I’ve always been that girl who says “I totally have no problem with my boyfriend talking to other girls,” or “If he wants to flirt, that’s fine. He’s a natural flirt. He comes home to me.” I’ve even upped the ante and said, out loud, “I don’t mind if my boyfriend goes to strip clubs.”
But, like almost everything I say, all of these declarations require addendums.
I don’t have a problem with my boyfriend talking to other girls, as long as I know said other girls. If they’re old friends, I need to have heard about them numerous times. If they’re new friends, I need to be introduced. I have to be familiar with the notion of this girl to whom he’ll be speaking. It helps me digest it better, curbs my natural inclination toward suspicion.
I’m fine with the flirting, with the actions of the “natural flirt” of a boyfriend that it seems I’ve found myself claiming for the last, oh, ten years of my life. But it cannot be overt flirtation. Just subtleties that are almost flirting: Coy smiles and soft voices are flirtations to me. That, I’m okay with. Outright body-leaning-in, obvious flattery and inquiring of phone numbers? Not so much.
Strip clubs? Hey, I’ve been to a strip club or fifty in my life. I don’t mind them one bit. So, no I don’t mind if my boyfriend goes. But I prefer that I’d be there with him. Because it’s one thing to look at boobs with your girlfriend, another thing entirely to look at boobs while your girlfriend is at home. If he takes me with him, I feel like it’s an experience we’re sharing. There’s nothing to hide if you’re okay with me being there, too. But, still, in most circumstances, I’m okay with a guy’s night at a strip club. But not one man alone, and not with the intent to chat up the strippers. And no lap dances. There has to be a line somewhere.
But, you know, in noticing that all of the “liberties” I “grant” require provisos, I’ve noticed something: I’m jealous. I’m jealous and competitive and not that liberal at all. Hmph. And, as with most things in my life, I was the last one to know about this. Or rather, I’ve just now admitted it to myself.
My ex used to check out girls when he was with me. I tried and tried to get him to stop, but he wouldn’t, claiming that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. “It’s not like I’m being unfaithful,” he’d say with a smile meant to distract me from the anger.
Though always weak in the face of that smile of his, I’d persist: “It’s not about fidelity. It’s about winning.” I struggled to demonstrate the complexities of the female brain, while he looked on in confusion. “Look,” I’d say, “if I’m walking through a mall, and some guy who is obviously with his girlfriend – holding her hand or whatever – checks me out, I’ve won. Because I can say, ‘Oh, man. That guy, who is with that girl, just totally checked me out. Poor girl.’ He’s supposed to be with her, into her, but I was able to distract him. I won. And I don’t want some other girl winning, while I’m there, holding your hand, stupidly unaware that other girls are winning all over the place.”
He said he understood and agreed to stop. A week later, when he thought, apparently, that he was a vampire and therefore invisible in mirrors, I caught a reflection of him totally checking out another girl.
“She just won,” I said without even looking at him. “No woman should win but me.”
I considered it my competitive nature, not my jealousy, that was making me miserable in that situation. But looking at it now, I’m sure I was just jealous that some other woman was garnering the attention of the man I called mine.
Thanksgiving Eve is a big night around these parts. Actually, it’s probably big everywhere as a night of reunions with friends who’ve moved away, but whose families still reside in your town. Everyone comes home for Thanksgiving, and they all go out to local bars and catch one another up on their careers, their love lives, their lives in general.
“Did you want to go out Thanksgiving Eve?” I asked Billy as we readied ourselves for work Tuesday morning.
“What do you want to do?” he replied as he squeezed Colgate onto his new toothbrush.
“I don’t really care. It’s not a big deal to me. I didn’t grow up here, so the thrill is kind of lost on me. But I thought maybe you’d like to. I’m happy to go if you want to.”
He began to brush his teeth, but stopped before the brush reached his mouth. “No. Nope, nope, nope. Because I just know I’ll get in trouble if we go out.”
“What do you mean?” I laughed, rubbing lotion into my legs.
“I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but I know that somehow, I’ll wind up in trouble with you by the end of the night, so we should probably just stay in.”
“What are you talking about?” I demanded, playfully jabbing him in the ribs.
