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Saleem Reshamwala: When I was a kid, my mom and I would listen to this show on the car radio, The Clarence Update, where a man named Clarence would recap soap operas. I had zero interest in soap operas, but Clarence was funny.
[Brad: Hey baby, this is The Clarence Update on The Young and the Restless, Billy and Mack got into it because Billy keeps pulling back when Mack wants to get affectionate. “Oh, if I don’t wanna bump uglies, you don’t wanna do nothin at all, huh?”]
Saleem: So much drama in so little time. And so much jealousy!
[Brad: Victoria told Alex, “I noticed a change between you and Neil since I got here. What’s up?” “Nothin. I don’t know what you talkin about.” Then the phone rang. It was the front desk. Neil answered, “What?”]
[theme music intro]
Saleem: Dolly Parton had Jolene. Tupac’s track mentioned both jealousy and envy coming from his enemies. And when Erykah Badu sang, “My eyes are green because I eat a lot of vegetables, it don’t have nothin’ to do with your new friend,” well, we knew what emotion she was referring to.
Saleem: This is More Than A Feeling, from Ten Percent Happier. I’m Saleem Reshamwala. Each week on this show, we investigate the sometimes mysterious, sometimes terrible, sometimes wonderful, but always human world of emotions. And we can not do a show about emotions without an episode on jealousy. It’s an emotion that fuels soap operas and heartbreaking music, but is jealousy always bad? What do we do when we feel ourselves feeling it? So, More Than a Feeling, the jealousy special, two very different stories for you, here we go…
First up, we talk to two social psychologists who flipped their scientific minds onto their own friendship and their “friendship jealousy,” from the microcosm of their small, windowless research lab.
Jaimie: I could just say, you know, stop hanging around Keelah. And then, baseball bat.
Saleem: (laughing) I love that we're getting very specific into what you would, wouldn’t do?
Saleem: Then we’re gonna zoom way out and take a macro look at the feeling, by visiting a country that has a reputation for jealousy and trying to figure out when and how this might have started.
Nunzia [in Italian]: Un pizzico di sana gelosia è la conferma che un rapporto d'amore che può durare.
Voiceover Translation: A pinch of healthy jealousy is the confirmation that the love relationship can last.
Saleem: Oh, and we find a surprise guest for the end of this episode which we think y’all will like. More after the break.
Saleem: Welcome back to More Than A Feeling. To help us understand jealousy between friends, and all the sometimes petty and just awkward stuff that can come up when that emotion surfaces between people…our story is going to start with two graduate students. Each of them took very different paths to get to Arizona State University. It wasn't quite the career trajectory that Jaimie Krems anticipated.
Jaimie: So I was playing poker for a living and working in music in Philadelphia where I'm from.
Saleem: And a musician told her that she was going to hate working for the music industry. He told her:
Jaimie: You can't have the conversations you want to have. Here, read some of these books. And on the list of books were books by some great sort of evolutionary thinkers. And I read them and I thought, “Oh my Lord, there are other people in the world who think like me, these people make sense of the world the way that my brain makes sense of the world. I'm not alone. I need to understand this.”
Saleem: Meanwhile, Keelah Williams was taking a different route:
Keelah: Well, my story is a lot more bland than Jaimie's. I was looking for graduate programs that would let me get a law degree at the same time that I was working towards a PhD in psychology. And Arizona State University at the time was one of the only programs that existed that allowed you to do that. Uh, so that was how I ended up at ASU.
Saleem: So Jaimie and Keelah met in graduate school in Tempe. Keelah had already been there a year.
Keelah: In my opinion, we hit it off right away, which is very funny because Jaimie seems to think that I hated her.
Jaimie: And I met Keelah and Keelah had that face on, which is Keelah’s face, um, which I thought translated to like, “fuck yourself and die.”
Keelah: It turns out that that is just my face.
(Saleem, Keelah, Jaimie laugh.)
Jaimie: And then we emailed at some point over our shared love of Val Kilmer.
[clips of Val Kilmer: “You can be my wingman anytime.” All brain no penis.” “I’m your Huckleberry.”]
Jaimie: And then eventually we spent the better part of six years. So I think five of which we overlapped in the same tiny, not quite windowless room.
Saleem: Shout out to Val Kilmer, bringing people together for science. Anyway they had a moment when they realized they were going to really really be besties. Keelah and Jaimie were in this big lab meeting and a colleague introduced themself as an evolutionary social scientist.
Jaimie: Which she is not. And we were so surprised and somehow also affronted.
Keelah: Both Jamie and I, we were sitting next to each other and we simultaneously reached out to grab the other's leg under the table. But because we did it at the same time…
Jaimie: We ended up accidentally hitting and holding one another's hands, which was very awkward. I mean I think that's the moment when we realized, well, no one else would like us, we're monsters.
