Is it really so natural to be jealous of someone when they love or lust over someone other than you? To anyone who has ever been jilted or cheated on, this may be an outrageous question to ask. How can anyone not feel outrage when the person they love has feelings for someone else? It’s the basis for at least 85 percent of all love stories and around half of every episode of Jerry Springer.
Jealousy seems like one of those emotions that’s so natural. We’ve come to see it on the same level as fear, hunger, or horniness. Few really question these assumptions beyond a certain context. Today, I’d like take a sledge-hammer to that context and dare to probe deeper. If that sounds overly lurid, I apologize, but I’m being genuinely serious here.
If ever there was an emotion that brings out the worst in people, jealousy seems tailor-made for it. One of my favorite comedians, Christopher Titus, once described it like this:
Is it somewhat extreme? Yes. However, I think there’s a sizable portion of the population that agrees with this sentiment. Jealousy can make people do horrible things. Sometimes, just seeing someone with someone else is enough to make us upset to the point of doing horrible things we wouldn’t otherwise do. Jealous and jilted lovers have committed serious crimes, including outright murder.
It’s those irrational extremes, however, that should beg the question. Is this feeling really a basic product of the human condition? How much of it is in our genes and how much of it is in our heads? It’s something we need to think about it, if only to assess the horrific behaviors it inspires in people.
Now I admit I didn’t really think about this question until recently. I admit I’ve felt pretty jealous at numerous points in my life and it’s not a pleasant feeling. I went through a period as a teenager where I got downright fatalistic whenever I heard a girl I liked had a boyfriend. Some of that can be chalked up to teenage hormones and serious personal issues. Others, however, are a bit more complex.
The first time I really thought about this issue came while reading Darrel Ray’s book, “Sex and God.” It’s a book I’ve recommended on this blog before and while it does primarily discuss the effects of religion on sex, it also frames jealousy in a very different context that makes it seem less a natural emotion and more a byproduct of sorts.
It goes back to the whole “caveman logic” I’ve used in discussing other topics on this blog, such as nudity. Biologically speaking, we’re still the same cavemen and cavewomen who roamed the African savanna 50,000 years ago, hunting and gathering for food. Then, something happened that changed our way of life and in evolutionary terms, it happened fairly recently. That something is agriculture.
That’s not to say this is a bad thing. The Agricultural Revolution is a big reason why civilization, as we know it, developed in the first place. However, it did come with a specific byproduct. It introduced the concept of land ownership and passing down property through bloodlines. It’s a concept that is not strictly Western. It occurs in almost every society in every part of the world that relies on agriculture to some extent. The culture develops its customs around owning and managing land. So naturally, some of those customs extend to owning and managing people.
Using caveman logic, the concept of owning land is entirely arbitrary. Unlike a tool or physical good that we create, we can’t hold it or lock it in a safe. However, we still treat it as something we need to protect from theft. We treat it as something that we associate with our own name. This is where the idea of passing possessions down to children enters the picture. It’s one thing to just give a child a tool or heirloom you made. It’s quite another to leave them ownership of a farm or property.
This is why marital fidelity, virginity, and knowing that your kid is really your kid became so important. Before the days of Maury Povich and blood tests, the only way to truly know that your kid is yours is for your bride to be a virgin on her wedding night and to have never cheated on you. It’s not so much about nature as much as it is about economics. There’s an economic and legal incentive to treat sexuality, child-rearing, and sexual relations as a commodity. As a result, we guard it like we do other commodities.
From that perspective, it’s easy to see how jealousy emerges. It’s like seeing someone with a nicer car or more food than you. It makes you envious and jealous. It stirs up all sorts of negative emotions that don’t always manifest in healthy ways. We think it’s natural, but take a second to consider the implications of this feeling.
To be jealous of another person’s feelings over someone else implies that you own that person to some extent. It implies you own their emotions, their sentiments, and their sexuality. For most people in the modern era, the idea of owning another human being in any capacity is abhorrent, yet we don’t bat an eye when we think we own someone’s emotions.
In the context of caveman logic, it doesn’t hold up. As small communities of hunter/gatherers, the idea of owning another person’s emotions wasn’t very pragmatic to say the least. Two people and whatever children they have aren’t enough to fend for themselves against a pack of sabretooth tigers. They need to band together as a community and a by-product of this, as we see in other primates, is that sexual monogamy isn’t the norm. It can and does happen, but it isn’t the ideal. It’s just a variation.
Now it’s one thing to make a promise of sexual fidelity to someone and break it. It’s quite another to just assume that someone else’s emotions must be managed a certain way. That undermines the very concept of what it means to be a sovereign human being. However, our culture is still structured around this idea that one person owns the love and lust of another and this is somehow an ideal.
It’s for this reason that I now see the concept of jealousy as somewhat flawed. When I think about my own romantic inclinations, I don’t want to own another human being. I don’t want to be owned either. I want the love and lust I share with another to be freely exchanged for all the right reasons. There’s room for romance. There’s room for lust. There’s room for commitment as well. Jealousy feels like a perversion of this sentiment and something that needs to be re-evaluated.
So once again, I’d like to open this up a little. What do you, the readers, think about our current concept of jealousy? What is your experience with it? Do you think it’s natural? Do you think there’s room to change our perceptions?
This idea has given me plenty of think about for future books. There is one new idea I’m developing, hopefully for a short, sweet, and sexy story I can write after I’m done with my next project. I think there are too many stories out there that focus on love triangles and scorned lovers. I think the marketplace is ready for something new and I hope to provide it.