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Do You Have a Jealousy Problem?

Diego Cervo

Are you a jealous person? If so, do you at times feel like you're crazy or irrational for being so possessive? So greedy of your partner's affections, or so needy?

Jealousy is a very normal, human reaction to situations in which we feel like we're being ignored or usurped, as a Yale study mentioned in the new book Out of Character: Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us indicates. Researchers set things up so that a group of two people — a woman and a man — were asked to work on a problem-solving task. The guy acted all charming and flirtatious … but when another female participant arrived, ten minutes late, he lost all interest in the first woman and focused almost entirely on the second. After about 10 minutes of that, the person in charge interrupted the trio, informing them that there can be only two people in each group. The male turned immediately to the latecomer and said, "Want to work together?"

Now, of course, the male was in cahoots with the psychologists in charge. Everything he did was pre-arranged. He was supposed to flirt with the first lady, then pretend to lose all interest when the second arrived.

When the first woman got dropped, what did she do? In many cases, her face literally dropped. Other times, she let out a gasp. Or she said nasty, scolding things to the other two. In other words, she got extremely jealous ... of a man she'd only spent a few minutes with, whose interest in her wasn't even real.

The researchers' theory was that the jealousy instinct is tied pretty directly to self-esteem. Self-esteem increases when others like us, and decreases when they don't — and because we feel better when people like us, we are motivated to protect and nurture our relationships with others. Jealousy — as primitive as it can seem — probably helped motivate the cave men to fend off competitors who wanted their women, quite possibly by threatening to bash them over the head with a club.

These days, of course, it's illegal to engage in such behavior, and rightly so! None of us want to turn into a Lisa Nowak — the NASA astronaut who drove 900 miles from Texas to Florida, in a disguise consisting of a wig and trench coat, while wearing an adult diaper (so she wouldn't have to make a rest stop) with a small arsenal of weapons (including a four-inch buck knife) so that she could corner her ex-boyfriend's new girl in a parking garage and threaten her.

But a little flutter of jealousy now and then is not necessarily a terrible thing. It may motivate us to put a little extra energy into relationship problems. It may help us to ask our partner to have a talk, so we can discuss some behavior that's been upsetting us. It may get us to realize we've been feeling neglected by someone we're dating, and that we generally don't love the way he treats us — so that in fact, maybe we're better off without him.

Just don't go buying any adult diapers and stay away from hunting knives, and chances are, your jealousy is nothing freakish.

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