How do you come to terms with loving yourself and not comparing yourself to others, especially your closest friends? I’m in a situation where I am confronted with this dilemma a lot as my partner of six years and I are polyamorous. Whenever he is with a new partner, I cannot help but compare myself to her and I want this to stop. He’s currently having sex with my best friend which is hard on many levels, but I ultimately want them both to be happy. I just can’t help feeling like it is a competition when I know it’s not. I know if I found it in me to not need as much external validation and be secure in and loving of myself, I might not have these feelings. How do I go about doing that?
So, let me start by outing something about me: men doing polyamory with women fills me with rage, so let me name that bias right now.
I was poly very briefly before I realized I personally could not engage in hetero-situation poly without feeling supremely exploited/enraged. Patriarchy grants dudes too much power and I couldn’t handle trying to process that power while also trying to safely process all the feelings that come up within poly contexts.
Furthermore, in San Francisco at least, I’ve noticed that straight cis men use the language of polyamory to demand absolution from women for engaging in misogynist behavior. I am not saying this is your experience, simply that my rage and your question met and became best friends.
My shortcoming, not yours. I will try my very hardest not to let this bias affect my advice, but I may not succeed. No hurt feelings if you need to stop reading now.
Anyway, end rant. I’ve taken some deep breaths and am ready to do some advising.
Regardless of your relationship style, it doesn’t mean you don’t get to have feelings. And it doesn’t mean that unpleasant feelings or thoughts aren’t valuable.
Blaming yourself or feeling guilty about having negative feelings is what’s called “the second arrow.”
The first arrow is the negative thought itself. Having difficult feelings is already difficult. It hurts. It takes energy to deal with it.
The second arrow is the shame or blame we place on ourselves for having had the initial negative feeling. The second arrow doubles the suffering, hitting us while we are already down.
There are two things I want to offer you when it comes to these thoughts.
On a personal level, learning how to manage your thoughts can be super important. A thought is just a thought; it’s not a feeling. Your thought might be, “this person is more or less attractive than me,” and then the feeling might be jealousy or delight or anger. It’s important to separate the steps in the process of escalation so we don’t get consumed with something that could have taken one minute out of our day rather than eight agonizing hours.
When this thought begins to rear its head, you can practice refusing to spiral downward with it. Practice feeling indifference when you feel the impulse to compare yourself to others. Treat the thought as something not your own, like a creepy little alien. Because, in fact, many negative thoughts are not our own, but products of our culture.
I don’t want to recommend you entirely bypass your thoughts or feelings, because they are informative. So here’s something else to consider in the context of your relationship:
We all want — and I would argue need — external validation (to varying degrees). We are social creatures. So it’s important not to be so quick to rid ourselves of unpleasant thoughts or emotions. Rather, let the thoughts happen, attempt not to judge them and examine the self-education they can offer you.
Related: 5 Ways I Became More Body Confident
If you could look past the shame or disappointment you’re feeling about yourself and your reactions, what could those feelings teach you about what you want?
If you just listened to your instincts without judgment or expectation, what would that look like?
Comparing ourselves to other women is a byproduct of living under patriarchy, where women internalize sexism and the notion of romantic/material scarcity. Both of which are like casseroles comprised entirely of layers and layers of lies.
Sexism dictates that women are less than human — incapable of complexity and therefore undeserving of the honor and dignity that the recognition of nuance demands. Society lives that misconception every day.
Furthermore, sexism dictates that men and masculinity are inherently more valuable than women and femininity. Also some bullshit.
Final thing I want to discuss: sexism is something that women internalize: we believe these things about ourselves, and we cannot treat other women any differently than we treat ourselves.
Like, your feelings are real and complex and worthy of consideration and your instinct is to stifle them, girl. Why?
So my final recommendation is to treat yourself like a goddamn queen, bask in your complete humanity, the totality of your perfection, be the first to forgive yourself, unabashedly stare your internalized shit in the face and get what’s yours.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.