The Dark Side of Being Jealous in Love

February 1, 2012  |  

I remember a “relationship” I had with a guy in college. I put relationship in quotes because we never quite made it to that point after months of talking and soon you’ll see why.

In school there’s typically parties almost every weekend and me and my friends were pretty much at one every week, as was he. After we’d see each other and speak, maybe have a dance or two, an odd “who can make the other more jealous” competition always seemed to brew between us and the night would take a drastic turn for the worse in no time. If he saw me dancing with a guy, he told me he’d never speak to me again, if I saw him dancing with a girl, I’d find another guy to dance with even harder. We’d go off about one another for the rest of the night to each of our friends, get on their nerves, and probably start a fight with them as well; he’d text me the next morning to see if I was still mad, and the next week we’d do it all over again. When I came across one of his female friends who I’d made out to be my number one enemies in my mind even though they were “not that cute”—inappropriate words were sure to flow. And if he saw me with any other guy, a question and answer period about the “ugly dude” was sure to follow. We were a hot, jealous, childish mess, and thankfully that’s all behind us.

Turns out, we’re not alone though. While you’d expect people in love—which we were not—to be all roses and sunshine, turns out the love a person has for their partner can actually make them more hateful to everyone around them. When participants in a small study at Florida State University were told to think about how madly in love they are with their partner, they were much more likely to make negative comments about people in photos they were shown and to rate them as unattractive. When these same participants were told to simply think about feeling intense sexual desire for their partner, they had neutral reactions to the images.

The responses were even stronger when the participants were shown images of prospective daters for a new university dating site. Not only were the people in the images attractive, they were also single, on their campus, and looking for a relationship. This time, there were nothing but negative adjectives and ratings when participants were reminded of how in love they were with their partner, since the people in the photos now posed an immediate threat. Those who were the self-reported jealous types didn’t even have to be reminded of being in love to make harsh critiques.

Jon Maner, a psychologist at Florida State, said the results show love, although a positive emotion, has a huge dark side. “The surge of romantic love lead [participants] to derogate these people. The more love they felt for their partner, the more negatively they tended to evaluate these objectively attractive members of their own sex.”

Jennifer Leo, a study researcher and graduate student, also said the participants somehow felt they were sustaining their own relationships by making others out to be undesirable. “Ultimately, love works in the service of protecting the relationship and maintaining it into the long term. Even if that means acting out.”

You can see this dynamic in it’s most extreme form played out on Snapped every week with women who refuse to let anyone else have the men in their lives but them. I’m not sure how me and the guy I was dating thought making each other jealous proved that point but I think we were somehow trying to prove why each of us should want the other by showing how desirable we were to other people. By the time we’d matured a little bit, he’d told me he never thought I was really interested in him. I don’t know how he didn’t gather that from me grinding all up on another man in front of him, but let’s just say that was the last time I used that as a mating tactic. I also learned to curb my own jealous tendencies when dating. It doesn’t matter how attractive or unattractive people around you are, a man is going to be where he wants to be. And your own jealous behavior ends up making you look less attractive in the end.

Are you the jealous type? Have you ever acted out when you perceived other people to be a threat to your relationship?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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