Dan Dascalescu's Homepage
/essays/jealousy - think about it

Jealousy - Think about it...

A rational deconstruction of jealousy, showing why it's a losing strategy.

by Dan Dascalescu - 2007-May-10


  1. X and Y are two persons in love with each other, want the other to be happy, and want to solve conflicts in a win-win manner
  2. X and Y are in an exclusive relationship (for open relationships, jealousy is so pointless it makes no sense to debate it)
  3. (Any chromosomal resemblance is purely hinted.)


Y does something commonly considered as "cheating", e.g. having sexual intercourse someone else than X. Y potentially repeats this behavior. X finds out about Y's behavior (preferably from Y). X's possible reactions:

A. X is jealous and:

  1. Terminates the relationship unilaterally
  2. Tries to think things through and stay in the relationship. At this point, the best X can do is to talk to Y about their "cheating". Y's potential stances:

    1. Y had a purely physical fling and wants very much to stay with X
    2. Y became romantically involved with the third party.
      At this point (stance #2), X has three choices:

      1. Compete for Y's attention and consideration for a reasonable period
      2. Be jealous and forbid Y from seeing the third party
      3. Give up Y

      I would think here that the best choice for X at this point is to do #1, then #3, because, according to the first premise, X wants Y to be happy and forbidding Y from seeing the third person will make Y unhappy (plus it will create the temptation of the "forbidden fruit"). Moreover, if X allows Y to continue seeing the third person, Y can come to one of the following two conclusions:

      1. the third person is a better match for Y, therefore it would be simply cruel of X to hold Y for themselves (thus contradicting the first premise)
      2. X is a better match. This will cause Y to better appreciate X, return to X (humbly), and will make future "strayings" on Y's part less likely. This, on the other hand, requires that X stay open and not be jealous.

B. X is not jealous and:

  1. doesn't care about Y (any more) - this contradicts premise #1
  2. acts as described above, minus the jealousy part. This would enable X to compete better, and not look desperate (a turn-off for Y).


Of course, the human spectrum of emotions is larger than the decision tree above, but I think the analysis does a good job of concisely describing the most important situations.

So why is jealousy a losing strategy? Look in the decision tree and see at which point jealousy will lead to a win-win situation for X and Y.