“Who was that man who was in your office earlier?”
I looked up from what I was doing to see an acquaintance at my door, someone new to my building. Smiling, she had that hopeful look of women my age who have lost their husbands to death and divorce—and all too often to younger women.
I furrowed my eyebrows and focused, thinking about the two men who had stopped by my office—one a colleague from across the hall that she surely knew. “You mean my husband?”
The upward tilt of her smile flattened in disappointment. “He’s your husband?” she said, looking slightly embarrassed.
“You mean this guy?” I asked, pointing to a picture of my family on the bookshelf.
She walked to the shelf and glanced at the picture. “Yes. Darn it!” she said, and I knew that my instinct was right about why she was asking.
I smiled. “Yeah, he’s pretty amazing. Sorry, but he’s definitely taken.”
We talked for a few minutes and both went back to work. And again I felt like the luckiest woman in the world to have someone who is so right for me. There was a time when I never expected to find someone like him, so I found myself sitting at my desk, replaying in my mind the times earlier in my life when I felt very different about having someone show interest in my significant others.
Once, when I was in my early 20s, a woman in a bar sidled up to my boyfriend as we sat on adjacent bar stools and threw her arms around him, telling him how glad she was to see him again. She pressed her body against his, and he held her for just a minute longer than someone who had no interest.
At my house later that evening, he and I had an explosive argument that would become characteristic of a relationship that ended when he refused to admit what I had already learned—that he was seeing someone else. Frustrated that he wouldn’t say what I knew was true as we cleared the table of a dinner that neither of us had wanted to eat, I threw a handful of silverware at him, astonished at my own capacity to be so jealous.
All of us experience jealousy from time to time, especially when we feel insecure for one reason or another. In the aftermath of dealing with what cancer surgery had done to my body image, I once found an unfamiliar picture on the laptop my husband and I shared. I had gone to the download folder to get a document I’d saved, a folder where our computer puts any attachment we even open and look at. Underneath my own document was a glamour shot of an unfamiliar woman in a sexy blue dress.
When I confronted my husband, he looked confused and asked me to show him the picture. When I opened it, he belly-laughed and sat down beside me, opening a spam email he’d gotten at work. He runs educational programs at an historic movie theater, and the email was from a Russian actress, written in very poor English, looking to advance her film career. Two pictures had been attached, one of which was the photograph in the download folder.
When I told our daughter about this later that evening, she, too, chortled. “Really, Mom? Do you really think after all these years that he’d cheat on you? And even if he did, do you think he’d be dumb enough to save the picture on your computer?”
She was right, of course. But the scars of cancer were still too fresh for me to be rational. Now, ten years after the surgery, we can laugh about the absurdity of my reaction.
Continued, consuming jealousy is usually a sign of distrust, a sign that something is deeply wrong. Perhaps the distrust is justified, as it was when I threw those forks and spoons. Or perhaps it’s just that one person is dealing with emotional baggage. That’s not an easy thing to distinguish, and either one can be the death knell of a relationship. But if the little voices are becoming a cacophony in your head, you have to sit down and figure it out.
Most of the time I’m apt to feel flattered these days when someone flirts with my husband. And though it doesn’t happen as often as when we were first married, he can still tease me when someone at a party seems eager for my attention. After all, isn’t it nice to think that you aren’t the only one who thinks your partner is special?
How do you deal with your own jealousy? Tell me a story.