Jealousy isn’t about what you’d think it is…

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Paraphrasing my favorite writer, if you’re disregarding criticism – the only right way to go about it is to disregard the praise, too. Now, if you also happen to be a writer, and have maybe said something similar, inside you a little elf might ask, but why does HE get to be a favorite writer, and not me? What is so special about him? Why doesn’t she see, acknowledge me as an equally worthy writer? 

Jealousy seems to be another topic that people want to avoid or at least convince themselves they don’t ever feel it, because it gets a certain reputation – that it is a feeling for narcissists. If you feel jealousy, it’s because you just want attention, you think you deserve it, you esteem yourself too highly, etc. What I am writing today has been brewing inside my head for a long while, but returned to me as a concept last night in a discussion with a very important person to me (don’t get jealous, just the one I married);

Let’s say you have joined someone’s startup – and you all go to a team lunch. You take that team to a place that you really like, a local restaurant – you all sit down, have ordered the foods and now wait, and you make a comment about that restaurant. This place is special because the owner is so involved – you might catch him serving tables here and you won’t even know he is the owner. Some short moments pass, the founder of this startup stands up to go to the restroom, but on his way he turns around, making a hysterical gesture with his hands, shouting, I am like that. Me. Maybe you take it as a joke and let it go.

You could, indeed, take it as a bad joke, or you could be a weird person like me – who deconstructs such situations with a tad different nuances. And I’m not going to say that the founder was a narcissist who got slighted, jealous, and wanted to hear such praise about himself – although that is a big part of it.

Another story, and now one from my own history – when I was still performing live with a band, at one point we were invited to play in old-town, a jazz-scented bar, and a few people had come to check us out, too. There was one so-called superfan (whose praise, at the time, I didn’t care about – it just seemed weird as fuck, why would someone come to every possible concert?!), and then there was a few friends, and then there were some strangers – but my mates knew they were from the jazz music scene or something of the sort. We did our little set of songs and were done for the evening – and boy, I’m about to say something that will sound bitter and narcissistic as fuck – we might have been at their table for a while, and there they were talking about some chick who wasn’t even there, that oh how talented she is and that she’s going places. My response within to it – shit, I’m never gonna make it. I didn’t go ahead, like the startup founder, to raise my hands and ask hey, fuckers, what about me?

But that’s because I’m not as aggressive as that man was, maybe.

So, what is happening? Was I really that narcissistic to think that I should have been in the center of their attention, at the time? Why did what two strangers talk about seem like an important metric to me? Was the only reason for me to make music and bother to go out and play to get praise? No.

Another case where such situations are very usual was in MMO communities (for those who do not know, they are online games, some of them very highly skill-based – meaning, people who play these, play these religiously – and for a good 3-4 years I was one of those people). You have a group of some ~5 people who will play as a team, sometimes hang out even outside the time of going on a raid, shooting the shit on some voice chat. And there, too, often people started speaking well of people who were not in their team, who played certain classes well, while their own same-class-player was in the chat – and maybe got a little bitter about it because they never even seemed to acknowledge his or her skills and heroic moments;

I got so tired of hearing what a great priest (a support class tasked with keeping the other members alive and buffed with extra abilities) such and such people were. Because when I started thinking about what they did differently really – gameplay-wise, or considered maybe they had better social skills (a rare trait among gamers, no doubt) – the praise seemed unfounded to me. So, I often ended up feeling like the only reason they would discuss praising people who aren’t around, was to upset me. Now, that’s a stupid theory.

Jealousy is something that’s often spotted between people who could be romantic – or people who already are, but somehow still spare certain types of attention to people outside the dyad. If I was a girl who took great care of her looks, and found my boyfriend liking some other chicks photos on instagram – AND if he never even complimented my looks – it would infuriate me. Oh, another real life story: also has to do with music, as well as with a partner I used to live with, for a while. He MUST have known how excited this whole music thing got me – making it, performing it, working with it – but he avoided talking about it unless I really pressed hard, and well, if he did say something, the enthusiasm which he did it with was from the other end of the spectrum.

