Vulnerability Isn’t Jealousy

Sometimes we mistake the common feeling of vulnerability with jealousy.

I often have to drive far across the country to see family. Specifically, I drive about 550 miles every other week to see my son.

It’s a long trip, and can be a very lonely one. The 8 or so hours I spend in the car is taken up by soda, cigarettes, Twizzlers, audiobooks, and music. It’s a time of near complete isolation, driving at night, sometimes into the early hours of the next morning.

That’s followed by 4–6 hours of sleep and driving again to actually pick him up.

During that time, one of my rituals is to have a phone call with my longest partner.

It’s usually right before they go to bed and right before I settle into the fact that I won’t talk to another adult about adult things for quite a while.

I’m an outgoing guy. And while I prize my private time, I have to have contact with other people to function properly. This trip then becomes exceedingly difficult for me when I can no longer distract myself and the utter boredom and isolation gets to me.

About 9:30pm, with great variation, I get my phone call.

When I was a young man in highschool, I stole a car. Having done a crime, I did the time. And even as decades have passed, the influence of that event has forever altered my thinking.

Being in my car is a lot like being in jail, just with a lot more scenery. Instead of staring at a grey wall, I stare out at a black and white road. And once a day, I get my phone call.

Last night, I made the same drive I always made. And like going to jail, there were the fond farewells and be safe and hope to see you soons. These come as as I prepare to leave, packing my clothes.

An hour passed… On the road… then two, then three… then four… then five… then six…

After a few tentative texts of the ‘hey, I’m making a pit stop, let’s chat on the phone (because unspoken is the fact that I’m bored, lonely, and need a voice to help buoy my sinking spirit of isolation)’.

My partner had made some plan changes just that morning, adding a dinner to weekend plans with someone.

Just after 9:30pm, a time I know they’re ready for bed, and without the phone call, I sent the first text.

A few hours of silence followed, and a second text was sent, along the lines of “Did you go to sleep?”

This was followed by a phone call of my own. I’ll usually just call without the texts, but I don’t like interrupting dates. I dread the big let down of disappointment in my 30–60 minute call being cut off at 15 seconds. I usually say that it’s just impolite. Fact is, it’s a big syringe full of rejection that I’d just rather not go through, and favor working on my own patience.

But just after the second text, I realized it’s 11:30, and I haven’t heard anything for over 5 hours. I don’t even know the name of the guy she’s having dinner with. What if something happened?

“Ok,” I tell myself, “I’ll make the call, reach a sleeping girlfriend who will answer grogley. I’ll feel silly, but reassured.”

That word will come back to haunt me… reassured.

The call goes to voicemail. Ok, slept through it. She’s sometimes dead to the world. So I call again.

Voicemail.

The first touch of panic begins to settle in.

Two quick texts fly out. Is she ok? My calls aren’t getting through.

I try calling through a messaging app we use which I think my break through a do not disturb setting.

The app rings for a full minute or so before giving up. And it won’t ring if a phone is turned off. Knowing this eases my onsetting anxiety for a few minutes.

But two calls over 5 minutes has increased, not decreased my growing panic that something isn’t wrong.

My mind has two explanations.

Something bad has happened to her.

She’s angry at me.

Both are quite possible, but both very unlikely. And we’ve had nothing but lovely words between us the entire day.

Slowly, my mind favors the first explanation; something bad has happened to her.

I call with my phone again, this time leaving a worried voicemail.

I sit in my car, feeling more isolated than ever. A feeling of helplessness starts growing.

I’m more than halfway through my trip. Even if I turn around now, cancelling my trip, I’m more than 6 hours from her house, and she’s probably not there is something bad happened.

Even if I turn back, I’ll be as useless as a spoon at a pizza party.

An idea comes to me to call using my work phone. Maybe the problem is my personal phone. My work phone is even on a different carrier.

With what I feel are critical minutes passing away, I make a call on my work phone.

It rings a little longer, but still voicemail.

Frantic, I hit redial.

Voicemail.

Pure panic is now setting in. I keep telling myself this is just insecurity playing on my worst fears, but that fear is really hard to shake.

I leave a voicemail this time, expressing that I’m really worried, that I’ll turn around if something bad has happened.

