Jealousy first entered into our vernacular in the Middle Ages, except it meant something very different from how we think of it today. It actually developed from the word “zealous” and so initially meant passion, often times a positive one. The way we think of jealousy now – its modern-day definition – began to emerge as people began to distinguish good passion from bad passion, and eventually likened bad passion to lechery. And then, in perhaps its most consequential transformation, “jealousy,” the word, underwent a semantic shift: it went from something contained inside of you to something external, contained in others. Thus, it stopped being passion (or lechery) you felt, but the passion of others; if you were jealous it was because someone else had committed sexual passion at your expense. And so it makes sense that a jealous person was considered to be someone who reads signs very closely, but can’t quite interpret what the signs mean. Because to be jealous is to be constantly on guard, scrutinizing your partner’s every move, and deducing often fallacious or inaccurate conclusions.
When we talk about jealousy now it’s always something you want to rid yourself of, something that feels foreign. Even in the grip of it, does it not feel like you’re being taken over by an unwanted foreign antibody? We talk about it as if we’re victim to it, but in reality we’re not. And in order to triumph over this malignant feeling, we must first accept that it’s ours and no one else’s. To be more precise, we must accept our own desires and not outsource them. We must ask ourselves: Why are we desiring this person? Are our feelings genuine? Or are we just bored and looking for something to entertain us? We must ask ourselves this because if we don’t have a grasp on our desires then they run the risk of going astray.
To defeat this affliction, it’s compulsory that we know our own capacity and capability of tricking ourselves. For instance we can go on thinking that our desires are the fuel to our engine, when it’s really a subconscious yearning for something exciting that’s compelling us forward. Boredom can often mask itself as infatuation, and it’s crucial that we understand this. It’s why those drama queens we hear of are constantly fighting with their partners – exhibiting highs and lows that often culminate in crazy make-up sex. And it perhaps explains why Othello, in Shakespeare’s play, initially gave the handkerchief to Desdemona; perhaps he was craving excitement and subconsciously wanted her to drop it all along in order to be thrust into an intoxicating whirlwind of new emotions.
Even if our desire is genuine and not rooted in a subconscious urge to spice things up, we must still remain wary of outside influences. A case in point: It’s easy to lose grasp of our authentic desires when we’re scrolling through Instagram and being accosted by photos of Alexa Chung on a hammock in the remote outskirts of Bolivia. You may have woken up this morning craving nothing more than a muffin, but after a quick one-over of Instagram, it would appear you’d also like a yacht, a diamond grill, and a floating cabana in Bora Bora.
In his book Capital, Karl Marx came up with the term “reification,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “to regard (something abstract) as a material or concrete thing.” To put it simply, we may be obsessed with a guy for whatever reasons we have, but reifying this obsession would result in us thinking that he’s truly and intrinsically awesome and obsess-worthy, on his own, independent of our influence. It often results in high expectations and myriad disappointments.
The Cut recently published a pretty topical piece about jealousy and fashion week. It would seem fashion week undergoes this same process of reification, wherein we start to believe, amidst the flood of runway Instagrams and street style photos, that it is inherently as cool and enjoyable as the media portrays it to be. And yet, Teen Vogue’s style features editor drives the point home with, “Of course I look like I’m having a good time on my Instagram, but I’m exhausted.” So much of jealousy is founded on imagination; maybe we would all be a little more at ease if we made sure to learn all the facts first.