A friend said that if you like someone else while in a relationship, you should immediately break up with your partner. She said this with an immense amount of certainty, I’ve never seen anyone that sure of anything before. I usually can’t resist starting a discussion, but that was a rare moment of wisdom.
I’m still going to write an article about it, though.
This is not personal. I was not offended at all, even though I do like other people while still being in love with my partner at the same time. My friend just reminded me of how deeply rooted in the culture this problem really is.
The agenda of this article is not to convert you to non-monogamy. I’ll just use it as an example because it’s very familiar to me and it’s related to this topic.
Circling back to my friend, she was extremely adamant about her statement as a response to the slightest suggestion otherwise, as if she felt threatened (which is not an unlikely possibility). This is a common reaction in my experience, I’m not singling her out.
It reminds me of the Mosuo tribe, which practiced non-monogamy and placed great importance on autonomy, which is why they didn’t marry. They were seen as a threat to their civilized surroundings so there were attempts of imposing monogamous marriages and other traditions. However, as soon as the Mosuo people were left alone, they returned to their preferred lifestyle.
The idea of liking more than one person at a time can be perceived as a threat. I remember my reaction when I was first introduced to the concept of non-monogamy:
That’s crazy! It means that you’ve just given up on relationships! Won’t your relationships overlap and blow up?! Oh god, what if you accidentally call one of your partners by the nickname of your other partner?!
After a long discussion I realized that most of it was not my own opinion! This was really scary, I’ve never felt so brainwashed. The best explanation I can come up with is that I didn’t have much choice to think otherwise—ever since I was born, I’ve seen princes and princesses falling in love and starting a life happily ever after. What I have not seen were princesses hanging out with their attractive male friends. Both the princess and the prince were the only viable partner to each other.
When our partner hangs out with their good-looking friends, our insecurities can start working their (black) magic. We might feel threatened and tempted to try to protect ourselves by controlling the situation externally instead of internally. For example, limiting our partner’s access to their friends, or snooping on their phone only to find out something that we should already assume to be true—our partner might like someone else.
However, we often fail to see the underlying issue: we stopped trusting our partner.
Not saying that we don’t trust our partner at all, but that these circumstances caused the trust we built together to plummet. That’s what we should be working on, or at least be intrigued by.
Jealousy comes in many different flavors, so when you do feel jealous, start by asking yourself which one you got. What do you fear? That your partner might like one of their friends? So what?
“Monogamy isn’t an agreement that we won’t like other people. It’s an agreement that we won’t do anything about it.” —Dan Savage
They say that a relationship is like a flower, if we don’t water it, it cannot flourish. On the other hand, jealousy is like weeds—it grows by itself unless we do something about it. I’m not saying that we should never be jealous, many people in full-blown polyamorous relationships feel jealousy from time to time. What we should do is try to:
It helps to create some alone time with our emotions. As absurd as it may sound, we can rationalize some emotions away.
So how about you? Do you like someone else? Chances are you do—people are beautiful, both inside and outside. When we enter a relationship, we don’t suddenly stop liking other people, yet our culture assumes it as an axiom, like there’s no question about it.
The notion that you’re only allowed to like one person at a time is very strong.
“If you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn’t have fallen for the second.” —Johnny Depp
Even though this quote is about love, not just attraction, it’s still applicable to our topic. Maybe Johnny Depp changed his mind in the meantime, because this statement is ridiculous and a great illustration of how obtrusive our culture can be. It’s basically like saying:
“You think you’re attracted to two people at the same time, but this is not possible, so your feelings are wrong.”
This is very hurtful towards many people, my younger self included, who might believe that there’s something really wrong with them because they continue to be attracted to other people after entering relationships. This is because the culture is prescribing what we should feel, instead of listening to what we’re actually feeling. It’s in our nature, we can’t control who we like, so isn’t it silly to feel bad about it?
Simultaneous feelings of attraction can coexist just fine, if we let them.
Read next → Why Are Breakups So Hard?