In today’s Q & A video, I respond to Miranda, who writes “why do I struggle with retroactive jealousy?”
If you’ve ever asked yourself “why do I struggle with retroactive jealousy?” you are not alone.
It seems like I’m always learning something new about my boyfriend’s past sex life. Why does learning about it hurt me when others seem unbothered and even excited to know about their partner’s past sex life?
Zachary Stockill: It’s important for me to emphasize that I don’t think there’s one cause for retroactive jealousy.
I think that there is a range of biological, biochemical, cultural, social, childhood reasons why people like you and I either struggled in the past with retroactive jealousy or are struggling now.
So anyone watching this who’s looking for one cause, I think you’re going to be disappointed because with complicated emotional disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder, like depression, like anxiety, like retroactive jealousy, there’s no one root cause that we can all look to and say, “That’s the reason,” but you raise a good point.
And this used to confound me as well when I was struggling with retroactive jealousy, where I’d talk about my problem with certain people, maybe friends or something. And they’d look at me in disbelief, like, “What are you talking about? Why do you care about your partner’s past sex life, dating life, relationship history?” \
They’d look at me and be like, “I don’t care at all what my partner did in their past, why do you care about what your partner did in their past?”
And you raise another interesting point, which is a lot of people get kind of turned on by the thought of their partner’s past. And this is going to seem insane to anyone watching this who struggles with retroactive jealousy, but I can promise you it’s true; I’ve got the emails to prove it.
Several people over the years have written to me describing the symptoms that we would associate with retroactive jealousy. Or, retroactive jealousy OCD, and at the same time, they’re turned on by their obsessions. So this is a complicated phenomenon. It’s important for me to be clear about that, and it can manifest in all kinds of ways.
But when you’re wondering “why do I struggle with retroactive jealousy?” there’s a certain liberation, I think, in acknowledging the different ways that people feel about their partner’s past.
So let me explain what I mean; so there’s a lot of people online arguing that “jealousy is 100% biological, hardwired into our species, men are worried about paternity, women are worried about the investment of resources, et cetera, et cetera. You know, it’s 100% biological and that’s it, we can’t escape it.”
I’m not trying to argue that jealousy is not biological at all; I do think there’s a biological component to jealousy, absolutely, but I don’t believe it is 100% biological, and I know that not all human beings on the planet struggle with this the same way that people like you and I do.
I read this example in a book by Dr. Chris Ryan called Sex at Dawn, which is a tremendous read, highly recommended.
He describes this hunter-gatherer tribe, I can’t recall where, where their idea of how babies are born, how babies get made, is babies result from the accumulation of semen inside a woman. And the more men that the mother to be has sex with, the more the baby will absorb the positive traits of those individuals.
For example, if a woman wants to have a baby who’s smart, funny, and tall, she’ll go have sex with the smart, funny and tall guy. And that’s how they believe babies are made. And in a lot of hunter-gatherer tribes around the world, there’s zero jealousy.
There’s a lot of sort of promiscuous sex going on and people swapping partners, and a shared sense of paternity. So the argument that jealousy is always 100% biological kind of falls apart here.
Now, this is an extreme example. You mentioned people I’m sure in your daily life who they just don’t care about their boyfriend’s sex life, or maybe it fascinates them or turns them on.
There’s a certain liberation in acknowledging that, we’re not destined to live with retroactive jealousy forever; we can change our perspectives.
And just because we’re struggling with this particular little demon of an issue that we call, “Retroactive jealousy” does not mean that it’s hardwired into our system and that we have to live with it forever because we have examples all around us of people who feel very differently about their partner’s, past people who are living very happy, well adjusted, successful lives and happy relationships without any concern about their partner’s past.
So we can look to them in certain moments for inspiration.
It’s nice to have that perspective sometime to talk to someone who really doesn’t care about their wife’s past, or their boyfriend’s past, or their husband’s past, they’re just kind of interested in the past, in so far as it lets them get to know their partner better. We can be inspired and sometimes motivated by those people in certain moments.
Furthermore, I firmly believe that you’ll drive yourself crazy over time if you keep asking, “Why?” You know, “Why do I struggle with this? Why?”
“Why do I struggle with retroactive jealousy??!!”
There’s a certain value in getting some clarity on why you’re struggling with this. A great therapist or coach can be extremely valuable in this regard. But again, I have to come back to one of my favorite song lyrics of all time from Van Morrison, who sang, “It ain’t why, it just is.”
Unfortunately, you have been dealt this hand of retroactive jealousy.
I was dealt this hand many years ago when I struggled with this, but it’s not inevitable, it’s not something you have to live with indefinitely, there is a way forward, there is a way out, and with enough effort, dedication, consistency, and a sense of humor, you can absolutely beat retroactive jealousy.
You do not have to live with this for the rest of your life.