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‘I Am a Very Jealous Wife!’

Photo: Bruce Forster/Getty Images

Dear Polly,

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.

I am on the higher end of being attractive, and between all my messes and being crazily attached to all the men I slept with, I found my current husband, who, frankly, comes from the opposite background that I come from. He has a perfect family, never experienced any loss, probably had more fun than me, and never had to experience the sexual insecurity that I experienced. But I loved him for who he was, and I also loved him for the background he came from, simply because I wanted to be with someone who was “healthier” than me. He also loved me, a lot. I could see it, and I couldn’t figure out why. 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.

But I did kind of make it, or at least I achieved everything I set out to achieve after moving. 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!

Will I Ever Be Happy?

Dear WIEBH?,

Never assume people are happier and more emotionally stable than you. Scratch the surface, get to know them, investigate their layers of denial and defensive mechanisms and secret insecurities, and you will realize: These people are just like you. They might not manifest their damage as openly as you do, but they have plenty of damage that they’re grappling with nonetheless.

The heart of your problem lies in your attempts to seem happier and more emotionally stable than you are. You’re competing in an acting contest, and it’s making you feel sick inside and invisible and envious. You believe that you need to “pretend” more effectively, to “seem” healthier. But if you want to truly be healthy, you can’t turn your back on who you are. And who are you? You are someone who is deeply insecure and uncertain and broken.

I know that’s not what you want to hear, but (paradoxically!) understanding yourself as deeply insecure and uncertain and broken IS HEALTHY for you. Because the things that make you amazing are very closely tied to the struggles you’ve been through. You are real and honest because you had to be, in order to escape your mess of a past. I’ll bet you were always real and honest, too, even as a child. Don’t underestimate how rare and incredible that is! Don’t underestimate how electric it makes you. Stop underestimating your appeal as a person. Stop muting yourself. Stop focusing on your uncertainty. Stop looking for the “right” way to be. BE WHO YOU ALREADY ARE INSTEAD.

You aren’t making friends because it’s impossible to make friends when you’re pretending to be someone else. You can’t make friends when you’re trying very hard to please other people and “fix” what’s wrong with you.

You’re jealous for two reasons: (1) You’re way too fixated on becoming “better” so you’ll “match” your husband’s healthiness, and this never-ending effort is driving you crazy, and (2) you’re not allowing yourself to do the things you want to do.

So let’s address No. 1: You don’t have to become better. You don’t have to be “healthier” to be loved. You do have to love your broken self. You do have to embrace your own insecurity and recognize your own shame. Because what you experience as insecurity is actually just SENSITIVITY, once you cut out the shaming voice that tells you that you’re inadequate. Sensitivity allows you to notice how other people are; shame adds the message “And you should also be that way, but you never will be, because you’re pathetic!” You inherited that shame from your fucked-up family. But you can lop off that last part, if you try. Then all you’re left with is calm observations of how DIFFERENT other people are from you, how graceful they sometimes are, how easy it is for them to love themselves — or at least how easy it is for them to SEEM TO LOVE THEMSELVES. Don’t assume that you know them before you do, though. Don’t assume that when you see ease and grace, there isn’t turmoil underneath it. But you can still celebrate the grace you see, and appreciate it, once you stop telling yourself that it’s just more evidence of how pathetic you are.

You left a tangled mess behind. You met someone great. You moved to a new place. You learned a new language. You got a great job. In other words, you earned this life. Trust me on this: Some of those show-offy hipsters you know could never have done what you’ve done. Your broken, shaky core made all of these things possible. Do you see that?

So, what do you want? I would argue that part of you wants to be more of a show-off. Part of you wants to be more of a hipster. Part of you wants to have more fun and be more obnoxious and out there. This is not the greedy, vain, shallow part of you that wants these things. This is a very real and beautiful part of you. You’re sensitive and you’re real and you’re a show-off at heart. It sounds like you indulged in “crazy, wild partying” in order to access these elements of yourself without shame. Now your challenge is to access these things without overindulging.

