blog/email about your views on feminism. I’m incredibly naive and my views are limit to: AARRGGHH!!

  2. Really loved reading this. I recently lost a poly relationship largely because I didn’t get on with a new play partner and my boyfriend and his wife couldn’t accept/understand that. I’m glad your boyfriend was at least able to talk to you about it. It’s so important to be able to listen to people when there’s a problem otherwise not being listened to becomes a bigger problem than the thing you wanted to talk about. It’s also easy for people to assume that if you’re open or poly you have to be okay with all other people your partner(s) want to play with or date. Which just isn’t realistic.

  3. I think I saw this on Twitter and it made it to the top of my must-read pile because of the subject. Fortunately, this is one particular problem I haven’t (yet?) encountered but something I’ve wondered how I’d deal with numerous times.

    This post was fascinating; honest, empathic and introspective without ever feeling ‘all about you’. I think you’re my new blog-crush *heads off to read everything else*!

    Amanda.

  4. Interesting. I admit I struggle with being competitive with other females in situations like that. I guess I am typical in that regard and its something I have to actively work at to NOT compete. In reading this my mind was curious about the details of your situation. It’s hardest (for me) not to compete when I feel “challenged” by the other person and perhaps that’s what she was doing to you.

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