We like to believe love brings out the best in us: that the heart-swelling joy and quiet comfort of a partner takes us away from our baser natures. Yet when sexual jealousy rears its ugly head, even the most pragmatic of us can lose our own.
All too soon, we cave in to rage, hurt and insecurity. But a recent study has revealed that men and women feel sexual jealousy in different ways. For men, it is sparked by infidelity in the bedroom, according to researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
But for women, hardwired to want someone who will stick around to raise children, jealousy peaks when their partner develops romantic feelings for someone else.
Four UK-based writers recount their own experiences with sexual jealousy, including Candida Crewe (pictured), who developed a rash after discovering her ex-partner had been unfaithful
Research from 2015 even puts a figure on it, with scientists from Chapman University in California suggesting that 65 per cent of women would be more upset by emotional infidelity than by the sexual sort.
Here, four Femail writers agree with the findings — and share their own devastating stories of this most toxic emotion.
MADNESS MADE ME COME OUT IN A RASH
By Candida Crewe
There are two extreme human emotions, to my mind: bereavement and jealousy. Both constitute the worst feelings in the world — but I will stick my neck out and claim jealousy as the worse of these two.
Bereavement is an ongoing ache that ebbs and flows and can last a lifetime. But jealousy is like possession. Something moves into your body and takes over, so you don’t recognise yourself. It consumes you at a cellular level, eats up every minute of your day. It is a terrifying madness.
When I discovered my ex-partner was being unfaithful to me, it felt like an inward explosion, as if an alien had burst into my body.
And the torment of my mind, so overtaken by distress, anger and hurt, gave rise to a horrifying physical reaction. I developed a livid rash from the top of my head to my toes, and my face swelled up so I looked like a creature in a Victorian freak show.
This, I thought, is what jealousy looks like, right there in the mirror.
I was rushed to A&E and given an urgent dose of steroids. The doctors there spoke of some sinister viral infection but it was just too much of a coincidence.
I knew the real cause. It was that malign gatecrasher, the cliche of the green-eyed monster.
I know the shrapnel wounds inflicted by betrayal can heal relatively quickly compared with the ongoing ache felt when someone dies. But betrayal works on a person differently from loss.
Candida, who was rushed to A&E and given an urgent dose of steroids, said jealousy demands action at any cost (file image)
Loss leaves a vacuum; infidelity gives rise to an overwhelming feeling of hatred and the desire for revenge. It is these, not the traitor and their new lover, that a woman — or indeed man — must fight.
Jealousy demands action at any cost, but control and restraint are crucial. For vengeful acts give short-term, superficial satisfaction only. The one who suffers in the end? The avenger, because revenge is grubby and nearly always ineffectual.
Silence and dignity were the route I chose through the madness which, kept closely under wraps, always fades away eventually.
Of course, the lasting legacy, once the alien has been seen off, is learning to trust again — either the unfaithful partner or someone new.
This is, arguably, even harder to achieve. But if you pull it off, it can liberate you to love again. And that, surely, is the ultimate triumph over the monstrous green demon.
LURKING BY HIS OFFICE WAS MY LOW POINT
By Lucy Cavendish
I have always prided myself on not being jealous. I thought jealousy was such an unattractive emotion. If someone is going to cheat, you have two choices — accept it (it’s more about them than you) or walk away. But then I found out a long-term partner had become close to a female work colleague and it almost drove me crazy.
It was his change in attitude I noticed first. He went from arriving late at work and not really caring about his appearance to being suited, booted and up with the lark.
Then he began taking his phone to the loo with him — and every time I pretended I needed his phone to check something on Google, he would refuse to let me have it.
Eventually, inevitably, he left his phone on the table and an over-friendly text from his work colleague flashed up. When challenged, he told me he was close to this woman. But he swore it wasn’t sexual.
Lucy Cavendish (pictured) said she turned into someone she barely knew and became obsessed after discovering her long-term partner had been lying
From then on, though, there was surreptitious texting, even though he promised he had stopped talking to her. When I found out he was lying to me, I was devastated — and then I became obsessed. I turned into someone I barely recognised, a woman I couldn’t like or understand.
Full of fury, I constantly checked his phone. Any sign that he was in touch with her set me off ranting and raving. I even hacked into his email.
I considered hiring a private investigator. Instead, I followed his car after work, went through every piece of paperwork, compulsively logged into his satnav to see where he had been. I became deranged — partner-turned-PI. The low point? That was when I began hanging about outside his office.
Over time, I realised it was the emotional connection that really hurt. He kept telling me he was seeing her to talk about our relationship and that made everything worse. It felt like a deep betrayal, that somehow she knew the inner workings of his mind and soul in a way I didn’t.
I realised years later that at the bottom of it was my own deep sense of insecurity. His emotional infidelity with another woman cut into me in a way that maybe a sexual infidelity might not have.