I understand how hard it is to see this aspect of your picture clearly. “But I hate show-offy hipsters!” you’re liable to say. Think about that for a while. Think about what these women who supposedly catch your husband’s eye are doing, and think about the space that they’re claiming for themselves that you want to claim. This isn’t really about your husband at all. Sure, it can be difficult to feel like you’re the broken one in a marriage. But I’m sure your husband has his deficits, too, even if they’re not manifestations of family dysfunction. If there’s one thing that’s a safe bet in this world, it’s this: ALL MEN HAVE DEFICITS.

All humans have deficits, of course. But as a woman who’s been married for 13 years now, I feel pretty secure in my assessment that most men have subtle-at-first deficits that become clearer over time. And even though it’s a little bit more compassionate and egalitarian not to point these things out, I think it’s FUN to point them out. And if you don’t like that, in the words of the prophet J. Cole, get the fuck off my dick.

Two of my favorite prophets, J. Cole and Vince Staples, tell people to get the fuck off their dicks all the time, presumably because that’s just how they feel and, honestly, people are just all over their dicks around the clock. It’s a real problem, apparently. Staples also told his flock, “You a fan, I’m the man, it’s a difference.” Nasty! But in the social-media-driven, new world order of needing to please everyone everywhere all the time, I appreciate this bold assertion of arrogance. I appreciate how these prophets own their conflicted natures, their rage, their insecurity, too (J. Cole is big on insecurity and shame, actually). I love how these artists take whatever they have, ALL OF IT, and throw it in your face.

There are shortcomings to that model of existence. There are shortcomings to EVERY model of existence. You can walk around telling people the truth about who you are, or you can swan around pretending that you’re better than you are. You can choose some middle path that doesn’t require you to show yourself completely but doesn’t require that much pretending, either. Only you know what is right for you. But when it comes to these women who catch your husband’s eye: Don’t get hung up. You’re his smart, amazing wife, and they’re pretty sparks in the night. It’s a difference. Remember who you are, and be a little arrogant about it for a change.

If your husband is truly hung up on these sparks in the night? That’s on him. It’s not about you. It’s not even personal, really. It might just be your path into his damage, his issues, his deficits. They have to come out eventually. Every marriage involves several big moments of reckoning. That’s just how marriage is. That’s also why marriage is the realm in which you’d find yourself the MOST insecure. BECAUSE THIS IS TRUE INTIMACY. Before, you were surviving. You were in escape mode. Now? YOU ARE HERE. You have to be present. You can’t hide from each other. That’s what makes marriage such a thrill and a trial and an opportunity to grow.

Beyond the marriage, though, it’s time to claim your right to be your broken, insecure, sensitive self, and to also be your wild, show-offy self.  It’s time to show the world who you really are, without feeling embarrassed by it, without preemptively deciding that you’re inferior just because you’ve been through some shit.

Lately I keep thinking about the time Matt Damon told Jimmy Fallon about how he met Prince. Being Matt Damon, he somewhat awkwardly asked Prince, “So, do you still live in Minnesota?” And Prince turned and looked Matt Damon right in the eyes and said, “I live inside my own heart, Matt Damon.”

I know it sounds absurd, but that’s how I want to be. I want to own the way I live and what I create to the point where I could turn to someone like Matt Damon and say something as Prince-like as “I live inside my own heart, Matt Damon.”

But I also want to be Matt Damon in that scenario. Because Matt Damon knows how embarrassing it is to be Matt Damon sometimes, and he doesn’t mind making fun of Matt Damon anyway. That’s a way of taking up space and refusing to apologize for yourself, too: Showing the world how fucking weak and dumb and small-talk-y you can be sometimes is brave. Owning your Matt Damon-ness is very impressive, particularly for the actual Matt Damon.

I want to own my Prince and own my Matt Damon. I want to be show-offy and arrogant and weird and wild and I want to be ordinary and self-effacing and humble and funny, too.

