My name is Shanna and I’m a jealous-oholic. If the first step is the hardest, then it should all be down hill from here. I admit that I’ve suffered from it all my life but I’m just now coming to terms with how deeply it’s affected myself and those around me. My mom claims that she hated taking me grocery shopping because even as a baby in the cart, if she paid any attention to another baby at the store, I’d scream and wail while reaching out and trying to hit the competition with my tiny fists. Not a lot has changed since then.
Before I started preschool, my mom would take me with her on her various housecleaning jobs, and I distinctly remember being enraged when she worked for the Evans’s. They had a six-month-old baby that she constantly cooed over and announced to be the cutest thing on earth. I hated it with a passion and did everything I could think of to regain my rightful attention the shriveled little beast was taking away. I tried crawling into my Mom’s lap while she was holding it, attempted to get into its crib and even announced that “I’m the baby! Hold me!” Somehow my mom didn’t see it as a cry for help so much as an annoyance and told me “You’re a big girl now, you need to act like one.”
I was also jealous of my dad, but slightly less so as he didn’t really give his attention to anyone, so much as receive it. He has a red beard halfway down to his stomach and shaggy red hair, which draws a lot of comments. When we would go anywhere with large groups of people, such as the county fair, people would stop him yelling “ZZ Top!” “Oh My God!” Some even taking pictures. I hated them too. My dad had to be coaxed into taking our one and only family portrait at Sears because we had a free coupon for it, and in it, he’s not even smiling. But when the white trash floozies came running, he would grin and pose for the camera. Even now when I’m walking through a liquor store and I hear “Give Me All Your Lovin’” my blood boils.
As I got older, my parents’ attention mattered less and less to me. I had no where to channel my restless insecurities until I started dating. After 10 years of having no one’s attention to use as reassurance that I was lovable, I quickly made up for lost time. To test how much a guy really cared about me, I would pick fights over what I considered waitresses’ excess attention, pictures of ex-girlfriends or even the slightest hint of a wandering eye.
I would ask boyfriends loyalty gauging questions such as “Would you still want to be with me if I gained 100 pounds? What if I was in a car wreck and lost all of my limbs? Went crazy and had to live in a mental ward?” until they would stupidly say no to one of them, and I’d be furious. “You don’t care about me at all!” I’d snap, and we’d go round and round in circles until I’d either finally tell them that I couldn’t be with someone who wouldn’t love me no matter what I looked like, or they’d tell me that they couldn’t be with someone who was crazy, which proved my third test question and gave me a sick sense of self-justification.
I thought I might be getting my jealousy under control, or at least I had good intentions to when I met James. I was wrong. During the time we dated, I convinced myself that he was constantly seeing other girls and just not admitting it because he felt sorry for me. I couldn’t even take his word for his faithfulness. The only comfort I could find was that we spent so much time together, I wasn’t sure when he’d be able to squeeze in other girls. My jealousy and insecurity was a large part of our relationship demise, and when we broke up I felt a sense of peace. At last I wouldn’t’ have to drive myself crazy all of the time that he was going to leave me for someone thinner, prettier and smarter who could pronounce “Perrier” correctly. I could finally relax and just enjoy being around him for once. Again, I was wrong. I became even more jealous. Now I was convinced that I was going to lose him as a friend every time he watched some modelesque blonde walk by. And I live in LA, where there may be a seasonal shortage of water, but there’s an endless supply of modelesque blondes.
I finally realized last week just how extensive my problem is. We went to the deli counter at Whole Foods, and although we arrived together, the young counter girl openly flirted with him, while constantly glancing at me.
“You know what’s really good is our tofu spread.” She told him. “You should try some.”
“Oh, no thanks,” he said with a huge grin, which I tried to decipher as just plain friendliness or interest.
“But tastes soooo good! Here, you have to try it! It’s down here at the other end of the counter.” She glanced at me again before leading him away. Unfortunate about that nose, I thought to myself evilly. As I waited for another person to make my food, I watched them at the end of the glass case. I couldn’t help but notice that she was taking an awfully long time to give him just one sample. And that her Clairol ink black dye job was doing nothing for her foundation caked face. When he walked back over to me I said “Boy, she wanted you,” but managed to hold myself back from commenting on what the contained deli air had done to her skin.
“She’s just friendly,” he said obliviously. We took our sandwiches and sat down in one of the booths. I was still steaming and I knew I shouldn’t be. Calm down, I told myself. Calm down and be nice. He’s your friend. You love him and you want the best for him. You love him too much to wish dating you upon him. It didn’t help. I was so upset I couldn’t even look him in the eye. This is not normal, I thought to myself. Normal people don’t get this way. Stop it!