I send off my last of my texts.

“This is scaring me hon”

The silence is deafening. The music has been off for a half hour.

I continue driving in silence. Eyes wide, heart pounding. Remembering everything I can.

Heard from her just before 6pm. Went to dinner with unknown man. It’s now midnight.

Oh god. Oh dear god…

I spend my time driving for another 10 minutes like this when suddenly a long text arrives.

My adrenaline surges at it, and I nearly swerve off the road.

“Sorry, I’m fine. Hope your drive is ok, talk to you tomorrow. Kisses”

My sense of relief is almost immediately replaced. What I feel next is a more acute sense of isolation.

I’m about 90% sure the dinner turned into an all nighter. And I’m about 100% sure that I was forgotten.

But clinging to a 10% chance that I could hear her voice and lift this cloud over me.

After thanking her, I pause to let my emotions settle. It’s nearly 20 minutes after that message that I send another text.

“Got time for a call?”

Almost immediately a reply comes. She’s spending the night with the guy.

I mutter out an apology.

And my drive continues…

At this point, I start examining how I feel. Am I feeling jealous?

I’m certainly sad, almost depressed. I feel alone and isolated even more than before. I feel embarrassed that I came across this info at my most vulnerable state.

This word, vulnerable, sticks with me as the last word comes back… reassured.

I was not, in a general sense, reassured at all.

Now, I realize that my partner hasn’t given me the equivalent of a “goodnight kiss”.

This was a topic of recent conversation for us, the goodnight kiss. The little things that make someone know you love them.

I had a girlfriend in my early twenties that was the first to tell me that one of the few demands she had was a goodnight kiss, every single night, no exceptions.

As I thought this over, I realized what I was feeling.

There were rare occasions that my gf and I hadn’t talked directly to each other. If we didn’t speak face to face, we’d have a phone call.

And tonight, I was coming to realize, I didn’t get a call all day. And in response to my panic, all I got was a couple of texts.

For me, text doesn’t do it at all. I don’t feel all warm and fuzzy unless someone actually talks to me.

I felt my need rejected. Without the call, I wasn’t reassured at all. My buoy sank.

Was I angry? Was I sad? Was I being jealous? What was I?

I realized that all of those things would just be reactions.

The fact was, on my drive, I was vulnerable and needed reassured.

Time wasn’t taken before the date to call me. Time wasn’t taken on the drive from dinner to his house to call me. Time wasn’t taken before drifting off to sleep to have a short call.

I felt like I was completely replaced in her mind which was wrapped up in NRE. I felt like NRE had just trumped my year and a half relationship.

And I felt brushed aside by the texts.

Was this jealousy? What if this had been a night out with an old friend and she had fallen asleep on their couch?

No, it wasn’t jealousy. I’d still feel the same way, though I did admit to myself that the fact that it was not without some twinges of jealousy. Without this person to completely pull her mind away from thoughts of me, this probably wouldn’t be the way the night went down.

I turned the music back on, and put on some random music.

As I mulled this over in my head, I realized that what I really was was vulnerable.

I was vulnerable, and needed reassurance. My vulnerability wasn’t acknowledged. My reassurance was denied.

And it was from this that I felt depressed, and yes I admitted, bitter.

The urge to text something sarcastic was growing in my mind.

“Great idea, DeWayne!” I told myself, “Let’s make a COMPLETE ass of myself!”

I stewed over that for a bit. Now I wasn’t just isolated, but had the urge to communicate when I knew I could, and was self enforcing isolation on myself so as not to look like a jealous prick.

I started doing my emotional exercises.

Think calm, think rational, think how this looks to them.

Should I say I’m hurt? No, that’ll look like I’m trying to muscle my way into their situation, and not giving her the space to enjoy her experience. I’d be ruining it. Fuck…

Should I say anything? Nope, can’t really say anything. Anything on my part will look shitty.

What should I say when I talk in the morning?

I’m stumped for a word. I don’t want to say vulnerable, that’ll probably just sound like jealousy. I don’t want to say that I needed reassured, because that’ll just sound like I’m blaming them for doing something wrong.

I was hurt, certainly, but it wasn’t a wrong.

