by Joseph Precker
Dear Dr. Precker:
I’m seeing this lovely Japanese woman, a mature divorcee, who says she hasn’t gone out with a man in five years (since her divorce became final). We have a great time when we’re alone together, but as soon as my male friends, or her girlfriends’ husbands or men friends are on the scene, she flirts, seems to avoid talking to me alone or even staying near me.
She’s vivacious and lively and seems to have a lot to talk about, while I get more and more tongue-tied, the more lively she becomes. Not only that; I begin to get angry with her and wonder if she cares for me at all, although afterwards she keeps telling me she loves me and that she pays attention to other men for my sake and in order to be polite!
Her behavior sure doesn’t change like that when she’s with girlfriends only! What can I do? Give her up? Make her jealous? Avoid situations with other people? Give her an ultimatum? Please let me hear from you soon. She’s driving me crazy.
Dear Driven Crazy:
Your situation sounds very typical of western men, raised only with a romantic notion of the exclusiveness of love and strong emotions of jealousy if they believe their love-object is directing attention to other males. Some would say this situation is reminiscent of the Oedipal conflict, with the boy-child desirous of the total attention of Mother, and with anger, fear, jealousy directed toward his main rival — Father — who has displaced the little boy’s place in bed close to Mother, and dominates her attention whenever he is around.
Whether there is a classic or inevitable component to this kind of situation is probably less important than the pain, uncertainty and frustration those jealousy-provoking situations create. Strangely enough, it often seems that men experience deeper feelings of jealousy than do women. Again, some say women tend to be more curious, while men tend to be more jealous. Often, in regard to envy and jealousy, they are usually very much mixed-up together.
The feeling, nevertheless, is very human and very frequently encountered. The question is, what can be done about it? Your possible solutions — give her up, make her jealous, avoid others, give her an ultimatum — are not very effective ones, since each of them keeps jealousy in the center of the picture, attempts to control her (a terrible situation if you are dealing with a ” modern” and independent woman), and involve cutting off your nose to spite your face.
What can you do? First, determine how important she really is to you and where you want the relationship to go. Next, review the way she treats you over all. Is she demonstrating love and affection in most of your interactions? Third, think of ways to make yourself more interesting when you are in mixed company, not in a competitive manner, but in ways that bring people to your side, to listen to you, to talk to you, to enjoy the warmth of your spirit.
Next, renew your behavior when your friend’s women friends are around. Do you act in such a way as to seem flirtatious with her female friends? (Is it possible you are getting “tit-for-tat”? It’s amazing how sensitive we can be of others’ behavior toward us, yet be very blind in regard to our behavior to others.)
Fifth, instead of withdrawing when your friend is vivacious with other men, “be there” and enter into the spirit of the interaction, so that you, too, are involved in what’s going on (without sulking, without threats of recriminations to come, expressed by your eyes, your face, your posture).
Finally, at the proper time, in the proper way, established “ground rules” with your friend, mutually agreed upon, that will govern your behavior, individually and mutually, when you are in the company of others.
If you feel that jealousy is a very old, very deep feeling, characterizing many, or all, of your romantic relationships, then it may be time to seek out the roots, with the help of a mature, experienced psychotherapist. Let’s hope the green-eyed monster turns into a bright-eyed relationship.