was a looker, Lord how she shined
Papa was a good’n, but the jealous kind
Papa loved Mama, Mama loved men
Mama’s in the graveyard, Papa’s in the pen”
Loved Mama,” Garth Brooks
As I walked out of the movie Kinsey a few weeks ago
(caution some plot spoilers in this column. Go see Kinsey
if you haven’t. It’s brilliant), I turned to the people I
was with and said “See, that movie proves that people are
They looked at me like we’d come out of a different movie.
Wasn’t Kinsey all about the variety and creativity
of human sexual experience? But that wasn’t what I meant.
What I meant was that despite our collective obsession with
fidelity, adultery, love triangles, etc., it took a docudrama
to actually give us a believable portrayal of an open relationship
that didn’t implode by the end of the film. And it did it
without pretending that it’s easy or simple. People cried,
got angry, were uncertain, let things go in unforseen directions.
No one was perfect. But they were also unfailingly honest,
kind, and willing to make changes. No one in Hollywood could
think of that on their own?
The surprise was even greater after my disappointment with
A Home at the End of the World, which promised in its
tag line, “Family can be whatever you want it to be.” Although
the film really was challenging and fun in most of its portrayal
of a three-person relationship, in the end it succumbed to
a few basic assumptions about how such a thing would work:
One person will get the short end of the stick, someone will
always be left out, communication about these things are impossible,
the relationship is not ultimately workable. What a heartbreak.
OK, so aside from people with a vested interest in open relationships
or polyamory, why should this little blind spot matter? As
one online description of Copacabana reads, “love and
romance become embroiled in jealousy and murder . . . good
old-fashioned feel-good entertainment.” Why fight what people
like to see?
Well, it’s partly because Timothy Gray has been weighing on
my mind lately. Timothy Gray was murdered in Delmar last fall.
He was a victim of deranged jealousy, allegedly killed by
a man who had some interest in or past entanglement with Gray’s
longtime girlfriend. Knowing a little bit about the pain felt
by his friends and family, I find it hard to quash my discomfort
at being constantly entertained by things that make light
of murderous jealousy.
I’m not going get into the circular ridiculousness of whether
art mirrors society or vice versa. Suffice it to say that
both in our art and in real life we have a serious problem.
Sexual jealousy is honored, revered, elevated to the status
of “proof of true love.” We suspect those who don’t act on
it. It’s sung about constantly, written about constantly,
portrayed dramatically constantly.
Most of us who absorb the constant messages we’re surrounded
by about jealousy do not murder, no matter how howlingly jealous
we become. But studies have shown that those who do often
have had no other brushes with the law.
We do tolerate or excuse just about everything up to and sometimes
including murder based on our belief that jealousy is something
innate, unmanagable, and uncontrollable. Violent jealousy
is seen as a biological reaction, an unavoidable primal urge.
Even the district attorney’s language describing the Gray
murder case brings us into the realm of the animalistic: “It
appears they had mutual interest in a female.”
Screaming fights because a partner looked at an attractive
person on the street. Refusing to allow exes to be discussed.
Reading diaries. Harrassing people who left you, or their
new partners. Hiring private investigators. It’s all considered
normal, though similar things wouldn’t be accepted in response
to other forms of betrayal or lying.
And considering stuff like this par for the course really
does bleed into looking the other way on more serious crimes.
While we’ve come, in this country at least, to not officially
consider murder an acceptable manifestation of jealousy, it’s
scarily common to regard a jealousy murder in the same light
as a Robin Hood robbery, even (or especially) for judges.
(“Would have done the same” they say.) Cheating, suspected
cheating, suspected interest in someone else, or even having
a partner decide to leave and have a new relationship are
all seen as murder defenses in many states, the so-called
“crime of passion.” These criminals are often treated more
lightly than people who kill their longtime abusers to escape
them. A “crime of passion” defense might not get you off the
hook every time, but it’ll often get your charges downgraded
from murder to manslaughter.
The number of people who expressed support for the woman who
a few years ago ran over her husband in the parking lot of
the hotel where she’d followed him and his mistress was frightening.
So was the police calling it “unfortunate circumstances for
such a polished and accomplished young lady” when Miss Savannah
shot her boyfriend for two-timing her last year.
This too is sung about constantly, usually from the murderer’s
point of view, portrayed as the sympathetic tragic hero whom
we’re supposed to feel sorry for languishing in jail.
I’m not saying that cheating and betrayal aren’t wrong or
aren’t painful, or that insecurities are easy to get over.
(I’ve met people who say they never even feel jealousy,
and I don’t trust them farther than I could spit.) Not everyone
will want to go the direction of Kinsey. That’s not the point.
Healthy monogamy does not require a bedrock of insane jealousy.
It can exist without condoning antisocial or violent behavior
in the name of protecting it. (Indeed, I might line up with
those who say healthy monogamy can only exist that
In the meantime, we need more exposure to people being creative
and sane about issues of relationship insecurity and jealousy.
And we need to call our legal system out whenever it tries
to excuse violence in the name of jealousy. Someday the phrase
“crime of passion” will be shortened—to “crime.”