I told my daughter there was only one skill you needed to perfect in life: Doing shit you don’t want to do.
“You get that one skill down, and you can master all the rest easily,” I told her.
Because it’s true. I don’t wanna exercise… but I’m doing the shit I don’t want to do. This novel’s a pain to write… but I’m doing the shit I don’t want to do. Work’s a bug-filled helltangle snarl this week…. but I’m doing the shit I don’t want to do.
I do those unwanted things because they make my life better: work gets me money to live well, writing gets me the career as a novelist I’ve longed for (hey did I mention I had a book come out yesterday?), and exercising keeps me from falling face-first dead into my minestrone soup.
I don’t have to necessarily like doing any of those things. Life’s full of maintenance tasks, little uncomfortable bits you need to do to keep the genuinely fun ones rolling.
I don’t have to want to do them, I just have to recognize that I need to do them.
“Working through jealousy” is a thing I do not want to do.
Now, I could remove the jealousy by removing all competition. We’re polyamorous, so I could tell my wife not to have any other lovers – but monogamous people often conveniently forget that dysfunctional relationships get jealous of anyone with a close emotional bond. I could start bumping her friends out of the way. Hell, I know folks who are jealous of their spouse’s mother, and man, is that a fun place to be.
But I could trim all that down. I could have that Mike Pence rule where we agree not to ever be alone with anyone of a gender we could potentially be attracted to. I could guilt my wife into calling her daughters less often, punish her by sulkings and silence when she dared to call them. I could do my best to trim out the competition…
And life would suck in new and different ways, because my wife would be a lot unhappier and less willing to be generous to me and there we’d be, locked in a cage of our self-making.
No. My wife having a vibrant social life with close friends and lovers and relatives means that she brings back all sorts of interesting gossip and new movies to watch and just genuine happiness from seeing people she loves. And in turn, that makes her willing to let me go hang with the people I love.
So time to do the shit I don’t wanna do, and handle the jealousy when she’s out on a date with someone else. Maybe I go for a long walk. Maybe I flirt with someone else. Maybe I need to find a friend with a shoulder I can sob into.
Yet I’ve had well-meaning partners who’ve witnessed my mopiness and blackmailed me.
“I can’t stand seeing you unhappy,” they say. “So unless you can manage to become ecstatic about this, I’m going to lop off all the portions of my life that inconvenience you.”
Don’t you fucking dare.
Look. Part of who I am is “occasionally insecure.” And the partners who try to blackmail me into joy mean well – because they don’t feel jealousy, and they genuinely believe that if they did everything right then I’d dissolve into a cloud of brightly-colored butterflies and do the dance of the galactic unison.
That’s not me.
I’m insecure, but I do my best to own it. And over years of dating, I’ve learned that for me, the choice is “Swallow back some insecurity from time to time” or “Wall off my partner’s options until they’re so miserably captive they break out and leave me.”
I choose to swallow back some insecurity because it’s objectively the better call. I spend a few mopey nights, but in return I get a jazzed-up partner who adores me and comes bouncing back into the room to squirt love all over me and who doesn’t want that?
And I know you mean well, but telling me “I can’t do anything until you’re not just willing, but rhapsodic about it” is a form of emotional blackmail. I mean, sure, if I’m so constantly miserable that our relationship dynamic becomes entirely about reassuring my insecurities? Then maybe it’s time to go, because that shiz is unhealthy. You can’t have all misery.
But I can’t have all happiness, myself. Life can be fulfilling for me and I can still have those nights of “You go have a date, I’ll find some way to compensate for my loneliness this evening.” Because that’s normal, man. Nobody likes sitting at home alone when there’s fun times that you can’t attend.
(And that subtle “YOU MUST BE HAPPY” emotional blackmail often extends into the twisted logic of “WELL THEN MY PARTNERS ARE INVITED TO ALL THE FUN TIMES” and the concomitant “We only date as a couple” shitfall that often leads to forcing attractions that don’t actually work and third-wheel syndrome and the terror of disappointing your partner by not being into someone… but that’s a whole other essay for another time.)
But no. Look. My life is filled with shit I don’t want to do, that I do do because the payoff’s greater than the grump. I don’t like being frumpy and jealous, but the reward for handling the occasional discomfiting emotion responsibly is way better than creating a relationship that rests entirely on a thin crescent of our Least Common Denominator.
And I know you mean well. But don’t try to armwrestle my emotional maintenance into unfettered joy. It’ll just make me more miserable because now I’ll feel like something’s broken within me as opposed to this grungy task I gotta do to clear the pipes.
I would instead suggest, tentatively, that perhaps your learning to not require paroxysms of euphoria with my every acceptance is the shit you gotta do that you don’t wanna.
Maybe get to work on that.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.