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On jealousy

Let it henceforth be known that you may do anything you like with my friends, or my casual fucks. If they consent to it then you may touch them, kiss them and shag them in whatever depraved manner and in whatever tantric position gives the most pleasure to the two of you at the time.

But if you touch the boy I love I will tear you into a billion pieces. I will scatter those pieces across the globe, then spend the rest of my life retracing my steps so that I can stamp on each individual one of them until you are ground into a shower of dust.

Jealousy isn’t as bad as we think

The key argument against jealousy is that it implies ownership. I don’t think that’s true. Ownership of a certain kind is good – whether your relationship is open or monogamous there’s a delicious thrill in being able to say “he’s mine.”

It doesn’t mean that you own that person completely, and feeling jealous does not in fact give you any rights at all over the other person. But part of mutual love is giving a tiny bit of yourself up to the other person. And being jealous is your way of saying “I give a shit about this. This is significant.”

But there’s a world of difference between being a bit possessive – “I want you all to myself you scrummy pile of gorgeousness” – and being so jealous that it becomes destructive – “I don’t want you to see your best friend any more because I’m worried that you fancy them.”

Jealousy is still really fucking bad

The key problem with jealousy is that it is arational. There’s nothing inherently green-eyed-and-evil about getting angry with your monogamous partner for snogging someone else – they broke your agreement, so you have a right to be angry. Your possession of this person extends up to (but not beyond) an expectation that they don’t have sexual contact with anyone else.

The problem with real, steaming, burning jealousy is that it is prompted by things that – to a rational observer – are not a cause for rage at all. Some wholly innocent events have our inner Iago stampeding out from the recesses of our brain screaming “I like not that!”

The receipt of a flirty text. A look interpreted as meaningful. A feeling that your partner’s too close to a certain person. A desire – a need – to know not just what they want to tell you but all the private things in their head as well.

And some people feel this more than others – some have a tendency to quiz their partners, go through pockets and trample on their privacy to get at whatever their gut tells them must be the truth. So as kind, understanding humans we need to try and comprehend why our partners feel this way. I’m not talking about giving in and letting them strip-search you because you were late home from work, but having patience and being willing to discuss the issue can – in my experience – do a hell of a lot to assuage the arational anger that is jealousy.

You’re probably better than I am

I am a terribly jealous person. I’ve destroyed nights out because I worried that boys weren’t paying me enough attention. I’ve ranted about that bitch from their work who won’t stop flirting. I’ve – oh God, my blood runs cold to write the words down – I’ve read a boy’s emails.

As expected, none of these things did me any good. Because at the end of the day, although it’s nice to know you’re wanted, no one’s partner ever said “hey, do that cute thing where you interrogate me about my close friends again, before reading my text messages behind my back.”

So just as we have a responsibility to be faithful (whatever ‘faithful’ means within your relationships), and a responsibility to be understanding when our partners occasionally swerve into unnecessary jealous rages, those of us who do tend towards jealousy also have a responsibility to be rational.

Our partners have chosen us, and that’s really significant – they’re not going to un-choose us in a hurry. And the majority of people are more likely to stumble into an innocent situation that causes one’s jealousy to flare up than they are to casually fuck a passing stranger. Boring, I know, but it’s the rational truth.

So, in relationships as elsewhere in life, we need to ignore our emotions occasionally and examine things with a rational head. Consider whether an innocent explanation is more likely. Step away from our partner’s phone and avoid reading their texts. We need to listen to our brain rather than the seething rage in our gut. When our inner Iago says “I like not that” we need to tell him to fuck off.


  • M says:

    I bet this’ll end up tl;dr, apologies.

    Obviously how one feels about one’s partners is specific to the individual, personal preference, the situation, the time of life etc.

    I do think a little bit of jealousy is desirable in my relationships; it shows you really care about someone and glad you’re theirs. Not loads, as you say – to the point where you stalk and snoop and so on, but if there was none at all I’d just get the impression they didn’t really give a shit. That’s not what I want from a relationship.

    I’m sure some poly people get it too, I’ve seen discussions of how to deal with it. When I really care about someone, if I love them or just care about them deeply in many ways, the thought of them doing sexy things to other people makes my stomach turn.