Prince would not be Prince if he weren’t broken. Matt Damon would not be Matt Damon if he hadn’t been humbled and eaten some shit and also learned how to function somewhat pragmatically in this world. (Did he eat enough shit? I don’t know, and honestly, I don’t care enough about Matt Damon to learn more. He seems to take himself less seriously than he once did, at the very least. I’m more interested in Matt Damon As Metaphor than Matt Damon As Actual Person. )

Prince is an artist on the outside because that’s what he loves. Matt Damon is amiable and self-deprecating on the outside because that’s what works and gets him work and feels right to him. Prince is more of a goal. Matt Damon is more of a practical compromise, a way of settling for the jackass you already are instead of blaming yourself for it so much that you can’t even show your face.

So this is what I want to say to you: Humans are contradictory and complex and conflicted by nature. You are not just one thing. You can be overwhelmed and ashamed and still be amazing. You’re angry at yourself for feeling insecure, even though your circumstances (new country, new life, new marriage, new friends) are incredibly challenging. You also want some things that you’re afraid to want. You don’t think you have the right. You want to be wild without being reckless or drunk or promiscuous. You grew stronger and more mature but you DID NOT OUTGROW your show-off-y hipster self. You want to be a very big, loud weirdo on the outside again. That’s not a pose for you, it’s real. Your anger at these hipsters may spring from that: You are a true weirdo, whereas they just like SEEMING weird. I’m not casting aspersions, I’m just saying that might be your feeling about them. You want to show yourself more. You want to live out in the open.

You can keep your job and still do that, just like I can (miraculously) give you some solid advice and also digress about Matt fucking Damon, of all people. All people contain multitudes. All people are wild and inconsistent and show-offy, underneath the mumbled small talk about Minnesota. All people are embarrassed and embarrassing. All people are a tiny bit broken, no matter how healthy they seem on the outside. All people want to connect, even when they’re angry, even when they’re afraid. All people are a tiny bit abrasive when they are handed the mic.

I’m handing you the mic now. What do you want to say? What do you want to be, on the outside? That real, smart, beautiful woman you were when you met your husband is still right here. She is right here, waiting for you to wake up and let her out.

Last night I had the craziest dream that this crush from years ago was in love with me. He said “I can see you now.” He was a musician I knew in my 20s. I envied him so much that I fell in love with him. When I woke up, I realized that the dream wasn’t just about being seen or admired or feeling attracted to someone, it was also about allowing myself room to be who I am. I want to write music. I used to write music and I stopped. I fell in love with a musician instead. I gave away my gifts instead of honoring them. I gave away my power by pretending it belonged to someone else. I focused on what I didn’t have. I focused on what other people could do that I wasn’t allowed to do. This was not some greedy, vain, shallow part of me that wanted to make music. This was a very real and beautiful part of me. Bu I wasn’t allowed to want things. That was my core belief. I couldn’t believe in a dream that would never come true.

This is what broken people do. They abandon their truest desires. I want you to understand that we never stop being broken, either. You need to understand that, because it’s much better to work with that and maneuver around it and hack it and trick it and dance with it than it is to pretend that you’re FIXED and YOU’VE OUTGROWN YOUR PAST NEEDS. You still need things. You will still want new things. That’s okay. You’ve got to embrace how broken you are so you can access what’s real and strong inside of you. Listen to this envy and what it tells you about your truest desires. Your husband might be a little harsh with you about making new friends, but I’m pretty sure that you’re the only one who thinks these show-offs have something that you don’t have. That’s reality.

This is also reality: You are allowed to have anything you want. Take what is yours. Every single person alive has a genius knocking loudly on their door, in the middle of the night. My dream was my genius knocking. Your jealousy is your genius knocking. Let your genius in. Give your genius some fucking room to work. Worship and honor your genius. Dance with your genius. Praise your genius. Show off. Have some fun for a change. Think of Prince. Or say to yourself what Stevie Nicks sometimes says to herself when she takes the stage: “Walk with me, Prince.”

You have not outgrown your own desire to be big and wild. You never will, thankfully. Feel yourself. Enjoy yourself. You are broken and you are divine.


Order Heather Havrilesky’s new book, What If This Were Enough?here. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

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‘I Am a Very Jealous Wife!’