Saleem: But this here is a jealousy story, and you can’t have jealousy with just two people. Enter: The Very Cool New Labmate [bleep]. By all accounts this person is completely super cool and pals with everyone. We just felt this story was really about Jaimie and Keelah and we didn't need to reach out to the subject of their jealousy.
Jaimie: Our new labmate joined. She's wonderful and awesome. And also incredibly tall, um great rugby player, serious thinker. And she joined the lab and we started to hang out with her both, um, one-on-one as well as in our group. But anyone coming in can change a social dynamic.
Saleem: Changing a social dynamic. In storyland, that’s called drama.
Keelah: So some of the, the facts that gave rise to the dynamic I think was um, first of all, when she came to visit Arizona State University for the first time, I was the person who, uh, had her stay at my house and, uh, introduced her to other people in the program in general.
Saleem: And then The Very Cool New Labmate began spending lots of time with Keelah.
Keelah: When she came to the program, I was assigned as sort of [bleep] graduate student mentor. So I was assigned a role to become, you know, relatively close with her as a function of helping her to adjust to the graduate student program. And we carpooled together because she, uh, and I lived quite close to one another. And so I think it was just some of these, all of these things are really small, but when you add them up together, it's like, “Oh, wait a minute. You're spending, you know, a significant chunk of time with this person.”
Jaimie: Keelah, and I both really love this person. This person is awesome. But there were some moments there where, you know, we're hanging out together. You're getting to know someone new. You're starting to like someone new and share information.
Saleem: So, Jaimie’s noticing how much time Keelah and The Very Cool New Labmate are spending together. And then one day, Jaimie has this difficult meeting, she’s feeling down on things in general. And so this thing that is kind of gnawing at her, rises up, and she’s just got to ask about it.
Jaimie: We just sort of looked at each other to be like…
Keelah: Do you think that you're starting to like them more than you like me?
Jaimie: You still like me best, right? Do you? Yeah, I do. You do? Okay. Cool. Common knowledge. Best friends…
Saleem: I love this straight up acknowledging of best friend-ness. And for Jaimie, because of what they do for a living, this here’s a research opportunity.
Saleem: In the lab they’ve got this internal rule: “If we experience it, let’s study it!” They had experienced something called “friendship jealousy” and wanted to understand it better.
Keelah: As psychologists, as researchers, what we're doing is always keeping an eye out for interesting behaviors and then trying to understand them. It's why I love my job so much.
Jaimie: We'll science it out. We could take something like friendship jealousy, and actually try and figure out, alright, what are the variables that lead to this? And, you know, general psychology and not just our own little world?
Saleem: So they set out to basically find out: Can feeling jealous of a new friend actually help us keep the ones we've already got?
Jaimie: What we found was that people shit on jealousy. So whether it's romantic jealousy, but especially friendship jealousy, they think that jealousy is something that people in the West feel because we have internalized capitalism and see one another as resources. They think that it's something that only children feel because once you grow up, you realize that no one relationship can fulfill all your needs. And so basically it's only an emotion immature people feel,
Jaimie: Or maybe it's an emotion you feel if you have low self-esteem and our view is really different. So we came to this from being friends, but we also both took a sort of functional or evolutionary perspective to social psychology that would say….
Keelah: Actually we see this across all ages. We see it across all cultures. You know, many, many cultures that we see friendship jealousy happening in, and even in non-human animals.
Jaimie: If we see behavior in non-human animals, if we see it across cultures, if we see it across eras, it's probably not all bad all the time.
Saleem: Jaimie and Keelah are noting that there’s an evolutionary reason for friendship. I mean, humans benefit from their friends, that’s clear. It’s easier to get through life with a pal. They’re allies in our struggle for survival. So maybe there’s a purpose for friendship jealousy.
Keelah: So if it is so prevalent, then that suggests there must be some positive benefits associated with it. So it was a very new way of looking at the idea of friendship jealousy.
Saleem: There's something really specific that I want to understand before we dive into the study itself. And it's kind of just a laying out of terms. I know jealousy and envy are sometimes used in kind of overlapping ways, in common language. I was kind of curious how you all distinguished between those two and what your working definition of jealousy was for this project.
Keelah: So envy is when we want something that our friend has. And jealousy is when a third party threatens to steal your spot.
Jaimie: You can sort of use a handy heuristic of thinking about envy as like a two-person emotion. And jealousy as sort of a three-person emotion, with respect to losing somebody to somebody else.
Saleem: This is such a good, simple way to mark jealousy as distinct from envy! Jaimie and Keelah took their research idea to their colleagues.
Jaimie: We argue with people. We ask, “How do we best measure this? Um, would this work?”
Saleem: So step one was deciding the focus of the study.
Jaimie: Step two was okay. Let's measure this thing. So we use multiple methods where we had people read different vignettes, for example, and they rated the amount of jealousy among other emotions that they felt. And we were able to find that jealousy did certain things that other emotions that you might feel at the same time, like anger or sadness don't do. We activated feelings of jealousy in our participants in real time.
