Jealousy

I have a good friend from high school, who grew up learning to never say the word “jealous.” Instead, she and her family would say, “I am so ‘j’.” I am not advocating for jealousy: it is an awful feeling. I strongly dislike feeling jealous. It makes me feel out of control and crazy and weak and insecure and small. But we need to own our jealousy, face it, and work through it. Otherwise, it sits there, building up over time, waiting to pour out at the worst moment.
I grew up learning from pop culture, and probably my family and most definitely my friends, that being jealous is appropriate. If you aren’t jealous of your partner giving someone else attention, something is seriously wrong with you! And how many Top 40 songs are about making someone else jealous or being jealous? “Crimes of passion” are much more acceptable and excusable in our society than I think they ought to be. In fact, my most serious high school relationship ended pretty much on account of jealousy. The first four years or so that J and I dated, I was jealous of J’s good girl friends, of girls that got onto the treadmill next to him at the gym (crazy, right?!?!), and of the girl who made his sandwich at the campus store (also whacko!). Opening up our relationship has made my jealousy dwindle to an actual manageable and faceable emotion. It sometimes comes on like a little annoying fly. I am able to hold it, examine it, figure out what is really going on, and let it go.
Since we opened up, my jealousy has evolved quite rapidly. I feel so much freer and happier and more secure in our relationship than I ever did before. At first I thought I might be jealous of seeing J have sex with other people. That quickly diminished after we read Sex at Dawn. In fact, I highly, highly enjoy watching J pleasure and be pleasured by other partners (this is sort of the opposite of jealousy—dubbed “compersion” in the open relationship world; a post on that is sure to come!). I am now on the tail-end of facing and letting go of my jealousies that have resulted from our separate play option: I was at first very jealous thinking about J with someone else, without me there. I realized that it was about a fear of losing J, and mostly about a selfishness of sharing our shared time together. I also quickly recognized that my insecurities spread like a virus when I pictured J with some “faceless” individual: she looks like a supermodel, is super smart, witty, makes him laugh until his stomach hurts, can run super long distances at his pace, skis like a pro, and can make killer cinnamon rolls. The most ideal woman for J pops into my head! Once I realized that my jealousy and insecurity stemmed from the unknown, J and I were able to have a constructive conversation about what to do about that insecurity (thus, our rule about knowing each other’s partners, as J described earlier).
I am also still processing my jealousy surrounding more emotional relationships, where J shares a deeper emotional and/or mental connection with someone else and I am not a part of that. Part of my processing comes from the recognition that J is a separate individual with separate emotions and feelings, with separate dislikes and likes and interests, and separate friends. Understanding that we can both have connections with other people helps me to mitigate this jealousy.
Another deeper jealousy that I think a lot of people in “vanilla” relationships perhaps do not deal with is the idea of one’s partner having a sexual relationship with a close, long-term, “vanilla,” friend. J has an amazing friendship with someone from his junior high years, and I actually have been able to begin confronting and working through the jealous feelings that have arisen when I think about their relationship evolving into something else. Before we began negotiating our open relationship, this would have impossible. I was jealous that he even talked to her on the phone every so often. Another issue that has come up, that has given me jealousy issues to work on, is the idea of J meeting back up with ex-girlfriends. I think because they were from his “vanilla” past, it would be interesting to negotiate a new kind of relationship with them. I would also need to have the chance to get to know them well before anything really happened between J and them.
Feeling jealousy and letting it sit inside of me allows me to move through the emotion. Bottling it up, letting fears and resentments grow, is not particularly healthy or helpful to the process. Crying, journaling, taking hot showers, getting a manicure, talking with J, talking with friends, exercising, and meditating are all ways that I have found to help myself work through jealousy. Naming and processing jealousy are integral to having clear and honest communication in general, and have definitely been important for me in negotiating our open relationship.