Which, on its own, is completely fine, by the way – I didn’t need him to be excited about my hobby. But what really irritated me was the fact that at one point some of my older friends started a band, and he became a fucking superfan to it – he’d praise them to heaven (and the fact they had a female in the trio did not help the case); Might I had asked for a rationale for this – why do you like them and seem to almost hate what I do – well, it would have been a bullshit answer anyway – but how I felt about it, at the time – the guy neither encouraged or discouraged what I do – but the lack of even acknowledging what I do sounded like a fucking insult. (coincidentally I quit that guy and went for one that I could do music with – that might tell something – and I suddenly felt seen! (not a story with a happy ending, either, though; but for another time))

So, all these cases, and now I add the twist and the punchline. I never did think of myself as someone who is particularly interesting or talented, who’d be deserving of attention or praise. I thought I was okay – on most days, anyway – as were all those other people who seemed to be into similar stuff that I was and were talked about. But jealousy, it seems to me – never is about interest or attention – there is another layer to it – the one that actually makes us feel inflamed.

Because I kept making music without getting the praise from the people I wished it from, I keep writing without anyone seeming to ever care, I keep blogging despite hearing people talk of third bloggers (who are not in the room) with most delightful praise.

It inflames the body and the mind because you had just put yourself out there, maybe your eyes even met with the person – but one you have an interaction with them – you dig up the impression – they didn’t see you at all, they weren’t paying attention to you, at all. You’re a nobody to this person, and you’ll never get in to their tribe (unless you do something that will catch their attention – but if what you did with your heart and soul didn’t catch it – it would have to something that isn’t you. You’d have to betray your own calling).

So, when hanging out with some people, you’re there, and your friend KNOWS that, say, blogging is important to you, but he starts talking to another friend about a different blogger altogether, saying all the praise in the world – him knowing you know he knows what you do – it fucking stings. But say, if that person even so much as mentions, say, Karl (that’s us) here is an avid blogger, too, he knows! Voila – jealousy is GONE. Because we were acknowledged. We didn’t even need praise, but acknowledgement – to know that we have been seen – that our friend is a friends enough to recognize the most important thing to us.

Same – we don’t get jealous when a friend comes to us to discuss another blogger with us – because maybe they do so knowing we know about blogging. Happy to remember that sometimes my input is sought after when dealing with audio stuff at work. And that’s enough – I don’t need my team lead to buy my music – just an acknowledgement that I know this stuff is more than enough.

There is a gap that gets filled when you hear two of your friends completely ignore your passion for a topic, while they praise another. And that gap won’t get filled with – oh, when that third person is around, and not me, they talk about me the same way. No – they’d tell that third person that I’m nothing but a wannabe. Now, I don’t know if that is the case – in reality it might be the case that people who only praise third persons around sensitive friends – never really bother to go and directly praise someone. Their reasons for bringing up these people and their skills remains unclear.

I’ve just learned it myself, long ago, that nothing good comes out of ignoring a friend’s passion for a topic, and almost like butting him out from the circle – if he maybe wants to pitch in on the conversation too – and if I acknowledged it, he would also not feel the need to “narcissistically” remind everyone what his credentials or life experience is, too.

It sucks to be invisible – especially if it happens within your own family or friends or other close members of some team. Especially if you know what they are passionate about and manage to be mindful about including them in the conversations, should they come up.

My Husband is brilliant in that regard – I can talk to him about what I write, he thinks along, pitches his own ideas in, and really seems to root for me. Never brings up other chicks that are working on futu fantasy novels – and I appreciate that ^_^ (although it’s a fragile situation – him bringing it up is forever a possibility – even though it won’t matter as much, as he clearly has acknowledged my passion for it, already!)

Anyway – what I wanted to say with all this – jealousy isn’t about praise, interest or attention. Getting praise from complete strangers doesn’t satisfy our needs, if you haven’t noticed. It’s about belonging – it TELLS whether the people you are with really get what you are up to, whether they have payed attention to what you’re about – or maybe one of the two is burdened with illusions or the dyad exists with some kind of pretense… Being ignored, overlooked or misunderstood, then, frustrates in the same way when someone almost runs you over on the street. It’s not about wanting praise and attention – but perhaps the acknowledgement that hey, a person is here, don’t run me over – is good for starters.

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