I’d like to believe that at this point in my life, I’m above certain jealous ways of thinking and behavior. But when I consider the question honestly, I think it only seems that way because the boyfriend I have now loves me so indulgently. I am what people would probably refer to as a “jealous” person — though I don’t think that term should necessarily be pejorative. What is jealousy but love coupled with perception, and in the context of potentially unfaithful circumstances?
Recently I was reading The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins, and considering the number of times I’ve ruminated on how useless an emotion jealousy is. Disgusting — I think. Ugly. What a waste of brain! I’m not hugely into evolutionary biology applied to sociological contexts, in the sense that often I’m annoyed with the oversimplified, clickbaitey articles that come across my news feed trying to use it to tell me why I am successful or not in my relationships (all to sell me some eHarmony ads). But I considered jealousy for a moment as an evolutionary adaptation.
…[A] biologist might wish to speculate on the Darwinian ‘function’ of behaviour patterns. This is not to say that all behaviour patterns necessarily have a Darwinian function. It may be that there is a large class of behaviour patterns which are selectively neutral or deleterious to their performers, and cannot be usefully regarded as the products of natural selection… But it is legitimate to say ‘I am interested in adaptation. I don’t necessarily think all behaviour patterns are adaptations, but I want to study those behavior patterns that are adaptations.'”
…Would there be any circumstance under which jealousy wouldn’t be deleterious? If your partner is casting a wider net, so to speak, it would almost make more sense to forgo jealousy entirely and be extremely positive and charming, so as to remind your partner why he/she chose you in the first place. Jealousy is entirely impotent at compelling love where none exists, or more love where it does (I feel like that’s obvious). What is the only way that jealousy, bringing to the table its inherent insecurity-coupled-with-accusation, wouldn’t cause your partner to run screaming in the other direction?
If that partner friggin’ loves you.
Love factors in — that weird, gooey matrix with the capacity to absorb finite amounts of negativity. If there has been established sufficient love and proportional empathy, there are different rules for jealousy. Rather than it being someone else’s gross, unflattering emotion cramping your style, it becomes actually a source of pain or discomfort to you personally, and thus it exerts its influence. Without love and empathy, jealousy can exert only a temporary influence, and only to the extent of that individual’s conscientious “niceness” — and this of course is not sustainable. Thus, jealousy is a tool exclusively for those who possess the love privilege.
So in order for any genes that exert phenotypic differences at the level of causing “jealous” behaviors to be adaptive, there has to be already in place a series of “loving,” “loyal,” and “empathetic” behaviors. If jealous behaviors are neutral, then they also must be rendered so by empathetic/loving behaviors (or else they would be deleterious). And lastly, if jealous behaviors are still deleterious despite the presence of empathetic behaviors, why are they still around?
I can foresee jealousy actually being adaptive in a couple of ways. Obviously it could prevent your partner from developing an attachment to someone else (in a limited sense of making them more self aware, even guilty, about their behavior). If jealousy exists for only a perceived reason and not an actual deviation from the relationship, it can be used to reaffirm loyalty. And finally, in its ugly, disgusting sense — it can repel away a potential partner who is insufficiently attached, freeing you up to make an attachment with a partner who could better care for you and your progeny. Go jealousy!
If you are a “jealous” person, perhaps you have a history of operating within the confines of the love privilege. What I find heartbreaking is situations that I’ve observed where the love privilege, as it concerns jealousy, is banned from the relationship by one partner to establish control. Jealousy, well-founded or not, is somehow not allowed, and expressing jealous feelings is shamed as an inherently “negative” behavior. Through gas-lighting or other forms of behavioral conditioning, a partner then slowly becomes immune to jealousy, and therefore has zero power to exert their own interests within the relationship w/ respect to faithfulness. They are entirely subjugated… Or, as the case may be, entirely apathetic. Partners who regularly express and respond to feelings of jealousy are exchanging the power to affect one another — I guess this is what I mean by the love privilege — and where no power exchange exists, I feel a relationship is fundamentally broken.
I’m sure someone in a really well-educated relationship would respond with some idealistic comments about how true love could never be so possessive. But this is why the word “privilege” works so well (as opposed to “right”): something earned, something revoked under shitty behavior… Not an entitlement.
The case for jealousy being maladapative is less obvious. Dawkins reminds us in The Extended Phenotype to not always expect organisms to act in a way that benefits their own inclusive fitness. Since organisms don’t interact with their environment alone, but with other organisms — perhaps some behavior they have could be working in the interest of another organism. (For example — is the compulsion to take heroin a behavior brought about by human genes, or poppy genes?) Jealousy could be a more complicated case of intraspecies manipulation. You feel jealous; it’s horrible, it’s uncomfortable… But’s in the interest of your partner’s genes for you to be in some manic-depressive state, so you may be available one day to reproduce (should their fall back, who is making you jealous, somehow prove unavailable).