“Are you okay,” he leaned toward me and tried to catch my gaze.
I could feel words bubbling up inside me ready to be vomited out, but I tried to gulp them down. Don’t say it looks like her giant nose sniffed you out. Don’t say it Shanna! Don’t say it! I grabbed my sandwich and took a huge bite instead. “Mmmmmhmmm.” I nodded while munching away.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
Don’t say anything about the nose! Don’t say it! I shoved half of the sandwich into my mouth and choked on it. “Uhm Erm Fime.” I managed as pieces of bread fell out of my mouth.
“Okay,” he allowed, clearly not believing me. You have a problem, I told myself. You need to get help. I replayed the situation over and over in my mind for the next two days, but I promised myself I would get over it. I made it 52 hours before I exploded on him. We were hanging out at his house and I’d just seen a picture of a girl he’d gone on a few dates with before he’d ever met me. “You know you really have horrible taste in women,” I blurted out.
“No I don’t,” he just laughed me off in his good natured way.
“Well, maybe you have good taste, but you have poor execution,” I pushed. He just raised an eyebrow and looked at me pointedly. “Oh I know!” I said. “I’m your longest relationship. And look at me. Poor execution my friend. Terrible.” Some small mentally stable part of my brain screamed out Stop it! Stop! Don’t say it! but I didn’t listen. “Just like that girl at the deli the other day.”
“What girl?” he asked.
“The one who was hitting on you.” Don’t say it! Don’t say it! Don’t say it! And then I did. “Looks like her giant nose sniffed you out!” I knew I’d crossed the line. I began backtracking, apologizing, offering up half-hearted excuses. But the damage was done. I’d started an argument or a discussion as he would call it. As usual, it ended with him bewildered and frustrated and me leaving angry and in tears. I finally realized that I wasn’t going to lose him to another woman. I was going to lose him because I’m nuts.
I dreamt about it all that night and felt sick to my stomach when I woke up the next morning. I could finally see how this was destroying our friendship if it hadn’t already. He’s one of my best friends, I thought and I can’t stop getting angry at him for things he’s never done. I was at my wits end, so I picked up the phone and called the only person I know who’s more jealous that me.
“Have you paid your phone bill this month?”
“Yes, I’ve paid the phone bill. Mom I need some advice.”
“Hmmph. Well if you ain’t paid your dang phone bill you know they’ll shut that thing off.”
“Mom! I’ve paid the bill, okay? I called because I need your help with something.”
“Well, what do you want?”
“I need to know how to get over being so jealous.”
“Well, you’re asking the wrong person. I’m 56 years old, and I still don’t know.”
“I just don’t know who else to talk to. I have a serious problem.”
“Oh, I know you do. You’re just like me.”
“Please don’t say that.”
“All the women in our family are this way. My mother was. Her mother was. And even when you were a little kid, you were jealous of all the other babies.”
“I know, I know. I’m past that part of the story. I just need to know how to get over this. It’s coming between James and my friendship.”
“Well that’s just because men and women can’t be friends Shanna. I’ve told you that a hundred times.”
“Errroh. We are friends okay? I love him as a friend, but I can’t stop getting jealous over him. I got angry the other day because a girl at the deli counter offered him a sample.”
“What’d she look like?”
“She had a big nose and a bad dye job.”
Snickering “I think you might be worse than me.”
“Oh god no.”
“You know, it’s been 20 years, but I still think about when I had to host that bingo night when you kids were going to St. Mary’s school, and your father was flirting with that stinking Jeannie Swanson. Oh, I was so mad! To this day if I’d a had a gun I’d have shot them both dead.”
“Oh my god mom. That’s horrible! You’re definitely worse than me.”
“I’m getting mad just thinking about it!”
“Don’t think about it.”
“And I’m not as jealous as I used to be.”
“I feel a little less crazy now, so thanks for that, but it still doesn’t solve my problem. How do I at least become a little less jealous then?”
“Well, part of it is that I just don’t care anymore. It wasn’t like I was ever really in love with your father anyway. Now at my age there’s not much to be jealous about. You’ll mellow out when you hit 50.”
“50! 50! Mom, that’s another 20 years. I can’t go like this for two more decades before it gets better.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. It’ll probably get worse before then too.”
“It can’t get worse.”
“Ever wanted to shoot someone?”
“Well then it can get worse.”
So I’ve taken the first step. I’ve admitted that I have a problem and I need help. I’ve got 11 more to go and they’re not going to be easy. I’ve considered counseling, but I have this unsettling fear that the therapist would tell me “Don’t worry, I have patients who are much worse than you,” and it would just make me jealous. Especially if he was hot.