But I have to remind myself that jealousy is normal and okay.
The fragrance hit me as I lay snuggled in close to Flick’s bare chest. I’d had a hard couple days feeling exceptionally lonely and isolated and I was recharging in my happy place — cuddled up in bed with my sweetie. Except that happy place wasn’t comforting the way it normally was. It didn’t smell like him. It smelled like her.
And it felt really bad.
It’s not like I hadn’t known they were together.
Flick (my husband) and Iris (our girlfriend) have a weekly date night and I have no problem with it. In fact, I’m really happy about it. Their relationship is a source of really good feels for me almost all of the time. They have a lovely connection and give each other a lot of pleasure and joy, and that gives me a lot of pleasure and joy.
But somehow him coming to bed smelling so strongly of another person hit me hard in the bad-feels place.
It’s partly because I’m so sensitive to scents. Almost every perfume or scented product of any kind is a giant allergy bomb to me. Scented candles, perfume, creams, laundry sprays, and dryer sheets are a source of much misery and congestion even if the smell itself is nice. So I think the fact that she’d come over smelling so strongly of something that it would transfer so intensely also felt really terrible because it felt like an attack on me (even though I absolutely knew in my sensible brain it wasn’t. Unfortunately, my sensible brain wasn’t driving the bus).
It shouldn’t have been a big deal. She happened to have shown up that evening wearing something more heavily-scented than usual. People try different products. If I was feeling more secure in my other relationships at the time, it probably would have been an inconvenient pang I felt and nothing more.
Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of instability in my relationships recently and having my safest space feel tippy shook me way more than it should have.
When I commented about how strong the scent was, Flick offered to shower. That seemed excessive — though, in hindsight, it would have been the right call. I declined since I was stuck in trying to wrestle my brain into submission because I thought it shouldn’t bother me so much.
It’s not like it was even a bad smell, it just didn’t smell like him. It was like there was another person in the bed creating distance between us.
He stroked my head gently for a while as I expressed my distress and agitation, and that felt wonderful and calmed me way down ... until I realized that now I smelled like the scent too because it had transferred from his hand to my face and hair.
Everything seemed awful.
As usual, it was my own attempt to pretend everything was OK with being a polyamorous wife — when it really wasn’t — that caused most of my stress.
Since I do feel good about their relationship — I love their love and love her myself — I didn’t think I should feel as bad as I did. But my person didn’t feel like my person at that point. He seemed like he was now marked as "hers" and I twisted myself into knots trying not to feel possessive and hierarchical about it.
I was trying to be perfect Poly Barbie(™) again — "Primacy is wrong! Equality for all!" — and, as with every other attempt like this, I was failing miserably.
I knew I needed to sleep on it, so let it go for the night. The next morning, after a lot more pondering and a bit of a shower cry, I realized I’m simply not capable of the kind of egalitarian polyamory that is held up as the ideal by the writers of so many polyamory books.
Books aren’t real and people aren’t ideals.
While I agree that any other relationships we have are with autonomous people who have rights and must be allowed to have their own needs and feelings, Flick is my nesting partner and I am his. We’ve been together for two decades, and with that comes some possessiveness.
And that’s okay, even if some books tell me it isn’t.
Flick and I talked about it and about the anguish I was feeling around the jealousy and other emotions I was experiencing. He reaffirmed that I’m the person he’s chosen to share his life and this zany adventure with and that he will always care about my needs, even the silly ones.
I asked him to shower right away after dates from now on, as that seemed a pragmatic solution to part of the issue, and he agreed easily.
I will also chat with Iris and ask her to be extra aware of any scented products she might be using, and if it comes down to it, perhaps showering before the two of them get physical.
I know I’ve got a long way to go in figuring some of this stuff out.
I’m okay with falling flat on my face here and there as I learn what my limits are. I want to say that I’ll stop trying to be perfect at this thing I’ve never done before, but instead, I’ll say that I’ll stop being as hard on myself when I’m not.
Failing upwards ever on.
Kat Stark is a geeky, Canadian, queer, bi/pansexual, feminist who came to ethical non-monogamy 21-years into her relationship with her husband. After a quick toe-dip to test the waters (and hours of obsessive reading and podcast consumption), they dove in and she almost can't imagine they ever lived any other way.
This article was originally published at Life on the Swingset. Reprinted with permission from the author.