Whether jealousy is a complicated reward for love privilege brought about by fitness, or an eccentric product of intraspecies manipulation because of lack fitness/fitness inequality… I have no idea (I sprained my foot while thinking about this the other day, so distracted that I failed at walking and then rolled my ankle walking off a curb near the library — so no, can’t brain). Maybe there are two kinds — rational and irrational; rational being the product of your lack of fitness and therefore your alertness to unfaithful behaviors, irrational being the result of your fitness and therefore the indulgence of your mate. Ugh! See, this never ends.
What a waste of brain.
Cameron was watching me shop for journals today. He understands… Shares my affinity for office supplies. This time I’m being incredibly picky, as I’m trying really hard these days to 1.) fill up a journal all the way through — not just use the first three pages, then start over and 2.) use one journal for everything — I used to have separate ones for different categories (stories, languages, science, etc.). I find it gives the book more color, looking back, to have phrases like
might be too attached to my ego to properly love
try with and without protein powder… kiwi?
spell list: identify, obscuring mist, ray of frost, daze…
calcium receptor polymorphism — sensitive to deprivation?
It just works. But this journal has almost run out, and I’ve been having such a hard time finding the right one… Patronizing rule-size, titles on the cover like “Gratitude” (like it’s for a person to whom it only occurred to him/her to write because O magazine suggested it), ugly prints… But it was more than that. I’m waiting for that feeling I got as a little (or not so little) girl, of putting my hands on a book and knowing that I was going to make it a mystical tome! I have a history of red journals, which is energetic — but blue might be better for relaxed and focused thinking. My current one is green. Do I want graph paper? Maybe no rule at all this time, totally blank.
“The words gave us the power to recognize his worthiness; our glyphs clawed their way into his insides — pulling at the light, the warmth, the virtue… It was why we were there. But at the same time, as all this love welled up, desire for the light — I began to feel a restless anger, too. It was resentment that he did not have the words as well. If he did, they were not as many — not very discernable amidst the gears and equations. So many numerals, but few characters that made sounds, or breathed microcosms of objects, people, or concepts. And in that moment I felt such guilt for this blasphemy — how could I find flaw in such a beautiful creature?
I resolved to quench my doubts, my criticisms, for what I saw was so lovely that I thought it must transcend words. Light above all, I told myself. Light above all. But then what were my words for? It did not work. I could not deny them, it seemed, for he sensed my inner censures; I could feel him pulling away as he sat by my bed, so slowly, but surely that when I died, it was a relief. I’d relieved him of this reflection of his inadequacies.”
Then came a scrawled line, and below, a question: “Usable? Ugh.” Journals really do have debatable usefulness. I’ve spent so much time recently trying to change the way I think. It seems like it is too sunny and beautiful, and there are too many things to learn and do, to sit scrawling cursive in a tiny book. Sometimes I look at my old books in disgust, thinking about how the practice of writing — but really it’s the thinking that happens before the writing, the processing — has stolen from me. The attention alone, when I could have been… I don’t know… Blowing bubbles?
“All the things I say, grammatically correct but socially aphasic, all instead of rubbing myself up against you… The frumpish pride, incompatible with happiness”
“I am pressed up against the glass — an observer ever, lost to my companions. How can I meet them in the story that unfolds as a true character, if I am so bloated with narrative analysis? I am not real. None of these will ever look into my eyes like I am one of the great women of old, from Gone with the Wind or Casablanca. My silhouette will not be painted on his memory with the rest of the female leads — I just have the words. Sometimes they are little consolation.”
Of course, this was crossed out, with the words “narcissistic” written at the bottom (a lot of lines ended up that way). And of course —
“It was then that he shouted back at me. ‘You say you always wanted someone to play opposite you!’
“‘Yes? What of it?’
“‘You’re a fool. You will never play opposite me, nor anyone else! You’re the author.'”
I’m really willing to not* be anymore, thank you. I’m going to go think about something normal. Shoes?
Digital dolls, creative crutches, what we really crave, and unlocking imagination…
I was lamenting to Cameron in the passenger’s side of his car, the day my computer broke. “I know! I’ll just play Skyrim in my head,” I said. I made a scrunched-up face, closing my eyes like I was concentrating very hard, or holding my breath.
He mocked the suggestion by making a crazed, zoned-out look, which was I guess his version of what I’d look like “imagining”; then I made a person-having-a-seizure look… And then we laughed, and we’re horrible people, but anyway —
I put on my best Irileth impression. ” ‘What is the meaning of this interruption?! Jarl Balgruuf is not receiving visitors!'” [Switched back to my voice] “I have news from the dragon attack!” [Back to Irileth’s voice] ‘Well, that explains why the guards let you in! Come on then, the Jarl will want to speak to you personally.'”
