Three weeks back, my partner casually spoke about his assistant director who has left her husband because he cheated on her. The woman has two children with her husband.
‘She gave him a right lesson.’ My partner quipped. But is it?
Often at discussion tables, I talk about intolerance to infidelity and am startled to see how every time, everyone in the room goes mum when it comes to sanctioning infidelity. If someone has cheated, a divorce must happen, leave apart the fact that the couple has a home to live, finances to share; sickness to care; and children to raise. I have been with my partner for more than 3 years now, and even today he forewarns me that if I ever happen to cheat on him, he will leave me. It’s such a dread for me.
But I protest. Why is sexual jealousy so rampant in love? Why is sexual infidelity so big a thing that a one night stand can topple decades of companionship? Is sexual jealousy intrinsic to human behavior or is it a culture given? Aren’t we jealous because we have grown up hearing that true love is monogamous and possessive? Aren’t we jealous because we fear that our standing, our importance, and our access to precious resources (social and emotional security; money; fixed assets) will discontinue if our partner happens to cheat?
The core emotion underlying jealousy is fear, that is jealousy is nothing but an expression of fear. If you are an elder sibling, you will know this in sibling rivalry, where sometimes we think that our parents are giving more attention and care to our other brother or sister. I have experienced it first hand with my brother and we don’t see each other eye to eye. My brother thinks that mother is more close to me because she lives with me. Whereas I being a single mother need a parental supervision to take care of my minor son, as I go out of home to work. But my mother assures us that she loves both her kids in equal measure.
Now, isn’t this in contradiction to the fact that love is exclusive and possessive? Parents always make a special point to reassure their all kids, that there is no discrimination in sharing and caring for their kids. That there’s plenty of love for everyone under the roof. That parents love all their children equally. But in case of a romantic relationship, love and sex is a finite resource on which only one partner has a singular claim. One cannot have more than 1 lover.
Is this a universal human truth or a culturally conditioned and propagated belief? Partially not because there are still many communities in this world, where sexual jealousy is disapproved. In these communities, a high emphasis on individual autonomy and group bonding is placed and sexual exchanges are seen as social exchanges, which unite many men and women together in a tribe, that is essential for tribe functioning.
In the Siriono community of Bolivia, great freedom is allowed in matters of sex to both men and women. Partners outside husband and wife couple are called as potential spouses. Each pair can have as much as 8-10 potential spouses with whom sexual relationships take place. Fights in relationships are less because of sexual infidelity and more because of sharing of food, time, and attention with a potential spouse to the neglect of the actual spouse. This is really what adultery amounts to among the Siriono.
Indeed if we have certain communities still functioning and insisting on complete sexual autonomy of their people, both men and women, sexual jealousy or possessiveness on one’s partner doesn’t seem to come natural to us. Isn’t then sexual jealousy more of a contemporary moralistic, social bias than a natural fact of behavioral science? Yes, I do agree that fear is natural. So, if we really have to study the reasons behind sexual jealousy, we have to keep aside other insecurities that lead to jealousy. We have to see what remains of jealousy after all insecurities are removed.
Christopher Ryan in his landmark book ‘Sex at Dawn’ states:
“How would the prevalence and experience of jealousy be affected in western societies if economic dependence trapping most women and their children didn’t exist, leading female sexual access to be a tightly controlled commodity? What if no woman had to worry that a ruptured relationship would leave her and her children destitute and vulnerable? What if the average guys knew they’d never have to worry about finding someone to love? What if we didn’t grow up hearing that true love is obsessive and possessive? What if, in other words, sex, love, and economic security were as available to us as they were to ancestors?”
Believe it or not, but slowly and steadily we are taking a detour towards our ancient appetite. It is no hidden fact that conventional, monogamous marriage is a full blown disaster for millions of couples right now. Wouldn’t it be great to save the marriage that heterosexual couples work out alternative arrangements that might imply loosening of sexual rigidities around their spouses, if it helps save their existing, core relationship?
I spoke to a lawyer based in Ahmedabad about his philosophy of an ideal relationship and he spoke about another model of long-term love, one which is more flexible and yet emotionally secure. He believes that until and unless his partner doesn’t get emotionally intimate with someone else or unless it begins to bother his relationship, he doesn’t mind his partner being sexually intimate with someone else.
Indeed, if fear is removed from jealousy, what’s left?