Friday, May 25, 2012

On Jealousy

I was in a room full of people the other day, and the conversation happened upon the subject of jealousy.  I found myself saying "you would ideally want a measure of jealousy in a [romantic] relationship..." and I didn't get any farther in the thought before I was met with immediate disapproval.  Not like I was about to be hanged or anything, just this crowd of "no"s and "jealousy is always bad"s. 

I contended quickly that I meant jealously and not envy, and they totally still felt passionately that jealousy aught to be demonized.  This was curious to me as - I'm sure you've noticed - I hold jealousy in a very different light.

Wikipedia defines jealousy thus:

"Jealousy is an emotion and typically refers to the negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something that the person values, particularly in reference to a human connection. Jealousy often consists of a combination of presenting emotions such as anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness and disgust. It is not to be confused with envy."

Now, if you knew me in real life, you wouldn't expect me to be an intellectual advocate to emotions or drives that are commonly perceived as "negative" such as anger or hate or disgust.  (It should be noted that I don't appreciate envy very much).

But I am.  Most things that are built into the human psyche, I find, have their place - and can also be ill-dignified.  It's becoming clear to me that a lot of.. unpleasant things... are falling victim to the propaganda against negativism.

I'm as optimistic and hopeful as one little butterball of a backwoods intellectual type can be.  I'm also a realist, and I prefer that my information accurately reflects reality.  Also, I'm not expressly here to have happy experiences like the bulk of the post modernist generation is here to do.  I don't try to be happy, I try to be good.  And the best way to be good is to be loving.  And the best way in my opinion to be honest is to consider everything, even if it's inherently unpleasant, to find out if it happens to be inherently good.

(I met an intellectual gal once who would dissociate from all emotions because a person could far too easily become a slave to them.  For an example of the opposite extreme.)

My friend Brandon told me a story when I brought it up of him and his wife during a period where their work schedules didn't sync up.  He said she would tell him stories while they were going to bed about her work day and the people she would hang out with there, and he wouldn't say much back.  After awhile of this, she asked him if he was jealous and he turned to her and said "well of COURSE I'm jealous!  They get to spend time with you and I don't!"

It's all too common for psychology and its therapists to blame the whole of jealousy on trauma, or the symptom of a psychological disorder; resulting in what ultimately amounts to trust issues or an affinity for convincing oneself of the worst at the expense of rationality.

But jealousy is good for the strong long-term partnership.  It discourages desertion, and bolsters the family unit enabling the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of the young.  We abandon philanderers and futile matches in favor of stable rewarding relationships.  You have to admit, you secretly feel flattered when your lover is mildly jealous.  And catching someone flirting with your beloved can spark the lust and romance that reignites the passion that started the relationship in the first place.

I also contend that in the peculiar sociological and philosophical environment that most Americans in the Northwest have been living in, jealousy - where it's paid attention to most - is ill-dignified.  You think of the insecure folk who become consumed by it, sometimes violently, and who often drive their beloved into the arms of another; the very outcome they feared - the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Helen Fisher PhD asserts this advice:

"So what can you do if jealousy is making you miserable? First, figure out whether he's actually cheating. If he is, you have a different problem: what to do about your relationship. But if you find yourself snooping through your lover's pockets, or reading his e-mails on the sly, stop. This is demeaning to you. Explain that you are working to control your suspicion but would like him to help you by not provoking it. And if you can't stop spying or obsessing (and many of us can't), it's time to consult a mental health professional. Ultimately, though, you may never feel emotionally secure with a flirtatious mate—in which case you might consider some wisdom from Zen philosophy: The way out is through the door."

Now I never intended to write a blog about relationship advice, but I definitely recommend working on emotional security, and perhaps a more healthy approach to jealousy, rather than nixing it altogether.  The main case I'm making is that jealousy shouldn't be demonized, but instead understood.

One more thing worth noting:  The Bible doesn't posit jealousy as a flaw in design either, or even cast it negatively.  Contrarily, God is described as jealous; and we are supposed to jealously guard our hearts.  Just saying.

--J.m. Gatewood
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