jealousy

 

If I may engage in a bit of psychologizing — ruminating upon personal experience — recent experience got me engaging in reflections as follows. Actually, the events — or my reflections — involved to a great extent past experiences.

A friend abruptly and bitterly broke off relations with me years ago, terminated our friendship. It happened around the time of my marriage. My friend was a bachelor. It is not worth going into the details, but he was a very close friend and it was painful.

My therapist at the time (paraphrasing closely my therapist’s words) told me: Jealousy is the hardest of human emotions to overcome.

 

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In my usual fashion, I have, with respect to recent unpleasant experiences, been ruminating on this and trying to analyze and thrash it out in my mind, and in conversations with my wife.

When engaged in such thinking, I often think “anecdotally,” try to recall and analyze events from my past that seem pertinent. Examples ranging from major to seemingly trivial ones come to mind.

To give one example: An in-law of mine was inclined to be a social climber. Once, a long time ago, when I was into genealogy, I took a trip to Boston to do genealogical research. When I got back home, this relation (the in-law) was visiting us. She asked me how was your trip to Boston? She knew nothing about my interest in genealogy, but she herself had done some genealogical research, brief enquiries, and had written a brief, half-baked genealogy of her own family.

She asked how was your trip? I had just returned home. This was pre-internet days. All research was done on site in libraries and involved making photocopies of documents. I had them in hand. I answered innocently, telling her that (now that she had asked) it was a very successful trip. How in a genealogical journal I had found a long article by two leading genealogists about my mother’s family, tracing her ancestry from English settlers on Cape Cod in the early 1600s right down to her grandfather, who was named in the article, proving that this was indeed my mother’s family.

My in-law was angry. She said something to the effect of: That’s not your family. She was sure I had made something up.

I replied that this really was my mother’s family, but she wasn’t listening.

What she thought or whether she believed me did not matter to me. I merely note her reaction. She was visibly angry. The question arises: about what?

 

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The way I perceive this is as follows. My in-law was angry to think that I might be putting on airs or whatever, but we were not close and she knew nothing about my family or ancestry. She was angry because my claims to be descended from original Yankee settlers might confer distinction on me somehow, and she lacked such “credentials.” But I had done nothing to offend her. I had merely answered her question about my research trip.

She took my research — which would not a priori have been of any interest to her, and which had nothing to do with her ancestry — personally.

So here’s what I have concluded (in retrospect). Jealousy involves a situation in which the jealous person is resentful about something that the other person can claim, has done, etc. You get married, discover something impressive about your ancestors, achieve something . This activity, these accomplishments, of yours have nothing to do with the other person — were not directed at him or her.

I got married. My friend was single. Was I thinking about him when my wife and I decided to get married? Did I somehow want to distinguish myself from or “get ahead” of him? Of course not. But he took it personally.

It is true that by getting married I was achieving a status or position in society that my unmarried friend had not obtained; and marriage confers a measure of distinction and respect in the eyes of society. But at any given time in different age groups there are unmarried as well as married people. My wife and I had many friends who were unmarried. My getting married did not anything to do with any of my friends or this one in particular, as I have already said.

My wife had a situation where a close friend from her childhood and youth became surly and ceased communications at a point later in their lives, inexplicably. It happened around the time my wife and I were married. My wife at some point mentioned to her friend, who had relocated to a different part of the country, in passing (she is not the sort of person to ever boast or brag) that I was doing freelance writing. Suddenly her friend was talking about her husband’s accomplishments in business and how he had written a training manual for the firm; she said he had published a book.

My wife and I had two sons. Perhaps this made my wife’s friend jealous. She had one son. I don’t know, but she was regaling my wife all the time with stories about her son’s success in sports and so forth. And then she ceased communicating.

My wife is the last person to ever try or want to outdo someone when it comes to bragging rights. She is not competitive in that sense. But just telling her friend some things that she was happy about and proud of was enough to make her friend jealous.

 

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You publish your first book. You tell a friend the good news: My book has been accepted for publication. Your friend is interested in writing and has thought or fantasized about being or becoming a writer themselves. Your good news makes them angry or resentful, something you did not foresee.

Besides being liked and loved, everyone wants to be admired and praised. Or, to put it another way, nobody doesn’t welcome this. This is not, in and of itself, indicative of self-centeredness or narcissism.

 

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To try to get my point across succinctly. The above examples may not be that instructive or enlightening, but I think what occurs in such situations — with jealousy — is that the jealous person somehow takes your success — whatever it is that makes them jealous — PERSONALLY. When, in fact, it has nothing to do with them.

I think of all the things true of people I know or have known: riches, titles, entitlements or opportunities that they have and I lack. Or that they did — that was the case — at some former point in my life when I might have desired such things. And friends or acquaintances of mine in the distant past who seemed to be more successful professionally and/or socially than I was. I may have felt something like envy, wished I had such a job title or a girlfriend. But that’s as far as it went.

As is true in the case of most people, I may and would — or probably do — consider these things nice to have, if I did have them myself. But I don’t give them another thought, and I am not consumed with anger or jealousy over what I do not have or have not achieved.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

    January 2022

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