I’m coming out of my cage
And I’ve been doing just fine
Gotta gotta be down
Because I want it all
It started out with a kiss
How did it end up like this
It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss
Now I’m falling asleep
And she’s calling a cab
While he’s having a smoke
And she’s taking a drag
Now they’re going to bed
And my stomach is sick
And it’s all in my head
But she’s touching his—chest
Now, he takes off her dress
Now, let me go
And I just can’t look its killing me
And taking control
Jealousy, turning saints into the sea
Swimming through sick lullabies
Choking on your alibis
But it’s just the price I pay
Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
‘Cause I’m Mr Brightside
One of the regularly occurring themes in recent discussions with my honey has been jealousy. How could it not be, when we are talking about possibly bringing a new person or persons into our relationship?
He has worried about it at length, talking about all of the different ways that he could (and would) be jealous. As we’ve talked, it has become quite clear that he would be most inclined to be upset if he were to see, or know of, me being intimate with another man. He has said categorically that he would really be unconcerned about anything I did with another woman. I find that really interesting and have had to think long and hard about what jealousy is and how and why it works the way it does.
Early in these discussions, I suggested that there are really two different types of jealousy: the first, more simplistic, is jealousy of another’s time. I.E. “I want to spend time with you and if you choose to spend time with someone else instead, then I will be upset.” Between us, this has always been very much case specific. If I am busy, or tired, or feeling introspective and he wants to go do something, I am all for it (and vice versa. We do have friends, however, that take this to extremes. ‘He’ is always in trouble when he goes out, even if ‘she’ just wants to sleep. Its kind of bizarre and I would never tolerate that, but whatever.) This comes up, mostly, when one or another of us had committed to a particular activity or event, and then the timing is bad for the other. Not always. Sometimes, it comes down to “suck it up,” but in any case these types of situations never incur longterm consequences. (Although, I am sure they could if it happened all the time.)
The second type, which I consider to be ‘real’ jealousy, is really a function of insecurity. ‘If you go and spend time (sexually or otherwise) with another attractive, sexually available person, then you may not want to come back to me.’ In general, I have never really been strongly effected by this. Not because I am extremely self confident, but because of the way I view the world. I have fully, internally, embraced the concept behind “If you love someone set them free, if they do not return it was never meant to be.” I think, for me, it is a recognition that if another person were to take my love away from me, then it really was only a matter of time, anyway. Of course, I do occasionally feel that little twinge of emotion, but I recognize it, understand it, and then set it aside.
But then we get to this gender bias in my boy’s emotional responses and I find I need to think it through a little more. It could be that he sees me as predominantly heterosexual (which I agree with) and so a woman in my bed is simply not perceived as a significant threat. That is the simple answer. But, as I do, I find myself starting to role the idea around in my head from the perspective of evolutionary theory. In doing so, I have come up with a couple of hypothesis:
A. Men are probably more inclined to jealousy than women. In a species with K-r (“…since females invest more matter and energy into producing each egg than males invest in producing each sperm, eggs form more of a limiting resource for males than sperm do for females. Thus, males should compete more intensively to fertilize eggs than females do to acquire sperm, while females should be choosier than males. Males compete for quantity of females, and females compete for quality of males. In short, males court, and females choose (see Daly & Wilson, 1983; Reynolds & Harvey, 1994; Trivers, 1985)”) selection, men have more to lose if their partner entertains other suitors. There is a greater chance of men being ‘cuckolded’ into raising another mans child (this could never happen to a woman, obviously), and there is also a greater threat in potentially losing ones mate to another. Women, on the other hand, (biologically) expect their men to wander a little, and are (again, biologically) only threatened if she perceives that he might permanently leave her for another (i.e. withdraw support for her offspring).
B. Current culture aside, men are probably not biologically inclined to be threatened by female-female relationships of any kind. Biologically, these relationships would represent support systems (which could, in fact, alleviate some of the pressure on men, even allowing for more ‘wandering’) and even if sexual, would have neither of the negative connotations of the prior situation: a female lover could never ‘cuckold’ him, nor would she generally be seen as a threat to his ability to father a child with his mate. (i.e. If she leaves him for another woman, then she cannot have children.)
C. There may also be some component of male-competitive behavior involved in all of this as well. Not only would a man (or his genes) be worried about the physical aspects of being cuckolded, but there is also a social component as well. If a man raises and supports another mans child, what does this do to his social standing? Does it affect his ability to compete in other ways, including his ability to pass his genes on through other children? (With his mate, or through cuckolding another!)
Remember, all of these descriptions are from, roughly, a ‘gene’s eye view’. Aside from the social component mentioned in ‘C’, these do not need to be represented as conscious, intentional thoughts for men or women, but rather the evolutionary key: “If X behavior then Y successful procreation increases therefore, genetic indicators of that behavior will become more common in the gene pool.”
So where does this leave us? I’m not entirely certain. I still ‘leave my jealousy at the door’ so to speak, while my honey is gradually getting a hold on his, and maybe someday he will be able to dispense with it as easily as I. But it may also be fair to say that for him to do this will be a greater challenge than it ever was for me. I do think, in this modern era of family planning, social and global mobility, and (relative) sexual freedom that jealousy has mostly outlived its usefulness as a biological adaption. So how do we live with it, acknowledge its place in our biology and yet move beyond? And is that a reasonable goal? Is it possible without creating an environment hailing back to “If everyone was just better”? I’m not entirely certain on that score either. Hopefully we will figure it out.
(Originally posted August 28, 2006)