Sorry Leonardo, nothing personal, but even if you begged me on your bended knees, I’d still avoid you like the plague. The same goes for you Brad. And you, Christian. And as for you, Johnny and Denzel, don’t even GO there!
Think of the handsomest, most charismatic hunks in the Universe and they’ll all be on my blacklist! Because I suffer from one of life’s most distressing, emotionally debilitating conditions; one which, though suffered by countless millions, few will admit to and which, far from gaining sympathy, arouses scorn and derision - if not downright hostility.
If you haven’t already guessed what this condition is, just listen to a comment by the second wisest man who ever lived, a man who, with 1000 wives and concubines, obviously knew a thing or two about relationships: “There is the cruelty of rage, also the flood of anger, but who can stand before jealousy?” – King Solomon
Yes, I’m talking about the last taboo, the green-eyed monster that squats in the corner of our minds waiting to devour us, clawing at the heartstrings crazed and feral; that fiend, that emotional sadist - Jealousy.
Positive or Negative?
Believe it or not, jealousy can be a good thing. The Hebrew word gin-‘ah’ has several meanings, such as “insistence on excusive devotion; toleration of no rivalry; zeal, ardour.” In Greek, similar meanings are evoked by the word ze’los. Such ‘righteous jealousy’ exists in God himself - not in an envious, selfish way, but out of a loving desire to protect his people.
In the same way, a committed couple may quite rightly be jealous – not of but for each other. Being zealous for the well-being of their mate and any children, they are naturally alert to anything that could threaten their family’s security.
Negative jealousy, on the other hand, can be highly destructive, often leading to broken relationships and even violence. This kind of possessiveness involves a lack of trust - usually without cause - and is misplaced and unloving.
Why do we suffer from it?
Today’s throwaway attitudes don’t help. Promiscuity, infidelity and the unwillingness to work at relationships have all played their part in downplaying the benefits of a strongly committed union in favour of the quick thrill, the ego trip, the too-many pints of lager.
Matt*, a very handsome (and strictly platonic) male friend of mine recently broke up with a girl with whom he was really smitten – purely due to her jealousy. Not that he ever gave her cause. The problem was that, being a likeable person who’s extremely good at his trade, he attracts a lot of customers, including women - something his ex just couldn’t handle.
This had nothing to do with Matt and everything to do with her own insecurity, her inability to value herself as he did. And this, to my mind, is the key. A secure person will rarely downgrade themselves. A secure person may look like Quosimodo or his aunt yet still regard themselves as worthwhile, people deserving of love, lust and enduring affection.
In contrast, the most gorgeous creature on the planet may see even the plainest people as a threat. Elaine* is a genuine beauty but hates watching television with her boyfriend because she can’t bear him looking at her imagined on-screen ‘rivals’. “Even when a girl is only moderately attractive, I’m afraid he’ll fancy her instead of me,” she confided before adding (quite unthinkingly, I’m sure) “I’d like you to meet him one day.” Perhaps it’s my trustworthy face!
How to avoid it
Sadly, many people are so entrenched in their own sense of worthlessness, they may never be entirely free of jealousy. Parents can, however, help their own children to avoid it, simply by demonstrating love, commendation and approval right from the second a baby is born.
I emphasis the word demonstrating because so many parents of my mother’s generation failed to do this, believing that feeding, clothing and generally providing for a child was surely proof enough. Not so. Children don’t read the family’s accounts ledger.
Erica* looks back on her childhood with sadness: “As a mature person, I now realise my parents did love me, but hugs, kisses and affectionate words were in very short supply – no doubt because child-care experts of the day viewed such behaviour as ‘spoiling’. But how else can a child know they’re cherished and special?” Although happily married, Erica still feels inadequate in virtually all aspects of her life, comparing herself unfavourably with everyone she meets.
It’s actually possible to identify a person who’s been brought up in a secure loving environment. He or she is often warm and approachable and have an easy confidence with everyone they meet – no matter how good-looking or accomplished. Such people don’t need to compare themselves with others – they know they’re valued by those nearest to them - and that’s the greatest gift any parent can bestow.
As for the rest of us, well.....we’ll get by. But Leo, don’t expect a phone call any time soon!
*Not real names.