It’s 11.45 at night. Priyanka is scrambling for her house key when her phone rings.
‘Hi babe!’ She excitedly greets the person on the other end of the line.
‘Hey! What’s happening?’
‘Nothing… listen let me call you back in five minutes. I’m just getting into the house,’ Priyanka tells the caller.
‘You were out?’ Tushar, the caller, asks.
‘Yeah, I’d gone out for dinner with Ankush.’
‘Yeah, my college friend. You’ve met him.’
‘Yeah, I know who Ankush is. I mean… was it just the two of you?’
There’s an eerie silence on the other end of the line.
‘Tushar? Are you jealous?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ He snaps. ‘I just think… I mean you should’ve told me. I’d have come along.’
‘Yeah well, Ankush wanted to talk about something that’s going on with him. So…’
‘Some stuff with his girlfriend.’
‘I can’t tell you! It’s his personal stuff!’
‘But I’m your boyfriend.’
‘Yes! Look Tushar, I’m still standing outside my house. Just let me get in and I’ll call you back.’
Tushar didn’t answer Priyanka’s calls. For the next few days, he reminded aloof. Until they had a big fight where Tushar finally let it out. ‘I know something is going on between you and Ankush!’
Ankush’s girlfriend, Neha, has a similar but different issue with some of one of his female colleagues. At an office party recently, she caught the two flirting. Once they were back home, she asked Anush what was going on.
‘Nothing, babe! A little bit of flirting happens at work, right? You also flirt all the time with that Shivam guy, don’t you?’ Ankush couldn’t keep a straight face as he said this.
Neha frowned at him. ‘Yeah but he doesn’t go touch my bicep like it’s some wrestler’s bicep or something!’
‘That’s because you don’t do weights,’ he said, jokingly.
‘Shut up!’ Neha retorted, and both burst out laughing.
Both Tushar and Neha are jealous of other people in their partners’ lives. But while one type jealousy is cute and endearing, and even healthy for the relationship, the other is rather damaging. No brownie points for guessing which is which.
Psychologists tell us that there are two different types of romantic jealousy.
One is reactive, and the other is cognitive or anxious. In the first one, feelings of jealousy are a response to an event or behaviour that poses a threat to the relationship. The second one, however, is the one we would call ‘bad’ because there is often an absence of a real threat to the relationship.
In the above story, Tushar exhibits cognitive or anxious romantic jealousy where he feels threatened by a friend who pre-existed him in Priyanka’s life. There is no evidence that there’s something going on or even that there is the potential of something happening between the two. Neha, on the contrary, feels jealous after witnessing her partner flirt with another woman.
Now imagine this:
Neha sees Ankush flirting with another woman at the office party. He often works late, and Neha knows that he works closely with this woman. When they go home, she says nothing. She is her usual loving self.
How does this make you feel? How do you think Neha feels about this relationship?
A healthy amount of jealousy can be a reflection of your commitment level in the relationship. According to a study published by SAGE journals, the greater the closeness in a relationship, the greater the likelihood of partners experiencing reactive romantic jealousy. The more emotionally invested you are in a relationship, the more likely you are to feel jealous if you catch your beau flirting with someone else. This is the good kind of jealousy – reactive jealousy – that makes your partner feel valued and special to you.
Going back to Neha and Ankush – if she didn’t feel even slightly jealous watching Ankush flirt with another woman, it might mean that she doesn’t care at all.
I don’t know how often people do this IRL, but we see the phenomenon in movies and TV shows quite a bit – Someone flirts or makes out with someone else to win back their ex, or to make their aloof partner feel jealous.
Jealousy, when appropriate and optimum, can be a sign of love. Possessiveness, however, is not a sign of love. Not ever.
Romantic jealousy stems from the fear of losing your partner. Possessiveness stems from the belief or desire of owning and controlling your partner. So, in essence, possessiveness falls on the bad side of romantic jealousy.
Tushar is a possessive boyfriend, and not only does he exhibit paranoia and anxiety toward Priyanka’s friendship with Ankush, he also feels entitled to all things related to Priyanka. ’But I’m your boyfriend!’ He tells her, when that has no bearing on her spilling the beans on someone else’s secrets.
Neha feels jealous in response to her boyfriend flirting, but she is able to express her feelings, and let them go. She doesn’t have any desire to control or own Ankush. In other words, she doesn’t want to possess him.
Romantic jealousy has been stereotyped as the “possessive, angry, entitled” boyfriend who can’t tolerate another man around his partner, and the “crazy, irrational” girlfriend who picks fights with any other woman who comes within five feet of her partner. Both tropes are examples of cognitive or anxious jealousy.
Unfortunately, we don’t have popular examples of healthy, reactive romantic jealousy that can help propel the relationship forward, and nurture greater closeness between the two partners. So let me give you one:
Ankush’s jibe at Neha’s luck of weight training cuts the tension int he room. Neha tries to suppress her laugh. This is a serious matter! Ankush needs to behave himself around other women! Ankush loves the way Neha’s chin quivers when she’s trying to hold back a laugh. He grabs her elbow and pulls her closer. The two kiss, right there against the kitchen counter. Later, they make love.
A few weeks later, they decide to throw a small party where the woman Ankush flirted with the other night, and the man Neha flirts with, are also invited. They all hang out as friends, and at this party Ankush and Neha make it a point to flirt with each other so make the two guests jealous. By talking about their feelings, and because of a solid foundation of feeling secure in the relationship, Ankush and Neha come closer through this shared experience of romantic jealousy.