Saleem: Jaimie is pointing out that a lot of this work relied on self-reported data. Basically that means participants told them what they were feeling. Studying someone else's feelings can be tricky, because feelings are slippery. They're hard to put on a chart. But that's true of so much psychological research.
Saleem: I'm just kind of curious, basically in y'all's mind and in other people's minds, if friendship jealousy and romantic jealousy are the same thing.
Jaimie: So that's a really great question. And I think it has to do with sort of the context and the drivers. And it's pretty likely that there is sort of neuro computational program or emotion that we'd call jealousy.
Saleem: I love that: “neuro computational program.” It’s such a non-dramatic rendering, but makes sense. One way to think about emotions might be that they’re like digital algorithms in your brain: a set of instructions for solving problems or accomplishing tasks.
Jaimie: In certain contexts, like romantic contexts, it's sensitive to features like, okay, how likely is this person going to replace me? Same thing for friendship jealousy. In romantic relationships, you're more likely to be replaced by somebody who is say more physically attractive or wealthier. In friendships, the cues that somebody is going to replace you, are gonna be different. But these feelings might motivate sort of similar mate guarding in romantic relationships and what we call or in fact what we did call friend guarding in friendships.
Saleem: So Jaimie and Keelah are saying that quite simply, jealousy is a very specific kind of fear or worry about being replaced by someone else in a relationship. That’s just so human. And gutting. And it’s not just some negative feeling that teenagers and Telenovela characters have. These researchers are saying that everybody feels it and maybe it’s not such a bad thing.
Jaimie: So if a child feels jealous, they might act out and kick and scream and throw a tantrum but as we grow up, we learn how to display that jealousy a bit better or in more socially acceptable ways. So it doesn't mean that we stop feeling it.
Keelah: But if you think about it as an emotion that's elicited because you want to protect a valued relationship, then you know, it no longer seems like such a bad thing. That, of course, you're going to feel jealous, if you really care about your relationship with this person and you want to protect it.
Jaimie: Negative emotions are really useful for us, right? Fear is really useful for us. Jealousy is the same thing.
Keelah: And we actually have data that starts to suggest that friend guarding behaviors can be effective ways of retaining your friends, of maintaining those friendships.
Jaimie: And when you do feel that jealousy. Then you can engage in a range of different behaviors. Not all of which are great all of the time. Some like Kealah and I can have a conversation and say, “Hey, I really value you.” And then, you know, we're friends for as long as we live or at least till now and then other behaviors, or maybe you, and I'm not above this, I have not done this, but you know, if I had to, I would shiv somebody or slash their tires or, you know, whatever one had to do to protect one’s friendship, I would do that for you, Keelah. I'm not joking.
Saleem: (laughing) I love that you were very clear that you haven't done that so far. I don't know if I believe you, but I'm glad that you specified that.
Jaimie: There is no evidence that I have done anything to that effect.
Saleem: Got it. Duly noted. We'll make sure it air that. [laugh] So tell me a bit about, more about what is the scale you use to rate kind of how jealous someone is?
Jaimie: So, for jealousy itself, we use different measures, but in general it was just a self-report. You know, how jealous do you feel? For friend guarding, we had our work cut out for us. There wasn't a scale. There wasn't an established assessment for it. There was one for mate guarding and what we tried to do is to assess friend guarding by adapting that mate guarding scale.
Keelah: So there were some that were related to vigilance. So how much attention do you pay to what your friend is doing and who they're hanging out with? There were some that were related to display. So for example, are you posting pictures of the two of you together on social media, you know, with the caption like, “Look at me and my bestie.” And so there were a couple of different factors like that.
Jaimie: I mean, it's essentially the entire plot to the movie “Bridesmaids” is so…
Saleem: That's, that's the core text for learning about friendship guarding?
Jaimie: I mean, it wouldn't be a bad thing.
Keelah: I distinctly remember the airplane scene from that movie. Where the main character, Kristin Wiig is, uh, going on this trip that she really can't actually afford to take.
[Lillian: Yeah, wow…
Annie: What are you guys talking about up here?
Lillian: We are, um…
Helen: We’re going to a restaurant tonight, I know the owner. So it’s just something…
Annie: You do? Oh. Helen knows the owner…(mumbling) ]
Keelah: Uh, and is going through all of these hoops to participate in something, because she doesn't want to be left out of the trip that the, the interloper has been putting together.
Jaimie: The new best friend where the new close friend is giving a very sweet speech saying, you know, “Hey, I love you. We're so close.” And then the old best friend gets up in front of everybody and is like:
[Lillian: I just wanted to say really quick that…(sigh). You’re so special to me because, well one of the reasons is because I’ve known you my, my whole entire life.”]
