For five years Nancy Friday has carried in her wallet a tiny slip of paper that reads: "In jealousy there is more self-love than love." Like so many other examples of pithy wrongheadedness, that fragment of portentousness was discovered inside a Chinese fortune cookie. Friday, the author of My Mother/ My Self and two books on sexual fantasies, kept the message because jealousy was beginning to obsess her. "As much as I needed love and men," she says, "as soon as I fell in love with one, I would be afraid of losing him, and I didn't understand why the anxiety didn't go to sleep. I came to see it as jealousy, a sense of a priori defeat whenever there's a triangle of any kind."
Friday's new book, Jealousy (Morrow; $19.95), begun about the time she cracked open the restaurant cookie, is a rambling and personal examination of the subject. Her central conclusion comes from the pioneering psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, who believed that jealousy is constitutional and rooted in the first few months of life. Klein taught that the mother's breast, as feeder and comforter, is decisive in building the infant's ego and sets the stage for envy and jealousy. Problems of envy are inevitable, and if they are not resolved in infancy, problems of jealousy may develop later. Withholding the breast generates envy of the mother's power, and the appearance of a rival--the father or a sibling--can result in jealousy as the infant perceives that the third party is responsible for the withdrawal of the mother's attention. Friday feels that her rivalry with her older sister for her mother's affection fits Klein's description. "I couldn't get my mother's attention no matter what I did," she says. "No matter how many laurels I won, I was terrified of being left out, and the word for that, I now see, is jealousy."
The conventional social-science literature on the subject ties jealousy to low self-esteem: men and women who feel they fail to measure up will tend to exaggerate the danger of losing a special friendship or romantic attachment. A survey reported in the September issue of Psychology Today found that jealousy is apt to occur in the area of a subject's interests or aspirations. Someone who desperately wants to be rich will be jealous of rich people, just as those who envy creative people may fear that their mates will run off with novelists and painters. Another truism: jealousy tends to arise if a person's goals are unrealistically high. The survey showed that the most jealous people were those reporting substantial discrepancies between how they really are and how they would like to be.
Views of jealousy tend to follow changing attitudes in the popular culture. In the 1950s jealousy was widely viewed as a healthy expression of determined love and in the 1960s, as a pathological obstacle to sexual freedom and self-love. Nowadays the emotion comes in three basic versions:
SOCIOBIOLOGICAL. Jealousy is in the genes because it is evolutionarily adaptive. The ape (or human) who chases off a rival enhances his chances to get his genes into the next generation. Males are jealous because they can never be sure of paternity; females, because they need males to help protect the young. Says Rutgers Anthropologist Lionel Tiger: "Eternal vigilance is the price of sexual confidence."