Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Inconvenient Truth About Jealousy

Self-help books are worthless, the people who read them are hopeless, and the authors who write them are shameless.

Self-help books about relationships are the worst. Much like economics books, they espouse advice and theory while conveniently ignoring that the situations they're discussing involve human actors.

A typical one size fits all nugget from these tomes: Jealousy results from low self-esteem.

You could just as easily argue the reverse, that the reason some people don't experience jealousy is because their self-esteem is so low they don't think they deserve the person they're with. Therefore, they don't feel jealousy. It's odd that the self-help/psychobabble coven has taken this stance on jealousy. After all, every other exit sign on the self-help highway reads "You're not doing _____ because you don't think you deserve _____."

But not jealousy. For some reason that brand of self-preservation automatically signifies "low self-esteem."

What if you're just really in love and have visions of the agony you'd feel if you lost that person? It's crazy to have concerns about that? People take elaborate steps to avoid disaster in other parts of life. They buy flood insurance in areas that seldom flood. But in your love life it is a sign of low self-esteem to sometimes imagine a worst-case scenario? 

[Obviously, I'm talking about jealously in moderation. If the word jealous automatically makes you think Raging Bull, you're already too deep in the Oprah-Dr. Phil abyss to contribute to humanity and I forbid you to read further.]

Sometimes jealousy comes from being realistic. Sometimes you know your significant other could have done a lot better than you, and you don't want to lose your lucky break. That lucky break could very well be the only good thing in your life. So is it irrational to have some anxiety about losing something you were lucky to catch in the first place? If anything, by being realistic about your lover's superior appeal, you are practicing self-actualization, an exercise most self-help parrots recommend.

Let's say you're a stunning couple, a couple comprised of two knockouts...a little jealousy still makes sense. After all, if your partner is a stunner, you know that other people are going to be even more dogged and ruthless in their attempts to seduce that person (being a stunner yourself, you'll have experience with this). Knowing this is the case, is it so neurotic to be a little vigilant? When you have an Aston Martin in your garage, you take steps to protect it.

Another reason being a little suspicious doesn't necessarily mean you have low self-esteem: infidelity is on the rise. Traditional monogamy is taking a beating here in the dying West. Who is to say your mate isn't going to be a trend follower? Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

William Shakespeare, who may have coined the expression "green-eyed jealousy," wrote Othello, probably the most enduring take on jealousy. It contains quotes like:

Trifles light as air
Are to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of holy writ.

But really, a more useful Shakespeare quote about jealousy would be:

For love, thou know'st, is full of jealousy.

That's from The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Haven't heard of it, have you? Exactly. Ironic, considering The Two Gentleman of Verona sounds like a bad self-help call-in show.


Anonymous said...

thought this was just a bunch of bitter drivel until i reached the bottom and read that the author is /comedian, then i identified the humor in all of this.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Unless of course you practice responsible non-monogamy and realize that you can easily love more than one person and still be true to yourself and your partners. It's called polyamory, and done right it brings an incredible degree of honesty and solid communication. Cheers.

Gracie said...

Agreed with anonymous; it's called polyamory. I have been in a successful polyamorous relationship for four years and there is no jealousy between myself or my female partner. Love is not a finite resource like gasoline or popcorn or something- someone can't take the last of it and then leave an empty bowl that everyone gets ticked off over.

Polyamory is endless popcorn that everyone shares :) and everyone gets equal amounts and feels good, in the end. Ta-da.

Anonymous said...

Each of your counterpoints actually consists of low self-esteem: basically believing you aren't worthy of keeping your partner. So, yes, the self-esteem thing is right on the money. Even if you have huge self-esteem, jealousy will find the tiny little hole in it and poke a needle into that hole.