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March 6, 2000 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need

We've already opened up a can of whup-ass on one big green monster. Now it's time to tame another savage beast:

Ol' Green Eyes: Jealousy

As holy/deadly no-nos go, Envy makes the big 10, even the big 7. It’s considered to be a flaw, a neurosis, a weakness, a sign of deep insecurity, a pit of emotional quicksand.

Which is why many of you have also gotten in trouble in these pages for forgetting the following fundamental principles of

Reality (vs. Jealousy)

1. We live in a co-ed world. (And work in co-ed workplaces.)

There are Single People everywhere, and many of them are nice and attractive.

(Back when you were single, they were rare, but now they're coming out of the woodwork, right near your honey.)

2. Our partners come with pasts, and sometimes those pasts come to parties.

See Petty and Jealous.

3. Men and women can be friends.

See The Man.

But we nust also cut ourselves some slack for the silly human-reflex jealousy that is -- unless/until you lay it on your partner -- excusable and normal. You know, as in (a) "I am so jealous that s/he chose that person over someone -- i.e. me -- that s/he he didn't even know existed at the time, or (b) "Ooh! I'm jealous of, like, everyone at your office, on account of they get to see you all day and I don't," and (b) the way BG was fist-clenchingly jealous -- though I really should have been impressed with his taste and awareness of current events -- of an old boyfriend's big crush on Benazir Bhutto. Silly us!

And now there's a new book argues that romantic / sexual jealousy is not only normal, but also not necessarily a monster. In fact, it's one of the adaptations that has helped our species survive.

In The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love and Sex, David M. Buss, Ph.D., writes: "Some theories propose that jealousy is an immature emotion, a sign of insecurity, neurosis, or flawed character. Nonjealous men and women, however, are not our ancestors, having been left in the evolutionary dust by rivals with different passionate sensibilities. We all come from a long lineage of ancestors who possessed the dangerous passion. …

Jealousy, according to this theory, is an adaptation. An adaptation, in the parlance of evolutionary psychology, is an evolved solution to a recurrent problem of survival or reproduction. ... Adaptations are coping devices passed down over millennia because they worked – not perfectly, of course, but they helped ancestral humans to struggle through the evolutionary bottlenecks of survival and reproduction."

According to Buss -- who cites many examples of partners whose jealousy turned out to be, well, warranted (like Jodi, the first time)-- jealousy can serve as a self-protective device and/or early warning system, spurring us to develop ways to keep our partners from straying, or to be more vigilant.

I'm not saying that now we should all, by default, be circling our partners warily instead of trusting them unconditionally, that you should--using jealousy as a squirrely-ness detection system -- automatically suspect that our partner is after his/her ex/ex-prime minister.

But I did go back and find some earlier letters that supported Buss' thesis, even beyond the function of jealousy as infidelity tracking system. Jealousy, in those cases, serves/d as a detection system for something, if not actual cheating. It was helpful for Haley to notice that her boyfriend wasn't jealous; Just Married's husband's mild jealousy may have helped tipped her off to certain feelings -- more complicated than just "unfaithful" ones -- of her own. Jealousy and intuition are cousins. It's not easy being green with envy, but it can be useful.

So what should you do when the big green starts oozing, X-Files style, in your eyes? Well, you've got to look it in the eye: is it a hunch sprung from habit, a past wrong yanked into present, the kudzu growing where your self-esteem/security choked? Or: are there actual clues and triggers -- akin to those that might tempt us to snoop -- going bump in the night right now? (And conversely: does your jealous partner have bad judgment -- or good reason?) Make that distinction -- having made sure it's not just an acute case of Bhutto -- and then gently take up matters with yourself or your partner. (And hope s/he's not jealous that you've just spent all this time with me.)

BG's Worry Corner:
Certain little jealousy gremlins are -- as we've just learned -- part of love. They're often helpful; they're mischievous, at worst. But make no mistake: this kind of jealousy, on the other hand -- like, the kind where you hear yourself saying things like, "S/he won't let me speak to anyone else of the opposite sex … s/he must really love me!" -- really is a scary beast … one that can eat both of you alive. Please consider all warning signs carefully and take thoughtful action.

And finally, a Fun Bonus: How jealous are you? Ask Queendom or Swoon.

Your letters...



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