Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:
I live with my longtime girlfriend, “April.” About a year ago we started seeing someone together, who I’ll call “Jamie.” We had many wonderful months as a triad, until last summer when Jamie had to move back in with their family in another city due to financial matters. We have been long-distance since then, with Jamie promising to move back to our town this summer.
A major problem right now is that Jamie is very jealous of seemingly everything April and I do together. They’re jealous if we get takeout, go on a hike, hang out with friends, or just spend the evening watching TV. While I fully understand their jealousy and would probably feel the same way if I were them, it really takes a toll on April and I to constantly hear about it. It feels like everything we tell Jamie upsets them, and if we don’t tell them what we’ve been up to, Jamie is still upset because we aren’t sharing about our day with them! It doesn’t leave much room for April and me to appreciate the time we spend with each other.
We talk to Jamie about it and are very sympathetic. Of course it hurts to know that the things we do together cause them pain! But since they’re not here with us, the reality is there’s not much we can do to make their jealousy go away. I think it’s okay for Jamie to feel their feelings, and I want them to feel like they can talk about their emotions with us, but is it reasonable to ask them to bring up their jealousy a little less? How should we approach this?
— Sympathetic But Worn Out
I don’t have a lot of insight into how polyamorous relationships—let alone, partially long-distance polyamorous relationships—work, so I turned your question over to Slate’s readers. Many people had advice for Jamie, and a main theme of that advice was that they should find other people to talk to about the way they’re feeling.
After all, as @cleanandgritty said, jealousy is normal and doesn’t necessarily require professional mental health support—just different friends who are in a better position to listen without feeling personal and direct guilt: “People in the comments saying therapy: I’m a slut for therapy but romantic jealousy is not mental illness it’s average human emotion. There are free therapists for average feelings, and they’re called Friends You *Aren’t* Dating.”
The way Jamie is feeling, by the way, seems to be common, even in relationships that don’t involve long distance. @McReynoldsJoe pointed out that “One term that comes up a lot in poly/open circles is the idea of ‘compersion’—essentially, working towards feeling happy for your partner(s) in situations where we’re primed to feel jealousy.” @Tangledcorpse made a similar point, writing, “Speaking as someone who is poly it’s important to acknowledge those jealousies. But the key is to be able to find joy in your partners being together without you.”
But Jamie didn’t ask for advice—you did. I thought the best insight for you came from those who pushed back on the idea that the kind, helpful thing to do is to listen to Jamie’s endless complaints about jealousy. A couple of people pointed out that this might not actually be productive and that you can do more than feel sorry for Jamie. You can ask them to take your feelings into consideration by putting a lid on the venting. And if they won’t, you can let them know that you don’t want to hear about it as much—and this is nothing to feel guilty about!
Jamie’s jealousy doesn’t seem to the problem as much as how they’re handling their jealousy. Jamie may need to work on their ability to process and let go. But Jamie didn’t write in, the other two did. There’s a boundary issue there on all sides. They don’t recognize that listening to Jamie rehearse feelings about an unsolvable problem (that Jamie chooses to be party to) doesn’t actually address those feelings in any useful way for anyone. They’re allowed to set a boundary around it and focus on the positive things. — @betsyhodges
I think they are missing the obvious solution because of the polyamory involved. they can & should set boundaries around listening to Jamie complain. she *is* allowed her feelings, but she isn’t allowed unlimited venting to you two. you can’t control your feelings but everyone absolutely can control what actions they take regarding their feelings & Jamie’s actions are some for real trash right now. They are not making themself feel any better and are making you all feel terrible too! it is 100% acceptable to kindly disengage when they start in with the jealousy. it’s not cruel to set and enforce boundaries. also, when someone makes you consistently feel down, that is a giant red flag. the only way this works is if Jamie puts in the work .… as captain awkward frequently says, people always have choices in how they treat you, no matter the circumstances. Jamie is choosing to put all of her negative feelings on you instead of finding ways to be happier where they are until the summer and that’s a pretty shitty choice. — @dstar
The responses made me realize that this is the arrangement Jamie signed up for, and burdening you with complaints about it is just as unfair as it would be for someone in a monogamous relationship to vent about loneliness every time their partner left for work. And while I’m sure you want to make Jamie feel better because you care about them, that’s ultimately something they’re going to have to take responsibility for on their own.
My boyfriend once dated the girl next door—literally. “Emma” played with him in the wading pool and dated him through high school and college. It is the biggest disappointment to everyone that the relationship didn’t work out. Emma is constantly present at family events with her parents. Everyone loves her and has so many stories to tell about my boyfriend and her. I feel like I am going crazy.