By Maria Padhila
I am sooooo jealous. Not of any of my lovers. No, they can skip off and have whatever fun they like, and I will smile and compersionize away, curled up with a book while they’re swinging from the chandelier with someone new. I’m jealous of “writer friends,” as they’re termed in an essay that crossed my path the other day: “How Not to Hate Your Friends,” by Courtney Maum in the Tin House literary magazine blog.
The article is about the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference, which is sort of the SXSW for poets and literary writers. Yeah, I know — how much more obscure can you get? But for those of us who are into this kind of thing, it’s the most happening scene of the year. I was lucky a few years back when it was in DC, and there were plenty of free readings at bars and galleries around the city, so I got to be in on it without having to pay a lot of money or actually publish or be known.
But as much as I love the OPP (Other People’s Poetry), it would still be nice not to have gotten the rejection email that came in just today, for instance. Will anyone ever like my poems? Do I suck? Am I wasting my time? Am I a fool? At poetry gatherings, the combination of self-consciousness, introvert pain, social awkwardness, disappointed expectations, and comparing (and let’s add some alcohol!) can turn toxic fast. It’s just a little bit worse than some polyamory potlucks.
When I did a search on “AWP jealousy,” I was truly shocked at how many blog entries there were out there that made just this reference. It is really tough when you know damn well you’re not too likely to have anyone recognize that the value of what to you is like breathing. I’m always happy to see people share poems and music (and even photos and paintings) in the Planet Waves comments for this reason. If we don’t throw it out there to the world somehow, it dies.
Before I go much further I want to pass on a recommendation for a recent book specific to poly jealousy: The Jealousy Workbook, by Kathy Labriola. It is getting lots of fine reviews, and the exercises in it can be done solo or by more than one.
As I read about “writer friend jealousy,” I recognized a lot of similarities to what people have written about polyamory and jealousy. But while there are many guides out there about how not to be jealous of your lovers, there aren’t as many that advise on how not to be jealous of your friends, and I’d respectfully submit that maybe that information is needed just as badly.
When you’re in a relationship with several people, you can put in all the rules you want about exchanging bodily fluids and days of the week and who gets which pillow. But we all know the things that cause the fights are more often things like whether you watched that movie with X when Y wanted you to save it and go with her. And because the lover/friend continuum can be so fluid in polyamory, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to focus on the friend rules a little harder. Roommate rules, too — I know one of the things that makes a big difference to Isaac is taking care of the French press (no, that is not an obscure term for whatever new position the young people are doing today) and leaving it ready for him in the morning, for instance, even if I’ve made coffee for Chris the evening before.
This is working at the level of kindness, politeness, consideration, grace — not at the deep level where the lover jealousy dwells for many people. That deeper level is easier for me to transform — I don’t encounter it very starkly to begin with, and I can move my emotions around there easily. At this lighter level, however, it’s more difficult. While I can fake it, I’m always interested in ways that could help me really make it. So here’s a breakdown of Maum’s tips, and a look at how they can apply to love — or anywhere else in life. After a hotshot start as a writer, she experienced a big setback:
As Oscar Wilde so wisely stated, “Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success.” The game changes when your friends start getting published in magazines, getting agents, and landing book deals… I don’t write well when I’m angry, or feel slighted, or when I’m holding a grudge, and grudge-holding was pretty much my modus operandi for much of the mid-aughts. It took me three years and two bad novels to cleanse myself of the jealousy and resentment that turned my heart against my successful writing friends, but it eventually became clear that I wasn’t going to get good work done until I felt unadulterated goodwill towards my colleagues — especially the hot shots. It was a tough thing to accomplish, so I’ve compiled some tips about how I managed to do this in hopes that other struggling writers might find them helpful, too.
Sounds pretty familiar to anyone poly. Jealousy hurts all relationships in the mix — and it sucks up energy you could use somewhere else. Here’s her first rule:
Only be friends with people you actually like. In our follow-back social media culture, this is harder than it sounds. Writer relationships involve politics, which is why we end up with so many expedient friends — people whose good grace might serve a purpose later on. Unfriend these scarecrows, now. You don’t have to say nasty things behind their backs at book parties, but if their status updates make you want to hurl your laptop into the drywall, purge them from your life. Why make every visit to the Internet feel like you’re poisoning yourself?
This is huge. As much as I long to stay friends with everyone I’ve ever loved, there are some with whom I just can’t do it. And there are lots of “friend collectors” out there who are just looking for a bigger audience. I’m going to let some go.
Only be friends with people whose writing you respect. There’s a big difference between “like” and “respect.” You don’t have to like Marlon’s MFA poetry thesis about medieval shipbuilding, but if you don’t respect it, you shouldn’t be in his life. Being friends with people whose work you think is less-than doesn’t make you charitable, it makes you a condescending jerk.
You could extend this from “writing you respect” to just plain “respect.” There’s a big phony player out there with a pseudo-Buddha quote for every day of the week, but you’ve seen him snipe at his lover or treat her with disrespect? Out he goes. Or less obvious: Don’t be friends or lovers with people you don’t respect enough to be honest with.
Get to the root of your jealousy. … If Linda’s recent proliferation of op-ed pieces is making you want to poke your eyes out with an egg beater, you’re probably having issues with under-productivity … . Admit you’re jealous. Having done this myself, I can assure you that coming clean about your feelings can do worlds for your emotional balance, and for the friendship, too. And don’t be glib about it with an immature, “I hate you!” Really put it out there that you are having a hard time being happy for your friend. She knows you’ve been faking it, anyway.
These two are usually the go-tos for poly jealousy. Talk it out with yourself, then talk it out with the others — and that “respect means honesty” thing? That works here, too: be honest about the extent of your emotions, instead of devaluing yourself and the relationships by trying to play it off. This doesn’t mean being a jerk and going into the “you’re making me jealous” mode, either. I believe we owe it to the people we’re in relationships with to own what’s going on with ourselves.
Now go be happy for them, damnit! It takes work to get there, but it’s liberating to feel genuine happiness for a friend’s success. And the great thing about bonhomie is that it tends to have a boomerang effect: People who have known you as an agenda-free cheerleader will be more likely to raise those pompoms when it’s your turn on the field. Personally, purging toxic friendships has left me with less acquaintances but with more genuine friends, which consequently leaves me with more time to write because I’m no longer mired in the busy work it takes to keep insincere relationships afloat. It’s also seen me surrounded with superior role models whose writing I honestly admire, which makes me put my nose to the ground and work, not because I want to outshine them, but because I feel inspired. It’s a good place to be in, and if this equanimity doesn’t last, I’ll try very hard to take my own advice.
It’s this last part that made me say: “That’s so poly!” when I read it. To me, this is truly compersion in action — working through an emotional process and coming out the better for it.
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