Unconventional Wisdom: Jealousy Jitters

I have been in a relationship with a man for a year and a half. In general, I am respected, confident, and, my friends would say, pretty easy-going. However, my boyfriend has several single female friends he met before we started dating, none of whom he has ever dated. But one in particular makes me incredibly uncomfortable. She and my boyfriend like to banter; she has a way of teasing him that he interprets as friendly but I see as flirting. Whenever we are with her, I get insecure and my mood noticeably changes. She will often insist that my boyfriend buy her a drink, and that infuriates me. The fact that he agrees to do so gets under my skin. I have a hard time articulating my feelings on this to my boyfriend. I don’t enjoy being “the jealous girlfriend” or feeling intimidated. I get pushy and my boyfriend gets defensive. I think he hides their communication from me because he thinks it will upset me. I also think he misses their friendship, and it bothers me that he wants to do something I am uncomfortable with. What do I do?

Image: Hara Estroff Marano
HARA ESTROFF MARANO askhara@psychologytoday.com
First, acknowledge that it’s hard to be around someone who possesses a talent you lack, one your beau, and most of the male population, especially enjoys. That alone can make you feel one-down. Teasing is indeed a distinct social skill, and males especially take pleasure in the ambiguity of it, occupying as it does a risky, frisky line between aggression and play. Boys grow up on and are usually very comfortable with teasing; it typically plays an important role in male friendships throughout life. As with most forms of play, teasing creates a closeness between those who engage in it, but that only makes you feel like an outsider. Unfortunately, the closeness that has developed between your boyfriend and his female friend also provokes the threat of loss of your beau, which turns you into that dreaded stereotype, The Jealous Woman, because their bond arouses feelings that seem virtually programmed into us. Faced with what the deepest recesses of the mind interpret as the possibility of Defection of Partner, men and women alike make extra efforts to hold on to their mate. The insecurity that gives rise to what psychologists call “mate-guarding” can bring out behaviors, like pushiness, that are self-defeating and only wind up having the paradoxical effect of driving a partner away. If you had to choose between being around humor and lightness or pushiness, which would you really prefer? Your boyfriend buys his friend a drink not because he’s in love with her but because she brings him a few moments of harmless pleasure. We all know people we like to be around because they bring out a side of us we don’t usually get to exercise.

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There’s no doubt about it, teasing is related to flirting. Both thrive on ambiguity. Both are playful and stimulating, which is to say pleasurable.

The long-term solution to your dilemma is, relax. Get comfortable with your boyfriend’s pre-existing friendship and accept it. Allow yourself to appreciate the charms of teasing. Who knows, some of the skill might rub off on you. More likely, developing a comfort with his friendship will stop him from feeling he has to hide contact with the woman. The last thing you want is a partner who keeps secrets; secret relationships develop an outsize allure simply due to the secrecy.

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