The Green-Eyed Monster Part 2
In the previous page I wrote about jealousy in all its forms and how to tell the difference between what I consider to be a healthy indication of how much you value your love, and excessive insecurity that makes everyone's life miserable. It's a deep subject and presents as many questions as it does answers, and naturally opinions on it are varied. But of all the discussions I've had on the subject, of all the books and websites I've read on the issue, no one has ever addressed one specific kind of "jealousy", the kind that gets the least respect and the fewest attempts at understanding: your lover's past, their former spouses or relationships, the ones that gnaw at you and persist in your mind like an annoying song that you can't stop humming. What about that emotion? Is it really just jealousy?
No, it can't be. How could it be jealousy if you're bothered by former lovers? How are you possibly threatened by ghosts from the past that may not even have anything to do with your lover anymore? Surely you can't "envy" or be "jealous of something they have" - they don't have your lover anymore, you do. So what's the problem? With that offhanded assessment many suffering lovers' concerns are dismissed with a flippant "you're just jealous, get over it", when in fact, this is not what's happening at all. It's impossible to be jealous of someone who no longer has what you want.
It's about exclusivity, not jealousy. I have written other pages about monogamy, about privacy and primacy, but perhaps the one idea that falls through the crack more than any other is the concept of exclusivity.
First, it's important to understand that a lover's - meaning, for the sake of this discussion, someone who is currently involved in a romantic relationship - sense of exclusivity is timeless, borderless, endless, and unique. When you're in love with someone, you picture being with them forever. There are few serious couples in which either lover actively considers what their partner's next lover will be like, or what their next spouse will do for a living, or what the children they'll have with their next partner will look like. Nobody does this, because nobody goes into a relationship thinking about its demise or imagining his or her lover falling for someone else someday. It's always a vague possibility, of course, that someday you won't be married to the person you're with now, but it isn't something that sits in the forefront of anyone's mind for very long. If it did, the "specialness" of our marriages would disappear. Why bother even being married, then? we might think, if all of us just put in a few years with different people and move on. What's the point? Everyone acknowledges that this is true, and accepts the wisdom of it - that focusing on future lovers would erode the intimacy of your current relationship.
Yet somehow, inexplicably, all that wisdom flies right out the proverbial window when it comes to former lovers, as if someone who was real and someone who actually did have an intimate relationship with your spouse is somehow less of a problem or threat than some imaginary phantom of the future who may never even exist. This is one of the most perplexing and, frankly, idiotic attitudes of our present age.
As I said, exclusivity does not respect timelines. It doesn't matter if your lover is with someone else in the present, the future, or the past, the point is, in your mind, they haven't always been with you, and so your exclusivity is lost and so are all the feelings of intimacy and uniqueness you might have had. This is especially true when you know that your lover was in love with or married to someone else before you - feelings don't often dry up and disappear completely. No one ever really forgets someone they were in love enough with to marry, the memory will live with them forever, like a tattoo. Is it not understandable, then, that as the new love you may have serious issues surrounding reminders of this previous lover, this man or woman who became as close to your lover as you are? Is it not reasonable to be more upset about reminders of this person than some potential future indiscretion that may never happen?
According to our society, no. According to our morays, something that happened five minutes ago is ancient history and only fools waste time thinking about what has come before. According to marriage experts, we're all supposed to happily disregard the other intensely emotional relationships our supposed "true love" has had and only feel jealous about things that happen now, on our shift. According to me, this is pure nonsense.
Somewhere along the line we lost the idea that love is supposed to be special. I really hate using such an overused word, a word that has become so bland as to be almost meaningless, but its true meaning makes it the only word that fits. Love is supposed to be a grand achievement, something that we have worked hard to deserve, something we've dreamed about and something that kept us going through lonely years of searching. It is supposed to be the ultimate reward for making yourself into a lovable person, and when we find that one special person who satisfies all our wants and desires, who represents our values to us so completely, we want to feel as though we've stumbled upon some treasure that no one else in the world can share, or even see. We want to feel romantic and heady with delight, we want to remember our lonely days and say "she was worth waiting for" - even the most rational among us who don't believe in fate or cupid's arrows want to feel a tiny bit of that emotion that makes lovers sigh and say "This was meant to be."
Sometimes two lovers, in a quiet conversation, will ask each other things like "Did you ever give up hoping you'd find someone?" Or "Did you ever look up at the stars and wonder where I was, what I was doing at that precise moment?" Imagine the kind of melancholy awareness that would creep over you if you realized that all those years ago, on that night you gazed up at the stars and wondered what your soul mate was doing, that he was actually, at that precise moment, getting married to someone else. Don't pretend it wouldn't make you feel a lot less special, a lot less certain of how right you are for each other - obviously he thought he had found his soul mate a long time before he met you, all this "forever" stuff is familiar ground.
In a perfect world, when we find the love of our life we would like nothing better than to be each other's "only". Wouldn't it be nice to think that when you meet that one woman who delights you by telling you how much she loves you and how wonderful you are in bed that she hasn't said those exact same words to several other guys before you? Wouldn't we love it if we knew, for certain, that when our husbands tell us "they've never felt this way about anyone before" or "I'll always love you" that they aren't just repeating something they told someone else, or several someone else's, before us? We all want to special, unique, "only", but the reality of life is that most adults don't marry the person they first fell in love with in high school, and many of us find each other only after years of false starts and false hopes with other people. Our modern age has taught us to accept this, to be tolerant, to be suave and sophisticated and shrug off the fact that the person we love has been married five times and slept with more people than Madonna - in fact, in our modern era, we're considered "jealous" if we don't invite all their old lovers over for dinner or their ex-spouses to our wedding.