Jaimie: “Actually we're closer and she loves me more.” But that's exactly the signal that Kristin Wiig's character means to send. So I think that's a pretty clear version of not just friendship jealousy in the moment, but the friend guarding output of friendship jealousy. But it functions to warn us that we might lose somebody that we really value. And if we engage in then friend guarding or behavior that stops us from losing that person that can be really beneficial for us at least.
Saleem: Got it. Okay. So some of these are things that have such clear benefits to one of the parties involved. Are there any of these that are just like, purely destructive?
Jaimie: I mean, beating up the interloper, which again, I said I've never done and wouldn't do, but I could just say, you know, “Stop hanging around Keelah,” and then baseball bat, for example,
Saleem: (laughing)I love that we're getting very specific into what you would, would it do? I, I'm not sure if I'm cataloging them correctly, but I think I've so far caught, would slash tires, would shiv, but wouldn’t beat up? It's an interesting list.
Jaimie: I'm from Philadelphia and I'm here right now.
Keelah: Yeah, for all the listeners out there, I swear I'm not a hostage in this friendship. I'm a willing participant.
Saleem: Exactly what you would say, if you were a hostage in the friendship.
Saleem: It was at this point that I wanted to ask Jaimie and Keelah about this question that we asked back in the Prologue, and we’re gonna keep asking during the season - spoiler alert, there’s no clear answer but people have very strong thoughts: are we born with brains already wired with emotions or have our brains evolved to produce or construct emotions?
Jaimie: If an evolutionary approach gets anything right, it's emotions. Emotions is the sort of overarching neuro-computational programs that coordinate behavior and physiology in such a way that that benefits us. So, we recurrently dealt with certain situations. So, with jealousy, for example, we recurrently face the challenge that we might lose the people we value to somebody else. And if we were recurrently faced that challenge, we should attend to cues that, okay, I value this person and somebody else might take them or somebody else poses a replacement threat. And that should motivate physiology and behavior, behavior, like friend guarding, which is what we find. Friendship jealousy, in our view, motivates behavior that allows people to hang on to the friends that really matter to them, and we have some preliminary data that suggests that people actually don't always hate it when their partners are jealous. That might be sort of an error in our perception. So if your partner expresses jealousy to you in a way that, you know, Kealah and I have talked about like, “Oh, hey, I really value you. I don't want to lose you to somebody else.” That can actually be really flattering to somebody and can start that spiral evaluation like, “You like me that much? I like you that much. Let's like each other, an equal amount.” Obviously if you did that in, you know, a sort of negative way, you displayed your jealousy by, like I said slashing tires or something, it probably wouldn't be flattering.
Keelah: In moderation, it might be very positive and be very functional. But it can also go too far and can become destructive. This research is really important because it gets to this question of, how do you sustain friendships? How do you keep the friendships that you have?
Jaimie: At the heart of it, it's a love story, but it's about friends. And it's about friends who become maybe even closer because there was some friendship jealousy there.
Saleem: So, after this cool new person jumped in, after everyone had doubts, after it turned into a full blown research study, I wanted to find out where that all stands now.
Keelah: So [bleep] and Jamie and I are all still friends. We have kept in touch and we have now all graduated and moved on to jobs from our graduate program. And we're friends. We're just not best friends.
Jaimie: We, we sort of all three lived happily ever after.
Keelah: For all the listeners out there, Jaimie is brilliant and funny and beautiful. And that's why you can't have her.
Jaimie: Oh, thank you. I'm going to go cry after this.
Saleem: After the break, we're gonna shift our focus to romantic jealousy. We’re gonna do that in...you know, we just got to do it…Italy.
Saleem: Welcome back to More Than A Feeling. Just before the break, social psychologist Jaimie Krems gave us this important framing note about jealousy:
Jaimie: If we see behavior in non-human animals. If we see it across eras, it's probably not all bad all the time.
Saleem: Jaimie and Keelah were using their own friendship story as the starting point to understand the larger dynamics of jealousy. But in this next segment, we’re gonna take a macro, big picture look at how this emotion influenced an entire nation’s cultural landscape, during a pivotal point in its history. Let’s take a little field trip to Europe with producer Will Coley. He’s here to explain how jealousy almost became an epidemic.
Saleem (in studio): So Will, tell us what you got.
Will (in studio): Ok Saleem. Picture it: Italy 1961. Popular singer, Marino Marini and his quartet cover the “Jealousy Tango.”
Saleem: I was not alive at this time but this song puts me right there. What’s he saying?
Will (in studio): “No, it's not jealousy, but it's my passion. When others look at you, I shudder because I want your beauty only for me.”
Saleem (in studio): There’s a part of that that’s suave. And a part of that that’s disturbing. What’s so important about this song?
Will (in studio): Well, it’s the first of many covers of the song. And there’s a bunch of popular songs at this time about jealousy. This is during the decades after the Second World War. Italy has been slowly rebuilding and the U.S. helped out. It funneled millions of dollars to the country through the Marshall Plan. By this time, in the early 1960s, there’s an economic miracle. And many people’s lives are changing.
