“Jealousy is like a hot pepper.
Use it mildly, and you add spice to the relationship.
Use too much of it and it can burn.”
Ayala M. Pines
Romantic Jealousy (1992)
Are you a jealous person? In what ways? Toward whom? Are there any behaviors or characteristics that are guaranteed to bring out the green envy monster who lurks deep within your soul? Has your partner ever given you reason to be jealous?
When BigBob and I met, he was 34 years old and had one child from a previous marriage. I was 28. When we were getting acquainted, we did not deem it necessary or constructive to devote much conversation to prior relationships in which each of us had been involved except to the extent that previous experiences impacted current behaviors, opinions, outlooks. Neither of us is really “the jealous type” and we both believed that the only thing that really mattered was the future.
So I was shocked when the letter arrived.
Yes, the wedding date was set, the invitations had been mailed, the photographer and caterer retained, and the wedding attire purchased. I came home from work one afternoon and began preparing dinner. He was still at work, but I expected him to arrive shortly. I decided to check the mail where I found the usual assortment of bills, advertisements . . . and a curious letter from a local ambulance company. I say “curious” because it was a business-sized envelope with a preprinted return address, but no transparent window. It was addressed to “Bob” rather than the more formal “Robert,” the name under which business is usually transacted. And his name was hand-written rather than typed or printed. I figured that this was probably an invoice or correspondence of some sort and the secretary had just opted to write out the address in long hand because I recalled BigBob telling me about a former roommate who had taken ill and ended up being taken to the hospital via ambulance. So I opened the envelope.
There was no bill or business-related correspondence contained there. Rather, there were about four hand-written pages with which I was instantly intrigued.
The letter began with an apology and then launched into reminiscences of times spent together during the previous year. I no longer remember all of the details, but the woman who wrote the letter was, essentially, sorry that things had not worked out between them. She said that she missed him, thought about him all of the time, and was certain that if they gave it another shot, they would live happily ever after.
BigBob had never mentioned her by name, but based upon the details in the letter, I figured out that she was the woman who had briefly rented a house around the corner. They had become acquainted because she had a daughter around the same age as BigBob’s daughter, so the two little girls played together. In contrast to her written professions of unrequited love and longing, BigBob’s rendition of the story went something like this: “We went on a few dates. It was no big deal. She didn’t live there very long and, after she moved, we never saw each other again.”
Guys usually change the subject when the topic of former girlfriends comes up, shrugging relationships off as “no big deal.” For just a split second, I wondered if there was more to the story than he had shared with me — or if the letter-writer’s had only imagined or hoped that there was. One thing was clear: She was lonely and looking for love. But no matter what had transpired between them, I was reading that letter in our house, cooking our dinner, wearing the engagement ring he had given me and spread out on the desk where I sat reading the letter were a variety of items related to our upcoming wedding, including the remaining supply of invitations, notes about the menu for the reception, to-do lists, and appointment reminders for the required counseling sessions with the pastor, and tuxedo and dress fittings.
“What should I do with this letter?” was the question I asked myself. I thought about burning it and never telling him about it, but that dishonest approach would bring no satisfaction because I really wanted to see his reaction. After all, I told myself, if this letter is going to make him stop and reconsider our upcoming marriage, I want to know about his doubts now, not later. Deep inside, I knew that wasn’t going to happen, but in such intense situations there is sometimes a split second of doubt that precedes resumption of rational thinking.
So I resolved that I would definitely present him with the letter when he got home.
Next was the matter of my having read it. Again, I wondered: Should I admit that I read all of it? Will he be angry? Embarrassed? Feel like his privacy has been violated? We have always lived by a simple rule of thumb: Whomever gets the mail opens the mail. Obviously, he would know that I was lying if I shoved the letter back into the envelope and sealed it in an effort to make it look like it had never been opened.
And then my thoughts turned back to the woman who had written the letter. I began to imagine what it was like to be in her shoes. I wondered what she was like and, frankly, was a bit creeped out at knowing that she had been spending so much time fantasizing and dreaming about my fiancee. Curiously, though, the situation was also an ego boost because, after all, the guy was all mine even though some other woman obviously wanted him very badly. Badly enough to risk sending a revealing, soul-bearing letter that put her vulnerabilities on display and left her ripe for for the worst kind of rejection. She was obviously too afraid of rejection to just pick up the phone and call, even though there was no suggestion that she knew I existed, much less that we were engaged. I was in no position to judge her motivations or sincerity, but all indications were that she had reached out with her heart — and I concluded that she deserved some kind of response so that she would learn the truth and could have closure. Naturally, I also wanted to ensure that she never contacted us again.
But who should be the one to let her down gently? Before I really thought about it, I found myself dialing the telephone number on the ambulance company letterhead. When she answered, I calmly told her my name and said, “I live on _________ Avenue.” She gasped lightly, signalling that she comprehended the import of those five words without the need for further explanation. I quickly added, in a very matter-of-fact tone, “Bob Siess is my fiancee so I would really appreciate if you would refrain from sending any more letters to my house.” She mumbled “o.k.” and before there could be any uncomfortable silence, I said, “Thank you” and hung up.
Just as I put the phone down, BigBob came home from work. A few minutes spent
changing his clothes and unwinding, he asked the question people routinely ask each other on weekday evenings, “Anything interesting in the mail?”
“Well, as a matter of fact . . . ”
I told him exactly what had happened . . . that I read the letter and called the woman who wrote it, detailing our brief conversation.
He just stared at me, trying to process the information. “Where’s the letter?” he asked. I handed it to him, asking, “Do you want me to go in the other room so that you can read it by yourself?”
And then I learned that a little jealousy — especially in the form of one partner running off a potential interloper — can indeed add a little spice to a relationship.
BigBob took the letter from me and walked into the kitchen. I watched as he calmly but deliberatively ripped it into many small pieces. “Don’t you even want to read it?” I asked incredulously. “You don’t want to know exactly what she said? You can call her yourself if you want to . . . it’s all right with me.” He ignored my question and commentary as he continued ripping the paper. Then he opened the garbage can, threw all the pieces in, got himself a beer from the refrigerator, and tuned to face he. Looking at me with a big grin on his face, he answered all of my questions with just one of his own: “What’s for dinner?”
Originally published June 10, 2007.