This breeds much unhappiness and discontent. We all struggle vainly to be what society tells us to be - suave, sophisticated, nonchalant - and to treat our "jealousy" as though it were an open sore - hide it, downplay it, feel shame if anyone sees it. But so few of us can do it. We can't stifle our desire to be special and unique, and God help us if we actually could. Only socialist and communist societies preach the morality of selflessness, the idea that wanting something just for yourself because you deserve it is immoral and that we should all "share" each other without a moment's hesitation...and look at what a rip-roaring happy bunch live in those places.
This is why it's crucial to be able to balance the reality of life - that we've all had other relationships and sometimes other marriages before meeting The One - with the necessities of happiness in love - a complete feeling of exclusivity and ownership, of "specialness" and reward, of uniqueness. The only way to do this is to establish, firmly, that other relationships are off limits, out of bounds, not to be involved in this new relationship at all. Ignore this at your peril, this is the best advice you'll get all day.
If you are committed enough and in love enough to get married after a divorce, then you must accept the terms of a second marriage. No pictures, no mementos, no honeymoon photo albums, no knick-knacks or books with the previous spouse's name in it. Nothing that intrudes on this marriage and erodes it by reminding your new spouse that he or she is merely second or third in line. No nostalgic stories of happier times, no acrimonious tales of disastrous divorces, in short, you must behave as though you were never married before if you hope to have the kind of lifelong romance - the kind of marriage you thought or hoped you had the first time around.
I know this isn't a popular idea - it sounds as though I'm suggesting people cut off a part of their lives and hide themselves from their new spouse. Why can't I talk about the Caribbean cruise I took with my ex, I had so much fun! Why shouldn't I tell my second wife all about the beautiful old farmhouse I shared with my gorgeous first wife? Am I supposed to pretend like X years of my life never happened?
So look at it this way; how often do you discuss, in vivid detail, the sexual techniques and habits and positions you assumed with other lovers? When you're cuddling in bed at night about to make love do you ever say "You know, my ex, he was outrageously amazing at -------- and he had this way of making me --------, God, I never knew it could be so good or that someone's ----------- could be so ----------! Would you ever dream of reminiscing about your ex-wife's bodacious chest to your new wife? Or you ex-husband's endowment? Why not?
Because you would offend the hell out of your new spouse, probably hurt them like they've never been hurt before, cause them to leave the bed and sleep on the couch that night and probably regard you as the most callous and insensitive idiot they've ever met. We all tacitly agree that it's tactless and hurtful to discuss previous sexual encounters with our new loves...so why on earth is it okay to talk about the person whom your spouse knows, for a fact you did all these things with? The answer is, it isn't okay. It isn't okay to remind them that you called someone else husband or wife before them, any more than it's all right to tell them about the wild sex you had with someone else.
Of course, there's one obvious exception to the no-reminders rule: children. If you have children from a former marriage, of course they will remain in your life. But how much involvement their other parent has in your new marriage is up to you, and is something you should carefully consider before marrying again. Does your ex phone you three times a day to talk about "the kids"? Does he or she pop over unannounced and carry on as though he or she still has standing in your life? Each situation with children is different, depending on the kids' ages and circumstances, but the general principle of exorcising as much of your previous marriage as possible still applies, especially around exes who will tend to regard themselves as "the real wife" or the "most important husband" because of the children.
Love is selfish. Expecting your lover to be sexual only with you is selfish. Wanting to be the only important person - perhaps even the only sexual partner - in your lover's life, now, then and forever, is also selfish. Wanting to erase all trace, all mention and all memory of your lover's past is extremely selfish, so selfish in fact that most people don't even allow themselves to think this way. But I can't stress enough that this is exactly how it should be. You have to be selfish to have a good relationship, because you have to be a whole, mature, fully realized and self-sufficient adult to have a good relationship, and those things require a degree of selfishness that we never talk about in our selfless society. There is no room for self-sacrifice, for low-self esteem, for humility or for a humble, "who am I to ask for such things?" attitude in love. If you truly want to be the kind of value-driven, admirable person of character that deserves the love of a truly great person, then by all means act like you're something special, that you won't tolerate merely being "next in line", that you are good enough, valuable enough and admirable enough to demand exclusivity from anyone lucky enough to be your lover. Even if you don't always feel this way because you've been raised in a society that admonishes pride and rewards humility, act like you do.
You are entitled to a complete banishment of all things physical and emotional that are left over from other relationships, otherwise you're entitled to go find someone who is willing to be with only you. If your boyfriend still talks to his ex-girlfriend on the phone for two hours every night, tell him either she goes or you do, don't be put off by his assertions that he's with you now, you shouldn't be jealous. If your fiance wants to invite her ex-husband to your wedding, tell her that he has no place in your life and certainly not at something as intimate and special as your wedding - he might as well be in bed with you on your wedding night. Remember always that you aren't disturbed by the existence of a former spouse or lover, but by the copious reminders of them that disturb your sense of primacy, and always make this distinction clear to those would accuse you of childish jealousy over former flames. And if all else fails, remind your lover or spouse that as long as the specter of their former relationships intrudes into your current one, you will never feel completely close, totally intimate, or entirely certain about the strength of this bond.
It's time the green-eyed monster got the respect he deserves. Stand your ground - if your lover is smart he or she will be flattered by how exclusive you want to be.