Saleem (in studio): How are their lives changing?
Will (in studio): New industries are creating lots of jobs. Lots of Italians leave their homes in the countryside and move to the cities to find work. More people have more money to spend. And this is when several famous Italian brands are born: Vespa, Nutella, and Fiat’s Cinquecento. All of them are symbols of “il boom.”
Saleem (in studio): Tell me how Vespa and Nutella relate to jealousy?
Will (in studio): Yeah, I connected with this historian Niamh Cullen. She researched this period of modern Italian history. Niamh wanted to understand Italians’ emotions while all this change was happening.
Niamh: And what I was really interested in fundamentally was how people coped with these changes in their intimate lives. Originally, I thought to focus on love, so in love relationships and marriages.
Will (in studio): She looked at archives for sources and records from the period.
Niamh: Jealousy hadn't really crossed my mind. But it was something that came up again and again in the sources. Originally I was quite wary about touching jealousy at all because it seems to play into very stereotypical ideas of Italians. But as I said it came up so often I felt I had to engage with it somehow.
Will (in studio): Niamh isn’t Italian. She’s from Ireland. But she finally decided to tackle jealousy as a subject because there was so much discussion about it at the time. Italian journalists were claiming that jealousy was a particularly Italian problem in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. So what Niamh was pointing to was, there was almost like an epidemic of jealousy right at this moment in history. And she wasn't really sure why there was this spike in the use of the word in the sources that she was looking at.
Saleem (in studio): How did she measure all this?
Will (in studio): Well, in one newspaper, La Stampa, mentions of jealousy more than doubled during this decade, to nearly 5,000 times. There was also this popular magazine called Grand Hotel, which is still published today. Niamh found that jealousy was the driver of lots of the plots and this peaked in 1955. And it was mostly about men’s jealousy. Women also wrote to magazine columnists for advice on how to handle overly jealous husbands. Niamh also had the help of another interesting source: personal memoirs.
Niamh: I came across, in this amazing archive, located in a small town in the middle of rural Tuscany. It's an amazing place where they basically collected unpublished diaries and memoirs of ordinary Italians from across the country.
Will (in studio): The archive has been gathering thousands of diaries and journals for decades. Niamh looked at a sample set of 150 diaries from men and women discussing love and marriage in their own lives. One mention was written by a school girl in 1949 in the South of Italy.
Niamh: She doodled in the margins basically of what was her school notebook. She doodled “love means jealousy.” It’s the name of a popular song. And, and she's had obviously heard the song and was struck by the quote and just scribbled it down in her notebook.
[“Gelosia” by Nilla Pizza]
Will (in studio): Nilla Pizzi sings, "If love means jealousy, who will ever love you more than me?"
[“Gelosia” by Nilla Pizza]
Niamh: I thought it was just,obviously a sort of a fleeting thought on her part, but an example of the kind of the way that this idea of love and jealousy being interlinked was, was just kind of present in the popular culture of these years, and the ways that people might absorb it into their own thinking.
Saleem (in studio): Interesting. Does anyone remember all this?
Will (in studio): Yeah, I connected with some women who were teenagers back then. I got the help of a radio producer in Italy and she has a friend in Palermo, Sicily who grew up in the 1950s.
[sound of Sicilian street market, followed by entering an Italian home]
Will (in studio): Rossella Armò is a retired bank manager who lives in Palermo, Sicily. She gets together with her friends all the time to chat over coffee. She agreed to host a sort of “focus group” on jealousy. When the recording team got there, they asked Rossella if they could shut the window shutters to block out the street noise, they all realize then that Italians call these “gelosia,” or jealousy blinds.
[clip of exchange about gelosia blinds]
Saleem (in studio): Jealousy blinds? That’s pretty great tape.
Will (in studio): There’s this commonly shared belief that the shutters were designed by a jealous husband to keep out prying eyes of other men. Rossella was born at the end of the Second World War. So was her friend Cristina Morrocchi, a retired high school teacher, who sits next to her. The other friend in the group, Nunzia Mondello is a retired librarian. She belongs to the generation we call baby boomers in the U.S., children born after the war. We asked them if jealousy is a proof of love. Nunzia agrees with this.
Nunzia [in Italian]: Un pizzico di sana gelosia è la conferma...
Voiceover Translation: A pinch of healthy jealousy is the confirmation that the love relationship can last.
Will (in studio): This echoes something from the 1964 film The Magnificent Cuckold.
Saleem (in studio): That is an intense name for a movie.
Will (in studio): For the focus group, we shared a clip in which the actress Claudia Cardinale’s character tells her husband,
[clip in Italian from The Magnificent Cuckold]
Will (in studio): She says, ‘‘When one is in love, one is always a little jealous.” The plot of the film focuses on this super paranoid husband. He gets more and more consumed by jealousy, which is kind of funny because he’s the one cheating on his wife. And his obsessive thoughts spiral. This leads to insomnia and then an actual physical illness. By the end of the film, he’s bedridden and his wife calls a doctor.
