Dear Kelsey, I've been with my boyfriend for two years. For the first year, we were in an open (and long-distance) relationship. During that time, he met a girl who he expressed interest in sexually, but she didn't want to be involved with someone in an open relationship, so they became friends. Nothing ever happened between them (I trust that he wouldn't lie to me about that). I’ve since moved back to the same city as my boyfriend, and she and I have even become pretty close. She has a boyfriend and is very supportive of our relationship, but it all just seems so...fake. I was very jealous of their relationship in the beginning, and often felt like he was "emotionally cheating" on me with her. He has plenty of other close female friends that I have no jealous feelings toward. But there’s just something about this woman that I can't shake. I’ve come a long way in controlling my emotional responses toward her, but it's gotten worse again recently. I'm just worried that I will never feel good about their relationship, and I’m afraid that it will ruin mine in the end. Is there anything I can do? Sincerely, Feeling Hopeless
Dear Feeling Hopeless, I have a friend who, in our early 20s, used to avoid certain liquors — or at least, declared her intention to avoid them, all the time. “No, no way, bourbon makes me angry,” she’d always say. And she was right. I could tell by her face if she’d had a Manhattan or stuck to G&Ts. Inevitably, a bourbon night would end in a fight with her boyfriend or an email she’d later regret. And yet, the lady liked a Manhattan. That’s how I think of jealousy: It’s everybody’s “bad booze.” It warps reality and turns us into the worst versions of ourselves. I can’t think of a single time jealousy has been anything but destructive in my life, but sometimes I wind up with a Manhattan in my hand. One taste of that bitter sweetness, and I know I’m ordering another. The night’s already ruined, so why not? And if I were in your shoes, I’d be double-fisting by now.
The only bright side to jealousy (and you really have to squint to see it) is that other people can see the reality of the situation — your situation, that is. Not your boyfriend’s or this woman’s. I’m not saying that I or anyone else can determine whether or not you have cause to be jealous. But even I, a stranger, can tell you with complete confidence that when you’re in the grip of jealousy, you’re in no fit state. Don’t make decisions, don’t operate heavy machinery. Any action you take will only lead to regret. Get a glass of water, sit down, and take a breath.
I realize that by writing this letter, you’re essentially doing just that — and you really do deserve credit for it. It sounds as if you’re trying so hard to be reasonable and play fair. Don’t beat yourself up about this, okay? Self-flagellation doesn’t usually help the situation either. And, anyway, we’ve all been there. We’ve not all been in an open, long-distance relationship that then became closed. I’m sure those particulars only serve to heighten the feelings you're feeling. But we have felt the choke-hold of jealousy in the presence of another person, and have wanted so badly to feel another way. Unfortunately, you can’t change your feelings any more than you can change the history of your relationship (or your boyfriend’s friendship with this woman). All you can control is how you act, now. As in so many “hopeless” situations, it comes down to asking yourself: Who do I want to be in this situation? What is your goal, and how would you best achieve it? Do you want to find out if your boyfriend has feelings for this woman? Do you want to maintain and strengthen your romantic relationship? Get clear on the “what” first, and then the “how” will become clearer. FYI, the goal cannot be something like, “I want to stop feeling jealous and feel only friendliness toward this woman.” That’s like trying to wish yourself un-drunk. Whether you decide to confront your boyfriend or keep your mouth shut, your emotions are going to do their thing until they’re done. If you try to wrestle your way out of feeling them, you’ll only wind up flat on your face. You are jealous right now — end of story. Sit there, ride it out. Call a friend to hang with you and make sure you don’t do anything crazy. Vent, cry, drink more water, and wait until you’re absolutely sure you’re thinking straight before you make any decisions. But do make them. Here’s the thing: Even if you do everything right, you might have to fight the green monster again. Whenever there are other people, there is the potential for jealousy. I know you didn’t order this nasty little cocktail, but here you are. Since you’re already impaired, the best thing you can do is prove (to yourself, more than anyone) that you’re capable of handling this situation like an adult. So just behave like the person you want to be in the sober light of morning. When you’re okay with yourself, dealing with other people becomes much easier. That’s not to say you can make this situation easy. But you can avoid making it harder on yourself.
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