Among the tremendous spectrum of emotions that humans are capable of feeling, jealousy finds itself miscast in most attempts to define it. It is not as forthcoming as anger, has not the predictable labels of happiness, and lacks the breath and depth that encompass deep romantic love. Yet jealousy is not so alien for it to be branded an outcast or maverick. Its existence is predicated on many emotions that come before it: You cannot possibly be jealous of something that doesn’t (potentially) bring you immense pleasure and happiness, nor can such a feeling exist if you are unable to feel terrible remorse at its absence.
All these may sound similar to another emotion: Envy. It might be tempting to think of jealousy and envy as interchangeable terms (as is the case with most popular culture), but their differences are neither subtle nor nuanced. When we desire something others have which we don’t, perhaps wealth, fame or achievements, we experience envy. Unless we have learned to pick up a bit of wisdom, we too often make repeated and ugly comparisons between what we have, don’t have and must have. Envy then, is silent, masked and sometimes pretentious. Its reign is the impersonal, and at its throne are our materialistic desires and ambitions.
Conversely, jealousy is our deepest desire to keep what we already have. The banner it flies is deeply personal and poetic, and its ruling seat is unquestionably the human heart – one it begrudgingly shares with romantic love. If love without commitment is shallow and fragile, it follows that love without some degree of jealousy is tepid and lukewarm – because love concerns itself with both selflessness and selfishness. Jealousy then, is the realisation of how truly important and significant someone is to us, an emotional confirmation of verbal and written promises, and a certainty of future commitments. Some measure of jealousy, within the context of someone who loves us for who we are, is a powerful and reassuring self-affirmation.
So when there is the risk that someone else will divert or siphon attention from our romantic interest, it would be impossible to not feel at least a silver of jealousy. Time and attention are finite, and what’s lost to an invader’s distraction(s), also amounts to comparable losses of pleasure and happiness for us – feelings are less intense, replies slow down and commitment stagnates. While everyone will experience jealousy at least once in their lives, the degree and extent can vary widely, with the quality of the relationship (and our upbringing) probably having the largest bearing.
Some relationships may, in order to provoke jealousy, fabricate distorted situations and contexts. Or perhaps as payback, one might deliberately behave in an overly-friendly and suggestive way towards potential romantic interests. While useful in securing attention, such an impact is only temporary, and few relationships can be fully realised if sustained by such dishonesty. If used as a tool of control, jealousy becomes a manipulative emotion akin to playing with fire. It cannot be mastered and will consume those who try.
However, relationships whose cornerstones are etched with genuine honesty, mutual tenderness and deep affection, can surmount the anxieties, worries and uncertainties brought about by jealousy. Because they can speak about what they feel without fear of reprisal, each partner will deliberately go out of their way to make each other feel important and valued. They also know how to provide soothing reassurances of commitment, care and concern when it’s required. Communication, after all, is the invisible catalyst holding relationships together. In such instances, jealousy can be harnessed as a healthy emotional response to develop trust, with each partner willing to help troubleshoot for a compromise together.
Though jealousy has often been considered dangerous and inappropriate, there is perhaps nothing wrong with being somewhat immature and irrational about it. It is a legitimate response to a situation for which rational thinking does little for. Left unresolved, it can, like anger, eventually consume us. But as long as we desire to be loved, and as long as romantic love is in some ways necessarily selfish, we will always have to contend with jealousy. Understood correctly, jealousy has something to teach us.
So, have you thought about (HYTA) how jealousy is a useful emotion?