Friday, May 3, 2019

The Case of the Jealous Wife

I will continue what has become normal practice and not share the advice offered by New York Magazine’s Ask Polly column. It is simply warmed over psychobabble, filled with empty-headed banality and bromides.

As always, the redeeming feature of the columns lies in the letters, like this one, written by an American woman who found love with a man who had grown up in a foreign country. She left America to move to the new country, learned a new language and suffers from what the sociologists call anomie. She does not feel that she belongs. She does not feel like she is part of the new country. And she feels consumed with negative emotions, especially jealousy.

You will note, with some bemusement, that she doe not know the meaning of the word “jealousy.” She mistakes it for envy and resentment. Some times she throws the word into sentences where it clearly does not belong. We do not know why. We do not know whether she has reason to be jealous of her husband-- even though she insists that she does not. Her husband thinks that she is brilliant and capable, though her failure to understand jealousy does not inspire confidence.

I will offer some excerpts from her letter, and then offer a few comments:

I am finding myself in a situation where I pretty much feel negative and jealous about everything nice that people around me have. If I had to get more specific, I would say everything nice that my HUSBAND HAS and all the women he even pays slightly more attention to (in a weird “I find you or your personality attractive” kind of way). I know this is totally crazy, and it makes me a hater, and it makes me dislike myself even more because I was never this kind of a person, even before I got married, moved countries for my marriage, and left my broken family and broken life behind to have something “better.”

So, you see, I never felt jealous or as negative even when the closest person in my life passed away (my mother) after a bout of depression and addiction on her part. I never felt jealous when I had a broken family arising from a family divorce when I was very young, even when I did not spend time with my father for 15 years, even though my father obsessively and possessively called me five times a day but still could not tell the people around him (due to societal pressure) that he was in his second marriage and actually had a daughter from his first marriage (me).

I did not get jealous when I was wild and crazy after all this happened (and after the death of my mother), even though I kept going broke and making messes of my life and moving from one home to the other. I did not get jealous when I had to live in a tiny apartment with my broken, sensitive family after my mom passed away, missing her like crazy and feeling a constant lack in my life. You see, I never got jealous when tolerating a not-so-perfect life, because I always had a sliver of hope and positivity and a belief in myself that I will “make it,” never make the mistakes that my family made, and come out of it all glorious. I really believed in myself when no one else did.

When I asked him in the midst of my current negativity, insecurity, and jealousy about why he chose me, he told me, “You were the most real, smart, and beautiful woman I met.” So there must be something in me, right? Except I fear that this woman is gone and replaced with a negative and moody bitch! Oh God!

The thing is that, after I married him and left my broken life to be with him in his home country, I started feeling jealous from looking at all the things he had that I never had. I think part of me was trying to find a reason for my negative, broken behavior and abandonment issues that arose after I left my mess of a country. Perhaps this had to do with the relocation adjustments that I had to make, that proved to be extremely lonely, intimidating, and displacing for me. That was something that I didn’t expect because I thought I would be a much cooler and better person after being in a better place and leaving my mess behind. I was also finding it very hard to build a social circle here, one that would match the amazing set of friends that I’d made back home.

Compared to me, my husband had a great social circle here, a great, stable family and also the comfort of his own country to be the happy-go-lucky, amazing person that he is. A person that I could not be. He often reacts with “It is your fault that you don’t have friends here, etc. You should go out more, etc.” But I just fell more and more into a hole because I could not connect with so many people here (most people I met were the crazy, wild, hipster, show-offy single people that reminded sometimes of who I used to be … and I really felt like I had outgrown a lot of it). However, a part of me could not help but admire them and even wish to go back to their lifestyle so that I would not feel the loneliness and insecurity that I suddenly felt. And with that, I felt more and more jealous also of people who “made it” after moving to a new country.

I got a stable relationship with my husband, I got an amazing job in which I got promoted twice already in two years (and finally got out of the financial problems that my family has always had), I learned a new language, and I at least left part of my crazy, wild partying behind. But with this, I felt boring, lonely, and pretty much more “adult” than all the single hipsters around me. I also felt jealous of any girl who was not like me and better in any way (mostly relating to being happier than me and more emotionally stable than me), and my husband showed some signs of attraction to (although he is actually very loyal to me).