[clip in Italian from The Magnificent Cuckold]
Will (in studio): Niamh, the historian, found this idea throughout popular media from this period.
Niamh: Very often jealousy was described as a pathology and also an illness. So it was very much seen as something that was felt in the body.
Will (in studio): Niamh also saw jealousy described as an illness in the diaries she read. For example, a man in the south of Italy wrote about it in his memoir.
Niamh: He describes in a bit of detail, his jealousy towards his, his fiancée, who then becomes his wife. He talked a lot about jealousy for him as being kind of close to love, but also close to madness, kind of like I was crazy with love, crazy with jealousy. So he kind of justified his behavior in that way.
Will (in studio): Our focus group in Palermo also talked about this side of jealousy. Cristina was born in Florence, up north.
Cristina [in Italian]: “È una gelosia che diventa subito patologica…
Voiceover Translation: “It’s a jealousy that immediately becomes pathological and doesn’t even need an object. It is all imaginary.”
Will (in studio): Rossella, the hostess, doesn’t believe jealousy should exist in a relationship.
Rosella [in Italian]: Perché prima di tutto è una mancanza di fiducia nell'altro…
Voiceover Translation: “Because first of all, it is a lack of trust in the other person. The concept of having faith in the person you care for is also very important for love itself.”
Will (in studio): The friends argue about whether the emotion is still really jealousy. Nunzia adds:
Nunzia [in Italian]: “Diventa un'ossessione…
Voiceover Translation: “It becomes an obsession. Detached from the feeling of jealousy. It becomes something completely different.”
Will (in studio): Niamh says there was this same debate in the 1950’s and ‘60’s during the jealousy epidemic. Since there was so much discussion about jealousy in such broad terms, it seemed like it was contagious.
Niamh: There was this disagreement about what jealousy means. I kept coming up against this word jealousy and thinking, “Hmm…This doesn't fit with my definition of what romantic jealousy is.” It seemed to me that jealousy had this really, really broad usage. There's not a consensus on what jealousy means, and there's a bit of disagreement among Italians about, yeah, what constitutes jealousy and what, and what doesn't.
Saleem (in studio): That’s interesting. So, basically evidence that emotion words can have these huge cultural implications.
Will (in studio): Right! In the diaries and letters to advice columns, Niamh saw the use of jealousy to describe control, particularly of women.
Niamh: Women talking about their experiences with jealous partners. And they use the word jealousy. But the behavior that they talked about was really, I think what we would see more as kind of controlling behavior, in terms of controlling the clothing and the behavior of these women, preventing them from going out often, and kind of controlling who they went out with, who they spoke to, that sort of thing. So that kind of controlling behavior, was talked about as jealousy.
Saleem (in studio): Wouldn’t we just call that “possessiveness”?
Will (in studio): Exactly. So during the economic miracle, gender roles were changing. And in the past, women were kept at home and they were nudged by their families to marry men in their villages. But with labor migration, women had more opportunities to work in the cities. Sometimes their husbands resented this. And migration also meant that women could meet more people and find a man to marry for love rather than out of economic necessity. All this change created uncertainty and anxiety. And this is what Niamh saw expressed in popular culture.
Niamh: What we're seeing in the media and in the films of those years is essentially kind of the extreme anxieties that people seem to feel about how Italy is changing and how particularly traditional ideas of masculinity in the family are being affected by all of those changes.
Will (in studio): The Palermo focus group, they agreed. Nunzia argues that men were misusing the word “jealousy.”
Nunzia [in Italian]: “Non è gelosia…
Voiceover translation: “It is not jealousy. In my opinion it is actually fear.”
Will (in studio): In other words, men expressed their fear of losing status and losing control of the women in their lives.
Niamh: There was so much, in terms of sort of fears and anxieties that could be just packed into the word jealousy in a sense, or lumped together as jealousy.
Will (in studio): And this widespread expression of “jealousy” was seen as a problem.
Niamh: And jealousy is seen as something that is not modern In those years. So to kind of overcoming jealousy was not just important for, um, for the welfare of women, but also for the Italian project of modernity.
Will (in studio): Turns out the antidote to the jealousy epidemic was the emancipation of women. That’s why, six decades later, Rossella thinks jealousy is an outdated idea.
Rosella [in Italian]: I giovani di oggi rifiutano il concetto di gelosia…
Voiceover 1: “Young people today completely reject the concept of jealousy. For them, it is an utterly negative emotion…
Will (in studio): At the end of the focus group, we asked Rossella what she found surprising about the discussion.
Rosella [in Italian]: “Più che altro, 'interesse degli americani…
Voiceover 1: “More than anything else, I was surprised by the interest of Americans in something that is so dated… It has changed because the social sphere has changed. Jealousy is not a big part of our daily lives anymore.”
