Part 2: Jealousy and Feeling Special
I recently wrote about non-monogamy being gay men’s dirty little secret. This is the second part of my response to why it matters that it is a dirty little secret. My overall concern is that by not being open about this aspect of our relationships—beyond simply acknowledging that non-monogamy is the norm among gay male relationships, but not discussing how this affects us—we will not and cannot form healthy ways of dealing with the particular challenges. In my previous response, I focused on the particular challenges of health and physical harm. Here I want to focus on how not talking about how we react to the specific behaviors of non-monogamy can cause hurt, and eventually resentment.
Jealousy, envy, and self-esteem are concerns for just about any relationship. But for non-monogamous relationships they may take on greater intensity. In monogamous relationships there are pretty clear boundaries on acceptable flirting and sexual behavior. In non-monogamous relationships the boundary is less inherently clear. I think all of us have found ourselves in a conversation with friends in which one person claims that oral sex does not count as sex with another person claiming that it does. In traditionally monogamous relationships you pretty much know that you are staying away from everyone else’s genitalia and keeping your genitalia away from everybody else. But in non-monogamous relationships there can be a lot of different facets to negotiate with regard to what is acceptable behavior and what is not. There may not be agreement on what is acceptable, respectful flirting or sexual behavior. How does one know he is going to hurt his partner unless this is discussed in advance?
Whom a partner plays around with can also be a point of tension. It can be a little upsetting if your partner plays with a guy that you are really hot for, but have not been able to land. Or your partner might end up playing with a guy that you don’t like, or even your ex—for many of us this could feel a little annoying. If your partner plays with a lot of guys and you are more selective you might find yourself feeling devalued. Sometimes we end up tricking with someone who mistakes the encounter for more than a trick. If that trick tries to impose himself into your relationship, then that is likely to cause a bit of stress.
I think we all want to feel special, especially to our partner. Many gay guys have had, or will have, over 1,000 partners in their lifetime. If you sleep around a lot, your partner may at times feel like he is nothing more than one in a line of guys for you—the one that it is convenient for you to sleep with regularly. Differences in libido, taste, style, and the type of person one attracts can make the openness of the relationship feel unfair. The difference in attention that each partner gets while you both are out in public can also be a problem. It is not uncommon for someone to find one member of a couple attractive and not the other, which can cause one partner to be the center of attention while his partner feels shoved to the side. In monogamous relationships neither of the partners are prey and this dynamic really doesn’t develop.
There can be additional pressure on the relationship from the secretive aspect of them. One of the great accomplishments for the GLBT community in the last 30 years has been our ability to be open about who we are and who our primary love interest is. This freedom has relieved a great deal of community stress. But for many of us, we still feel the need to keep this characteristic of our relationships secret and would feel uncomfortable if people knew that part of us. Maintaining secrets drains us of psychological energy. Most of us would feel comfortable going to a therapist to discuss the lack of sharing of chores within our relationships, but few of us would feel perfectly comfortable going to a therapist to discuss the fact that differences in tricking behaviors between us and our partners has become a point of conflict. Without talking about this, at least between partners, leaves the couple vulnerable to unintentionally hurting one another, which will eventually develop into resentment.