Italian culture can be a very jealous one. Especially for people from older generations, it can very well be perceived in a substantially different way than today. A way that sometimes goes beyond the chivalry it claims to aim at and more towards unbalanced and unhealthy relationships.
The reasons behind this could be several, from cultural factors to genetics, but it is a reality in the country still today. Among my closest friends, I’ve seen jealousy destroying relationships and – on the other hand – trust making them flourish.
I was happy to grow up with an inspiring example in my own house. My parents have never been jealous of each other, not that I could notice, anyway. The trust they put in God and in the faith they both shared was so certain that jealousy was simply not in the picture.
But growing up in Southern Italy, where jealous behaviour is arguably more spread than in any other part of the peninsula, it was not easy to process this feeling in a healthy way.
The majority of the people claiming jealousy is healthy in a relationship would argue that without it there would be no desire and therefore no passion and love. Jealousy would come from the animal world in which the fight for survival is such that not being possessive would mean eventually losing your partner, and therefore denying yourself an offspring.
Luckily, humans have evolved to use reason and overcome these mental limitations. Loving someone also means putting our trust in them, and it is possible to distinguish desire and being possessive towards the other.
When I was 17, in my first meaningful relationship with Jane (not her real name), I struggled in understanding this. The environment surrounding me was such that, when she went out on her own with her friends, some people around me would make me feel like I should prevent that from happening, that it was not a “nice” thing and that she would cheat on me eventually, shouldn’t I stop her.
Of course, that was complete nonsense. Sadly, you can always find a time or place to cheat on someone, and despite the circumstances you find yourself in, ultimately it comes to whether you actually care about that person enough to be respectful towards them or not. Today there’s so much being said about cheating and its multiple and evolving forms that it’s hard to deny this.
I was jealous of Jane. I would sometimes not sleep at night thinking that she was out there somewhere with someone. I tried to talk to her about it, but somehow my words came out always harder than I had intended them to be.
She had a strong sense of independence and she trusted me so deeply that all I could say about being jealous would come as completely pointless to her.
In time, me and Jane went our separate ways, but her looks of trusting certainty always stayed with me. Sometimes I think, why can’t we all see love the way she did?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is as simple as cruel. Her utter trust in love came with a naivety for which there’s rarely a place in this world.
She always said that she preferred to have trust and get hurt than not trusting love at all. A brave stand, but a dangerous one. She did get hurt- and more than once – because of that, but she never lost her smile.
My awareness of jealousy and its disruptive effects on relationships grew along with my experience. I was always attracted by sociable and independent women, so I soon realised that supporting your partner also meant to push them to be the better version of themselves. Of course, by repressing someone’s natural social curiosity, you’re surely not doing them a favour. On the contrary, you’re egotistically hindering their personal growth and leading your relationship towards the end or – even worse – to develop in particularly unhealthy directions.
So how can we reach this conclusion in our own personal relationships? I’m painfully aware that one thing is to speak about things like these hypothetically, and a whole different one is to apply these principles to real life.
As mentioned above, It has also been argued that without jealousy there’s no desire. That is (un)fortunately, also untrue. You can desire someone so ardently and still wish for their wellbeing and independence. Of course, if someone is threatening your partner physically or psychologically, the instinct of protecting them is strong. But even in those case (extreme situations aside), we should have the delicacy to ask whether they want us to intervene or not.
For me, the thing that helped me most in reaching the conclusion that I had to let jealousy go altogether was honest conversation with my partner, but also letting go of my insecurities.
Of course, no one is perfect, and like Jane, putting your trust in someone so completely leaves you exposed and vulnerable in some ways. But also, there is a great strength and peace of mind that comes from truly trusting your other half.
Leaving who you love free to meet whoever they want without making them feel guilty or just talking about tensions before they escalate and became issues can help a relationship a great deal, and I’ve experienced it first-hand.
I won’t say that it always comes easily to me because that wouldn’t be true. Even now, when old and unpleasantly familiar thoughts come to mind sometimes, it’s not easy to ignore them or let them go. The difference is that now I have the tools and clarity to identify these thoughts for what they are: personal insecurities.
Why do we doubt that person so close to us? We’re scared to get hurt so we put up a wall of fears and tensions, hoping that will help when the other betrays our trust, especially if we were already betrayed before.
But you know what? That wall is preventing communication and damaging your relationship every day. Trusting someone wholeheartedly and receiving the same feeling in return, on the other hand, is such a wonderful sensation that I have every intention of keep believing in human trust and fight to erase jealousy from my life completely.