Jealousy, the Mind & Free Will

I received a letter recently from a friend of mine in which he talked frankly of his jealousy within his relationship. I understood because I used to get jealous, although I think with me it was much more an issue of insecurity – but then isn’t that where it all starts anyway? When I was younger I used to worry my girlfriend would find someone else better than me.

For example, when I was 23, living in Germany and dating a German girl, I remember seeing her talking freely and fluently with her friends, thinking, ‘She is bound to leave me eventually (for a German guy) because my German is not good enough.’ I would hear her on the phone to other people and my mind would have me question the meaning of what she was saying.

Here, of course, my mind was on to a winner because it enjoyed the added bonus of me not understanding everything in German, which increased the doubt. It is amazing how, in our desperation to make sense of things, we fabricate meaning from the tiniest of morsels. In my mind I would make things up from scraps of information I heard or read.

The classic scenario of finding her diary lying around while she was out for the evening, was the turning point for me. I had the chance to find out whether any of the things my mind had been telling me were true or not, but I knew it was wrong to read the diary. In the 10-20 seconds it took for the deliberation to run its course, I reasoned that even if I did read it and I found things I didn’t like, how could I possibly confront her with it? I would have been in the wrong, regardless of what I found.

From then on I avoided listening to her telephone conversations (mostly to deprive my mind of the information it used to sow the seeds of insecurity) and didn’t go anywhere near notes or letters which she left lying around. ‘What’s the point?’, I thought. ‘Why spend my time trying to prove something which my mind is creating for itself?

Nowadays, I believe in my capacity to know if there is something wrong in my relationship. If that happens then I can take appropriate action – if I deem it necessary. And if I don’t know, then surely there is an argument for ignorance being bliss.

In fact, a few years earlier (1989) I had an experience which demonstrates the knowing part. I was dating a different girl and she had been out on the Saturday night whilst I had stayed home. The next day she came over to see me and I immediately felt that something was not right. However, I was reluctant to confront her because that would have made it very easy for her to play the ‘Don’t you trust me?!’ game (‘game’ in the TA sense). I decided to say nothing.

Within half an hour, my best friend called me to tell me that my girlfriend had flirted with him last night. More than that, she had tried it on with him and generally pushed things so far that two of our friends (both girls) had to intervene to tell her that, ‘You don’t do that, and you certainly don’t try to come between two good friends.’ With my original feelings confirmed, I confronted her and, soon after, the relationship was over (it wasn’t just because of that, I might add).

My approach these days is that if I cannot tell something is wrong with my relationship, I carry on as if everything is fine. Why waste my time and energy and make myself miserable with thoughts of what might be going on? If I feel loved then that is all that matters. There is no need for any debate about what may or may not be happening.

It is the same as the question of free will. I have heard people question whether we have free will, or whether our fate is predetermined. It doesn’t matter, because nobody can say for sure whether we have free will or not. We may have it or we may not. But essentially none of that matters, because – and this is the important part – we don’t know for sure that we don’t have it. With that in mind, let us consider the four basic scenarios (based on whether free will exists, along with our certainty of knowledge), listed here along with the resulting experience:

Caveat: This is a simplistic approach because in every case we still have the option to choose how we experience life.

In the first two scenarios we have free will. In the other two we don’t, but in only one of those – scenarios #3 – do we have the certain knowledge that we have no control over our fate. The important point here is that with scenario #4, even if we don’t have free will, it doesn’t really matter because we do not know for sure that we don’t have it. So, that means we may as well assume we do have free will. The effect is the same. And so it is in relationships:

* This is by no means the only option.
† There is no love, but if we cannot tell, then we can still feel loved which may be better than feeling nothing at all. Ideally, if the illusion persists, it is up to the other person to put things straight (if they wish to), which can be very difficult.

If we do not know for sure that something is wrong and we still feel as loved as we wish to be, then why waste time and energy wondering whether or not something is going on? Enjoy what you have, because worrying about losing it means you are likely to lose it. Statistically, given the four options, there is a 50% chance we are actually loved and a 75% chance of us experiencing being loved (whether illusory or not). So, given those odds, it is amazing the lengths to which we go to sabotage our own happiness. Why?

This day, 11 years ago: Not as Good as I Think I Am

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