Rules

Rules (agreements, understandings, arrangements, or whatever you want to call them) are an integral part of a successful experience in this lifestyle. Rules have been an essential part of ensuring that K and I have successful encounters that leave us feeling satisfied and happy. This post is going to discuss (1) the reasons we have rules (2) dealing with other people’s rules, (3) equality of rules, and (4) our rules, including how those rules have changed over time and why. I have spent almost four hours trying to write this post now and I am still struggling with exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. This topic ended up being much more difficult to write about than I anticipated so please bear that in mind as you read this post!
 
The Reasons We Have Rules
 
The primary reason that K and I have rules is to ensure that we have a satisfying experience with every person we encounter, that we are clear with other couples about what we want, that everyone is able to enjoy themselves to the greatest extent possible, that we are safe, and that no one is left feeling jealous, insecure or upset about a situation. 
K and I try to keep our rules general so that they can be applied to all situations equally, but the sort of behavior that we are open to is different with every couple depending on the level of physical and mental attraction felt by both K and I and by the other couple. With some couples we almost immediately “click” and we are comfortable being very intimate early on. With other couples we may not feel immediately physically and/or mentally attracted but the more we get to know them the more comfortable we become with the idea of playing. This is not to say that K and I strive to reach a point where we feel comfortable playing with another couple. However, because K and I view sex as an added bonus to already fun relationships with “sexy friends” we like to always maintain sex as an option for our relationships with “sexy friends” just in case the proper chemistry ever develops!
K and I have rules to clearly inform other couples about what we are looking for and what we hope to gain by having an encounter. When a couple has rules that they are able to clearly and effectively communicate to K and I, we can make sure not to violate those rules which ensures that everyone has a great time and nobody is left feeling angry or disrespected. Just as we are respectful of the rules of other people, we expect them to be respectful of our rules and understand that we have our particular rules in an attempt to ensure a positive experience for all involved. Our rules are meant to protect us from having an encounter that is unsatisfying or upsetting; by clearly and effectively communicating our rules to couples we meet ensures that they understand exactly what we are looking for and what we expect from a situation.
 
Dealing With The Rules of Others
 
It is for all of the same reasons that we have rules that we are always respectful and understanding of the rules communicated to us by other couples. We merely ask that a couple always communicate their rules to us openly and honestly before any intimate encounter. So long as a couple’s rules have been clearly communicated to us prior to an encounter, we have the ability to decide for ourselves whether or not we want to play with a couple with those particular rules.
While we respect that all couples have different boundaries and comfort levels and we always abide by all rules that are clearly communicated to us, we have noticed that we are often skeptical about the motivations for particular rules.  Specifically, K and I are often wary of getting involved with couples with particular rules if they are being used as a means of mitigating jealousy issues.  If a rule was created as an attempt to mitigate jealousy issues we often are skeptical about whether that rule will actually suffice as a means of mitigating jealousy or whether it is merely a Band-Aid on a much larger issue. 
For example, we have met couples that have a “no penetration” or “no kissing” rule and that, to us, often demonstrates insecurity issues that should be addressed by that couple before continuing in the lifestyle and it often raises a red flag for us in terms of whether or not we should become involved with this couple. (I just want to pause here and say that we have also met couples who have who have similarly restrictive rules but the motivations are entirely different- in those cases we are still completely open to the possibility of playing.  For us, it is about understanding the specific rule and the reason the rule was created.) The reason that we are cautious to become involved with a couple with restrictive rules that were created in an attempt to mitigate jealousy is because we have a fear of overstepping other, potentially less-obvious, boundaries that may spark feelings of jealousy and insecurity which generally ruins the mood and makes the encounter less than satisfying. We have learned from personal experience that we are only able to relax and have fun when everyone involved is able to completely relax and enjoy themselves; when someone involved in a situation is experiencing feelings of jealousy, there is the potential for the encounter to be miserable for all involved rather than a positive experience.
 
