Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

Jealousy, the Green-Eyed Monster

Have you ever been jealous and, if so, does it come naturally?

My own eyes are hazel, that’s brown with a touch of green in certain lights. I write that because very few would call me green eyed or even usually discern the green in mine. Quite literally, that’s true. I have rarely in my life been afflicted with possessiveness or any sense of ownership over a partner which is how jealousy within a relationship is usually defined.

I have a dear friend, let’s call her J., who feels that not being jealous is a sign of a deficiency within the relationship. She sees caring about a person as synonymous with caring whether he or she shows any sign of interest in another. In other words, if you love a person you have got to be jealous. I see jealousy as a deficiency in the character of the person who experiences the feeling.

I enjoy a partner with a twinkle in his eye, who enjoys flirtatious interchanges with others. It would seem unnatural and confining if any partner of mine walked through the world with figurative blinders uncaring or unaware of other sexy possibilities. That would be missing one of the joys of life, in my opinion.

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I would be lying if I vowed that no flirtatious interchange of my partner ever once gave me pause, but on the rare occasions that it has happened I was aware of feeling insecure on some level independent of the event. That is, as I have said above, jealousy is indicative of some deficiency in she who feels it.

In my years as a therapist I have counseled many couples in open relationships and some who lived in loving configurations of more than two people. Such arrangements may be seen in our society as “unnatural” (although that may be changing) but they are and have been far more common in other times and other societies. If something appears in nature over and over again it can’t, by definition, be unnatural. Rare, maybe, but not unnatural.

I think much jealousy is felt because, as in the case of J., one believes she or he is expected to feel it. “If I love my partner and my partner loves me jealousy must be part of the package.” It is quite natural to find what one is looking for.

In the polyamorous and nonmonagamous counseling clients I saw jealousy did often show up. Often, however, it was jealousy of time and space as much or more than sexual jealousy. Just as often the issues that brought these folks into my office were not jealousy or possessiveness but other issues common to all relationships and to be expected in complicated and nontraditional ones. I always asked about sexual jealousy, however. I found, as I expected, that many denied feeling it. Defining themselves as by nature nonmonagamous, they didn’t expect to feel it in a loving relationship and so they did not.

So the question of whether jealousy is natural is a “what comes first egg or chicken” one. Is it natural for most or all humans to feel jealousy? Is there a certain percentage of the population, like those who are predominantly left handed, who just don’t? Is it a question of individual expectations within a relationship? Of shaky self esteem regardless of relationship status or the product of an insecure relationship?

Consulting the experts one will find all sorts of conflicting theories. The ultimate expert is probably your own experience.

Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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