A year or so ago, I read first The Sexual Life of Catherine M. and then Jealousy by Catherine Millet. The former is an account of the protagonist’s extreme sex life (it can be summed up as follows: she simply never says/said “no,” to anything). The latter, an account of her reaction to her husband’s infidelities.
The most memorable moment in the sexual memoir is when she writes that she is pretty sure she never fucked her father, but of course, because she only saw the faces of very few of the men she fucked, she couldn’t really be sure. In any event, reading the two books together is fascinating. On the one hand, she is such a libertine with her own body – so relentlessly, manically willing to fuck any man in any circumstance – she participates in gangbangs at sex clubs and parties, in the woods, in cars, in houses; she allows herself to be pimped out by a variety of lovers; and on the other, she is maniacally, insanely jealous over her husband’s paltry number of affairs.
Her engagement with the irony is unsatisfying: she never tangles fully with her almost complete estrangement from her body in favor of her mind. Her location of her sense of self is so intellectual that it seems coherent to her to imagine her behavior as simple, not problematic in the context of a committed relationship, whereas her husband’s is sadistic, horrifying. To be fair, she treats her own reaction to her husband’s infidelities as the subject of the book, rather than his infidelities themselves.
But the juxtaposition of the two books makes stark something I know intimately from my own life: because I know myself (or at least I imagine I do), because I’m so familiar with my motivations and bodily sensations, I know that my sexual peregrinations never have been a threat to my feelings for T. I know that in my heart, in my soul, in my body. But I have no such luxury with respect to hers, fewer and less frequent though they may be/have been. In my chest – in my solar plexus, in my lungs – when I contemplate her fucking another man, I feel abandonment and rejection. My breathing quickens, grows shallow; my chest tightens. This, of course, has nothing to do with her feelings or motivations. It’s about my imprinting as a child, about my insecurities and vulnerabilities.
The good news is: I don’t fear these feelings any more. Quite the opposite – I welcome them. Not because I’m a masochist, or crave them. But because they’re fascinating. Where Millet wasn’t particularly analytic about her own seeming hypocrisy, I find mine endlessly interesting. How can it be that I forgive myself my (CPOS) infidelities so easily, that I see them as so benign and innocuous, while my wife’s open, transparent dalliances with just one man can render me insane?
Last night, I wasn’t insane. The opposite: T graced me with a few choice, sexy photos of herself from the evening, and I was almost completely equanimous (or even whatever the adjectival form of “compersion” is) in the face of my wife’s evident rapturous pleasure. But I find it all interesting. In the “poly” world, people often speak of jealousy as if it is an “immature” emotion, something that sophisticated people don’t feel. This is the opposite of how I conceive of it: my maturity consists not of my outgrowing jealousy, but of my accepting it, rather than shrinking from it.