Equality of Rules
 
Sometimes rules appear unequal and unfair from outside of a relationship, but that is okay so long as both partners are in agreement about what their rules are. Each partner must feel that their needs and desires are taken into account by their partners during the negotiation/creation of the rules and that the rules that are created are a product of negotiation stemming from both partner’s desires and needs. Both Opening Up and Ethical Slut address the idea of rule equality and are in agreement that rules for partners do not have to appear to be equal so long as both partners are happy with the rules that are created. 
K & I have come across the topic of rule equality in our own rule making and we have dealt with the possibility of having rules that would appear “unequal” to someone not involved in our relationship but in reality this rule still served both our interests. (This will be explained below)
Currently K & I have the exact same rules for one another so our rules are, in a sense, “equal.”  However, there was a point when K and I were discussing the possibility of separate play and K expressed the sentiment that she may not be okay with separate play as an option for me. I responded by informing K that I would still want her to be able to play separately even if she were unwilling to afford me the same opportunity. My reasoning for this was that, merely because K didn’t want me to play without her, it did not change the way that I felt about her playing without me. I actually encouraged K to play separately if it were something that she desired because that gave me the ability to opt out of potentially uncomfortable situations without taking away K’s possibility of playing. I saw this as a win-win situation because it allowed K to play separately which saved me from the pressure that I may put on myself to engage in a situation that I may not be completely comfortable with, simply so that K could do something (or someone) that she really wanted to do. Even though this rule would not have appeared “equal” to an outside observer of our relationship, it was still the product of negotiation and would serve both of our interests.
 