Of course, he understood that I’d just broken into Skyrim quoting all non-sequitur, and humored me a little by watching the spectacle (instead of — you know, having me committed).
” ‘Off to Bleak Falls Barrow with you! The Jarl is not a patient man. Neither am I, come to think of it…’ ‘City’s closed with the dragons about. Official business only!’ ‘…I spend a lot of time at the market stalls so I can learn the merchant’s trade…'”
I was just mumbling random lines for a while, with my knees drawn up and my arms about them — sort of like a crazy person, comforting herself with something well-learned from a time of happiness. Of course I wasn’t actually having a breakdown: more like half-pretending I was to entertain Cameron, and half-curious to see how much I could play in my own head, from memory. It occurred to me that I’d memorized quite a bit, because I’d been playing the same quests over and over again.
I’m not so simple as to be captivated for long periods (long after most players have gotten bored, and moved on to something else) by a single story or world, I thought to myself. So why did I keep compulsively starting over new characters, playing over the same quests with only slight variations? Wasn’t I actually bored, while playing? And now that my computer was broken, what was I experiencing withdrawal from?
I decided that something happens in my brain, above the level of playing a video game, once I start playing it past its “I just got this game” period. I wanted to make a story in my head, and I kept starting over because I wanted to revise it; I even became bored when the medium became insufficient to do what I wanted… It became almost work — deciding the perfect way I would go through each quest, the perfect skills to have, the perfect characters to interact with. Wtf?
I wondered… Instead of playing Skyrim, could I just sit one day, invent a world in my head, and then walk around in it and talk to characters and pick plants that I’ve made up myself? It’s… Kind of possible. Why am I not just… Thinking?
An open-ended video game can be your imaginative assistant. It’s doing your grunt work. By providing the visual processing, giving you audio input and all sorts of generic fantasy-world filler, it cuts down on the concentration level you’d have to put in yourself if you were coming up with a world from scratch. Perhaps if you regularly practiced visualization, the tasks the computer completes for you wouldn’t be such a chore — and you wouldn’t get so bored and confined going over the same old dialogue, the same old caves and villains.
I think it’s funny that sitting at a computer for hours on end is considered normal (if somewhat pathetic), but it’s quite rare for someone to just sit and imagine. If someone asked me “What are you doing this afternoon?”, and I said “I’m going to play pretend,” I imagine that they’d think me to be some kind of infantile social defective. The reality is that just because we have these activities that are more acceptably “adult,” that doesn’t make them more mature. We don’t stop needing the indulgence of our imagination that we got regularly as children. And really, your Xbox is kind of a poor substitute for going outside and making witches’ brew out of your neighbors’ rhodedendrons. …Depending on the game, I don’t know.
Anyway. I’m probably always going to have some video game that I play a lot. I’m totally going to waste hours and hours of my future, I’ve accepted it. However, being self aware about why it’s happening to me is helpful. I’ll get less down on myself about “wasting time.” It will occur to me more easily what I’m craving in that moment, and I’ll look for more varied outlets.
That day I ended up going to my journal and writing down a series of characters, interactions I could have with them, places… I don’t think it will ever get to the level of being its own game, but I said to myself: “If there were absolutely no limits to what your computer could present you visually, where would you be? What would you be doing, and what themes would you explore?” It was kind of cool. I think I’ll do it again.
There is a point of affection you reach when terms of endearment like “honey” or “sweetie” seem the most vulgar, paltry things. What could be more endearing than the actual name itself? I can’t imagine anything other than those syllables, even when uttered inside your own head in a quiet room, being more potent or evocative.
At some point I decided that I would rather take two real names, spoken to each other in equality (just as between two friends), over some weird cultural convention that makes us feel like we have to develop “pet” names for each other. I feel like the practice is more often something that we do because we think that it’s something that people in relationships do. Our relationship with someone gets to a certain point and we try on using “baby” like an awkwardly fitting sweater. After all, wouldn’t others doubt our affection if we didn’t say those things? We tend to shove pre-frontal cortex decisions onto some things that should be limbic.
So cynical it seems, I know. …But I’m not a cynical person! I think that somewhere, some very old couple who have managed to love each other’s company for 50 or so odd years have probably figured out an unhypocritical way to use pet names. But they aren’t “love” or “mon petit chou”, I’d wager… Probably something more like “old spongey.”
Edit: It occurs to me that Ursula Le Guin has an interesting take on this in her Earthsea Trilogy. The characters in these books have a common appellation that they go by in public, while their true name is kept private, only revealed under circumstances of great trust. Rather than using pet names among intimates, people who are close use true names. I like the idea of the close/privileged name being the one that is more real, I suppose.