From my experience as a counsellor, I do think women are far more jealous of emotional intimacy than of sexual intimacy — men are the other way around.
I HID IN A SHOP TO SPY ON HIM WITH LOVER
By Marion McGilvary
My ex used to say I was a loss to the Stasi because I had an uncanny knack for knowing when something was off.
So one day, a note on his blotter with Heathrow Express train times jotted down raised a red flag — he was supposed to be in meetings all weekend.
And then I was on it . . . I went through his bin and opened all the scrunched-up paper, seeing ‘Air France’ scribbled next to more numbers on a discarded scrap.
Marion McGilvary (pictured) was wild with jealousy, anger and fear after discovering that her ex had been spending time with another woman
My stomach turned to concrete. Our relationship was floundering and, while neither of us was innocent, this was like being hit by a truck. I tried calling him. His phone was switched off. In any case, he would have denied it and accused me of snooping, which I was. So I kept looking. I needed proof. On another scrap, I found the initial ‘N’ written beside 8pm, which I assumed was a dinner reservation — and made the leap to Nobu, the only restaurant I knew that began with that letter. So I rang them and they confirmed the booking.
I checked the flight and saw that the train times directly followed the flight arrival at Heathrow. Then, feeling sick, I put on my daughter’s coat and my son’s hat and took the bus to Paddington Station, where I hid in Paperchase. And there he was. Waiting for her on the platform.
It was like walking into an abyss. I was wild with jealousy, anger and fear. I have thought of that day often since and wonder what would have happened if I’d confronted him.
But I didn’t. I was afraid to make it real — that this was the end. Instead I went home, got into bed and curled up in a ball, contemplating my life.
But it wasn’t so much the idea of sex that bothered me. It was the intimacy. The shared emails I’d previously found. The fact that he was spending the day with her.
I wanted to be wined and dined at Nobu. I wanted to be met off a train. He had never once been on time for any train he had met me from.
He was a lovely man but his focus was always on his work. He never really engaged with me. And it was this that killed me.
The attention, the focus, the time this other woman was stealing from me, so freely given, while I was at home with the kids like a sap. All alone.
I waited up for him. When he came back, I asked how his dinner at Nobu was . . . it was one of the worst days of my life.
Years later, I saw the woman tagged in a picture on Facebook. ‘I always wondered what you looked like,’ I commented. She replied with a smiley face.
She had no idea who I was.
‘Nice to put a face to the woman who slept with my man,’ I said. ‘Hope you’re proud.’
I SLEPT IN HIS BED JUST SO SHE COULDN’T GET IN IT
By Emily Hill
Emily Hill (pictured) said she once passed out after getting blind drunk, when a boyfriend's ex turned up to his house party
‘Jealousy is a disease.’ So wrote noted essayist and It girl Paris Hilton — and I agree with her. Sexual jealousy is such a canker on my love life, I don’t know if I’ll ever cure it.
I meet a man and he sweeps me off my feet. I gratefully sigh: ‘Thank you, God, old Scarlett’s finally met her Rhett’, only for him to turn around and say ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ while I’m still asking ‘Where shall we go? What shall we do?’ six to twelve months later.
Exhibit A was the man I call Mr Maldives, because he whisked me off on holiday there just ten days after we met. The sex was so unbelievable, I couldn’t understand why he wanted to spend all the time on his phone. Then, sneaking a look over his shoulder one morning, I saw he was communicating with someone called ‘Blondemoney’.
‘You’ve got a perfectly good blonde with no money right next to you,’ I seethed.
He insisted it was a financial services company. A likely story, I thought, in a frenzy of suppressed envy. But I let it go. I didn’t want to ruin our time in paradise with my jealousy, although fear ate away at me, tainting the relationship anyway.
It’s only now, more than a year since he ghosted me, that I’ve bothered to check his claim and so discovered that Blondemoney is, in fact, a financial services company.
We’ve all met someone who is so insecure and consumed by their partner that they see anyone in the vicinity as a serious threat. So I try hard to keep my simmering doubts to myself, so it doesn’t hurt anyone but me. But the men I meet all seem to love the chase and loathe the prize. I fear I’ll be replaced because I always am.
It’s hard to be your best self in the circumstances, so instead I act out in fiction — my book Bad Romance is about psychotically jealous heroines destroying their exes’ weddings and so forth.
The worst thing I’ve done in real life was become so unstable that when a boyfriend’s ex turned up to his house party, I got blind drunk, crawled under the duvet in mid-party and passed out, defiantly claiming the whole bed. Waking up alone with the worst hangover, I crept out at dawn past the sofa they were curled up on downstairs. The only way to pull the plug on my sexual jealousy seems to be to stop having sex altogether.