Jealousy (both sides now)

I’m familiar with jealousy. I feel it often, with everyone. I’m less accustomed to being an object of jealousy, the one inspiring jealousy in others. That’s not right: What I mean is, I’m not used to worrying that my behavior makes another person feel jealous.

For whatever set of reasons, jealousy has never been among T‘s primary reactions to my peregrinations. She’s had lots of other reactions, but jealousy has never loomed large. Possibly because she’s never feared (for even a moment) that I would leave her. She’s smart that way. I wouldn’t.

So in recent times, I’ve been a little blindsided when confronting the reality of jealousy inspired by my behaviors, first with L, and more recently, with V. And with a couple of distant buddies along the way.

Generally, I’m kind of preternaturally empathetic. But on this issue, I’m shockingly blind. I know the sting of jealousy, but I know also the rewards available to me for facing it head-on. So when I learn that something I’ve done has inspired jealousy in a woman I’m seeing, I tend to be, more than anything, baffled. I can see so clearly how secure the jealous one is in my universe: how can she not see? (For what it’s worth, I don’t, actually, think this in my head; I understand that jealousy is meteorological, not rational, and that it doesn’t follow rationality. But I do think it in my body.)

And, at the same time, how can she not run toward it, seeing it as an opportunity for fun, engaging, reflection? When I feel jealousy with a woman not my wife, I do run toward it: I’ve asked V, for example, to tell me every little detail of her interactions with men other than me – not because I want to control or limit her (I don’t, at all), and not because it gets me off (it most emphatically does not). No, I want to know every little detail because I want to observe my jealousy, to study it, and to do so in the context of a relationship that’s fun, and important to me, but that doesn’t have emotional heft. Also, as I’ve written before, a woman’s confiding these details in me is itself a bit of a balm for the pain of my jealousy.

I believe that jealousy isn’t really a reaction to something another person does; it’s a deep-seated fear of abandonment, or loss, or inadequacy, or worse.

And that it triggers deep-seated feelings that are rarely welcome.

V wonders if I’m missing something, if there’s not something in what another does that activates those deep-seated fears/feelings, and of course, she’s right. Except… except…. We all select our partners. And we select partners whose actions trigger precisely those deep-seated fears/feelings. And at least for me, the experience of jealousy – over and over, with lots of different people, doing lots of different things – gives the lie to the potential claim I might wish to make that my jealous reactions are in some way about them. If I’m paying any attention, I can see that my jealousy pretty much always looks/seems/feels the same to me, no matter who triggered it how. So: must be about me, not her, right?

And/but I’m struck by my tone-deaf-ness here: in my case, I’m exquisitely sensitive to it, and fascinated; in others’, I expect they should be some combination of immune and fascinated. I took years before that became my reaction, but, narcisistically, I imagine that you should be just like me today, should have the same reaction I do now.

One comment

  1. Jealousy is such a nebulous emotion. I like how you describe it as “meteorological”…. I find myself in this predicament often, as my husband likes to play more often than I do. For some reason, certain women draw forth my jealousy more readily, and I have to really mentally remind myself that I am in no danger of loss here. Why is it that we can fully understand something like that mentally, but emotionally still be in complete and utter anxiety? Emotions are strange.

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