I remember the first time I ever felt jealous about a romantic partner. It felt like my chest was splitting in two. For the first time, I understood why they called it ‘heartbreak’: it physically felt like my heart was cracking, and it winded me so much I couldn’t breathe.
This was actually a panic attack, but my 13-year-old self didn’t know that. She thought she was in love. She thought that the pain in her chest was a sign that she should actually be with the person that was making her jealous. After all, only your soul mate could make you feel something so deeply, right?
Fast forward to when I was 18. My boyfriend at the time cheated on me with another girl, who he ended up dating. There were many things I felt when I realized he cheated on me: hurt, betrayed, angry.
But one thing I didn’t feel? Jealousy. I didn’t envy the poor girl who became his girlfriend. I didn’t feel possessive over him. I didn’t want him.
I was surprised that my heart didn’t crack in two like it had before. This strange reaction prompted me to do a lot of soul-searching. At first, I asked myself why I didn’t feel jealous, but then, I asked myself why I thought I should feel jealous. After all, why would I want someone who mistreated me?
Sometimes, jealousy is about feeling unwanted – it is for me, anyway. We might feel jealous when we see our crush with someone else because we feel unwanted in comparison. We also might feel jealous when our partners pay more attention to others because we feel insecure and we think it’s a threat to the relationship.
When my boyfriend cheated on me, I realized it didn’t mean I was unwanted. It wasn’t a reflection of me at all, it was a reflection of him. I had no reason to feel insecure, so I didn’t.
Of course, jealousy isn’t always rational. Often it comes out of nowhere, and there’s no reasoning yourself out of it. But this epiphany stuck with me, and since then, I’ve hardly ever felt jealous.
When I tell people this, they assume it means I don’t have any real feelings for my partners. This isn’t true. I’ve loved people fiercely and deeply without feeling a pang of jealousy at all. To me, my lack of jealousy didn’t mean I didn’t love my partners, but it meant that I loved myself and was incredibly secure in my own self-worth.
Learning about non-monogamy and polyamory has also expanded my understanding of jealousy. Many people are able to love more than one romantic partner at once. For many people, having more than one partner is possible because their love isn’t a finite resource.
Think about it: if you can have multiple children or multiple pets while loving every single one of them, it makes sense that some people can have multiple partners and love them all the same.
By this token, some people can find more than one person attractive at the same time. If I’m dating someone who finds someone else attractive, that doesn’t mean they don’t find me attractive. And if they don’t find me attractive, that’s a separate issue – one that has no influence over my worth.
Many people believe that jealousy is an indicator of love, so much so that they’ll make their partner jealous to ‘test’ their love. This is a common trope in rom-coms, and I often see it with acquaintances and friends of mine. We’re taught from a young age that love hurts, so we confuse the ache of jealousy with feelings of care and partnership. This attitude is troubling because it can romanticize people being over-possessive, and even abusive, towards their partners.
It’s okay to feel jealous. There’s nothing wrong with you if you experience jealousy. That said, we should stop romanticizing jealousy and we should stop equating it with love.
Love shouldn’t crack your heart in two – it should mend it. Whether it comes from a friend, a romantic partner, a family member, a pet, or yourself, love should be a source of support and energy, not pain.