On Jealousy

Jealousy is a strange emotion. I can’t say I’ve ever felt it in a significant sense. It made me worry that maybe I was missing out on something important. After thinking on it and talking to people about why they think it’s good, I don’t think I’m missing anything.

This may come off as preachy or overly critical; if so, it’s not intended. To be clear, I’m not criticizing anyone or telling them what they should feel. You do you, you’re the best at. Struggling with your feelings is normal. I want to have a frank discussion about what jealousy actually does for anyone.

Jealousy is, by and large, a negative emotion. By that I mean it’s something that would be described as unpleasant when you feel it, like anger or sadness. It’s when one person in a relationship is feeling slighted by the other. They feel their partner is putting someone else above them in an area reserved for the participants of the relationships. Sometimes it’s accurate; people cheat alarmingly often in monogamy. Often it’s not; it’s one person’s wayward imagination and insecurities being projected onto their partner. This is a really bad aspect of it because it’s a powerful feeling, yet also typically inaccurate. It’s consuming, wrapping your head in these terrible cycles of thought. No amount of logic or reason can contend with it, not until the feeling itself subsides (and often it sits on the back burner of the mind, waiting for an opportunity to re-emerge).

I’ve had people explain the positive side of jealous to me and frankly, it’s not something I would describe as positive. Some people feel that if their partner isn’t jealous of them, then they don’t actually care about the relationship. The thinking is that if someone values something, they will get hurt/angry when it may be taken away. This isn’t a healthy foundation of value. If you trust your partner then you trust them to not cheat on you. If they want to be with someone else more, why is it good to stop them? I don’t mean total sexual freedom here, being monogamous without being very jealous is totally reasonable. You just might have to let things end if they don’t want to remain committed. When you love someone you have to love them entirely, not just what you’ve cherry picked as the good stuff. They should want to be with you and trust that you also want to be with them.

This isn’t something I can see as positive.

Reiterating here that I’m not judging you if you’re a jealous person. I’m just saying *I* don’t see it as a good thing. We all have bad parts of ourselves that we cope with. No one controls how they grow up and it’s effects on their psyche. It’s insanely difficult to take full control of your mental state.

Well then even if it is a negative thing itself, maybe it has positive results? Maybe the “Why” is the important question

It’s pretty obvious that it’s an evolutionary trait, it has a clear evolutionary advantage; a way to keep your mate invested in only your children and no others. I’m sure you’ve heard/read the basic argument for monogamy and how an evolved emotional trait fosters it. Evolutionary psychology isn’t as simple as that though. Our social behaviors are very complex. It’s less like the drive to eat and more like the drive to eat certain foods. There’s reasons that are local or temporary to eat certain things; eg, bitter foods near X tend to be poisonous so people near them don’t like that flavour. With our modern world, those locally restricted (and often temporally restricted) behaviours are vestigial. They no longer serve the practical purpose they once did. The Nuclear family as a model for ‘proper’ human rearing is absolutely a modern invention. We’ve been communal animals as long as we’ve been humans. Clan parenting is a part of our prehistory, and this form of parenting doesn’t necessarily require monogamy. There’s many ways not restricting your mates can be beneficial to you (if you are also able to). Having the clan raise all kids together would increase the chances of some of your genes being passed down. Also memetic evolution may have trumped genetic behaviour, but that’s a topic for another time.

One last point about the evolutionary basis is something I’d say I’m only partially convinced of because it may be projected too much culture backwards. Looking at modern human sexuality we can attempt to ascertain culturally suppressed traits. Cheating is common among both men and women. There are several aspects of male physiology that are designed to increase the chance of impregnation when another man has slept with the woman recently (eg. penis shape and sperm behavior). Men have singular orgasms whereas women can have multiple, often with an increase in the euphoric feelings. All this together could make a good case for early humans engaging in multi-person sex acts, orgies basically. The genetics of the members would be mixed up, the men wouldn’t be able to identify which child was theirs. This could have been a very major development in clan cohesion. Really though, this whole paragraph is very speculative. I’d like to see a real scientist, with funding, research it.

But none of that matters. We don’t date to have kids! Well some of us do, it’s just not a given. It’s not our sole reason for being anymore. So what’s the point of jealousy? To prevent your partner from finding someone better? To project your insecurities onto someone else?



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