The ones before me

jealousy_Pan_Weekender
William Pan /Staff

 

Jealousy makes me physically ill. I get lightheaded, my stomach twists into nausea and I end up feeling hot, short of breath and shaky like I witnessed a crime. It’s a similar sensation to when I see roadkill, but worse; it leaves me exhausted, as though adrenaline has been pumping through my body, readying for a fight or a panic attack. After my boyfriend, Sam, mentioned a previous relationship, I almost pulled over because I was trembling so much I felt like I couldn’t drive.

I haven’t always been this way. I don’t, on principle, agree with this reaction. In fact, I’ve never even experienced such violent, visceral jealousy before Sam. I used to nonchalantly say things like, “Have some self respect. No one can steal a guy who doesn’t already want to leave.” But now I really know how irrational jealousy is, how when you care about losing something, jealousy affixes to your deepest insecurities and transforms you into a panicked, neurotic version of yourself. When I think about it, I feel lecherous, vaguely feral, and humiliated of course — but when I’m in the middle of it, it feels all-consuming: Sanity and self-assurance slip away. When I’m freaking out with jealousy, my mind just starts looping, obsessing over Sam’s exes, the possibility of betrayal, the sting of rejection and everything else that’s scary about a relationship.

Of course, I’ve never been so in love before. I’m embarrassed to even write something like that — and yet, it’s true. With Sam, it feels like I’m partially floating all the time; it feels like everything I do is kind of charmed. The foundation of my whole existence is tinged with happiness. It’s nauseating to be like this. It’s embarrassing to shed cynicism and safe, powerful distance. Openly experiencing strong emotions exposes you to all your most human fears — being mocked, abandoned, embarrassed, hurt in your heart in a way that pierces through your protection.

But here is what love feels like to me: I’m delighted by nearly everything he does. He’s endlessly interesting and funny. Just the way he exists fascinates me; the way he makes plans, talks to his mom, conducts himself around friends. It’s an honor to sleep in bed next to him. I want him to feel loved and safe all of the time. I want him to be with the kindest, most thoughtful person possible and I want him to be with me, thus I’ve become the oft-mocked girl in love, saying seemingly meaningless things such as “he makes me want to be a better person.”

But therein lies the very phenomenon; it’s like being brain-washed. It’s like every gushy weird romantic thing you used to mock and dismiss twists and morphs and starts making sense. In an attempt to articulate these very odd and incredible feelings, you end up inexplicably repeating all the lines from songs and movies that once sounded hopelessly corny. And you realize they’ve become cliche because they capture, approximately, how truly wonderful, energizing and hopeful love feels.

 When I think about it, I feel lecherous, vaguely feral, and humiliated of course — but when I’m in the middle of it, it feels all-consuming: Sanity and self-assurance slip away.

Of course, while love may be the cause of jealousy, fear is the root. I really, really want what I have and am terrified of losing it. But in a hysterical, panicked mental calculation, the blame shifts from my own deep-seated inferiority complex to, embarrassingly, other girls. My boyfriend’s ex-relationships or hookups become my worst enemy. I eye his female friends suspiciously. I sulk when they text him, refusing to admit why I’m suddenly upset. I peer over his shoulder when he opens his Snapchat, and if I see the names of girls I know (through my own minor investigative work) I feel a deep sinking dread. I withdraw completely, blow up about something else, and only hours later confess why I’m upset.

And here’s the absolute kicker, the coup de grace of jealous hysteria: No amount of reassurance calms me. Nothing he says helps. As the comforting words leave his mouth, my brain is already churning and recalibrating, manufacturing the next horrible image like a malignant machine. Did he hold her head when they kissed the way he holds mine? Did she sleep on the same side of his bed that I do? Did he roll over in the night and wrap her in his arms the way he does with me? Did he love her? Does he still? Am I even special? Am I interchangeable, just a step on his path to finding the girl he’ll ultimately end up with?

It’s so uncomfortable to turn against other women like this. It violates my values. It’s against my principles. It’s seems so abrasively unfeminist. But when I’m in my most primal, irrational, terrified place, my groping mind clutches at the easiest way out. Misogyny is a readily accessible excuse. It’s an ideology lovingly developed over thousands of years of female subjugation, fed by Bible verses and pruned by state structures. It’s engineered to push a woman down in order to lift another one up — and when I’m blinded by jealousy, it feels perfect.

Except not really. It hurts my heart. Hatefully scrolling through the Instagram accounts of girls I’d decided were my enemy became a really dark place. It was undeniably obvious that I knew nothing about them, that I was surrounded by my own self-doubts masquerading as other women. I was seeing these other girls everywhere, their faces popping up in a list of “suggested friends,” their names ringing in my head, their presence swirling in and out of nightmares that left me feeling hungover in the morning.

I was exhausted. I was over any sadistic pleasure I had eked out of jealousy. It was just a burden, like dragging around a mean, untrained dog. “This isn’t me,” I would whisper in my head. But how long can a dog live with you until it becomes yours?

I cried a lot about it and then I started confessing to people. My best friend, my mom, a family friend. I listed all my fears. I turned the blame from what other girls were doing (trying to be my boyfriend’s friend?) to how severely I was overreacting. How my feelings weren’t actually about other girls at all, but about myself, my own fears of not being enough.

“Stop looking at their Instagram accounts!” one friend told me. It was revolutionary; suddenly, I wasn’t seeing them everywhere. Another woman said, “If what you have is special, he won’t want to be with anyone else either.” This was truly like the light being turned on. If the relationship is special, he wants it as much as you do. And if he doesn’t, it’s not the relationship you thought it was.

I was exhausted. I was over any sadistic pleasure I had eked out of jealousy. It was just a burden, like dragging around a mean, untrained dog. “This isn’t me,” I would whisper in my head. But how long can a dog live with you until it becomes yours?

Of course, there are other girls. The same way I had slept with people before my boyfriend, he had slept with people before me. And they do come up sometimes, just in the natural flow of life. But now I turn to pen and paper and list my fears as they occur to me, rather than yet again having a jealous blow-out and then humiliatingly apologizing when the initial panic subsides. Writing down my fears reveals how false they are, how kind of silly and insubstantial. It dawned  on me, who cares if your boyfriend occasionally texts another girl? Who cares if he gets a little validation elsewhere from time to time? Don’t we all need that?

And it also dawned on me, that because I love him, I just want him to be happy. I want him to feel appreciated, for people to be kind to him, for people to treat him lovingly. I want this for him in the future, even if it’s without me, and I want it for him in the past, before he met me. And I’m grateful to the people who have made him feel that way, who have been kind to him, loving to him, who see what an incredible person he is. When I’m free of my fears, I’m free to love unselfishly; I’m able to be thankful for every girl who loved him before me.

 

Contact Ellie Ridge at [email protected]