Sometimes things are complicated. Sometimes trying to understand the complex reasons for why things happen gets confused with justifying or excusing behaviour which should not be justified or excused. I’ve been researching attitudes to domestic violence for a lecture I’m giving this week. A few studies have said that a significant proportion of people think it’s ok to hit your partner if they have slept with someone else. Anger seems an appropriate response to infidelity within a relationship, but I guess I don’t condone physical or emotional violence in any circumstances. What if you only suspect the affair? Does it become ok then?
I wouldn’t go as far as Amnesty International have done in the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, terming adultery as ‘consensual sexual relations’ and suggesting that if this is the only crime for which she is being held, she should be considered a ‘prisoner of conscience’. I reworded the email I sent to the head of the Iranian judiciary appealing for her execution to be stopped. Unsurprisingly I have strong views against the death penalty in any circumstance but I decided not to appeal using the angle that an adulterer has done nothing wrong. I’m not saying I’d want adultery to be recriminalised in the UK, but I’m more concerned about the death penalty issue.
I guess I’m trying to suggest that some level of jealousy is acceptable, even healthy in relationships. Like anger, I’d say jealousy is an emotional reaction which is not bad in itself but which can be directed badly or well. A frequent plot device in films and stories requires one character to show interest in a third party to provoke the object of their affection to realise or act on their true feelings. I can see the argument that says that flirting with a third party is manipulative and unfair, perhaps especially for that third party whose own emotions may be disregarded. While I would welcome a bit more friendly banter/ attention from men, the appeal completely disappears if it’s part of some strategy to make someone else jealous. Or it should, if I’m defending what is right and my own self-respect.
But if I were the one in the relationship, I think I would want a certain level of jealousy/ protectiveness/ exclusivity both from and towards my man. Even though some jealous behaviour leads to all kinds of utterly unacceptable harm and violence, the other end of the spectrum looks like passivity and apathy. Someone who does not care does not get jealous. I’ve been thinking about jealousy particularly in the context of God being jealous, and I guess that’s the ultimate example of jealousy as a positive thing from someone who cares passionately. Both the old and new testament describe God as a jealous lover of people who behave appallingly badly.
Considering my own conduct, and the distractions I flirt with on an all too regular basis, I have been challenged by the idea that God gets jealous. There’s something more compelling about seeing God as a lover who is hurt by my wrong actions rather than as a judge or school-teacher who just wants to tell me off and for me to be punished or do better. Rather than seeing God as a kill-joy who wants to stop me from doing things I find fun but ultimately unrewarding, can I see him as someone desperate to spend time with me doing exciting things that I can enjoy and which have eternal significance?
I’m not just talking about supposedly spiritual things, but things like building meaningful relationships with people and working for real change in social situations. Learning and having a laugh with real people rather than with fictional characters or celebrities in television shows and on the internet. Twitter is perhaps most enjoyable when you read out the funniest things to other people. Not all the time of course, that would get very tedious. But I have introduced my parents and another friend to @Queen_UK (the fake Queen on twitter) and they really enjoyed the humour. I think the window you get onto other people’s lives and who is getting retweeted probably encourages a less healthy kind of jealousy. I guess I’d rather be one of the people who is too busy having a good, productive life to be writing much about it on the internet. And yet, here I am 😉