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.
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.