Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Case of the Jealous Girlfriend

I have not written very much about the world’s least interesting advice columnist, New York Magazine’s Ask Polly, because Polly has gone from doing her column once a week to twice a month. One is terrified to think that people take Polly’s nonsense seriously, but at least the magazine has diminished its own shame by publishing less drool and drivel.

Today’s letter writer has been seeing a therapist. She says that hers is a great therapist. She has talked her problems over with her great therapist, and this has resolved precisely nothing. Duh. How does it happen that therapy patients are thoroughly happy with their great therapists, all the while making no progress dealing with their problems?

The problem concerns what appears to be jealousy. The letter writer’s boyfriend has a work relationship with a woman he once fancied. They did not hit it off as a couple, but the letter writer still thinks that her boyfriend is lusting after said woman. The letter writer is an aspiring writer. Given that she is not a working writer, it seems a bit exaggerated to call her a writer. The boyfriend’s supposed love interest is a sculptress, one who makes a living sculpting.

One does not know if the letter writer is gainfully employed. One does not know whether or not the boyfriend is her sole support. Such questions, along with those concerning marriage and family, would be pertinent and relevant. Naturally, the letter writer ignores them, because her great therapist does not care about the realities of her life.

Since Polly is going to offer up a rather old fashioned psycho interpretation, namely that the letter writer is the one who is really in love with the sculptress, one must note that this is a standard Freudian interpretation about certain types of jealousy.

I would note that Polly does not consider that the woman might have good reason to be jealous. The notion that a highly challenged newspaper columnist, one with no experience in the counseling field, knows the letter writer’s situation better than the letter writer herself, is risible.

The next time you hear someone solemnly intone that we ought to believe all women, try running this example by him or her. The woman in question knows her boyfriend. She lives with him. Do you think that she has not sensed something real? For all I know, the sculptress has been signaling the boyfriend that she lusts after him. Perhaps the boyfriend does not see it. Perhaps his girlfriend does. Making this into a mental defect misses the point completely.

Anyway, here is the letter, unredacted:

I have the best boyfriend. We’ve been together for almost two years and have lived together for over a year. Even in quarantine, he’s really the only person I can be comfortable with being around all the time. I feel like we can be alone together. We’re very different in many ways, but have learned what’s important to the other and how to communicate what we need. I’m the sensitive words-mean-everything girl and he’s the pragmatic I-do-my-talking-through-actions boy. And we work.

But there’s always this voice in my head that says he wants to be with someone else — specifically, his co-worker. I’m an “artist,” and I put that term in quotes because I’m a writer who feels like I’m not a real writer because I’ve never been published and I’ve been too afraid to put myself out there in a real way. My boyfriend works for a company that works with sculptors, and he’s the engineer who figures out how to take the sculptor’s vision and make it feasible to install in a home. The woman who I think he’d rather be with is said sculptor. They work very closely together. She’s a real artist because she makes her living doing it and has awards and outward acknowledgment of her craft.

He and I have talked about her. They were attracted to each other when they first started working together. Before he and I met, they went on a date, and it wasn’t the right fit. But I find myself obsessing over them still. I look at her Instagram and see that they have so much more in common than he and I do. She’s more talented, more worthy of him. He probably pines over her daily (and he sees, or saw, her every day at work) and wishes that it had worked out with them and feels like he’s just settling for me. These are the thought patterns that swirl through my head daily, and it’s exhausting. It leaves me little room to really enjoy what we do have, and it makes me ashamed that I’m so afraid. What am I afraid of?

I’ve been working with a great therapist and we’ve talked about this a lot. But nothing seems to really help these thoughts, that I think he wishes he were with her and not me. I do yoga, I run, I cook, I’m constantly thinking about my childhood and attachment style and trying to find the thing that is the answer to why I can’t let this go. It’s starting to drive me crazy, and then I think, “That’s it, maybe I should just put us both out of our misery and break up with him.” That’s the solution!

I want to be with him for the long haul, I want them to stop working together, I want to finish my essay and my play and my teleplay and put my work out there. I want control. I want to stop feeling so anxious and afraid of the things that mean the most to me. But I feel like I’m at a loss.

I’m Driving Myself Crazy 

You can see that her great therapist has sent her off to explore her childhood, something that merely removes her from her relationship and her everyday life. Attachment style is another psycho buzzword. Sadly, but predictably, none of this has any impact on her jealousy.

Anyway, for your edification, here is some of what Polly offers:

You don’t want your boyfriend to reassure you. You don’t even need him to love you more than he already does, or to show it more. You just need to notice how badly you want to become the sculptor. She knows something you don’t know. She has more freedom than you have. She stands up for her desires, completely, without shame, in ways that you would never let yourself. You’re a little bit in love with her, but mostly you want to become her.

Become yourself instead. Use the tools she uses and throw in some of your own. Move closer to the things that terrify and embarrass you. Find images for how you feel.

Of course, we don’t know anything about the sculptress. We do not know that she has more freedom. We do not know how attractive she is or isn’t. We do not know whether or not she stands up for her desires-- whatever does that mean?-- and what would a Freudian read into the idea of standing up for one’s desires?

Of course, Polly trots out the concept of shame, because it is very trendy and because she does not understand it. Of course, if letter writer is a failed writer she ought to feel something akin to shame. And she ought to ask herself whether or not she has the talent or the drive to become a successful writer. Shame will allow her to ask where her real talents lie, whether she wants to develop another career, or whether she prefers being a wife and mother… for instance. 

It’s not so much a question of owning her desires, or even her attachment issues, as defining her place in the world. If she wants a writing career, then she ought to figure out whether that is realistic. If it is realistic, then she ought to figure out how to advance it. If her talent lies elsewhere, she ought to figure out where. And she should stop taking advice from Polly and should fire her therapist.


urbane legend said...

How does it happen that therapy patients are thoroughly happy with their great therapists, all the while making no progress dealing with their problems?
A pastor friend told me that most people don't want answers or advice; they just want someone to listen.

My boyfriend works for a company that works with sculptors, and he’s the engineer who figures out how to take the sculptor’s vision and make it feasible to install in a home. The woman who I think he’d rather be with is said sculptor. They work very closely together.
Is this the only company client he works with? If so, she must be some artist!

They work very closely together. This gives them all the opportunity they need to decide they want each other, and for him to decide he really doesn't want you, Ms. Aspiring Writer. He keeps coming home to you. Take that as the answer you need and stop worrying.

When you stop wasting that energy and imagination on them you can put it to your writing career.

Anonymous said...

I'm a woman. in the long-ago past when I was young, I was apprehensive about other women attracting away my boyfriend. It is a lack of self-confidence that would be present whether or not this other woman exists. It's also a naive ignorance of male behavior--lack of realistic knowledge and therefore holding mistaken ideas that come from novels and film.

UbuMaccabee said...

$10 says he's already slept with the sculptor. And based on what I've heard, I can't wait to read her screenplay and her teleplay; she sounds so interesting. I wonder if she's incorporated her attachment style into her dialogue. She sounds like the next Dawn Powell.

I hope the deluge washes them all away.