Relationships amongst women are as layered as any deluxe wedding cake. We cherish, we listen, we comfort, we console. We hate, we judge, we condemn, we betray; all in the name of sisterly love. Makes me wonder if sometimes our heartfelt bonds aren’t also shackles. According to a book called ‘The Sister Knot’ written by psychologist Terri Apter, I’m probably right.
To paraphrase Apter’s theory, she says that pretty much from birth girls learn to be jealous of their siblings, in particular their sisters. There are two reasons for this. Firstly the primary carer of most children is the mother. Whereas boys grow up and learn that they are distinct from their mothers and therefore individuals, girls have a tougher time differentiating themselves.
And when it comes to sisters, girls naturally look at their sisters as someone amazing and threatening as in ‘she’s brilliant but does her brilliance takes from my brilliance?’ This means that although relationships between sisters may be the strongest in the family, they are relationships based on the delicate balance of admiration and envy.
Obviously Apter explains this process with more clarity and in more detail and for any woman who has ever had a problem with a sister or a girlfriend, I recommend this book. It came to my attention because I have been thinking a lot about jealously recently.
I remember being nineteen years old. (What I wouldn’t give to spend a few hours with my nineteen-year-old self!) I was living in Greece. I’d gone there with a boyfriend of three years and things weren’t going well. Soon after we embarked upon our Grecian adventure he turned into Eros and I, Andromeda, all helpless and tied up.
I recall walking to a bar one balmy night. I spotted my beau deep in conversation with another blonde. I could have confronted him but instead I turned and walked away. To my young mind, it was too late to be jealous. I was defeated and retreat was the only option.
Somewhere along the way I evolved a defence mechanism. I had no problem if a guy I was seeing wanted to see other people. He simply wouldn’t see me at the same time. The only flaw in that strategy is my choice of men. I have a penchant for men who love women. Think Don Draper on coke.
The theory goes that men who like to sleep around or find it hard to commit are insecure. They don’t want to take the risk of putting all their eggs in one basket, so they put their seed everywhere. Trouble is their insecurity makes women insecure. It’s an egg and chicken – or should I say sperm – situation.
Insecurity breeds suspicion, the deadliest of mental meandering. Left unguarded it has the power to destroy because it drives people into activities that kill relationships. I have a friend. Her ex secretly tapped into her email account for two years before she wrote something that infuriated him so much he was forced to admit his spying.
That’s an extreme example but we’ve all played relationship investigator at one time or another. There’s that moment when you suspect something is going on. You fish for clues, ask leading questions. Your eyes are pealed, hunting for hidden traces that confirm the presence of another; an extra glass, strange hair clip, lost jewellery or discarded underwear. To the suspicious mind everything is incriminating. Worst still, suspicion breeds jealousy.
Jealousy never really affected me in my twenties. Guys cheated on me (I once lived with a guy only to discover too late that he was engaged to someone else) and each time I moved on. That’s the logical response. I am not so strong in my thirties. I find myself feeling wounded and dare I say it, sceptical, resentful and jealous. All the classic ingredients required to turn me into a cottage dwelling breeder of cats.
Needless to say this mind set puts me at somewhat of a disadvantage. I am now much more likely to enter a relationship with the idea that this guy is likely to cheat. I sit around waiting for it, not actively provoking but expecting it, not making outright comments but rather probing questions that suggest it. It’s all very Nancy Drew.
But there’s another side effect of this suspicion and jealousy that is even more worrying and that has to do with how I view women. It’s easy to be jealous of a girlfriend, her success, her beauty, her body, her style, her passion or her talent. Sometimes when I am feeling insecure I look around me at all the beautiful women and wonder how I could ever even get a place in the race. This is the delicate balance of admiration and envy.
And then there’s the Holy Grail of female betrayal: the woman who sleeps with your man, who steals him away. She haunts my dreams. The mere thought of her unsettles me. To my mind, her hair seems bouncier, her boobs more pert, her skin silkier, her allure more commanding. And I see her everywhere.
She feeds my insecurity because something in her has the ability to command the attention of the man I want and bang! it’s stilettos at dawn, spiked heels, ripped hair, torn egos and eyes scratched out … in the proverbial sense at least. I’ve never had a physical fight with a woman in my life. That said, there’s one or two from the past that I wouldn’t mind beating to a pulp Is that wrong?