As I write this post, the most popular post on my blog these days, by far, is the one about why human beings get jealous. I noticed that a good number of the search terms hitting that post say things like “how to make someone jealous,” which is interesting, because that post is all about how to reduce jealous feelings. So I figured I’d also address why people often wish to inspire jealousy in others.
Jealousy is about control – or wanting control when you aren’t feeling in control. It’s a flailing emotion that looks for some way to achieve stability in those moments when you get socked in the gut, often when you realize you have a need that you weren’t aware of before. It’s a particularly sharp way of being reminded that “HEY … THIS MATTERS!”
And that’s the key thing to understand about why some folks want to inspire jealousy in others: if you are an object of somebody’s jealousy, that means you matter.
Folks want to matter for a number of reasons: loneliness, feeling ignored, desiring a sense of agency or empowerment, and so on. But very often, the person who wants to make someone jealous is themself experiencing feelings of jealousy.
It even happens long after the initial shock has worn off: once, I had my heart broken when somebody I was getting close to suddenly pulled back and revoked the sense of trust in me she had previously expressed. It affected me quite viscerally; I had begun to get to know this person somewhat well, and her pulling away made me feel irrelevant – like suddenly, I didn’t matter. I got over it after a while, of course, but for at least 3 weeks I was not myself. Though there were no feelings of jealousy on my part, I did want sorely to matter to her – and it was very hard for me to keep away from her and give her the space she needed. But I managed, because I knew my absence mattered.
Then, months later, when I had long gotten over her, I saw her walking down the street as I ate inside a restaurant. I lightly knocked on the window and waved to her, and it looked as though she might have half looked in my direction, but I wasn’t sure. In any event, she did not respond.
And though I was quite over her in particular, still … something inside me got a little bit sad that she didn’t respond. There was some part of me that wanted to know that I had mattered to her, that maybe I had one-tenth the effect on her life that she had on mine. Of course, it was entirely possible that she just didn’t see me at all, and that if she had seen me, she’d have stopped and given me a hug - but it still felt fitting, even taking this into consideration, that she passed me by without acknowledgement, as if it were reality’s way of saying to me, “face it, man, you never did and never will matter to her the way she mattered to you.”
When we both care about somebody and also realize that we don’t matter to them the way they matter to us, it can be hard to cope sometimes. If we feel that the “not mattering” shows a lack of consideration or compassion of some sort, even if it’s not a serious issue, it becomes tempting to try to turn the tables and get the other person feeling like they are the one missing out. In reality, this is an exercise in self-validation; it’s a way of proving to oneself that “yes, I do matter. I am worth paying attention to.”
All this is understandable and ok as long as you understand that it is yourself that your are affecting most, not the other person. Also, be careful not to go too far (by this I mean going out of your way to try to get somebody’s attention; this usually backfires because it reveals you to be desperate, which only increases the emphasis on your lack of control).
There is, however, another way: if you want to get beyond back-and-forth jealousy shots, you have to see that you matter independently of what person X or person Y thinks of you – come to a complete acceptance of others’ feelings, and work on yours. Once you get there, you are bulletproof.
And if you are wondering what your purpose on this Earth is, well … start here. Positive, forward-oriented affirmation and fulfillment. Jealousy as a feeling is very powerful, for good reasons – but you don’t have to stay there. In fact, you shouldn’t, especially if you want to matter to other people – because life goes on. Life is a film, and not a photograph.