I know jealousy destroys a good many relationships, gay and straight. I also know people are very different when they become jealous–not at all the ones we fell in love with, chose to be in relationships with.
Chris, my partner, is one of the most unique gay men I know, for a number of reasons. One of them is his attitude toward jealousy, which came out at the beginning of our relationship nearly twenty-two years ago, and which hasn't wavered since.
Like a good many people when they enter relationships, I was insecure. I wanted to know, to use a cliche, that Chris had eyes only for me, that he'd made the decision I was "the one" for him. So, being the stinker I am sometimes, I tried to make him jealous.
We'd be walking down the street, in downtown Vancouver, where we lived at the time, and where there are so many attractive men. It didn't matter if the men were gay or straight; if they were attractive, that's all that mattered.
I'd pick one out, and I'd comment to Chris something along the lines of, "Look at how gorgeous he is. I wonder what it would be like to be with him. Maybe I should find out." And I'd go on about how beautiful I thought he was, how much fun I thought he'd be, how exciting life would be with him, etc.
And Chris's response? "Go. If you want to be with him, I won't stop you. I can't force you to stay with me, if you don't want to. But, if you leave, don't bother coming back, because I don't want you anymore."
End of discussion. I knew where I stood.
Chris was right, of course. He was only in his early twenties at the time, and I think, perhaps because of the situation he'd grown up in at home some years earlier, he knew that if people wanted to be with someone else, there was nothing you could do.
Over the years, I've teased Chris from time to time, drawing his attention to yet another attractive man, making some comment about wanting to be with him, and Chris's answer hasn't changed. ("Go. See you around sometime.")
Of course, I've never put Chris in the situation of following through on what he says–of letting me go, because I've chosen to pursue someone else, someone I think would make me happier than he does. In other words, I've never tested our relationship that way.
But I think what's refreshing about Chris's attitude toward jealousy is how realistic it is. Essentially, he's saying, I can't stop you from doing what you want to do. If it's that important to you to be with him, then go ahead. You have my blessing. Make yourself happy, if that's what happiness looks like to you. I'm powerless to do anything about it. End of story.
I don't know if this has anything to do with jealousy, but, a few years ago, I was going through a rough time. And I knew I was in some ways putting Chris through it too, even though I didn't discuss it and tried to hide it. How could he not be affected by something his life partner was struggling with?
And it got so bad that, for a period of time, I thought Chris would be better off without me. I didn't know how or even if I could pull myself out of it, and the last thing I wanted to do was drag Chris down with me. He deserved to be happy, I saw that. He didn't deserve to be miserable because of me.
I spoke to my mom about this. I told her I was thinking of telling Chris that, if he wanted to leave, he should, because I was not the man he'd gotten into a relationship with. I was in a dark place, and I saw no way out of it. It wasn't fair to him to have to come home every day and be with someone who was depressed, who saw only the negative in everything, who wasn't interested in the basic, routine things anymore, who, at times, even had difficulty putting one foot in front of the other.
Now, don't get me wrong. I would have been destroyed if Chris had left. I'm not saying it would have been easy to let him go. After all, we'd been together for nearly twenty years at the time. He was an enormous part of my life–hell, he was my life–and, as I think back on it now, I don't know how I would have gotten along without him.
But, at the time, my priority was Chris. I was thinking only of him. I was thinking only about what was best for him. I didn't figure into this. Above anything else, I wanted him to be happy. And, if being with someone else would have made him happy, then I had to honor that. I had to respect it. As I saw it, I had no choice but to let him go.
There's an element in this similar to Chris's attitude toward jealousy. It's about putting the other person's happiness and fulfillment ahead of your own. It's about letting people go, people who are important to you–people who mean the world to you, really–because their happiness is more important than anything you have to offer if you stay together, because their happiness is more important than yours.
Relationships are not prisons. They are places where people should want to be. When they no longer want to be in them, if they would be happier, more fulfilled, higher expressions of themselves elsewhere, then it's time to let them go. I'm not saying you shouldn't try to work on what you have first, to give it another chance, or as many chances as it takes. But if you've done that, and it's failed, it's time for both parties to move on.
Nothing is forever. We get only one chance to go around this life, one chance to get it right. If you're holding someone back because you're only thinking about yourself, putting your happiness ahead of his or hers, you need to realize what you're doing. And you need to realize that person might be better off without you.
Yes, it would have killed me to let Chris go. But if, after I'd let him go, I'd met him on the street with someone else, and I'd seen he was clearly happier than he had been with me, it would have made me happy for him. I would have known I'd made the right decision to set him free, to experience life beyond what I was able to offer him.
And I would have been free to do the same–to pursue my own happiness, whatever that looked like.