I remember the very first time that I felt jealous and possessive of my husband. It was back when we were still dating. One weekend, he and his friends did a Bloody Mary bar crawl; I abstained because I’ve never been a big fan of Bloody Marys, but I was happy to look through the pictures Kale posted later that night on Facebook. Between all the tomato juice and the celery sticks, though, I found something I was not happy about: two pictures of him giving big smooches to a female friend on the cheek.
I really liked his female friend. In fact, she’s a friend of mine now, too. But at the time, I didn’t know her well at all and Kale and I were a fairly new couple. All I could see was my boyfriend, who was in love with me, being affectionate with another woman — who happens to be strikingly beautiful, hilarious and smart. I must have turned the brightest shade of emerald green.
I called up one of my girl friend’s to commiserate. Surely she would agree that not only kissing another woman on the cheek but posting the photos on Facebook for all to see was rude at best and troublesome at worst? Grab the pitchforks! Let’s storm the castle together!
But she didn’t say that. She said friends kissing opposite-sex friends on the cheek isn’t a big deal. She and her long-term partner do it all the time. She said I was overreacting. And, most cuttingly, she said my response to Kale’s photos said more about my insecurity than it did anything about him.
That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But it was what I needed to hear. She was right.
And I continued to need to hear it. Because even after we got engaged and then got married — declaring our love and lifelong commitment to each other in front of our family and friends and the state of New York — I still had this ugly part of myself that shriveled up with insecurity when I felt threatened by another woman. I wanted to be too cool for that, of course. Possessiveness is not a good look for anyone. But sure enough, it happened and then it happened again and finally, I had to get real with myself.
The next incident was at a party in our apartment. Kale and I love to dance with each other in our living room; to me, it feels like something very sweet and intimate that we only do with each other. But once during a party, he and one of my closest girl friends started dancing together. I watched from the dining room, stewing: he’s doing something sweet and intimate with her that he has only done before with ME! Then, a few weeks later, another close girl friend of mine gave him a quick peck on the lips goodbye while bidding adieu at a birthday party. How could she do that? I thought. I don’t kiss her husband goodbye on the lips! Meanwhile, life still went on: my husband makes me feel loved and valued every single day. My friends are happy with their partners. Stewing over these little incidents of jealousy was only hurting me. I had to face the fact that that the person who I was most annoyed at here was myself.
Why was I so jealous of my husband’s interactions with our female friends? It was such a contradiction to wrestle with: I’m pleased that people love him so much and appreciate how awesome he is, yet at the same time, when I feel insecure, I have trouble seeing my own value, that he’s with me because of how awesome I am. He tells me every single day — multiple times every single day — that he’s deeply in love with me, that he thinks I’m beautiful and smart and funny and the love of his life. How can I believe him in one breath and feel so insecure about myself in another?
One big reason is that mainstream pop culture depicts most men as potential insatiable-sex-fiend cheaters and pretty much only depicts adult women friends as potential sexual competition. I don’t think in reality that all men cheat. I also don’t think in reality that women are all sexual competitors. But there are faaar fewer healthy, non-insane, non-paranoid-and-jealous female friendship role models than there should be and it’s difficult to stay grounded in reality. Whether your tastes run “Scandal” or “The Real Housewives Of Blank-Blank-Blank,” you’re consuming pop culture that tells you Trust No One. It’s difficult to stay emotionally above the fray even when rationally I know better.
But the core of the issue is that relationships involve dealing with a lot of raw feelings — namely, what you think about who you are as a person. To be truly honest and open with a partner requires being honest and open with yourself. Being that honest, being that raw, means you have to confront exactly how you feel about yourself. The unfortunate truth is that the way I feel about myself is that maybe I’m just not lovable enough.
That’s pretty uncomfortable spiritual work to have to do, clearly. But I’m glad that I’m confronting it rather than looking the other way, down the path of Paranoid Possessive Craziness. I have had to be brutally honest with how I feel about being an imperfect human. What does that mean? Am I still okay if I’m not the smartest or the hottest or the wittiest person in the room?
I have also had to be honest with how I felt, deep down, that maybe I wasn’t good enough for Kale. Maybe I was just an impostor wife who ended up in a relationship with this fabulous man by accident. Maybe he would find someone else he loved more. So, I had to ask myself, if he dumped me tomorrow, would I still be OK? Would life still go on? Would the world end?
And then I had to ask myself: why was I focusing on all the reasons he wouldn’t want me rather than all the reasons he would?
I am not claiming to be fully reformed. I still feel jealousy sometimes. I think it is in my nature to be a somewhat possessive person, because that is what I understand monogamy to be. I accept the fact that that’s where I’m at, even if — as an otherwise sexually open person — I think I should be “more chill” and “cooler” about it. And I am learning to accept that my husband being friendly and affectionate with female friends and female friends being affectionate with him is not nefarious. It’s what friendship is. I want everyone who is awesome in my life to be friends with everyone else who is awesome in my life. That’s what they want, too.
The only thing standing in the way is my own insecurity — and I’m staring it right in the face.
Original by Jessica Wakeman