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Why is the awareness of someone you "like" being with someone

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It's due in large part to evolutionary psychology and social programming.


As an organism, you have a hard-wired desire to procreate and spread your genetic information. This is where your desire for sex comes from, and a desire for parenthood comes from. But there are some noted differences between the sexes, and jealousy will be slightly different because of them for men and women. When a woman gets pregnant, the woman knows whom the mother is, because the pregnancy happens within her body. That leaves no question. When a woman gets pregnant, the man doesn't know 100 percent whom the father is. There is a chance he has been cuckolded, and if he has then he may end up spending his energy and resources insuring the survival of another man's genetic information, not his own. 


Because of this, there has been a powerful motivation in human societies to have either monogamous relationship structures, with a strong sense of condemnation for women who are perceived to "sleep around," or a polyganous relationship structure, where there may be multiple women but still one man in a relationship structure. Either case helps increase the reasonable belief that you are the true father of the offspring, if you are the man.


(This is why men are often much more jealous of their girlfriend/wife spending time with another man, and not so jealous with their girlfriend/wife spending time with another woman. She can't get pregnant from the other woman even if they do play sexually.)


For women, jealousy centers more on emotional and resource allocation. For a long time in human societies, women were made to depend on men to help provide resources for the survival of themselves and their children. After-all, when you're a woman in early, tribal society and seven-, eight-, nine-months' pregnant, it's hard to do the work of surviving on your own, including gathering of food and water, and hunting, and shelter building. It continues to be difficult with an infant to nurse. You're at risk of predators. So it is beneficial for women to have someone(s) invested in them. If their mate begins to spend time with some other woman, and begins to have romantic feelings for another woman, then she fears that he may get her pregnant and would direct more of his resources toward the woman he is in love with more.


This is the basic underlying evolutionary psychological structure of jealousy. What's interesting is, that even as society changes and there are solutions to many of these scenarios now, our brain is slow to adapt to them, so jealousy persists. 

Edited by secondhander
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And to clarify, I mean not the fact that in this situation, you're being denied the person you fancy, but that someone else has her. Is this envy?

I disagree with SecondHander a lot with regards to evolutionary psychology, but I agree that social norms and/or social programming are a big reason why someone being with another is painful. In other words, I disagree about where this all comes from. I'd say instead it comes from a lot of legal structure for people to maintain control over others, mostly about who can be with whom and laws to enforce that. Then it just becomes second nature to people, in a similar way altruism is just taken as basic morality. I don't feel the experience you described though. It's not merely human nature.


If "someone else" has her, it would be jealousy if you feel you are being prevented from gaining a value - that's what jealousy often refers to. Envy is wanting what someone else has, which is treated negatively by many people, like destroying what others have. If you desire what someone else has but respect or admire it, then that is good. Anyway, you aren't being "denied" a person you fancy, because it must be mutual. You aren't prevented from pursuing anyone else, nor does it mean you are a bad person.

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When you have romantic feelings for someone, why is the awareness of him or her being with someone else so painful?


Because romantic feelings imply they are a value of which you want to obtain. Them being with another person means they are "possessed" by another person, so they are not a value that is obtainable, at the moment at least. The pain you feel is from your realization that a value is unobtainable.

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I don't know what "social programming" is, secondhander, and you don't seem to explain.

I doubt it's any kind of programming, genetic or social. I don't even think it's directly the fact that she is with someone else. It's what her being with someone else says (or what you interpret it to say) about how she feels about you that hurts. I seriously doubt people who are in open relationships feel the same kind of pain about sex with someone else, as someone who's monomagous relationship (or dream of having one) is disintegrating because of something like this. (and again, as usual in these posts, I'm just using "you" as a general pronoun, not referencing the OP personally)

Edited by Nicky
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Thanks for the thoughtful reply, but I am not a believer in evolutionary psychology,


Then I don't believe you're ever going to resolve the question you asked. Why don't you believe in evolutionary psychology? Do you believe in evolutionary biology? Is the brain in a completely different category from other parts of the body? Is it impervious to being shaped by evolution and sexual selection, whereas other parts of the body ARE shaped by evolution and sexual selection?

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I don't know what "social programming" is, secondhander, and you don't seem to explain.


Don't interpret this as me trying to be snarky, but I assumed that the meaning of "social programming" is obvious and apparent. What I mean by it is social conventions -- things that you may have been told directly that "you should do this" by someone, or you might have just seen and heard other people doing it and accepted it as the norm for yourself without questioning it. For example, consider these questions (It doesn't matter how you personally answer them, just think about the questions and how they generally have been answered in our particular society in modern times): Do you think the guy should ask the girl out on a date? Do you think he should drive and he should pick her up, or that she should drive and she should pick him up? Do you think the guy should pay for the date, or that the girl should pay, or dutch? Do you wear a skirt, or see many guys wearing skirts? Do you wear makeup if you are a guy? Did anyone have to tell you all these things directly, or did you accept some concepts based on the sociology and what you saw everyone else doing? Why did you do what you saw the majority of people doing? To fit in? All this relates to social programming.


Even the issue of altruism vs. rational self-interest, many people accept certain concepts of altruism, often uncritically. Why? Again, it's social programming. Certain concepts get spread around, and accepted by a majority with little argumentation, and you are predisposed to also accept them without much thought. So someone says something like "random acts of kindness are a good thing," and you accept it as true, or someone says "love is sacrifice," and you accept it as true. And then you begin to think that you have an obligation to give money to a charity and believe you are evil and bad if you don't. All this is social programming.


Again, I thought the meaning would be apparent and obvious.


So again to clarify with regard to the OP's question: Why do people feel jealousy? It's a combination of evolutionary psychology and social programming. 

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