Jealousy Is a Check Engine Light

a closeup of a car's dashboard instrument panel showing that the check engine light is on
Image by Robert Couse-Baker / CC BY

We’ve all been there. Driving down the road. Minding your own damn business. Just trying to get where you need to go — when the check engine light comes on.

Well, crap.

It could be anything. Something easy to fix like a loose gas cap. Or it could be something far more serious. Your transmission could be going. It could mean you have no oil, and your car’s about to blow up.

Not knowing the first thing about cars, let alone how to sort out the difference, you bring it to a garage.

“What seems to be the problem?” the mechanic asks you.

“The check engine light came on,” you say, panicked. You’re flustered. You’re going to be late for work, but what can you do?

The mechanic nods sagely. “Leave it to me,” he says.

You call a friend to pick you up, leaving your car at the shop.

When you return after work, you’re met with a huge bill.

Turns out the moment you turned your back, the mechanic started throwing money, parts, and time at the problem — hoping against hope that the check engine light would turn off.

“Why didn’t you just use a code scanner?” the friend who accompanies you to the garage asks the mechanic.

He waves away the question with his hand.

A $20 scanner could have given him an instant snapshot of what was going on. But instead you’re on the hook for a very expensive, labor-filled day of trial and error.

And as you’re driving away in your car, it suddenly occurs to you: You never even found out what was wrong with it in the first place.

Jealousy Is a Check Engine Light

Jealousy is a very strong emotional signal — but it’s not a very specific one. It certainly doesn’t help that jealousy is often something else in disguise: envy, a sense that you or your needs are being neglected, feeling left out, or a fear that you’ll lose someone or something that’s important to you.

It’s easy to panic when you experience jealousy. But it’s very much like a check engine light: Jealousy tells you that something is amiss but not what, exactly. And certainly not how serious the issue is.

One of the hardest tasks in building up our emotional security is also one of the most important: Becoming your own code scanner. Learning what your diagnostic codes are. What they mean. The best way to address them. Sorting the nonspecific distress signal into more helpful information.

It definitely takes some doing, but it’s well worth the effort, not just in polyamorous relationships but in all of life.

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2 Comments

  1. You know, that’s a really good point!

    Thinking back, I can actually remember when I felt more that way (being in denial about envy/jealousy, how it felt, why I was doing it). I might write about it a bit in the future.

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