Sex. Feminism. Lesbian Werewolves.

On Jealousy

Posted on Jul 11, 2011 in Blog, Publishing, Writing | 156 comments

I am a writer. I am also in an open relationship. These two things do indeed have one powerful thing in common: Jealousy.

Jealousy is so common to the writers experience, and yet we pretend it doesn’t exist.  Perhaps it’s more noble to consider ourselves “in it for the art” rather than bristling at every other author’s success. But anyone who says they’ve never felt the cold stab of jealousy when faced with someone’s good news is a liar.

(c) Jen Lobo

In love, there’s more sense of nobility with jealousy.  There is a certain pride in being with a jealous lover. They fight for you and they scowl at attention from other suitors.  I’ve spoken to monogamous people who insist they can’t be in open relationships because they’re “too jealous.” As if monogamy makes you immune from jealousy.  Not so.  Monogamous people just get to be jealous over other things- like long embraces, or flirtations, or exes.

Polyamorous folks have to deal with jealousy on a regular basis.  The thing we remind each other when it hits is that jealousy is always trying to tell you something.

If you feel at a lack for anything, you’ll find yourself jealous of everything. My most staggering forms of jealousy are when I find myself bitter that I don’t have that car or that girlfriend or that book deal, even when I don’t actually WANT that car, girlfriend or book deal.

Once, I had a jealous episode with my partner as he was falling for a beautiful party girl with long mermaid hair.  She was oh so very straight, and oh so very femme.  I say “very” straight because she reeeeeaaaallly loves men.  She loves penises, she loves chest hair, she loves ’em big and strong.

And I was freaking out. I would get irate when LL would spend any time with her, and when they had sleepovers, I was a mess.

In LL’s relationship with the mermaid, I had to confront a bunch of my insecurities, particularly that I’m not femme, straight, long-haired, or particularly extroverted.  I’m a dykey, soft-butch, short-haired writer.  And I’m not particularly attracted to men: I find penises rather silly and I prefer a woman’s curves to a man’s beefiness. Essentially, the mermaid was a big heap of things that I would never be. Forget that I didn’t particularly want to be these things; society tells me I should: I should grow my hair long and I should swoon at masculine feats of strength.

Moreover, despite how much LL insisted that I’m the kind of girl he really goes for: he likes queer, butchy, geeky ladies; this kind of cultural programming goes deep. It tells me that even though my partner insists he finds my unshaven legs sexy, he can’t be telling the truth.  He has to like mermaids, because he’s a man, and that’s what men are.  It’s gender essentialism at its most pernicious.  It’s jealousy’s playground.

Jealousy thrives in poverty. It strikes those most who feel like there is a limited quantity of what they want. Love, sex, money, happiness, pretty houses, good jobs, whatever.   If I don’t have ANY car, well, I’ll be jealous that anyone does, even if they aren’t the kinds of cars I’d want. Same with girls.  Same with book deals.  We’re taught to associate worth with those external markers (If I made enough money I’d have that car.  If I was cool enough, I’d have that girlfriend. If I was talented enough, I’d have that book deal.)  Never mind the fact that that’s just not how reality works.  Book deals aren’t just for talent.  Girlfriends aren’t just for cool kids.

Love is not a limited resource.  Neither is happiness, or success. Neither, really, is money.  There is enough of all to go around.

It’s easy for writers to get caught up in the belief that we should all want the big New York publishing deal with the advance and the book tour and the ads in the NY Times. But that’s like saying we should all want Disney princes to sweep us off our feet.  A) They aren’t real and B) If you really think about it, it sounds like a raw deal.

The vast majority of writers will never make those advances back, if they even got good ones from the start.  And book tours and ads are generally all bought by the authors themselves, not by the publishing house.  With big publishers, you don’t own your clout, you rent it.

I won’t pretend that I’m not competing in my career.  I’m competing for people’s attention.  I’m competing for money.  But I’m doing it in a way that allows us all to win.  Someone getting a book deal at Random House doesn’t mean I’m suddenly nobody.  It doesn’t even mean that they’re book is better than mine. Look at Twilight. Book deals don’t equal quality.

