Let’s talk about jealousy.
For the first year of our relationship, Guo Jian didn’t have a jealous streak as though there were a narrow line through this personality that would occasionally get crossed; he had a jealous ten-lane highway, a jealous full head of raging dreadlocked hair, a serious jealousy ISSUE.
I admit that I’m judgmental of jealousy. I see it as a surface mask for more truthful emotions beneath its glare. Namely fear. Fierce lightening fear. Branching off from fear is insecurity, like splintered tree limbs that have been singed and struck by that same lightning. All together, the solid base of love gets rocked by this storm and it’s not worth it.
I know because I’ve suffered it in my own limbs. Many times.
Skies eventually clear when we admit our fears. It’s not easy. It takes courage. Courage takes practice.
When a person in our lives is jealous, especially the person we love the most, I’ve learned that there is nothing to be done except reassure them, stay as loving as possible and wait for the storm to pass.
I’m grateful that the storm season is now over with Guo Jian, but I really wondered then if we would be able to weather it. I doubted my resolve. Let’s just say that I lost my proper rain gear in my break-up with my ex. I left it dripping and nearly worn out in the downstairs closet of the home that I had to leave. Having come from a long-term open relationship, I had had to stare down the billowing clouds of jealousy many times, both in myself and in my ex-partner’s eyes.
Guo Jian, on the other hand, had never been in a relationship for longer than a year and a half. He had certainly never professed his love to another the way he had to me. He had never proposed or had visions of a shared lifetime with someone. For him, this “real thing” came with a brand new set of emotions that he was still unwrapping.
And that’s not an excuse, just a little perspective.
In the first year of our relationship, Guo Jian was repeatedly jealous in what seemed to be random ways. I couldn’t figure it out. I tried looking for the patterns like it was a brainteaser needing to be solved, but the more I looked, the more bewildering it became.
The most confounding thing was this: he was only jealous of men.
Even though he knows that I am much more likely to be drawn to women or be around women who are interested in other women (my GLBTQ community), he was still only ever jealous of men. His illogical targets couldn’t be rationalized away.
He argued that it wasn’t me he didn’t trust; it was other men.
He argued that I still hadn’t figured out how Chinese men operate and that I was often sending mixed signals. He insisted he could see his friends checking me out and, even though he acknowledged that I had no idea of this (I’ve never really been able to read men, spoken about in this blog), he would express his anger about it to me (on me?) rather than to them, which I found to be…
Absurd. Illogical. Infuriating.
Once, we attended a friend’s wedding and a group of us posed for a photograph. In typical Western style, I put my arm around the shoulder to my left and my other arm around Guo Jian’s shoulder to the right. The person on my left was a guy who I now know is a particularly well-known player in the scene, meaning: he gets around, particularly with Western women.
Reputations and histories are invisible to newcomers. What’s more, I certainly had no idea that, in Chinese culture, posing that way for a group shot would send mixed signals to the opposite sex. Apparently the guy in question watched me too closely that night. I’ve always thought this guy looks a creepy, balding grasshopper so, needless to say, I didn’t even notice his attention.
The winds were fierce that night, however.
Another time, I shared a cab back from a voice-over job with the male recording partner who lived in my neighbourhood. The guy and I sat together in the back of the taxi chatting. In those days, when I was still building a social network here, the opportunity to chat in English was a coveted one, even with a random work colleague that I’d likely never see again.
This person’s gender was completely irrelevant to me. Not to Guo Jian, however.
Apparently, in Chinese culture, only couples will sit beside each other in the back of the taxi, especially if only two people are travelling. If the man and the women aren’t together, they’ll sit separately, one in the front and one in the back. If one of the people (like me) is already romantically unavailable, the other is supposed to—respectfully—sit separately. (I used to make the fights worse by challenging his straight and narrow perception of coupledom in these moments.)
Not only could I not verify these claims, culturally, but I simply had no template for “proper” heterosexual behaviour in any culture. I felt cornered by both my lack of experience and cultural ignorance. Not to mention feeling cornered by an overreacting partner who would not back (the hell) down.
The fact that this male recording partner was also Western was not a point that could penetrate Guo Jian’s logic. Seeing us get out of the cab together from the back seat told him, somehow, that this man was clearly making the moves on me. But to add density to absurdity, in his mind, I was additionally negligent in letting him sit beside me, thus encouraging those so-called “moves.”
“Why didn’t you sit in the front?” He asked me, angrily.
“Because I sat in the car first!” I said defiantly.
“Does he have your phone number?”
“Of course he does! He called me for the job!”
“Did he hit on you?”
“Guo Jian, the guy’s married with three kids. Relax! Did you forget that I generally don’t even like men? And the more ridiculous you act, the less I like you!”
I hate being cornered. I kick my way out of them, at least verbally. And so I admit that I wasn’t very calm or kind in some of these situations. I lost my patience more than once.
I think the door frames rattled in our house that night. At least my head felt like they did.
And these are the just a couple of small jealous moments. There were a few fights that I never want to talk about again. I want to wash them away from my memory.
In the heart of those passionate extremes, I would ask myself what I was doing and why. What was it about this man that was enough to warrant these tempestuous tirades that I’d find myself enduring? And what was wrong with me that I was still enduring yet more of the brain-draining, heart-sopping mess called jealousy. Here I’d thought monogamy was supposed to solve all that! Why was he so insecure in our love? Why couldn’t he believe, as I did, that the strength of that love could always ward off any potential interlopers? What was he really so afraid of?
I never got the answers to all those questions, but one day, I woke up to realize that we hadn’t had a fight fuelled by jealousy in a really long time. The last time was just shortly after the last of our three weddings, January 2010.
Guo Jian later admitted that he had often overreacted in those early days of our relationship. He then said to me, “I know that women are more your thing, but I just have never thought of women as a threat and I’m just not wired to view your friends that way. Besides, Chinese women are more affectionate with each other than Western women, so it doesn’t bother me when you’re close with your friends.” But then he added quickly, “Though it’s still not okay if you hook up with someone—male or female!”
I feel the same way. That is, about him hooking up with others.
And part of me feels relieved (probably unjustly) that he not only doesn’t see women as equal threats, but he doesn’t see them as greater threats. I realize that this is perhaps homophobic of him to be emotionally dismissing the significance of same-sex female relationships, or at minimum it’s a byproduct of his particular socialization in Chinese culture. Regardless, he is at ease with women in my life even though he understands, intellectually, that I’m attracted to them. And that’s a huge win-win for both of us.
One night about six months after our wedding, Guo Jian put his hand on my leg to stop me from getting out of the car after we’d parked outside our house. He was facing forward, looking out the windshield from the passenger seat. “What is it?” I asked, concerned. In a gentle voice, he just said that he was so glad that we were married. His eyes glinted from the streetlights and I almost mistook their shine for tears. “Now we’re really together,” he said turning to me, “And I can relax.”
I had no idea how much he had viewed the commitment of marriage as a sky-clearing form of permission to no longer be jealous, insecure, and afraid. If matrimony is what it took for him to get it together, then consider this a big thank you note to our marriage license. Whatever it took, I’m so glad that jealousy has been kicked out of our skies.
I held his hand for a moment and then reached out and stroked his face. Then I said, “I fell in love with you… no matter how much of a pain in the ass you are,” (我爱上你了，不管你那么讨厌！）and I punched him playfully. We got out of the car together, both smiling.
It was a beautiful, clear night.