ESSAY: “I’M JEALOUS” SEEM TO BE THE HARDEST WORDS
Thoughts on jealousy on a random Wednesday
Let’s not beat about the bush and admit here and now that our vocal chords haven’t produced any sound even remotely close to envy for quite a while. This might seem like a subjective assumption, I know, but yes, I was forced to conclude that I have never pronounced, nor heard anybody else pronounce, the verbal expression of this very familiar and international emotion.
I began thinking about the possible reasons for people to circumvent this feeling and suddenly wondered: maybe we don’t express jealousy not because of fear, or because it’s uncomfortable, but because we don’t even realise that what we actually feel is jealousy. Very often, we tend to gather different emotions and compartmentalise them into the “anger” department. This process seems to be an easy and logical step, since, in a very twisted way, feeling angry might make us feel removed of responsibility: we are angry because of what someone else did to us; our impulsive feelings are a reaction to an action exterior and independent of us. We are victims of an uncomfortable situation beyond our sphere of control. Anger, however, has its nuances and may disguise something more subtle. The foggy road may lead to many destinations, to feelings that are all heavy to bear, but, when taken for what they actually are, have very different symptoms and therefore require very different cures. Anger may come masked as sadness, regret, denial, bitter (self-) reproach, guilt, and jealousy, among many others.
The idea of embracing jealousy entered my life like an uninvited, yet very welcome guest. I decided to spread the word promptly and mention its existence whenever in genuine company. The effects were a pleasant surprise. I didn’t just feel excited to talk about the subject because it was an unexplored and new topic for me, but it turned out to be an amazing way to strengthen the relationships with my loved ones. The foundations these relationships were built on were layered with new cement. Whilst initially fearing that exchanging about the topic of jealousy might cause distance or tensions, it actually became a force of unity and consolidation. A crowd-pleaser, in a good, frank way. It untied internal knots for all parties.
We are raised to perceive jealousy as poison and we end up treating it as such. Avoiding it, however, doesn’t spare us from its consumption or aftertaste. As adults, we blame ourselves for the slightest hint of our emotions heading towards jealousy lane, since we are supposed to be “old enough” to know how harmful its consequences are. We are supposed to incorporate enough spirituality and other esoteric wisdom in our lives to rid ourselves of it before it even begins to penetrate our wellbeing. We are trained to perceive jealousy as destructive and unnecessary. We tend to bury it deep as if it were a sin, especially if we judge its causes to be inappropriate, or childish at the very least, but it doesn’t just disappear into the void. It spreads its roots elsewhere and finds a way to develop into new forms that our emotional self renames and relabels. But the content, and with it, the actual problem, is still the same and it’s very toxic. What you resist persists. There’s is also a complexity related to the source of our envy. The more people mean to us, the guiltier we feel about feeling and expressing our jealousy towards them. We think that caring for someone means we should always be able to feel “happy for them”. It is not so. It’s okay to feel jealous, even towards the people we love most. What is not okay, is to paint our faces with an attractive-looking air of blasé, thinking that appearing unconcerned makes us members of the “fake it till you make it” club and will actually make us indifferent, if only we are patient enough.
Defining our feelings in their specificity and transforming them into words is the most relieving and curative way of communication. Whether we want it or not, jealousy is part of us, all of us, in our everyday lives, no matter how adventurous or mundane, and is therefore easy to identify. But before we can even be asked to express envy, we need to learn to identify it without automatic defence mechanisms. I tried to challenge myself and observe these little moments of jealousy consciously, just to get myself used to spotting them. And I noticed two things: that it is often difficult to differentiate between jealousy and admiration. And that jealousy can be super funny.
Here’s a slice of my observations:
-Standing in line at the cashier of my local supermarket, I catch myself glancing with envy at the cashier’s nails: their strength, her ability to paint them so neatly and her discipline to not bite off the skin around them.
-I am jealous of the woman standing in front of me, of her indifference towards spending an amount resembling to a telephone number on clothing, whereas the cost-conscious me has to choose between purchasing a navy blue pencil skirt (not very versatile) and a dress I could wear to clubs, to auditions AND probably to yoga too, if only I rolled it up a wee bit (much more versatile).
-When holding a steering wheel for the first time after years, I catch myself being jealous of other people’s fluent, sexily aggressive and confident driving skills.
On a city street, I envy a woman who walks elegantly in her high heels, whereas I look like I was forced to carry a book in between my butt cheeks whenever I wear any footwear with a sole thicker than a piece of paper.
-After seeing my friend devour one book after the next, I express jealousy over her ability to read a book from cover to cover the whole time, while I am unable to remember the content of the three (or was it thirty?) pages I read the night before whenever I am under the slightest amount of strain.
-Seeing tanned passers-by stroll by (“the fuckers probably came back from a holiday someplace nice”) I begin to think that I envy people who get tanned quickly. And then I laugh, all loud and all by myself. Because this is nonsense. And yet so funny.
-In the midst of my weekly swimming routine, I feel jealous of people (as an idea, not actual people) who can swim the backstroke, whereas I swim the recreational breaststroke, all grandma style, from fear of bumping my head into the edge of the pool (something that never happened to me)
-Brushing my fingers over the backsides of books in a bookshop, I catch myself thinking that I am jealous of people (as an idea, again) who have the patience to read classics, whilst I tend to avoid purchasing books that contain more than 302 pages.
Whilst pondering on the subject I thought about the importance of allowing ourselves and each other to feel, accept and express jealousy, no matter how unreasonable or contradictory its motives: like being jealous of a pregnant friend although we actually don’t feel ready to join the diaper club yet, being jealous of our amazing partner for the cool projects he or she is working on whilst we struggle to pay for our tampons, being jealous of our lovely neighbour for purchasing a new couch, whilst ours features imprints of all of our friends’ butt cheeks and cigarette butts. And in order for this permission to happen, a conscious decision needs to be made.
The major change should take place in our very basic habits – instead of dwelling over the sources and the antidotes to our jealousy on our own, we ought to share it in its raw form, whenever we feel it marching towards us. We have the silly tendency to try and work things out on our own and only share conclusions of our experiences rather than the initial confusion. We reveal to others what already makes sense to us and, by doing so, we trick ourselves into believing that the mere fact of revealing an emotion defines us as outgoing and uninhibited personalities, no matter that what we reveal is a shallow, over-polished and over-thought version of what actually goes on inside of us. What we forget and dismiss is the actual beauty and richness of our humanity, which is complexity and confusion, in these very primitive states.
We all pretend to know this, but there’s a surprising amount of relief in knowing that one is not alone with certain thoughts or actions. Like accepting the fact that crying over a sold out concert of your new favourite band or your preference to only rinse your favourite coffee mug for days on end without actually washing it, is alright, or even great. Avoiding to tackle subjects we are taught to consider as shameful, unnecessary or immature, prevents the actual maturity we crave to achieve. The absurdity of our emotions and its expression is what makes us interesting and what renders our friendships, relationships and marriages lively, exciting and a little bit more effortless, in a good way. Finding and attributing meaning to our irrational psychological associations is compelling and contagious, and any attempts to deviate from them contributes to a value system we actually crave to abolish. Now go and tell whoever you are jealous of, that you are, no matter how ridiculous the reason. It will be the biggest manifestation of love and trust you will ever experience on a random wednesday.