It’s just like relationships.  Sure, if a woman scores an awesome (monogamous) guy, yes, that means I don’t get that guy. I don’t get his love.  But doesn’t that mean I don’t get love at all?  Hell no.  I can get love from the gobs of other amazing humans out there.

Yes, Harper Collins may only have 14 slots for new books each season, so if you get one of those deals, I don’t get that deal, but does it mean I don’t get to make money as an author, that I don’t deserve success?

What do you think?

A friend of mine loathes used bookstores because they don’t pay royalties on books sold.  I see it another way.  I want to live in a culture where access to affordable books is easy.  I want people to think of reading as pleasurable.  I want books to be ubiquitous.

Encouraging a culture of readers is good for business. Encouraging more writers to write and more readers to read is good for everyone. Quashing my partner’s excitement at crushing on new people doesn’t do me any good, nor would boycotting the Strand.  There’s enough love to go around.  There are enough readers.

This is why I decide to establish my love relationships based on my own rules.  Because jealousy will happen.  But you don’t run from it.  You look at it.  You ask it what you’re missing, and then you fix what’s missing.  I decided I didn’t want to compete for one true love.  And I didn’t want to compete for one of 14 slots on a publishing schedule.  There is enough success to go around.  And JK Rowling’s success won’t hurt me one bit.


Note: Check out Dear Sugar at The Rumpus for a gobsmackingly brilliant essay on writers’ jealousy.



Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Bets

    Fascinating. As a maniacal monogamous the idea of polyamorous relationships has to me suggested perhaps a missing jealousy gene. Interesting to think about jealousy from this lens. Jealousy is indeed about feeling lack. Or even perhaps fear of loss. Hadn’t considered it in quite this way before. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Xakara

    This is a great look at jealousy and it explains a basic difference in how I veiw the success of others.

    I have a deep abiding believe that how we language something structures our entire approach to it and our reality when dealing with it. I was taught very early that my happiness should never come at the expense of someone else’s. As a result, in my adulthood, I’ve never looked at someone and said “that should have been me instead”. I’m still only human, so I can’t help a close equivalent of “why can’t that be me too?” It’s always been an addition rather than a subtraction. I don’t consider there to be a lack so I don’t language it that way and I don’t experience that reality around it.

    In relationships I do feel jealousy, particularly around time. For me, it’s not another person or other people, it’s other things. When our time is lacking and then this other endeavor takes precendence and is explained in language of “have to” and “I must”, it comes off as more important than whatever he’s not doing with me because he didn’t tell his gaming friends he “had to” or “he must” fulfill the obligation between us. And that’s definitely both a perceived lack and an actual lack. The actual lack is that we’re spending that time separately and doing so often, the perceived lack is evident by the fact that when I have a writing deadline, I don’t notice how miuch time we’re spending in separate tasks. So I know, regardless of any other fault on his part, I’m also responsible for how I perceive that separation. We do need more time together, but it’s not a lack so much as a mismanagement of the time we do have.

    My first adult relationship was polyamorous, so I don’t know any different as far as the ability to love multiple people at once. There was no perceived lack because there was always time available and I didn’t distinguish. I’m also a bit anti-social, so more than one paramour means I can pull back when I need to and I’m also not causing a lack of time and affection. So I’m the weirdo for whom polyamory creates less jealousy in almost every way while monogamy carries the pitfall of putting too much on one person.

    This grew much longer than intended, so I’ll move along now. *smile* I love the new site and I just caught up on 90 Days of Self Publishing. I’ll get questions to you soon!


  3. t'Sade

    I don’t really get jealous, which is one of those quirks about me. When I hear about someone getting an amazing publishing deal, the first thing I think is what I would need to do to get there too. When a friend has a beautiful wife/husband/romantic interest/squishy, I might admire them but I don’t really want that person. Maybe play with the squishy… but, there are a lot of people on the “I want to play with” list so that isn’t really remarkable.

    Mostly for me, everyone is different. There are directions I want to go in life, some I can’t go, but when I see something I want, I’d rather figure out how to get there, to solve that problem, then worry about the people who already got there (to them, etc).

    Of course, I’m a non-practicing poly, so I’m strange already .:)

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