My girlfriend and I are new to polyamory. We’re taking it slow, practicing communication more than anything. Last night I asked why she’d been so quiet that day, and she confessed that her crush had been a jerk to her. She was visibly uncomfortable and teary eyed, I think because she was anxious about how I’d react to her being affected so much by it. How can I console her without putting her crush down and coming off as jealous? I just hugged her long and said “people can be jerks sometimes.”
This is a great question! Kudos for being aware of this tricky pitfall in poly relationships. I personally have a policy that I don’t give advice to my partners about their other partners - I can listen, sympathize, etc. but I don’t advise. That’s because once you say something, you can’t really take it back. So even if I would honestly tell a friend in the same situation they should consider leaving or changing the terms of a relationship, I don’t want to say that to a partner about their other partners.
You’re right that trash-talking her crush might not come off so well. It’s tempting to say “ugh, he sounds like a real jerk,” especially if that’s true, but you do risk coming off as jealous and perhaps making her feel like she needs to defend him to you. Also, if maybe one day she gets with him, you’ll be in a tough position. I think what you said was very fair - giving her a hug, support and comfort, without making it personal about that guy. Reassure her that you aren’t threatened by her crushes on other people, or her feelings about how those crushes go.
You can also be super explicit and open about what’s going on in your head: “I’m really sorry that happened, and I’m here for you. I’m not upset that you’re affected by this. I don’t want to trash talk someone you obviously care about, but I am sad that you were hurt by his behavior. What do you need from me right now? I can listen, I can distract, etc.”
It sounds like you and your girlfriend are off to a good start here - keep being gentle and honest with each other, and enjoy your journey into polyamory!