Saleem (in studio): So does Niamh really know if most Italians were really more jealous back then?
Will (in studio): Well, Niamh can’t really quantify whether Italians were more jealous during the economic miracle. She’s saying that songs, films, and magazines were preoccupied with the emotion and portrayed it as a national concern.
Saleem (in studio): So from what you’re saying It sounds almost as though jealousy was just the way Italians expressed specific anxieties about all the changes they were experiencing in their lives.
Will (in studio): Yeah, right. All in all, Italy’s experience shows us how emotions are these cultural concepts that ebb and flow over time. I guess the question remains: how we can keep from being caught up in the current….
Saleem (in studio): Thank you Will, for that story from Italy.
Saleem: So, cool, jealousy is human, it happens for all these different reasons, but what the heck should we actually do when we feel it? How can we manage that? After the break: someone with a very specific expertise on the drama of jealousy.
Saleem: Welcome back to More Than A Feeling.
Saleem: So far, we’ve heard from researchers, historians and retirees about jealousy. But it’s time to talk to a different kind of expert. We told him about what happened in Italy with the jealousy epidemic.
Brad: You know you're trying to make somebody else responsible for how you feel. But you got a patriarchal society. It is fear. And that's what that's, what's rampant in the world today.
Saleem: Let me backup a little. Remember at the beginning of this episode, I mentioned The Clarence Update? Well, our producer tracked that voice down and we connected with him from his home outside Atlanta, Georgia.
Saleem: First of all, my name is Saleem…
Brad: And how do you say your last name?
Brad: Reshamwala. Not complicated at all.
Saleem: Resham actually means silk. My family used to sell silk back in the day in India, so…
Brad: He’s smooth like that!
Saleem: It’s kind of a smooth name.
Brad: Saleem Reshemwala makes all the girls holla, “Smooth!”
Saleem: I’m so happy to be talking to you.
Brad: So we're gonna talk about jealousy today, huh?
Saleem: We are, we are. How would you like to introduce yourself?
Brad: Brad Sanders: Comedian, actor, writer, AKA Clarence, AKA Clarins, AKA Tyrone. Call me anything but late to get that check.
Saleem: As you can hear, Brad is funny. But the Clarence character I know him from, he was modeled on a real person.
Brad: You know, I was old enough to go to bars. And there was this guy that came in there. And he was just a funny guy, always talking crazy… [in a voice] “Yeah, my name, Clarence. Yeah. How you doing? What's going on? Uh huh. Yeah. Yeah.”
Saleem: That’s what gets me about Clarence, who turned out to be Brad: he’s listening and observing what people are saying and captivated by. He got inspired and started doing stand-up comedy. But the idea for The Clarence arrived on a golf course.
Brad: I was playing golf with a friend of mine. And he had to quit after nine holes because he had to get home to see Miss Kane. I said, “Who?” “Miss Kane on ‘All My Children,’ Erica Kane.” He had to get home to see her – I said, “What the hell?” You know, and then I started watching it and I got hooked on it.
Saleem: Oh you were actually watching?
Brad: Oh, yeah!
Saleem: What hooked you? What made you, what made you keep coming?
Brad: The characters on the show. Erica Kane. She was, she was sexy and crazy and scandalous and all that kind of stuff. And then they had Angela and Jesse. I noticed that on soap operas, all the women are smart and all the men are good-looking, rich, and stupid. And that element drove me to start talking about the soap operas within my stand-up act.
Saleem: Cut to a number years later, he'd parlayed that stand up act into a syndicated show on the radio. Over the years, Brad realized why his updates were so compelling.
Brad: The thing about it. It's just the same basic, uh, elements of story: love, hate, deception, conniving, jealousy, the envy, the, what a person will do to get what they want. Because the definition of story is anything a character does to overcome obstacles between that character and what they want.
Saleem: Do you remember a particular storyline about jealousy that really sticks out to you?
Brad: Yeah. Like on “Bold and the Beautiful”. Okay. Well…
Saleem: I can hear you flipping through your notes.
Brad: Yeah, I gotta, yeah, I gotta be prepared. This is the never ending storyline, the triangle of Taylor, Brooke, and Ridge. Classic storyline on BNB.
Saleem: It took me a second to realize that Brad had prepared a whole summary of a Bold and Beautiful episode for us.
Brad: [Brad’s voice overlaps with itself with dramatic string music underneath] Now Brooke had an affair with her daughter Bridget's husband, which resulted in Brooke's daughter, Hope being born that cause all kinds of jealousy…Now Ridge and Brooke had been going back and forth with each other forever in two weeks. However, Ridge has two kids with Taylor…Jealousy.
Saleem: I never in my life thought that I would get to hear the update in person. Thank you for that.
Brad: Oh, you're more than welcome, brother. You're more than welcome.
Saleem: Brad had this other successful call-in radio show, On the Phone with Tyrone, where people would call in, ask all kinds of questions, often about relationships.
