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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Jealousy

It always happens the same way. I walk over to the mailbox to pick up the day's delivery, and I see a neighbor who has gone there with their dog. I ask for permission before I engage in any petting or interaction with the dog; some people don't care for others to do so while they are out for a daily stroll. Of course I sometimes run into dogs that I have seen before, so we immediately have a little visit. In case you didn't already know this about me, I love dogs. And they seem to know it. Even dogs that don't understand a word I am saying (because their humans don't speak English) seem to know that I like them a lot. And it isn't limited to dogs. Numerous cats have been drawn to me, and I have been told by their humans that they are not normally social. Heck, I've had a horse come up to me and nibble on my hair before laying its head in my lap. And I have had wild goats and two wolves come up to me and lick my hand. I think they just know I respect them and will not hurt them. Or as I often say, dogs like me because they know I am almost as smart as they are.

When the neighbor dog has been sufficiently fussed over, patted, and given scratches in the spots that they can't reach, I gather up my mail and head home. When I get inside, I go straight to the bathroom to wash my hands. Why? Habits die hard. Even though our dog Paris has been gone for nearly two years, my natural instinct is to try and wash the smell of the other dog off of my hands. When Paris was alive, if I visited with a dog during my mail check, she would sniff intently at my hands, her tail wagging in quick, short wags. And then she'd get up on her hind legs to smell my face. Because it was okay if I patted another dog. But she was checking to make sure that none of them had given me doggie kisses!

When we first became friends with Marie and Thayne and their family, Paris would sniff both of us thoroughly, but especially her mommy. She would put her nose against my pant legs and snort air in and out, smelling Bowie on me. After numerous times visiting with our friends, Paris became accepting and tolerant of the smell of Bowie on our hands and clothes. She knew that this other dog was not going to replace her in our hearts. All was well. 

When I checked the mail the other day and had a nice visit with one of the neighbor dogs, I immediately washed my hands out of habit. But it made me think fondly of our little girl. And it started me thinking about jealousy. Pets can feels jealousy, just like humans. Yes, there is the jealousy or envy over something someone else has that maybe we don't. That, I think, is an age-old feeling that will continue as long as there are those who have what others don't. But I think that the type of jealousy that Paris had for other dogs is similar to some feelings that humans have.

Why would a dog feel jealous? To put it simply, I think it is a sort of fear. Not a fear like the one of making their human angry, but a fear of losing the love and companionship of their person or persons. Dogs smelling other dogs simply know that while we were away from them we were socializing with another canine. Does that mean that we don't love our dog any more? Of course not! But does their mind rationalize the way ours can? We will probably never know. Paris always seemed to know that a scent of another dog was just a passing thing - nothing was going to come of it. She sniffed out the situation and moved on. All was forgiven.

How sad that humans, with our highly developed brains, can't do the same. No, I don't suggest that if someone has violated the trust of a relationship that the other party should forget it and just move on. I am talking about the jealousy that comes from fear. This fear, like the fear a dog might have when they realize that you have been with another canine, is bred from a lack of understanding. Love does not diminish when it is spread around. It grows even larger. Love is not a finite quantity, but an endless supply.

This, I think, is what can cause some of the uglier instances of sibling rivalry. Children do not seem to understand that when a new child is added to the family, they are not being replaced. It was the root of many problems between me and my sister Liz. She was the youngest in the family until I showed up six days before her sixth birthday. I think that the fear of rejection plagues her to this day, so many years later. And there is still plenty of love to go around. This is the same fear that makes her not want to share her family with others. After we went to Hungary and met our relatives, I thought briefly that I might be able to make another visit to see them again. I knew that Liz wouldn't be able to go, and that it was bad timing for Marie, So I asked Julie, who was also on that trip, if she might like to go. When I told Liz, she was furious. She informed me that if I went with someone other than her and "let them stay with her family," she would never speak to me again. I replied by asking if she'd rather have me go alone, or skip the trip entirely. Her answer was that she would rather have me do that that have other people spending time with our family.

For various reasons, the trip fell apart, but not because of my sister's threats. She doesn't seem to realize that if the family loves me, there is still enough love left for her. And if my close friends are also loved by my family, it doesn't mean that she will be loved any less. Unfortunately for Liz, if I have the chance to go and visit my family again, I will. Her threats will not stop me. I will still love her, as will my family. If she follows through on her threats, the greatest loss will be hers. As Iago said in William Shakespeare's Othello, "Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds upon." The jealousy we might feel hurts us more than it hurts others. I only wish that she could escape from that pain.