The hormone connection behind jealousy

The hormone connection behind jealousy



I remember last summer when I took my husband to the annual St. Petersburg Cupcake Competition–an event I look forward to every year as an ardent cupcake fan–and left him in a corner holding two full plates of cupcakes while I greedily went to acquire more.

I swear I wasn’t gone 10 minutes when I came back and found a tall, attractive, well-dressed brunette draping herself all over Douglas like a seasonal couch cover. With amusement, I watched this woman flick her hair, bat her eyelashes and try to charm her way into my husband’s cupcake-filled arms. And I watched with more amusement as my husband–with his wedding band unintentionally cloaked by the cupcake plates–hummuna hummuna his way through her well-practiced flirtations.

I soon stepped in and interrupted their tete-a-tete–with it taking a few long minutes to finally dawn on this woman that the pint-sized, bare-faced, bespectacled chick with a bit of cupcake frosting on her chin was actually her romantic target’s spouse. And once that realization set in–and after I strongly urged her to sample the watermelon squash cupcakes that were alllllll the way on the other side of the event space–she quickly scurried off.

Now, I didn’t feel any pangs of jealousy despite this woman’s obvious attempts to pick up my guy. But, I chalk that up to being with Douglas for over 20 years–I just don’t have that knee-jerk reaction to get irritable about another woman’s interest in my mate.

However, if I was in a relatively new relationship, I have no doubt that the green-eyed monster would rise up in me. And, in fact, during the outset of my relationship with Douglas, I remember several times when women unexpectedly flanked him–and I did not handle it with the easy aplomb I have now. Just ask his former bandmate–a singer who could rival Sinead O’Connor’s angelic lilts, who graduated college at the top of her class and, oh, just also happened to be a tall, stunning, blue-eyed model on the side–who accidentally overheard my jealous (and completely unwarranted, I might add) rant outside his apartment door one day when she popped by for an unexpected visit. Not my finest moment.

If you’re wondering why I’m bringing all this up, it’s because being in a new relationship–where things are still unsteady and you’re not sure about each other’s level of commitment–isn’t the only time when you’re bound to feel jealousy.

A new study in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin reveals that you tend to feel more jealousy regarding your partner and exhibit more “mate guarding” behaviors (for instance, making it clear that you’re a couple by holding hands) when you’re among women who are in the fertile phase of their cycle–which is something you pick up on by the way they’re dressed (fertile women tend to wear more revealing outfits and more pink and red hues), the way they sound (women use more higher “sing-song” notes in their fertile phase), the way they smell (women emit a more pleasant natural aroma around ovulation that sends signals about their fertility) or the way they behave (which includes being more confident, chatty and flirtatious).

This means that even though you might find your honey’s female “work wife”, bandmate or platonic friend totally adorable today, if you notice when she’s in her fertile phase around your mate, you might suddenly feel like she can threaten your relationship and steal your sweetie away. As a result, you may ask your partner to spend less time with that woman in the future, to avoid being around her alone or even cut all ties with her.

Alternatively, it can also mean that the female partner of your workmate, bandmate or platonic chum who ordinarily thinks you’re super-cool can end up one day looking at you with a side-eye wondering what you’re doing hanging around her sweetheart–and want you long gone.

I remember this happened to me once: I was visiting a male platonic friend with whom I’d shared many laugh-filled marathon movie nights during college. The entire time I was there, his girlfriend was gripping both my friend’s hands, aggressively caressing his back, throwing her legs over his legs and at one point I thought for sure she was going to start peeing all over him just to assert that he was hers. Even though I’d never had any romantic designs on this friend, the message his girlfriend was sending me was clear, “Hands off.” It wasn’t long after that visit that our friendship completely ended.

Naturally, this increase in jealousy toward women who are fertile is tied to not losing the person you love to someone else. But, it’s also to avoid losing someone who’s helping to rear and support children you have together or you one day might have together. The study authors also point out that even a short fling–with your honey ultimately returning to you–can cause long-term damage to your relationship, for instance, if your mate impregnates another woman or gets a sexually transmitted disease.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this?

Women being biologically wired to guard their mate from fertile women serves a real purpose–it helps preserve a relationship and keep a family intact.

However, it’s also key to keep in mind that these feelings of jealousy may pop up in situations where it’s not warranted–for instance, about your honey’s longtime platonic friend, co-worker or bandmate.

And it’s important to remember that other women can feel this kind of jealousy out of the blue about you, too–and they don’t understand why.

So, when you experience a rise in jealousy, try to think about the situation and determine if this is a person who really is trying to horn in on your relationship–or it’s just her hormones tripping your jealousy wire.

And, if a woman who ordinarily likes you suddenly feels threatened when you’re around her honey, give them space, send her this blog post, then plan a lovely brunch with her once your Week 3 kicks in and your fertile window closes. You can discuss the silliness of hormone-fueled jealousy over a delicious plate of scones and preserves.

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