I’ve thinking about, reading up on, and considering my own jealousy lately.
Jealousy, as I’ve learned, appears to be a complex mix of emotions that can vary from person to person and context to context. Even more fascinating to me as a word geek is the range in definitions, which is a good proxy for its complexity.
As an example, words that turn up in definitions are: envy, suspicion, protective, vigilant, faithfulness, exclusive, eagerness, resentment, possessive, fear, suspicion, distrust, wrath, intolerance, concern, anxiety, anger, devotion, vigilance, and apprehension.
Whew! I don’t know about you, but I get emotionally tired reading that list.
It’s also an old word, with roots in the Latin word zelo that mutated into gelus in Old French before turning into jealous in English. The zel- prefix in Latin also turns up zelus, which we know as zealous or zeal – to have intense or passionate feelings.
There are several definitions of interpersonal jealousy, but I think this one from the Oxford English Dictionary exposes the range well:
1a) Troubled by the fear, suspicion, or belief that ones is being or might be displaced in someone’s affections; (disposed to be) distrustful of the fidelity of a spouse or lover; overly possessive of a friend, lover, or spouse.
Unpacking that, it boils down to fear, distrust, and possessiveness.
Whenever fear shows up, you have to be aware of the instinctual fight or flight response, which accounts for jealous rages that leave people dead. Distrust is corrosive to any relationship, particularly when it is unspoken, unaddressed, or ignored. Possessiveness gets you into emotional and physical zones of exclusion and if you step back and look at it as a reproductive strategy, it tends to circle around mate selection, protection, and offspring rearing; in other words, very deep currents that are often at a remove from cognitive analysis.
With that framework, I thought back to times I was jealous. Interestingly, it took me a while to find those times. What I came to realize is that while I have most definitely experienced jealousy, sometimes quite intensely, I didn’t recognize it until I took a hard look at the situation and compared it to the above.
In most of my cases, the jealousy I experienced zoomed me straight into the deeper emotions of distrust and fear, short-circuiting the possibility of recognizing it as jealousy and dealing with it as that. Instead of asking questions like, ‘Why do I feel jealous here?’ I went straight to, ‘I can’t trust anyone, no one really loves me because I’m unlovable, and because I’m unlovable, I’m going to be abandoned.’
The roots of those thoughts are planted in my history of growing up in a physically abusive household and having many alcoholic adult figures in my life. In that environment, danger and abandonment lurked everywhere, and worse, it was always capricious. I learned that the people who said they loved me were unreliable at best and actively hostile at worst. They were untrustworthy.
Few used to work at a local ski resort on the weekends for a few years, which meant I was at home with the kids while she was sixty miles away in the ski bum culture that included her brother and many friends of hers through him and her sister, who had lived up there for a couple of years. So when she would, ‘Go out for a drink after work with some coworkers,’ jealousy popped up for me because I didn’t trust that our deteriorating relationship was one she wanted to come home to. And on those nights when she’d get too drunk to drive home and stay up there with her brother or the guy my insecurities hooked her up with, I wondered, and then I would accuse.
I would accuse her of not wanting to come home. Of not wanting to be with me. Of fucking some guy, an actual guy, instead of whatever it was that I was then. She would tell me she loved me, that I was the only one for her one day and the next rail at and reject me for the women’s clothes I kept in a separate closet. The mixed message was hard to take.
As my trust in her dissolved with every lie of hers I uncovered, my jealous suspicions of her increased proportionally. I know I was shitty about it. Who wants to be constantly accused of cheating? As my fear of my marriage slipping away increased, my insecurity around abandonment ramped right with it.
I was in a jealous rage for probably a solid two years by my reckoning. An irony is that Few was also jealous of the woman I was becoming, the ‘bitch that stole my husband.’
The jealously for me with Few started at the first breach of trust in my marriage when she lied to me about smoking pot while she was pregnant, and then denied it up until I produced the incontrovertible proof. If I couldn’t trust her around something as important as our unborn child, what could I trust?
When I survey the other relationships I’ve been in, including my first marriage, my jealousy tended to circle around possessiveness. For me, that also ties back to fears of abandonment. It comes from the fear of having my partner meet someone else they’d want to be with more than me and leave me for them.
As I look forward, my goal is to be able to recognize when jealousy stirs within me, pause with it before it disappears behind the other feelings, and address it directly with myself and whoever it is I’m feeling jealous about. It sounds good written down. We’ll see how I do in real life.