Too many of our preconceived ideas about relationships center around the idea of owning someone, and we judge the “seriousness” of our relationships based on how much of them we own; Do we have exclusive rights to their body? Do we have little claims staked over areas of their space in the form of leaving clothing behind, putting a toothbrush in the bathroom, or sharing a home entirely? Have we infiltrated other important relationships in their lives by meeting their families, and becoming buds with their friends? Little by little, we look at the sum of our various methods of owning parts of another person to measure how significant and solid our relationship with them is.
And it’s not that it’s inherently bad to do these things. Becoming increasingly entangled in each other’s worlds is a natural progression when two people spend more time together. The difference between “sharing” and “taking” is key here – opening up your life to another person should be a conscious act of giving, not the product of the other person forcing their way in. People tend to do that in an effort to make themselves feel more secure about the relationship; they equate complex involvement with depth of attachment. When the feelings shared between two people aren’t enough for one or both of them to feel safe having their hearts on the line, they start grasping for more tangible markers of stability, things they can see and categorize and show to other people and say, “Look! We’re in love because I’m Facebook friends with his mother and he doesn’t even talk to other girls!”
But here’s the problem: The concept of possessing another person, of claiming any degree of ownership over their lives or their emotions, is false, or at least fleeting. We all ultimately belong only to ourselves, and even that is somewhat debatable. Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t invest in other people, or venture the leap of faith to believe that our love with someone is sustainable and dependable. We should, as often as possible. Connections to other humans, the one thing that breaks the basic isolation of existing in a body alone, is always a choice, and one we make frequently to different degrees. Whether it’s sending a tweet to no one in particular, just a message in a bottle, or having a conversation wherein you try to empathize with someone else so that you can both feel a sense of recognition of common experience – we’re always trying to connect. How much, to what depth, and in what form we connect is always up to us. However it looks, it’s always us offering a piece of the core of who we are.
But occasionally, we connect with someone who not only likes what we initially allow them to see of our core, but they like it so much that they would feel pain if they didn’t have access to it anymore. There is something about us that makes them want to keep us in their lives, to keep the connection alive and engaged. They want more. And sometimes, with that, comes a correlating desire to not have us connect to anyone else. They want it all. The idea that we might choose to share something of ourselves with anyone but them is implicitly denying them something, and selfishly, they begin to fight against it.
It’s jealousy, and everything we do to keep it at bay, that creates a problem. Because when you get in the habit of relying on having a sense of ownership of another person in order to feel comfortable loving them, there is never enough. No matter how well-controlled and monitored they are, no matter how intertwined your lives become, it won’t be enough to fully kill the jealousy, if it’s a thing you allow yourself to feel at all.
The closeness that comes from freely choosing to move yourselves nearer to each other, physically and emotionally, and the closeness that comes from keeping someone close out of jealousy them can look remarkable similar. Sometimes you could easily mistake one for the other. But the difference is a case of polar opposites: intimacy by choice is a product of love, whereas intimacy by force driven by a desire to possess is fueled by fear. Even if they look the same in how they function in real life, the motivations behind them can mean the difference between a relationship that is healthy and more likely to flourish, and one that is constantly at risk of being strangled to death.
Shaking off jealousy and all its horrible children means challenging yourself to truly accept the separateness of other people, and that there is, in fact, not a damn thing you can do to genuinely change that. If you can do that, then it’s possible to find comfort with the idea of the people we love as parallel entities to ourselves, unable to be owned and that’s perfectly fine. And then things get really good. Once we free up all the energy that used to go into trying to possess more of a person, and the energy that went into stressing when we imagined that we weren’t possessing them enough, we have so much more to put into simply enjoying their presence. We have more energy to put into feeling grateful to have these connections at all, and to put into our own generous acts of sharing with someone. And when those are the places you put your energy in a relationship, it can’t help but get better. It’s only when we stop trying to own a person and control a love that we can have a healthy love at all.