“Because I’m going to know people and have to talk to them, which means I won’t be able to give you my full attention. Which you’ll take as ignoring you. And some of the people I know will be female. And you’ll think I’ve either dated or slept with them, and be angry with me for even looking at them. So no. Let’s rent a movie or something.”
I started to argue, but the sharp sting of truth kept me quiet. He was right. Last year, we went out, and I spent the evening alternately pretending to be interested in the various historical recaps of his youth that he shared with friends, and pretending to not be bothered by the fact that some of the people he introduced me to didn’t bother acknowledging me at all. I spent much of the night studying my cocktail glass and smoking too many cigarettes so that I had something to with my hands. But I seldom meet his friends, and it’s rarer still that I am introduced to them, so I plastered a smile to my face and ran with it. Because he’s my boyfriend and I love him and it doesn’t always have to be about ME.
But I was irritated. I remember getting mad, sitting there, surrounded by too-loud music and no one to talk to. “I came to be with him,” I said to myself, “not to be out alone.” But the more accurate picture is probably that I was just jealous. Because other people had his attention. The attention that I don’t want just for the sake of wanting it, but because it’s his, and he has a way of making you feel like you’re the only person in the world when he’s talking to you. I was aware of the way some of the women looked at him. Because of the way he makes everyone feel special. Because everyone loves him. And I wanted to post a sign on his smooth forehead, over his sincere smile, announcing my possession of him, but I couldn’t. So, instead, I asked probing questions all the way home; questions that stopped just short of “So, did you ever sleep with [insert description of woman here]?”
“I promise you won’t be in trouble,” I said, wiping my hands on the hand towel.
“Oh, you can’t fool me. I know. I’ll be in trouble. Somehow.” He had begun brushing, and his words came out clumsy and garbled.
I sighed and gathered my belongings to leave the bathroom.
“When are you going to trust me?” He asked, his mouth now filling with frothy toothpaste.
He spit. “No you don’t. You think you’re liable to lose me at any second.” He paused, perhaps considering the ridiculousness of the fact that I actually do feel that way. “Just trust me.”
I started to say that old worn out line about it’s not YOU I don’t trust; it’s your friends/other women. But it occurs to me that that’s not saying much. When it comes down to it, you’re still telling him you think he’s not strong enough to overcome the temptation of other women or peer pressure. Which, is basically, saying he’s weak and – Ta-Daa! – you don’t trust him. So I stopped. “I do trust you. I do. I’m just…Jealous.”
“REALLY?” he said, in that sarcastic, Oh my god I never thought of that before! How positively enlightening! way. I slapped him on the butt and went to open the bathroom door.
He grabbed my hand and pulled me back to him, attempting to kiss my just made-up face with his Colgate-rimmed mouth. I backed away, he moved in, back away, move in. We danced like that until I howled with laughter and finally allowed a gentle kiss on my lips.
“You’re such a weirdo,” I said, licking the minty paste from my lips.
But the conversation left me wondering where the murky line between trust and jealousy lies. Can you trust and be jealous at the same time? Are they mutually exclusive? Or do lack of trust and jealousy just mean the same thing?
Because, the way I see it, it’s not that Billy’s ready to run off at the first sign of trouble, or at the first glimpse of a stripper’s boob. It’s just that I see him as the most attractive, charismatic, charming, intelligent, warm, funny, incredible man on the face of the earth. And any woman who sees that is going to do her best to get him from me. In my sick imagination, the sight of him walking into a room is followed immediately by the sound of hundreds of panties falling to the floor.
Of all of the impressions a girl can have of her boyfriend, isn’t that the best kind to have? I mean, does he really want me to see him as a loser who, when he goes out, people go out of their way to NOT talk to?
But the side effect of having this glorified opinion of him is jealousy. I know that he wouldn’t betray me. I do. I don’t believe he’d ever hurt me that way. I know he loves me and only has eyes for me. But I’m still jealous.
“I do like where your head’s at,” he said when I presented him with my quandary. “But why can’t you still think of me that way, and then think, ‘And he’s all mine.’?”
“Because it doesn’t work that way,” I told him.
Or can it?
Because this jealousy? It kills me. I know it can stem from insecurity and lack of faith, but can’t it also be attributed to just having an awesome boyfriend that you don’t want another bitch to even think about putting her paws on? Because that’s where I think mine comes from.