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Why Fair Does Not Mean Equal: On Keeping Score

As everyone finds out at some point, jealousy is something that will come up in every relationship, polyamorous or not. It’s really easy to try and find an easy way out of it, some way to tame the beast without actually trying to solve the jealousy.

Our culture tells us that jealousy is a healthy thing, that if you love someone, you will be jealous when they even glance at someone they find attractive. Hell, there’s even a popular song that came out recently titled Jealous that glorifies it. Some people even try to stoke jealousy in their partners as some sort of “proof” that they love them. It’s getting out of hand.

Instead of facing jealousy (which is a whole different series of posts…), so many people try to make up rules to try and skirt around the jealousy. One idea that keeps coming back for many new poly couples is making sure things are equal. Tit-for-tat, keeping score, even – whatever you want to call it, it only makes things worse.

People tend to think that jealousy can be placated by doing what makes the initial uncomfortable feeling go away. This could be a veto, a “one-penis policy”, a rule that all partners have to have sex only all together, or a rule that whatever one person “gets” to do, then so does the other partner. The person imposing the rules feels as though these will help their jealousy, and generally doesn’t think that it will inconvenience or hurt anyone.

There are at least two big problems with all these rules. First, is that it lets one person dictate how a relationship between two other people works, and takes away their autonomy. Second is that, no matter how well-intentioned or well-followed the rules are, it will only feed the jealousy, never fix it.

When it comes to keeping score in particular, it’s a particularly exhausting rule for everyone involved. The person being told to keep things even has to keep track. The person that is enforcing the rule generally has to nag the other person to keep their end of the deal. And the third person is at the mercy of the rule-maker – if their partner doesn’t want to do something twice, then they won’t do it at all!

Let’s use an imaginary V relationship to imagine this. Anne and Bob have been dating for a few years, and recently opened up their relationship. Bob is now in a relationship with Carrie, but Anne is feeling jealous of their relationship. In order to suppress her jealousy, Anne tells Bob that any time he has a date with Carrie, he needs to take Anne out for a date too, within two days. She also tells him that any time he sleeps over at Carrie’s house, he needs to spend a night at Anne’s house as well. Then, everything is equal, and she thinks she won’t have to feel jealous any more. Missing from this equation, quite blatantly, is that any time Bob spends time with Anne, he isn’t required to keep that “equal” with Carrie, as Anne feels that she should be Bob’s main focus (Not that making that “equal” is the right way to go – this is pointing out the double standard).

This is something that gets out of hand really, really fast. If Bob doesn’t remember to do this every time, Anne will flip out. Carrie will likely see less of Bob because any time he schedules a date or a night over, he has to schedule another with Anne too, so suddenly every date ends up taking up twice as much time on his calendar. Bob is frustrated that he has to work around Anne’s schedule in order to see Carrie. Carrie feels helpless when it comes to how her relationship with Bob will develop, because Anne’s rules are holding it captive. Well, at least Anne’s happy, right?

No, she’s probably not.

Setting these rules has done absolutely nothing for Anne’s jealousy. It’s like putting a band-aid on a wound that needs stitches. You might stop it from getting worse for a very brief time, but that will only come back to bite you in the end. Anne’s problem is not that Bob and Carrie spend a lot of time together, but rather that she is feeling insecure about her relationship and feels that Bob is neglecting her or not spending enough time with her. She thought that by controlling Bob and Carrie’s relationship, she would feel less threatened by the time they spend together, but the insecurity is still there, if not as close to the surface.

The real question is, what actually needs to be done for these three?

When it comes down to it, this issue will never truly be solved until Anne takes some time to figure out the true trigger for her jealousy, the insecurity. From there, she can figure out what she needs – which is not that Bob and Carrie spend less time together, but rather that she needs quality time in order to feel secure in her relationship with Bob. Once she realizes this, she should talk to Bob about her needs. Not in the context of “In order to meet my needs, you need to spend as much time with me,” but rather “I need to have more quality time with you. How can we make this happen?”

Once Anne and Bob have that discussion, what will likely happen is that Bob will make sure to schedule more time with Anne, and balance that with the amount of time he and Carrie want to spend together. The result, honestly, will likely be very close to equal time, but without the demands of a rule, it is a lot more peaceful and a lot less stressful for everyone.

So, what to do instead?

It can be difficult to figure out what you should do when your partner is on a date. That can often be the source of anxiety over not having an equal amount of time. You realize how alone you feel, so you need to make up for it.

Instead of fretting over your partner having other relationships, build some of your own. I’m not talking about romantic relationships or having other partners; even if you’re a monogamous partner on one side of a V, or just haven’t found another partner that you get along with yet, there are other relationships in your life. You probably have family or friends. At the very least, you have yourself.

For those of you that have family you’re close to, you can use that time to visit them or call them up. This may not be the case with everyone (I know I don’t have that many I can visit or call at a moment’s notice), but for some people, family closeness is important.

Otherwise, it’s always important to have friends to spend time with. Even long-distance friends you can Skype or text with. If you don’t have many or any local friends, join a local club or group around something you’re passionate about. Meetup.com is a fantastic resource for those kinds of groups (You can even find a local group of poly people in many larger cities)! It might take some time to find a group that you enjoy, but it’s worth it.

The most important thing, however, is to make sure to build your relationship with yourself. If you don’t have this, you will have a really hard time with almost everything in poly. It can be something as simple as taking yourself out for dinner at your favorite restaurant while your partner is out, or working on a hobby. Maybe even make it a point to do something your partner doesn’t like. He doesn’t like sushi? Treat yourself to some! She hates your favorite music? Turn it up and sing along! You’re not going to be seeing things from the point of view that you partner is missing, but rather that you’re gaining time for yourself.

Chelsey Dagger

Chelsey is a relationship anarchist, with multiple wonderful partners across the United States. They are in IT during the day, and at night they are currently in school for psychology, and on their way to being a therapist, with focus on polyamorous individuals, couples, and families.

  • Rachel Barr

    It’s unrelated to your post but it’s kind of annoying to get to be able to reply to your thread. My boyfriend sent it to me and I had to log in with Facebook, select a password, then verify the email associated with my facebook account… Then had to log into the site disqus. Now they’ll probably spam me on email and facebook…

    It’s not even what I had to say was even that important, I’ve completrly my original idea now.

    Anyways! A couple of years ago, weightwatchers had a commercial with hungry portrayed as a little orange fuzzy monster chasing a women throughout the day. I imagine jealousy like that and just like constant surveillance isn’t the answer to healthy weight, it’s not the answer to healthy relationships, I agree.

    I liked your article. Thanks for posting.

    • chelseydagger1

      Thanks for putting the effort in to comment! For future reference you should be able to check the box to comment as guest if you wish.

      I like the idea of jealousy being a little fuzzy monster. One you can turn around and glare at as it chases you, and then suddenly it’s like the ones in Monsters Inc.

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