    Love is a weird thing, I adore being in love, but sometimes it creeps up on you inappropriately. Casual and free at first, perhaps, but once I feel this way… nope, I can’t deal with those images. Sex with someone I care about isn’t just sex, it’s more, and it intensifies those feelings. I like that to be something special between just me and that person at that time.

    If they find someone else, it just brings up all the insecurities; is she better than me? Does she do all the things for you that I wouldn’t or couldn’t so far? Is she better-looking, more fun, sexier? I don’t want to know, but they’re the questions that come to mind.

    It hurts that someone could shelve whatever you have between you so easily for those moments with someone else – even if in reality it doesn’t change how they feel about you or diminish what you have at all. Irrational feelings perhaps, but very real and very painful ones.

    Good for you if imagining your significant other(s) with other people is a turn-on, or even entirely unimportant. But when I fall for someone I fall hard, I can make people my world and I like them to make me theirs. I refuse to be ashamed of this, and I know there are plenty of people out there who want relaitonships like that.

    I’m not a commitment-phobe, I think relationships can be ‘meaningful’ more than ‘serious’. Marriage doesn’t appeal to me but not because telling someone I feel like I could love them forever is scary or wouldn’t come easily – more because I don’t need a contract element to my relationships, I don’t want to lock the door on someone. I want them to stay because they want to.

    Playing away makes me feel like I’m not good enough, like they need more than me, and I’d rather be enough for someone, fulfill everything they want to the best of my ability and trust them completely.

    Some people don’t get it, but I’m glad you do :)

  • Jealousy is the worst! I know: it brings out the screaming harpy in me. Jealousy comes up when I feel threatened. Jealousy in relationships is a response to fear that the beloved will find someone or something better than you (more sexy, exciting, fun, interesting – it could be another woman; it could be a new hobby). I do not subscribe to the idea that jealousy can be a good or positive thing or exists as proof that you love someone: there are better, kinder, more generous ways to let someone know you love them. If you want to work on your jealousy, work on your fear. End of sermon but here’s something I wrote about fear recently xRH

  • N. Likes says:

    I write about jealousy every couple of weeks. I think I pretty much always write the same thing: jealousy happens. We feel it. For some reason, most monogamous people decide that it is simply an intolerable emotion, and go to great lengths to avoid ever confronting it – through proscriptions and promises. And then, lo and behold, they STILL find themselves confronting it. And what’s worse, there’s a common presumption that if one person in a relationship FEELS jealous, it’s the OTHER person’s fault. Rarely do we take half a step back and say, “Oh, that’s interesting – I’m feeling jealous. I wonder what that’s about?”

    In my own life, jealousy has typically been an indicator of some combination of envy (I wish I could have what my wife has – the attention of some new interest who makes her feel all yummy) and guilt (I worry that my wife will want to do with that guy what I want to do with EVERY FUCKING HOT WOMAN I SEE).

    Rarely is jealousy a sensible organizing principle for anything. I think, though, that problematizing it – calling it a “bad” emotion, saying we “shouldn’t” feel it, doesn’t help. The truth is, we DO feel it. The question is, once it rears its head, what do we do?

  • Elphaba says:

    To some extent a bit of jealousy is healthy and normal in a relationship, but when it becomes irrational it can be incredibly destructive. My mother was a very jealous lady – I remember, while growing up, her riling through my stepfather’s stuff and going into a fit of screaming hysterics whenever she found something damning (a old picture of an ex-girlfriend, etc). I realized this was more about her own deep insecurities than the prospect of her partner actually fucking someone else.

    But what I learned from her experience was this: if your partner is going to fall for someone else, well that’s going to happen, no matter how often you rifle diligently through their emails/texts/pockets in order to pre-empt it. Also: your partner is probably thinking about fucking other people on an almost daily basis. They’re flirting with that girl from HR. They’re having friendly drinks with exes and wondering what could have been. And, probably, so are you. But so fucking what? That’s just human nature, and there’s an ocean of difference between thought and action.

    I could forgive a bit of jealousy and insecurity, and i’d happily do everything I could to reassure a jealous partner. But one thing I probably couldn’t forgive would be someone trespassing on my privacy by reading emails or rifling through my phone (although I do understand why you did, and i’m pretty sure I did the same at one point in my teens during a particularly fucked-up time). But I think it’s that sort of lack of trust and ignorance of boundaries that really poisons a relationship.

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