Wednesday, April 30, 2014


"A competent and self-confident person is incapable of jealousy in anything. Jealousy is invariably a symptom of neurotic insecurity."
--Robert A. Heinlein


I've run across a lot of jealousy, latent or otherwise, in my travels of late. Longtime readers will have some inkling of how I feel about jealousy. For those new to the Breadbin, I consider it to be one of the worst, most corrosive emotions it's possible to feel. It's a perversion, a hateful, spiteful thing, and it baffles me how common it is. I see people claiming to be "in love" that consider jealousy to be an integral part of that love. Crazy.

I've felt it, I won't lie and say I haven't. I'm proud to say, however, that I haven't felt it in many years, not since I noticed that always, always, always it's been rooted in my own insecurity. 

I should distinguish jealousy from its mild stepsister, envy. Envy is wanting something that someone else has. It's a perfectly natural emotion, an impetus for growth. It's what makes the little kid want to be a big kid. Jealousy, on the other hand, is wanting something that someone else has, such that they don't have it anymore

My other working definition of jealousy is "pain at another's happiness", as distinguished from schadenfreude, "happiness at another's pain"--the other monstrous, truly acidic emotion that is even more common and accepted than's the foundation of almost all of what's called "comedy" in this society, and a big reason I don't find very much "comedy" funny. Pain isn't funny. If you think it is, I'm sorry, but there's something wrong with you. 

Usually, but not always, jealousy is tied up in wrongheaded ideas about love--incredibly common in this society, but no less wrongheaded for so being. One of those pervasive, wrongheaded ideas is that love can, and should, be confined to one person per person. This isn't the first time I've posted this poem, and it probably won't be the last, but--

Sweet Marie, she loves just me
(She also loves Maurice McGhee).
No she don't, she loves just me
(She also loves Louise Dupree).
No she don't, she loves just me
(She also loves the willow tree).
No she don't, she loves just me!
(Poor, poor fool, why can't you see
She can love others and still love thee.)
--Shel Silverstein, "Where the Sidewalk Ends"

I first read this poem in third grade. I can't say it had a profound effect on me--even though I've never forgotten it. (Did 2+2=4 have a profound effect on you? Silverstein's poem has, for me, the same sort of  elemental obviousness.) As I've aged, I've found that most people agree with the sentiment behind the poem (it's hard not to, since I've yet to meet someone who only loves one person)...but they don't apply its lessons to their own lives.

I can hear you now. Ken, you're being wilfully obtuse and you know it. The problem isn't love, but how that love is expressed. My wife can love other people, she just better not show it.

Or what? She'll leave you? Are you that insecure in your relationship?  Not surprised. There seems to be a lot of that going around.

"It's not love that is blind, but jealousy."--Lawrence Durrell

I spend a lot of time on Reddit. If you're not familiar with it, it's a giant (almost 115 million unique visitors last month) bulletin board system wherein users submit and comment on content. The content can be anything at all, and both the submissions and the comments are voted up or down by the community at large. The site is organized into various "subreddit" forums (thousands of them). One of the default communities is "AskReddit"--a general catch-all question forum, and the query that caught my interest the other day was this:

"What's a question you never want to know the answer to?"

I like to play Family Feud with things like this--what's going to be the most common answer? Probably the day I'll die, I thought. Click. Nope. Often Reddit has a Hollywood Squares sort of ethos in which the most ridiculous comment gets upvoted to the skies. I thought that had to be the case when I read "how big her ex's dick was". Lots and lots of upvotes, ha-ha, that's funny.

Not funny at all, it seems. That comment touched a collective nerve. Not just touched it, but hammered on it. It became increasingly clear the further and further down I scrolled that a very large number of men have a very large hangup when it comes to their wife's or girlfriend's sexual past.  They don't want to know. Anything. It's so much better, apparently, to convince yourself that your partner was a blank slate when you met her.

So here's jealousy over somebody who isn't even in the damn picture anymore. She chose you, dumbass. Obviously you compensate for your sexual failings in some other, more important way. More likely several much more important ways. And what are you jealous over?  Dick size? What are you, twelve?

Given that so many men seem to be driven crazy simply imagining their partner's past, it goes without saying that they must see threats everywhere in their partner's present.

"I hate jealousy. I hate possessiveness. I'm nobody's possession."--Olga Kurytenko

One problem with jealousy (amongst many) is that it is a self fulfilling prophecy. Feel jealous long enough and hard enough at some imagined threat to your relationship and I will guarantee you the imagined threat will become a real threat. When this happens--it will--you will never believe it's your own distrust dooming things. No, you'll probably feel vindicated instead.

I should probably say that I'm not arguing here for some sort of free-love hippie-dippy mindset. I could do that, and easily, but I'm not doing it here. I'd settle, at this point, for society recognizing how love, like other emotions positive and negative, works. To wit: the more you give, the more you have to give.
This is counter to the way our cultural stories urge us to think about love. Supposedly we're all looking for one soulmate, and once we've found him or her, we'll (a) know it and (b) that one person will fulfill every need we'll ever have in life.
I much prefer the imagery one dear friend suggested to me last week: that there are soul "trees", and we're all leaves on one or another of them. It goes without saying, too, that love isn't needs fulfillment. If you want to kill a relationship, one of the surest ways to do it is to imagine you need something from it. Sooner or later, that need will go unmet, and then what?

Eva doesn't complete me. She's not the other half of me (even though she is the better half of this relationship). I am complete in and of myself and so is she; we have chosen to share our lives, and each day I share with her is a joy, even the sad ones. I do depend on her, probably more than is healthy at times. I'm envious of her many competencies. But if I ever start feeling jealousy, I clamp down on it hard. After more than fifteen years together, I owe her that courtesy. Pain at her happiness is not an option: I love her, which means her happiness is essential to my own. But I can say the same about other people: if something's amiss in the life of a good friend, the part of me that is devoted to that friend is hurting. I think other people can say the same; they may not be comfortable calling that "love". But that's what it is, as far as I'm concerned.

Jealousy isn't part of love. It's actually closer to hate.


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