Our Rules
 
1) No Taking One For the Team: This rule developed very early on in our swinging experience. This rule developed as a result of me feeling left out in certain situations because the man and woman from the other couple were both very into K but nobody was into me. I began to feel like I was merely there as extra baggage that had to come along in order for K to be able to play and I did not enjoy feeling that way. Because of this, K and I developed this rule and the option to play separately. For K and I this rule is not so much about the level of physical attraction that we feel with our potential playmates; instead, it is about whether or not we anticipate the experience will be a positive experience overall for each of us. This rule means more to us than simply not feeling physically attracted to our playmates; it is about having an experience that is satisfying and fun. If one of us expects that the experience will not leave us feeling happy and satisfied then we will either (a) opt out of the situation entirely or (b) choose to play separately so that only the partner who is desirous of an encounter need be involved in the encounter. 
2) Separate Play as an Option: This rule developed out of our strict adherence to our “no taking one for the team” rule. We reasoned that it would be better to have our partner play when they want and allow the other partner to not play when they do not want to rather than hold back the other one from partaking in a situation that they expect will be enjoyable. The other reason we created this rule is because we did not want to inadvertently put pressure on our partner to play when they were not feeling like it was something that they wanted to do. The final, and perhaps main reason, we created this rule is because, in our experience, four-way chemistry is extremely difficult to find. There is often good chemistry between two partners but not between the other people; in these situations we want our partner to be able to take advantage of the connection that they feel to another person and enjoy that connection. 
3) Knowing our Partner’s Partners: This rule developed as a result of being able to play separately. We have this rule as a way of mitigating our own jealousy and security issues around potential separate play. While we wish that we had no jealousy or insecurity issues (and we are constantly working on them), we do. The purpose of this rule is to take away the jealousy associated with our partner having an intimate encounter with some “faceless” person and instead be able to know them as another human being with both positive and negative qualities. I personally like this rule because I cannot imagine finding someone that I would be so physically and mentally attracted to that K would not also like. K likes this rule because it ensures that she has a second person (me) to help her vet potential playmates which is important to her as she has had some less-than-great encounters with men in her “vanilla” time.
4) 110% Comfortable: This rule was actually suggested to us by a family member very early on in our experience after we explained to her some of the issues that had been coming up for us while we were playing. One of the main things that was coming up early on in our experience was that neither one of us was able to fully relax and enjoy the situation because we were constantly concerned whether or not our partner was comfortable with a particular situation. The rule here is that both of us will always assume that our partner is 110% comfortable with the situation; otherwise our partner will immediately put a stop to the situation by using our “secret gesture.” The purpose of this rule is that it allows both of us to simply relax and enjoy the situation knowing that our partner is completely comfortable.  This rule is not nearly as important to us now that we have been doing this for a while and with people who we know we are comfortable with but it was very important when we were just beginning. This rule has been violated a couple of times by K and it was extremely frustrating to me when this happened. We had created this rule for a particular reason and violations of the rule caused me to second-guess whether K was actually comfortable with a situation. These violations put all of my attention back on K during encounters and made it so that I was unable to relax and simply enjoy a situation. Because K knows how upset I was when she violated this rule she has agreed to do her best to never violate this rule again and I have been able to reestablish my trust in her ability to follow this rule and always let me know when she is not 110% comfortable with a situation.
5) Close Encounters: The rule here is that we do not travel great distances to meet couples that we have met online since it is so difficult to find a couple that we will potentially play with. This rule developed after our first in-person meeting with a couple that we had met online. We drove about 35 minutes to meet this couple only to realize after less than 3 minutes that these people were a terrible fit for us! We had been deceived by their pictures, they were not our type at all, we had nothing in common, and we were not attracted to them at all. We endured the evening and as we drove home we crafted this rule, which is that we would never travel more than approximately 10 minutes to meet with a new couple because the chances of a successful encounter are so slim. Since this first in-person encounter we have become much better at determining whether or not we will likely be attracted to a couple by reading their emails, looking at their pictures, asking them the right questions, etc. I am including this rule because it is an example of the importance of being flexible with rules and occasionally breaking rules. . . I am writing this post with a grin on my face because we broke this rule last night by driving an hour to meet with a new couple and. . . WE ARE SO GLAD WE BROKE OUR RULE! We were really confident that we would like this couple because we could tell from our emails that they were very cute and that we had a lot in common with both of them. This rule is an example of a rule that was important to us early on in our experiences when we were still learning how to determine through emails and other electronic forms of communication whether or not we would likely be attracted to someone. However, this rule is less important to us now that we have gotten better at this. I think we can safely say that after having broken our rule for this couple we will once again feel confident trusting our intuition about whether or not we should bother traveling very far to meet a new couple.
6) STI Protection: This rule seems like common sense to us but we still want to include it because it is something that we are very serious about. K and I are both STI free and it is important for us to take all reasonable steps to minimize our risk of contracting an STI. Before playing with another couple we always speak with them openly and honestly about our STI status, when we were last tested, what steps we take to ensure that we remain STI free, and the fact that we always play with condoms. We also always offer to show our most recent STI testing results to a playmate so that they can verify for themselves that we are being completely honest about our STI status and when we were last tested. Another way that we ensure our safety in this area is to play with couples who are drug free and maintain a healthy lifestyle so that we can trust they are not taking extreme risks with their health and well-being. While we understand that we are taking a risk by engaging in this sort of behavior, we have come to the conclusion that it is a risk we are willing to take so long as we take all reasonable precautions to minimize our risk.
7) Physical and Mental Attraction: This rule is not a “rule” like our other ones but I am including it in this section because it is something that is important to both K and I. We have found that for both of us it is important to feel both physically and mentally attracted to our potential playmates. Because K and I both like ongoing “relationships” where we can enjoy both sexual and non-sexual activities with our playmates it is important to us that we have both types of attraction to the people that we play with. If we are only mentally attracted to potential playmates, then we usually prefer to just add them to our list of “sexy friends” and share stories, hang out, give and receive advice, and have an awesome time with them! Because these experiences are in addition to an already excellent sex life, we are generally unwilling to compromise on the importance of having both physical and mental attraction with our potential playmates.
 
In Summary
 
Our rules, while constantly in flux, have served us well up to this point in our experience. We are constantly reevaluating our rules to ensure that they are reflective of the experience that we are seeking or whether or not we would be better off by tweaking and/or changing our rules. Thank you for getting through this whole post as it was a very long and complicated one. Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions you have or anything that I should clarify!

