The Green-Eyed Monster: Sexual Jealousy and the Concept of “Ownership"
“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
I heard an old song the other day, “You Belong to Me.” I think most of us can agree that the concept of “belonging” to someone—or “owning” someone—can be quite compelling and very hot when incorporated into a sexual fantasy. However, most of us have to live in a place I like to call “the real world,” and when fantasy spills over into reality, things can become problematic. When you pile on enough complications you can reach dangerous in no time.
But Isn’t a Little Jealousy a Good Thing?
While a little jealousy can be a good sign that a partner cares for you, too much just screams “Danger!” If you have a healthy attitude towards jealousy, it's vitally important that you be aware of obvious early warning signs so you don’t wake up one day to find yourself in a relationship with an obsessively jealous (and usually insecure) person. You don't want to become tomorrow's headline. You know what I'm talkin' about: "Three slain in love triangle"
The flip side is, if you are the jealous type, you might be attracting partners who will reinforce that quality (eww). As your relationships progress, they might lead to more and more bizarre behavior. Of course, there’s the other possibility, that your jealousy is actually repelling possible partners, leaving you, poor baby, constantly on the prowl.
How the Hell Did That Get in There? Origins of Jealousy
Most of our attitudes about jealousy are molded by social and cultural forces. For many of us, it begins in high school. Teenagers in particular can be extremely insecure about self-image, and it’s in our teens that we audition our new “adult” identity. Keep in mind that this time of learning and experimenting coincides with being very emotionally vulnerable. Remember those fun times when the world ended because you weren't wearing the right outfit?
The truth is that self-image is a major contributing factor to jealousy: the lower your sense of self-regard, the more likely you are to feel threatened by any perceived act of “disloyalty” by your partner. In fact, if you're the kind of person who lives your life through your relationship (as many of us do), you probably already have way too much at stake in how you perceive your partner's actions.
If you’re aware that you may be vulnerable to jealousy, here are some questions you might ask yourself:
· Does your particular family/social culture reinforce messages about ownership in relationships? Sometimes we don't even realize that we have such strong feelings about a particular issue because they've been so deeply ingrained as a part of our cultural heritage.
· How secure are you in your identity and in your relationship? Are there lots of conditions that must be met? (“I expect you to have my dinner on the table every night at 6 p.m.”) Examine these conditions to determine whether either of you has to meet the other’s unrealistic expectations.
· Does the concept of being owned or owning turn you on? If so, how do you feel about this outside of your sexual relationship? Are you beginning to have these feelings in nonsexual situations? (“I would never allow my partner to go to his office party without me!”)
· What are your perceived shortcomings? Do you feel you're too short, too heavy, too poor? Well, guess what? You've just set yourself up to feeling insecure around anyone who’s taller, slimmer or wealthier than you-in other words, JEALOUS. If you feel that you're too short, then whenever your partner talks to a tall person at a party, that might activate your feelings of jealousy (read: insecurity). I know a man who is absolute catnip to women: he’s gorgeous, funny, warm, etc. And he's never jealous of other men, EXCEPT: he feels that his income is inadequate. Can you guess who makes him feel jealous? A fairly plain-looking man who happens to be quite wealthy. He's worried his partner will find such a man much more compelling than him, even though she's told him it's not true.
One last thought: It’s important that you discuss the parameters of your sexual relationship with your partner. We often assume that we both play by the same rules. You know what they say: when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME. “After we got married, I ASSUMED he wouldn’t talk to his ex any more.” “After we moved in together, I ASSUMED she’d drop out of her wine tasting group because she knows I only drink beer.”
This is a heavy topic; and as always, I welcome your comments and questions. We’d all love to hear about what works for you. The doctor is definitely in.
With Pleasure, Dr. J