When you set an expectation for someone, and they fail to meet it, that’s not a wrong. It’s a hurt, and their actions MIGHT have fixed that hurt. But it’s not a wrong.

It’s internally generated pain, not externally generated.

What emotion could I express that says I’m not quite “ok” but without sounding like an ass, jealous, or blaming?

I arrived at 3am to slip into bed and get a few hours before starting my day.

As I drifted off to sleep, I was thinking that I felt ashamed and embarrassed.

As I woke up this morning, that’s what I expressed after a quick good morning message.

I simply stated that I’m sorry if I made last night awkward, because I wanted to express a sense that I didn’t want to diminish her experience.

I then stated that I was embarrassed by last night.

I didn’t exactly get the response I was looking for. I was told about how the night went and that he was a great guy and that I’d like him and that they were off to their second day of activities this morning.

Ouch.

One of the things many men most hate… no… LOATH… is being called or perceived as a cuck. A man who meekly sits as their partner… well, look it up for yourself.

I’m a little sensitive to that feeling. Not of Internet trolls who want to use it. To that, I’ve spent years rolling my eyes at morons on the Internet. I’m a professional, adult, with responsibilities, and who gets to have group sex without guilt or shame… all things such commenters are most likely lacking.

But if I was to specifically ask for reactions to what I said, that’s not exactly the reaction that would be on the top of my list.

I said for them to have fun and added that I’d like a phone call later, and maybe a text before hand. The request for a text before hand is so that I can compose myself.

And part of that composing myself is the writing of this blog. It’s the process by which I work things out in my head.

In my book, Polyamory: It’s Not Complicated, I explain most things from my experiences rather than the experiences of others. I do the same in my educational videos, teaching from my own life experience, not from a book or anyone else’s experiences.

And this is the experience that I want to share with other men and women.

What you are feeling may not be jealousy. What you may be is feeling vulnerable, and needing reassurance signals.

Reassurance signals are what my girlfriend of decades before had meant when she said she needed a goodnight kiss every night.

For me, my reassurance signals are phone calls, kisses, words of love, physical touch, attention.

By recognizing what I need and and why I need it, I can express it in terms that aren’t accusatory or insecure.

Statements that are accusatory and insecure are signs of a much deeper issue, that of codependence.

So before you jump off a bridge of your reactions, look towards your root causes and what you need.

And use exercises like repeating the act of calming, becoming rational, and thinking through each reaction by how it may look in their shoes.

Remember, your emotions are internal. The other person won’t magically know them and correctly identify them as the reason for you blurting out something like, “You don’t even care about me!”

This is why in active listening and non violent communication, we use “I words”. So instead of the accusatory statement, you can say:

“I feel vulnerable. And when my expectations aren’t met for reassurance signals, I feel hurt.”

“I appreciate all loving acts towards me.”

“Sometimes, especially when vulnerable, my need for reassurance signals increases.”

“Reassurance signals for me look like phone calls, holding hands, and a sense of connection that may pause from time to time, but never disappears.”

If I can, as a manly man, captain of my own ship… someone that has had more than one partner call Mr. Mister for my sometimes larger than average masculinity… do these things, then so can you.

Sometimes, you have to cure vulnerability by being vulnerable.

It’s not our first reaction. The last thing many of us want to do when vulnerable is be vulnerable. We want to protect ourselves.

If we are vulnerable, and feel hurt, our first impulse is to protect ourselves. We might do this through anger, isolation, sarcasm… or worse, drugs and alcohol.

Instead of owning our own shit, owning our hurt, we can mistakenly say “you did X to me” or “You hurt me” or things along those lines.

Those are protection reactions. Those things place the responsibility on the other person out of a sense of closing off our soft, vulnerable selves.

When in doubt, give love, trust, and vulnerability a chance to bring more love, trust, and better kind of vulnerability.

If we choose protection reactions, the other person who may be vulnerable and open to you will also choose protection reactions.

This can create a death spiral in a relationship, where there is escalating protection of our feelings and mistrust of the other person. They become an enemy instead of an ally.

Each reaction will most likely draw its own kind in response. Recognize what is at the root of your feelings. And react to your partners the way you want them to react to you.

DeWayne Lehman