Envy is a normal part of life that everybody deals with at some point. Somebody has something you want: a better job, a big house, a nice car, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a better yoga practice, whiter teeth, better sex… The list can go on and on. Usually when we talk about jealousy and envy we give techniques for handling that envy in a productive way or ways to change your thinking, realizing that maybe everybody else’s life isn’t as perfect as you think it is.
In this article, however, I want to explore a totally different idea. What if the things I’m envious of are actually things I don’t even want? Once I started asking this question I realized that throughout my life (even recently) I have been envious of someone having something or doing something that I don’t actually have any desire for, yet somehow my brain is tricked into thinking it does.
I’m curious how many other people might actually share this experience because the first time I realized this was happening had to do with sex. Let’s start by setting the scene. I have a few romantic and sexual partners (three at the time of this writing). To me, they are all gorgeous, intelligent, and highly desirable women, which means that in my mind they all have an easy time getting any kind of attention or sex that they want (even if that’s not their real-life experience of it).
While she was travelling, I found myself getting very jealous and envious of Dedeker any time she would find a new sexual partner. I always do my best to be a supportive and kind partner but in my brain I was screaming, “That’s not fair! It’s so easy for her. I wish I was having more sex!” This same situation has happened many times in the past with her and other partners, too, but recently I was able to take a mental step back and really look at the situation. I don’t necessarily want to have sex all the time. In fact, I actually have a good amount of sex in my life right now, and it’s extremely satisfying. But because I still had this unexamined narrative in my head that I should be wanting more sex, I found it threatening. It felt like, if this partner is having sex with someone else, there must be less sex for me and I always need to be having more sex.
For me, this realization was huge. My sex drive changes from time to time. Sometimes I want more and sometimes I want less, but in either case, that sex drive is mine and doesn’t need to be compared to somebody else’s. This shift from focusing on comparison to looking internally to what you actually want has had two major benefits for me. The first is a relief from those feelings of envy and inadequacy, and the second is that it helps me to stay focused on achieving things that actually matter to me in my life instead of trying to focus on accomplishing somebody else’s goals.
Another example of this has to do with monogamy. Dedeker spent the past 6 months living with her boyfriend in Istanbul. While she was there she still maintained her two other relationships via Skype and texting but wasn’t going out on any actual dates, largely because the dating scene in Turkey is not the most friendly place for a polyamorous woman. Recently she came back to the US and is living with me for a while. Now that she’s in a more poly-friendly location, she has been talking to some people and considering going on some new dates. My first reaction, and one that was difficult to get past, was to be envious of her Turkish partner getting to have her (essentially) monogamous attention for months and to feel hurt that as soon as she is back with me she wants to date other people.
After struggling with those thoughts for a little while I realized that the same thing was happening again. When I actually think about it, I have other partners and I also like to go on dates, too! Since becoming polyamorous I have not had a desire to live monogamously with someone, even for a few months! So why was I being so envious and feeling hurt because I don’t have this thing, even if I don’t want it? Just having that realization made a huge difference in how I was feeling and allowed me to smile and realize that I do have what I want, even if it’s not the same as somebody else.
I don’t know how much of this comes from our socialization and how much is inherent in our DNA, but the urge to determine our own values by comparing ourselves to others is a strong one. Sometimes that can be useful, like when you find positive role models for how to treat people kindly or how to live a healthy life, but other times it can be destructive, causing us to crave things that may not actually make us happy even if we were to achieve them.
I’ve come across a few other examples of this that have been easy to identify once I knew what to look for. I work in visual effects for TV shows and film, which is usually an extremely time-consuming job, requiring 60-70 hour weeks for months while working on a big-budget project. In addition to VFX I have other interests which are important to me, not least of which is this very blog and the Multiamory podcast. the VFX work I do is for a small company where I don’t do many glamorous effects, but I work reasonable hours and have the freedom to take time off when I need it. My choice not to pursue a more lucrative position at a big studio is a very intentional one that I’ve given a lot of thought to but that doesn’t completely stop me from feeling that twinge of envy any time a colleague gets hired to work on the next Marvel movie or some other high-profile but life-consuming project like that. Since most people in this field seem to want those kinds of big jobs, either for the larger paycheck or for the bragging rights, it’s easy to get sucked into that mindset even though my values clearly lie elsewhere.
Another example for me has to do with minimalism. I have been working on creating a more minimalist life, getting rid of clutter and making it easier for me to travel and to focus on having things of quality instead of just quantity. Because our culture (or at least my family) values owning lots of stuff and sentimental attachment, it’s easy to feel that envious longing or regret when I read that story about the person who makes a cool art project out of the yearbooks or cards they’ve held onto for fifty years. That is, until I remember to think about the FIFTY YEARS that they had to store those things, move with them, and deal with more clutter. Maybe they get a great amount of joy from storing those things and looking at them every day but, for me, I get much more joy every day from having a clean, simple life than I get from looking at old sentimental clutter every few years. When I feel those twinges of envy at those stories I have to remind myself of that, or else I might fall victim to that envy that could make me pursue things that don’t actually make me happy just because they make someone else happy.
At Multiamory we’ve discussed many different strategies for dealing with jealousy and envy. Because jealousy is such a broad concept that actually encompasses many different emotions like fear, insecurity, envy, or competition, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to it. Instead, we need to have many different tools in our utility belt so that in any given situation we can find the right one for the job. Sometimes that means trying a few until you land on the right one. For me, this one has turned out to be the right tool quite a bit lately, and it’s one I didn’t have in my arsenal before.
Do you have any stories of how you’ve been jealous of something you didn’t actually want? Did this article resonate for you? Share your experiences or your own tools and techniques in the comments below.
Jase Lindgren is an educator about ethical non-monogamy, a relationship coach, filmmaker, and sex-positive advocate with Multiamory.com