How Do I Not Trust Thee: Jealousy
Why I'm a Jealous Guy
How he stays calm I don't know. I get jealous over much less. I'm not what experts call "morbidly jealous" -- I don't get aggressive or have much of a temper. But I do feel more jealous than any happily married man should. And it comes out in all kinds of little ways I'm embarrassed to admit. Besides occasionally checking out the mail (or, okay, the cell phone bill), I definitely do the "husbandly hover." I pay a little too much attention to whom Diane talks with at parties, remaining far enough away to be inconspicuous but close enough to stealthily intercede in any conversation that seems suspiciously long.
Why do husbands do this kind of stuff? During our first few years together I believed my actions were well-founded responses to something real -- perhaps a carryover from fighting off other suitors to win Diane's hand. Like many husbands, I felt I had married someone way better than I deserved and needed to diligently protect myself against losing her. I still feel that way and can see how Diane attracts people: She's smart and disarmingly funny and, at 50, still turns heads (sometimes all the way around) in just a T-shirt and jeans.
But I have also come to understand that most of my jealousy is unfounded and unprovoked -- something I brought into the marriage, like that ugly brown sleeper sofa.
According to social scientists, husbands and wives are jealous in different ways: Supposedly, men care more about sexual fidelity and women care more about emotional fidelity. And, in a more important sociological indicator -- bad movie dialogue -- it is usually "did you sleep with him?" versus "do you love her?"
Now, I've always been troubled by this notion that men care more about possessing women than loving them, treating them like toys that nobody else can play with, while women will overlook sexual indiscretions as long as he loves her best. So I'm glad to report that recent studies show jealousy is becoming a more equal-opportunity obsession. Men are now scoring as more emotionally jealous than ever before, and women as more sexually jealous. Our worst relationship fears have all begun to even out. This could mean men are learning to love more or that women have finally wised up about the old "I slept with her but it didn't mean anything" line, or both.
As for us, I consider myself lucky that after 20 years together my wife is still kind of flattered by how possessive I can be. Even now Diane recalls as "funny and cute" how, during our courtship, I used to show up "coincidentally" at restaurants where she was dining with friends. ("Funny and cute?" a friend of ours gasped when she later heard about my extreme wooing. "He was a stalker!")
When I recently fessed up to Diane about the algae researcher incident, she found it "hilariously touching." I guess that's because she appreciates the upside of jealousy in a marriage. And no matter how many times she has to deal with me waiting up for her like some '60s sitcom dad on the few nights she goes out with the girls, I can think of only one thing worse for our relationship.
And that would be if I stopped being so jealous.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, September 2006.