May 20, 2017

Are You Jealous?


What it is. What it is not. And if you feel it, what to do. 

I remember having an uncomfortable conversation with a guy I was dating once upon a time. We'd been out for his birthday, and it was the first time I was to meet about twenty or so of his friends. Among these friends was his ex-girlfriend. He'd warned me beforehand that she would be there, but then never introduced us, which was undeniably weird. Here was the ex, floating around the party, but which of the eleven women smiling politely at me was she? Awkward. Her, I deduced, when I looked over to see my then boyfriend casually rubbing the upper thigh of the woman sitting next to him. It didn't seem sexual or flirty, just a friendly gesture between two people that are obviously very comfortable with one another. Familiar. But I could have easily taken it to mean more than it was and stormed out in a jealous rage, deeply hurt, and why had that very real possibility not been considered? I shouldn't be logic-ing my way through this on my own, I felt. This should have been a conversation.

Quietly when he joined me outside to smoke, I told him as much. That going out of his way to inform me his ex would be here was odd if he didn't introduce us. To do that and then put me in the position to witness him getting handsy with an unidentified friendly female was pretty inconsiderate, maybe even disrespectful. Why wasn't he concerned with how I might interpret that; how I might feel? A little more care would have been appreciated.

"Awwww," he said, grinning sort of slyly at me. "You're cute when you're jealous."

Although I hadn't been jealous, with that comment I was instantly furious and had all the inspiration I needed to dive head first into our very first fight. Which wasn't about his ex girlfriend I might add, but instead about how this particular instance only served to punctuate others, the net result of which amounted to him behaving inconsiderately toward me and then, when confronted, attempting to undermine my concerns by trivializing my feelings about it. That was what our fight was about. But again, not the ex girlfriend. Because I hadn't been jealous. 

But I digress...

Jealousy is an issue that can rear it's greenish head in any and all relationships - even more commonly in relationships that are not strictly monogamous. Yet, despite the universally acknowledged existance of this rather common emotion, it is the last thing anyone wants to be accused of being or feeling. Jealousy, it seems, has tied into its connotations an inherent embarrassment - even shame - that has resulted in a rather crippling circumstance. Not only are most people seemingly allergic to acknowledging jealousy - many don't even remember what the word itself means! 

So before talking about how to handle, get rid of or get over jealousy, let's first talk about what jealousy actually is and, as it tends to get confused with a lot of other emotions and dispositions, what you could potentially be experiencing instead. 


The original green eyed monster, envy is the big, bad ugly that is often used almost interchangably with jealousy. But feeling envious is not the same thing as feeling jealous. Applied to a romantic context, suppose while out with my boyfriend at a bar I notice a strikingly tall woman nearby, with a long and impossibly small waist. Meanwhile I am comiclly small (five foot two) with a small, but very short waist...more of a divet, if you will. If I were to mention something about her height or impossible figure to my boyfriend and he were to pose the classic question, Are you jealous? - No, would be the correct response. 

Wanting, or admiring with a twang of self depricating humor, what someone else has is not jealousy, it is envy. It is simply seeing something and wanting it for yourself, even at the harmless levels, the way you might think about the conveninetly charmed lives of the very wealthy from time to time and have a must be nice moment. 

So, if you find yourself looking longingly at something that someone else is or has and realizing that it's something you want and maybe even hate them a little for having - you're envious. Not jealous. 


This one gets confused with jealousy a lot. There are some people who are deeply insecure about themselves, sometimes about one thing, sometimes about lots of things. The thing about relatioinships is that they have a way of shining a spotlight on your insecurites. Maybe not at first, but it's only a matter of time before they are revealed and must be dealt with (and in relationships with more than two people involved this time tends to come around sooner rather than later.)

If someone is insecure, there is no external factor working to create and facilitate that condition. It is something that is born from within, that the person carries with them regardless of surrounding circumstances.

A fear of abandonment, for example, is a type of insecurity. That constant, nagging voice that insists something is wrong, that one's partner(s) couldn't possibly be as devoted as they say, that something or someone else must always be more appealing an option that one's self that haunts, begging to be consoled when it is not wreaking havoc on relationships through controlling behaviors, ultimatums and acts that may appear to be born of jealousy - this is deeply personal. It would exist inside that person whether or not one were with the perfect partner, or to the contrary, the most unappealing partner with absolutely no prospects.

This is not to be confused with jealousy, which is instead very much circumstantial and, rather than a reflection of one's own self and inborn fears, a reactionary emotion caused entirely by external factors.


As with some animals, some humans are, too, territorial. The child in Pre-K who bangs their lego over the head of the adjacent child for reaching a bit too gleefully for his precious hoard of toys - this child is territorial. My cat, who makes sure to smear her scent on everything she deems hers with her cheeks - including my face when I walk in the door (and I am undoubtedly hers) - she is territorial.