Saleem: If somebody's listening and they're feeling jealous of something that they don't want to feel jealous of, what would you advise them?
Brad: Well, first of all, to really examine themselves as to why they might be having these feelings. if you feel jealous at all, you got to ask yourself why. So the first thing you do is you gotta check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Saleem: I like that starting question of just saying, Hey, why, why really trying to dig deep and make sure you understand why you feel jealous in the first place.
Brad: Yeah. Because you can’t make the other, the other person responsible for your feelings.
Saleem: How much did watching a ton of soap operas play into what you do or don't think about jealousy?
Brad: You know, I can recognize soap operas cause I get to look at somebody else's misery. That's just fun. Basically from my mother, from listening to her talk to her friends. And also from talking to older people. When I was a kid, I always liked to talk to older people. I liked them to talk to me. Because you, you, you get a different perspective when you allow yourself to listen to somebody else, instead of your criteria being the only one valid in how you feel or how you approach the situation.
Saleem: There's a couple kind of strategies we just talked about. One is just really making sure that for someone who's feeling jealousy, that they really take a moment to really, really understand why they're feeling it. Another is to talk to people who can give you some perspective on your experience outside yourself.
Brad: Right, right. Because you locked into your own feelings and that colors your thinking. And you got to separate your feelings from your thinking. Just as you separate facts from feelings. That's your emotional state of mind. Why are you angry? Why are you feeling left out? You have to recognize why you feel the way you feel. Because you’re the only one who can change that.
Saleem: So, A. Recognizing why you feel the way you feel, because you’re the person who can actually have an effect on the way you feel, that’s not the other person’s responsibility. B. Talking to some other folks outside the situation maybe to help you to see what is feeling and what’s reality in this situation.
Brad: Yeah, cause sometimes you need somebody to pull your coattail and say, “You trippin’, Okay? You just straight trippin.”
Saleem: You were really careful there to draw a distinction between what you see in a soap opera and what's funny and entertaining in a soap opera and where wisdom in real life comes from.
Brad: Yeah. Well, you know, it's funny when the other guy slips on a banana peel.
Saleem: That's right. That's the definition. That's right. That's right.
Brad: You ain't too happy about it, when it's yo ass.
Saleem: Right, right.
[music fade out]
Saleem: It’s wild that we just went full circle from me, in a car, listening to a radio show about a soap opera to the person who gave that update, literally advising me on how folks who are fully grown can deal with the jealousy in their lives. I feel like I can’t ask for more than that.
Okay, y’all. After this episode, we’re gonna take a little break so our team can catch their breath. The show will be back in two weeks. I don’t want you to miss the next episode. It’s gonna be a special conversation with the folks from El Michels Affair, the band who created that earworm of a podcast theme you hear at the top and bottom of our show. We’ll talk with singer Piya Malik about the lyrics to the song, and to Leon Michels about how he evokes emotions in his music.
In the meantime, if you want some more guidance with your own relationships, we have another tool that might help: the Ten Percent Happier app. There’s a great video course on relationships featuring Oren Jay Sofer. You can download the app with a 30 day free trial - to find it, go to the link in our show notes.
Oh, and as always, if you’ve got a specific question or a story about an emotion you’ve been grappling with. Tell us about it. Send us a voice memo at email@example.com. You gotta spell out T-E-N percent. You might end up hearing yourself on one of our future episodes.You can also hit us up on Twitter at “pod feelings.” P-O-D-F-E-E-L-I-N-G-S. Share the show with your friends, we appreciate it when that happens. And you can also give us that five star rating on Apple podcasts if you feel so moved. It helps people find us.
More Than a Feeling is produced by Will Coley, Palace Shaw, Reva Goldberg, Mark Pagán, and Kim Buikema. Our managing producer - that’s Kimmie Regler and executive producer - Jen Poyant. Scoring mixing and sound design provided by Ultraviolet Audio. Production support for this episode was provided by Connor Donahue, Orla O’Neill, and Stefano Ferrara. Voiceover contributors were Donatella Cusma, Daria Corrias, and Daniella Nacita.
Special thanks to Keelah Williams, assistant professor of psychology at Hamilton college. Jaimie Arona Krems, social psychologist at Oklahoma State University, Niamh Cullen, lecturer in history at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Brad Sanders. Our Palermo focus group: Rossella Armo, Cristina Morrocchi, and Nunzia Mondello.
Our theme music was composed by El Michels Affair. Thank you to Danny Akalepse at Big Crown Records. Additional music provided by APM. Music licensing help by Rebecca Grierson of SixtyFour Music. Fact checking for this episode provided by Jeanette Beebe.
Special thanks to Jess Goldberg, Ben Rubin, Dan Harris, Matthew Hepburn, and Toni Magyar. This show could not have been created without you. I mean anyone would envy this team, which IS distinct from jealousy, remember that. See ya in two weeks.