Greener Grass: Understanding That Other Patch

Jealousy has always been a curious thing for me, since I experience it so extremely rarely that my relation to it is most often as a spectator tilting her head to the side at this weird thing that humans apparently feel with such strength of emotion that it makes the stomach roil and the head fill up with so many images which each introduce a fresh wave of agony. Even in situations in which I suppose I should have been expected to feel it (I was well aware that M was carrying on liaisons with many other women besides me), if I experienced it at all, it was as a thought rather than an emotion, which in any case I only entertained for a little while.

Yet I am put in the odd position of often being expected to feel envy rooted in yet another emotion I don’t know what it’s like to feel, and told I don’t know what I’m missing for not feeling it. I suppose that’s true enough in one sense—not reacting that way myself, I may never know exactly what it’s like to react in that particular way to that particular stimulus (or rather, in the expected ways, to that particular set of stimuli). But what I recoil from is the idea that I can’t know what I’m missing, that not having that reaction myself, I can’t possibly understand the reaction of others. I’ve touched on this idea before, when I mentioned the oft-cited analogy that sexual people tend to come up with for why they can’t explain themselves to an asexual person, of trying to explain red to a colorblind person—why red, I wonder? So many people independently come up with the color red, yet all my friends and relatives with color deficiencies tell me they actually can distinguish that color. I’m being glib; I know red is culturally and psychologically associated with sex, but my point is, you can see from the choice of colors that even if we were literally talking about explaining red to a colorblind person, it would still be more about the speaker’s (mis)understanding than the listener’s. Perhaps it is a better figure of speech than I first pegged it to be, but if so it’s only unintentionally good, because it’s presented to demonstrate what’s taken as truth about its subject, but it actually better demonstrates the attitude of the person who is not its subject. My criticism of that attitude still stands, but now I want to expand on it. Continue reading