This becomes controversial when people get involved, because (unless we're being all hot and D/s about it) no one truly owns anyone else. (Sucks that I have to caveat that with 1 - Not legally and, 2 - Not anymore. But I digress...) 

That said, some folks behave in a way that is inherently territorial. An example in direct contrast to this: I met the boyfriend of a close friend at her birthday party. At this point the relationship was well established and serious. Yet, she didn't introduce him as, say, "My boyfriend, John." He was introduced simply by his first name, such that if you weren't close with her at the party, just there as someone's friend or plus one, you may have never known they were together. Similarly they didn't sit directly next to one another, there was no PDA to be seen. And none of this spoke negatively to their level of commitment. Indeed, they decided to move in together just a few months after the event.

A territorial individual could never have managed this. The word boyfriend or girlfriend would have been mentioned upon introduction. Proximity would have been a necessity, and even if PDA wasn't a requirement, there would have almost certainly been an arm draped around a shoulder or a hand placed strategically on a knee, communicating an ever present theme the territorial person wants constantly understood by all - mine.

This doesn't necessarily come as a result of jealousy, although it can. If an otherwise nonchalant lover becomes suddenly territorial, and the onset of such behavior seems provoked by the arrival of what one might consider a competing force, then yes. Jealousy is the likely motivation. But for many others this isn't behavior that is motivated by fear of loss, but more of a sense of pride without any malicious intent. 

Some may find that kind of constant assertion overbearing, and understandably so. But for others it is like one's lover simply shouting their commitment from proverbial rooftops, and this can be romantic when it isn't carried too far. Still, there is a distinction to be made between someone who is jealous and someone who is territorial by nature.


So when is the emotion being experienced none of the above, but instead real and bonafide jealousy?

Jealousy is characterized by the fear of losing something or someone of importance, to something or someone else. Thus, in order to truly be jealous, one must perceive a credible threat.

Note that one must only perceive a credible threat, it does not necessarily need to actually be one. For example, if I inform my boyfriend that I intend to have dinner with a friend, and that friend happens to be male, he may perceive this dinner as a credible threat to our relationship. He may have seen a photo of the friend and find him objectively attractive, or know that he is very well off financially, provoking a sense of competition. He may have met him at a group affair and picked up on a vibe he thought was flirtatious, even if it was not. In reality, my friend could think me a highly unsuitable partner for himself, and I could find him equally unsuitable for myself, and not even remotely attractive, and still my boyfriend could feel pangs of jealousy at just the thought of the upcoming dinner.

In cases like these the jealousy is misplaced and can easily be quelled by a conversation. In others, not so much. I remember a relationship in which I found myself furiously jealous nearly all of the time, which was odd because I'm typically not a jealous person. The person I was dating prioritized everything and everyone else over me, was quite stingy with his affection, especially in public, but was so affectionate with his friends of the female persuasion that people we knew were actually shocked that we were together. Consequently my position in his life never felt firmly carved out, protected and valued, and when everything else did, it seemed I was quite insignificant and could easily be set aside. The fear of loss was constant then, and despite his many declarations to the contrary his actions always undermined them, only enhancing the ever present feeling of unease.


Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the role that manipulation can potentially play where jealousy is concerned. As jealousy can be assigned to threats both real and imagined, it can be misinformed, and as no true lover wants to watch their beloved suffer needlessly at jealousy's hand, it follows that under such circumstances a lover may attempt to quell the feeling.

But be advised, jealousy is not always misplaced, and is sometimes a useful gut instinct, the way one instinctively knows that fire is too hot too touch, or that rotten food smells too bad to be eaten.

Because of the inherent shame and embarrassment associated with jealousy, most people are afraid to admit to the feeling. The feeling itself doesn't warrant shame. In a monogamous relationship, if jealousy occurs, it isn't an indication of insecurity, or a reason to give into self hatred and cower away from the feeling itself. In open and polyamorous relationships especially, jealousy is undeniably common. Trusting that your love can withstand and transcend the comings and goings of others is a tall order for even the most avid of poly folk, and jealousy here is an expected emotion. Still, as Brené Brown says much more elegantly than I'm about to, shame cannot survive compassion. And if your lover is true, compassion is what you will be met with if you share your fears, your concerns, and that compassion will not only kill off your embarrassment, your shame, but will most assuredly kill your jealousy along with it.

If, however, you are not met with compassion. If, by chance, your lover hears your concerns and attempts to encourage your shame. If the word jealous is thrown around like a dirty one, to make you feel low, stupid, pitiable for even admitting to the oh, so common emotion. If you are made to feel self doubt for being human, then you are not just jealous. You are probably also right to be.

I hope these definitions help when dealing with jealousy, or other things that can easily be perceived as such. And I also hope that, even when the jealousy comes, you are met with an abundance of compassion. Because while my definitions are, if I do say so myself, rather awesome...

Love is better.

Open Relationships. Polyamory. Non-monogamy.


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