How do I get over this? Polly, please help me!

If she thinks that Polly is going to help her, she is in real trouble. In truth, Polly will recommend rearranging her mental furniture… which misses the point entirely.

Obviously, as always happens, we are lacking certain vital information. We do not know how old they are. We do not know which new country this couple is inhabiting. We do not know how pronounced the cultural differences are: moving to France is not like moving to Pakistan. She says that she has acquired the new language, but does not tell us how well she speaks it. Do other people need to accommodate her deficiencies or can she converse easily. If she just learned the language, I suspect that she is still learning. We do not know anything about the possibility of their having or not having children.

But, most importantly, we do not know how her husband’s family is treating her. The problem does not lie in the inner folds of her psyche. It lies in whether or not her husband’s family has accepted her, whether her new mother-in-law or sister-in-law-- presuming that they exist-- has welcomed her, has shown her around, has introduced her to people, and so on. And, how helpful has her husband been?

It might or might not have anything to do with anyone’s cheating, but clearly her new family has not embraced her. Even her husband seems impervious to the problem. I trust  you noted the one line she quoted: if she does not have more friends, he thinks that it’s her fault, that she needs merely to go out more. Dare I say that it’s a bad sign, a sign that someone has been reading too many Ask Polly columns, a sign that suggests either that the man and his family are socially retarded or that they are trying to undermine the marriage.

In short, she has reason for concern, even if she does not know how to use the word “jealous” in a sentence.


UbuMaccabee said...

If she thinks the way she writes, then I have no idea why he (or anyone, for that matter) would marry her. Maybe he wants to be able to move the entire family to America and she is the bridge they have all been looking for. Maybe he wants a dummy around who will remain oblivious to his serial infidelity. Maybe she has a fine ass, and that is enough. Maybe she should get out more and make her own friends.

Dan Patterson said...

An observation, and one that will create a tangle of controversy:
Women are trouble. The further they are from nurturing motherhood the worse the trouble gets.

Creating the environment to allow for nurturing motherhood - all the many things that make a society pleasant, safe, and free - should be the task taken by adult men, who today are often not up the the challenge. And so we have the present problem of un-moored females and dissatisfied males both searching for happiness and neither finding it.

UbuMaccabee said...

Dan, historically, that problem usually get sorted out with all the men being slaughtered and the women sold into slavery. If you don't fix your problems, someone usually comes along with another solution.

The pigs often survive the invasion by running off into the woods.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: You will note, with some bemusement, that she doe not know the meaning of the word “jealousy.” She mistakes it for envy and resentment.

Growing up, I frequently heard people say jealous/y when they mean envious/envy, and I can fall into that misusage myself due to my imperfect cultural upbringing, even if I doe know the correct meaning. So we doe not necessarily know she does not know it. I also notice bemusement may have an alternative meaning as contempt.

whitney said...

I think she is using the right word when it matters based on this sentence at the beginning of her letter that she never touches on again

"If I had to get more specific, I would say everything nice that my HUSBAND HAS and all the women he even pays slightly more attention to (in a weird “I find you or your personality attractive” kind of way)."

Anonymous said...

I think the country she has moved to is the US. I am a teacher and she writes like many of my ESL kids. Probably why she does not understand the meaning of jealousy and other words.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Interesting observation... one that makes a lot of sense to me.

Anonymous said...

This one is obvious. Replace 'jealousy' with 'grief' and you have a clear story. You can take the woman out of the situation, but the situation is still in the woman. After a life of hardship that she somehow survived, now that she is safe and life seems beckon her, all of a sudden the pain that she has been carrying hits her right between the eyes, and hard. The good news is that this is a transition, if she takes the right direction, it will pass. The other news is that she and her husband will probably need some help to understand what is happening to her. Feeling your feelings won't cure it, and neither will the mechanics of CBT. Interpersonal psychotherapy, short and sweet, might be an option.