Cary’s classic column from FRIDAY, SEP 26, 2008
I’m not real crazy about the idea. Should I be jealous?
I am writing to you because I need to hear an opinion from someone who does not already love me or think I’m amazing. I need objectivity, beautiful and philosophical objectivity.
I have been dating a man (he’s 27, I’m 30) since January and we recently moved in together at his insistence and despite my reluctance. My reluctance stems from the fact that he has never had a serious girlfriend, and while he is loving in a somewhat aloof way and has made it clear to me that he cares about me, he has not yet told me he loves me.
He is on vacation right now, visiting friends, with plans to head to California to meet up with a young woman that he “met” via MySpace. We’re not talking lunch either — he will be staying with her, at her place, for an entire week.
Apparently they have been e-mailing, then speaking on the telephone, for the better part of the past year. She has been going through a divorce, and has expressed to him that he is the “only friend she has” that she can talk to about things.
I questioned whether he really wanted to do this back in April when he was making these plans. He laughed at me and thought I was jealous, then reassured me that I can trust him and that he is just “visiting a friend.” And don’t even get me started on what her expectations may be — a young almost divorcée whose Internet “buddy” is coming to stay for a week? I can only imagine what she has planned, and I’m trying really hard not to!
Now he’s gone, and I should have told him how I feel (I’m angry! I feel disrespected and disappointed!) before he left. So do I let him know how I’m feeling? Possibly ruin his vacation? Or do I keep it to myself, suffer through the week he’ll be with her and discuss it with him when he returns? Or do I just start perusing the apartment listings? Am I making a big deal out of nothing? Is this the way things work these days? Are the lines of morality blurred by all these electrons flying around?
Anxiously Living in Sin
Dear Anxiously Living in Sin,
I’m going to try to make this fairly quick and straightforward. There are many reasons why a man living with a woman ought to be able to conduct a variety of friendships with other women, friendships in which they are not having sex, friendships that involve staying in the same place, even perhaps sleeping in the same bed chastely. I mean, there are many reasons such a thing ought to be possible. We are complex creatures with many needs for the society of others, and primary relationships ought not stifle us or limit us unnecessarily. I mean, a man ought to be able to have outside friendships that don’t imperil his marriage or primary relationship.
And I imagine, as I look up at the stars on a clear night and contemplate the vastness of the universe, I imagine there exists some world out there, and some manner of creature similar to us in certain ways and yet with this crucial difference — that they are not sexually jealous. Maybe there is such a creature and such a place. Maybe that is where Mr. Spock comes from.
But this world, from what I can tell, is not like that. In this world, when a woman lives with a young, attractive man, and the young, attractive man she lives with decides to spend a week with a woman he met on MySpace, the woman he lives with begins to contemplate the many new uses to which a kitchen knife might be put.
When creatures from these other worlds where sexual jealousy does not exist peer down at us they are no doubt mystified and feel superior to us. They do not fly into fits of rage at the behavior of the ones they mate with. Why should we? What difference does it make what he does when he is not in the primary mating-behavior space? Is it not counterproductive to “cut off his nuts with a kitchen knife,” as they say?
The kitchen knife is a highly charged symbol, domestically speaking, love-wise speaking, blues-song speaking, living-in-sin speaking. It refers, somewhat sexistically, to the fact that women, throughout much of history, have had few weapons with which to counter the physical superiority of the men they live with. But while confined to the kitchen they have also been masters of it and its many weapons. The physically superior male has been, in this classic myth, unaware of the implements available in the kitchen and the uses to which they might be put. Not to mention his unfamiliarity with just how much satisfaction a woman might find in putting the kitchen knife to these unexpected uses (uses that, we might add, are not authorized or intended by the manufacturer).
So on one side you have this counterproductive and seemingly inexplicable desire to put the kitchen knife to novel and unauthorized uses vis-à-vis the dude spending a week with his MySpace friend. You’d think we’d be beyond all that, being that we have put a man on the moon and also have speed-dating. You’d think the whole kitchen-knife-wielding-girlfriend thing would be ancient history.
I’m not saying that’s a good thing, or that it’s the only way it can be, or that you can’t try to live in a different world. I’m not saying that polyamory is bad, or unattainable, either; you might look into the possibility that you and he could have an open relationship; the idea of community that involves multiple simultaneous intimate relationships is, well … some people do that. I’m just saying that a lot of people are like this: When the dude you’re living with spends a week with a chick he met on MySpace, you start to think about the kitchen knife. I’m saying you’re not alone. These thoughts of the kitchen knife seem to be as deeply embedded in the animal nature of women as the desire to spend a week with the MySpace chick is embedded in dudes.
It’s one of those eternal verities.
So what to do? Be seriously unreasonable. Well, first, put the knives away. Then be seriously unreasonable. Tell him it’s either her or you. Seriously. Don’t pretend it’s reasonable. Just tell him you’re serious. Just tell him that’s the way it is. And peruse the apartment listings. Or, better yet, suggest that he peruse the apartment listings.
There’s probably a reason he hasn’t ever been in a serious relationship. Apparently, he’s not serious. I mean, he can’t be serious, right?