The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt

I recently finished reading The Ethical Slut by Catherine Liszt and Dossie Easton. It seems like one of the standard books one comes across when expanding one’s views on human sexuality and sexual relationships. I had heard of it before, and wanted to read it to expand my knowledge of the books written on the subject of open relationships.
 
The main premise of the book, I think, is that being sexually promiscuous (being a “slut”) is not a “bad thing.” It actually is a positive experience to live as a slut: to have the freedom and ability to express one’s sexuality and to act on (consensual) sexual desires. The authors attempt to reclaim the word slut as a label that positively describes someone’s ability and desire to have a variety of positive sexual encounters, experiences, and partners.
 
While there were a few things I did like about this book, there were also some things I was not as fond of. The writing feels disconnected from my generation. The authors seem to place an emphasis on “free love” which feels out of touch with the way our society is structured and with how most people live right now. This isn’t to say that I don’t think “free love” is a humbling and sort of noble idea; I would actually prefer it, I think, if people had the humility and security to love many people and have sex with many people without it causing anxiety, fear of loss, jealousy, and anger. Overall, though, it doesn’t feel like a practical guide to expanding relationships and sexual experiences. The authors actually admit to having their roots in 1960s San Francisco, and most of the book feels couched in a small, small slice of the American experience and not applicable to mainstream America.
 
I really did like, however, their discussion about how the taboo nature of sex has led to distorted views about the sexual experience and misinformation. If no one can openly talk about sex and ask questions when there is confusion about the real mechanics of sex, then I think people go off of the messages they receive from mass media and porn. Sex is always passionate, right? The woman always squirts, right? The man is always bigger than the woman, right? There is always a lot of grunting and screaming, right? I think if we all talked to all of our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, we would find out that the sexual experience is as diverse as people are in general. Because social constraints keep us from talking openly about sex with everyone we might want to, we have no way of knowing that not every man grunts, not every woman orgasms the same way, that sometimes sex is just sex and not some mind-blowing, earth-shattering event. One of their suggestions for breaking yourself out of your own “sex is taboo” box is to write down all sex-related words that you can think of, and then choose the ones you like (cock, dick or penis? Vagina or cunt? Squirting or female ejaculation?). Say them out loud five times in a row so that you actually feel comfortable saying them. It makes it easier to communicate to yourself and others what you want, what you like, and what you want to do.
 
They also lead a thoughtful discussion about body image and how body image distortions and anxieties affect our expectations surrounding sex (body image distortions create and further emphasize our feelings of inadequacy, worry about loss, etc). This part honestly really hit home for me because I have struggled since high school with breast size: why can’t mine be BIGGER dammit?? Don’t all men want their partners to have big boobs? Since I don’t have them, does that mean my partner is unsatisfied? Will he leave me for someone with bigger boobs?? See, I wrote that, and I know it sounds ridiculous! But Liszt and Easton are definitely on to something when they discuss how our culture’s perceptions of beautiful bodies affects our perceptions of what sex should look like and feel like.
 
The chapter on jealousy was also solid, and had some great tips about how to manage and face jealousy. A lot of their suggestions had to do with relaxation techniques, being honest with yourself and your partner, appropriate ways to respond to jealousy, and how to problem solve and manage conflicts peacefully and constructively. The chapters on health and raising children were also informative and helpful. Lastly, I really liked the authors’ ability to talk about the “real-world” constraints of having an open relationship: time, money, and one’s ability to have sex many times a day are all limited! It does take honest negotiation and communication to make an open relationship work.
 

Overall, I am glad I read The Ethical Slut as it seems to be integral in open relationship literature. I definitely think it has some valuable parts in it. Besides the 1960s feel to the book, I would recommend it to anyone looking to expand their views on what relationships can look like and how to ethically create open relationships.