“Who’s this?” I ask him, hand shaking as I hold the phone, complete with text that I definitely wish I hadn’t read. It’s the first time in my life that I realise I’m jealous. Until then I had never expected to be. He shakes his head in reply, mumbles, and tells me that he fucked her.
Years later, I ask a different someone “Who’s she?”
She is outgoing. Loud, funny, brash, filthy: she’s his friend. I’m jealous, but I won’t let it get to me, because although we fuck and laugh and love, he is definitely not my boyfriend, and I’m not allowed to pry.
Later, when I speak to her, she tells me he’s a great kisser, and I smile and pretend it doesn’t hurt.
One Monday morning, I return from a weekend away. A guy who was almost my boyfriend has a girlfriend now. I try not to think about the sex we’ll have to stop having: instead I run through all the things he used to whisper to me in the middle of the night. Read old texts in which he told me he missed me, and wonder how I could have judged this one so wrong.
I leave the pub to go for a cigarette, and someone else steps out to join me. When we return, he’s there – with a different her. They are leaning over the table, hands clasped together, sharing an intimate kiss.
On the way home he laughs at me, and ruffles my hair: “Why do you have to be so jealous?”
Fast forward, then, through more events like this. Pause at a time when I am constantly on edge.
I’m jealous, and this is a permanent state. It’s a part of who I am now. Ugly and weird and corrosive. His love of secrets pours oil onto the troubled waters of my own anxious insecurity, and these things combine to make me monstrous. Boring. Repetitive.
On a weekly basis I whine to him “Who’s she?” and then wish I could cut out my own tongue.
The man who tells me he loves me tells his friends he’s never been in love. But is it any wonder he doesn’t love me? I’m jealous and insecure.
“Can I come along?” I ask him, as he gets dressed for a night on the town.
“No,” he explains, with a hint of exasperation. “These are my outside friends. I want to keep them separate. You know that.”
I don’t say “I’m jealous and insecure, can you help me?” because he knows that I am, and he won’t.
“I’m jealous and insecure. Help me?”
In between each of these incidents, with each different guy, I come up with rituals and plans to try and stave off the way that I feel. I remind myself that they love me, if they do. I make plans with my best friend, who can always be relied on to distract me with cider and dancing and flirting and joy that is almost enough to wrench my mind away from images of him fucking her. Whoever each of them may be at the time.
I don’t tell you these stories to solicit pity or kindness: I don’t deserve any. I have lied and I have cheated and I have done bad bad things behind the backs of men who loved me. I’ve read emails and texts. I’ve bitched about good men. I’ve wept on friends when I knew things were mostly my fault.
I’m jealous and insecure, and I don’t know how to deal with it.
One more story. A new someone.
He’s told me something that triggers all my jealous instincts. My stomach churns and I bite my lip and I do everything I can to hold back the voice that wants to scream “Who’s she?”
I block out the images that hurt me. Not ones of them fucking – I’ve learned quite well how to deal with those, twisting them into stories that allow the hotness to shine through, and the pain to recede to almost nothing. No, not pictures of them fucking, but pictures of them talking. Without me. Sharing secrets I will never be a part of, and laughing that I will never be inside their special, secret group.
Him texting her things that would make him mumble awkwardly if I happened to glance at the screen of his phone. Him sneaking a kiss in the pub while I have a quick smoke outside. Him telling me she’s an outside friend, and I won’t be joining them for drinks.
Telling her he doesn’t know what it feels like to be in love.
And I don’t say “Who’s she?” because I know. I don’t say “stop seeing her” because that would be monstrous. My instincts, which used to be fresh and innocent and laissez-faire, have become warped and ugly and poisonous. So I take a deep breath and try to banish the jealous twenty-four-year-old who lives inside my head. I hail the rational thirty-four-year-old that he’s helped me to nurture. And instead of “Who’s she?” I say this:
“I’m jealous and insecure. Can you help me?”
I don’t ask because I’m wise now, and I’ve got everything sorted. I ask because I’ve worked hard to teach myself the right question, and I’m finally at the point where I can say it without stumbling.
More importantly, I ask because I know he won’t mock me or tell me off, or treat me like my feelings don’t matter. He won’t sigh or roll his eyes or ruffle my hair and make me feel silly.
He shuffles position so he can look directly into my eyes, places his hands on my shoulders and takes a deep breath. He tells me he loves me. He looks worried and pale. He strokes me and holds me and he pours out all his feelings.
He says “I love you. I. Love. You.
“You aren’t mad or wrong to feel this way, and I’m glad you told me – thank you. Let’s see what we can do to make this better…”
I’m jealous and I’m insecure, but I think I’m in safe hands – his and mine.