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Psych Your Mind: The art of provocation

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | November 7th, 2011

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
Before society started to invent ways for us to develop insecurities (e.g.: media messages of unrealistic perfection, among other things) that cause us to engage in irrational attacks of others, jealousy existed in its most basic form: rooted in a fight to ensure the survival of one's kin. As psychologists Ofer and Azzia Zur of the Zur Institute explain, "Jealousy is a territorial emotion that stems from a biological imperative to breed and carry on our genes."

According to evolutionary psychology, jealousy manifests as fear of sexual infidelity in males, because in ancient times this would result in having to provide for children that "carry on another man's traits," thereby lessening the evolutionary fitness of one's lineage. As for women, the fear of emotional infidelity is also rooted in our evolutionary beginnings in that if a man developed affection for a different mate, this would result in abandonment. As women did not have the means nor opportunity to provide for themselves or their children, fear for the worst (i.e.: death) was justified.

Romantic or "provoked" jealousy, then, as I'm sure is evident even from the brief description above, is a very different beast from unprovoked jealousy, which we discussed last week. For starters, oftentimes it is all too rational. Allow me to explain:

A close girlfriend of mine has been dating her significant other for several years. Though she is not by any stretch insecure, some of his behaviours would make any woman question the stability of their relationship. For example, though they never formally dated nor do they maintain an apparent sense of "closeness" friendshipwise, my friend's boyfriend insists on visiting a woman he once fooled around with each year. Moreover, he's willing to drive out of town to do so.

Because she didn't want to start an argument, my friend remained silent on this issue for quite some time. However, this year she asked if she could come along for the visit, considering that her boyfriend has assured her many times that there was nothing going on. Interestingly, this year's plans somehow fell apart last minute and so the two women were never able to meet.

My friend's boyfriend could honestly be telling the truth — that there is nothing to be worried about, BUT it seems pretty clear that he's going to an awful lot of bother to maintain a bizarre relationship with a woman who doesn't even have a place on his close friends list. Further, the fact that this year's meet-up — the first time my friend had ever asked to come along — got cancelled seems a little suspect.

The most interesting aspect of this entire situation, however, is my friend's boyfriend's hypocritical behaviour. Undoubtedly as a result of the fact that he's been cheated on several times in past relationships, he consistently projects his fears of infidelity onto my friend and is very protective when it comes to whom she can associate with. In this way, he is attributing his OWN unacknowledged feelings and paranoia to HER as though they were HER issues, when in reality, they are HIS. At times, he has even gone so far as to accuse of her struggling with self-esteem issues, and therefore feeling as though she's going to lose him to a more desirable partner.

As an objective third party in this equation, my friend's loyalty and commitment to her boyfriend, not to mention her self-assurance, is highly evident. Given this, his concerns are unfounded. As for his desire to continue empty relationships with other potential partners? Well, it could be one of two things:

1. a subconscious impulse to ensure that if for any reason my friend breaks it off with him (or worse, breaks his heart), he will not be alone (i.e.: he's afraid of being alone).

2. more likely, it's because he feels unworthy of love (due to past trauma evoked by those who have cheated on him), and, irrespective of my girlfriend's affection toward him, he has a need to feel desirable by others in order to fill a void in his selfesteem.

I make no claims to being a relationship expert — believe me, I've had my own run of questionable boyfriends — however, one advantage to combating jealousy that we clearly have in today's world as opposed to our evolutionary past is this: equitable communication.

My girlfriend is strong, sophisticated, educated and career-oriented. She does not rely on her partner for provisions nor does she "need" him in order to survive. But before any genuine trust (the foundation of any healthy, mature relationship) can be established, my friend's boyfriend needs to face his fears and also acknowledge my friend's perspective.

Unlike her evolutionary foremothers, my friend is not fearful of losing her mate and therefore her life. If she's projecting any feelings of jealousy, it's purely because she doesn't feel as though she's a priority. By no means am I suggesting that my friend's boyfriend needs to sacrifice his social life in order to devote 100 per cent of his time to her — that is also unhealthy and often leads to co-dependency — rather, like so many of us running in the rat race, he needs to figure out the work/life/friends/romance balance.

Though we often encounter ads that try to convince us we can have it all — act like we're single, but still have a loving mate to come home to — the joke is on those who fall for such absurdity. Life works in stages and you can live many different experiences throughout, but (and this is a BIG but) if you hope to maintain strong healthy relationships with anyone, you must first own up to your shit and secondly treat those you care about with love, compassion and understanding. After all, if you don't make their feelings a priority, why should they make yours one? In sum, learn how to talk WITH each other and ALWAYS, ALWAYS be honest with others and, importantly, yourself.
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