Possession

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Back to when we were used to go clubbing together, to lay down on the grass side by side in early summer, and to find mutual comfort in the arms of one another, I was also used to consider you mine.  You were my friend when I was alone, my happiness when I felt lost, my confessor when no one seemed to understand me.

The possessive adjective “my” acquires a special meaning when it refers to people we particularly care about or relationships of mutual affection. Indeed, we don’t use it only to designate material possession, like when we say “my t-shirt”, “my bank account”,  etc. It can express an almost infinite number of relations, in which the possessor is not necessarily owning the possessed thing, like when we say “my hometown” or “my university”. It is interesting to note, that the relation of “belonging to” implied by the possession is not unidirectional, because a t-shirt belongs to me, whereas I belong to the university and not the other way around.

My professor”, “my parents” and “my volleyball team” are all examples of social relationships. At a first glance, it could seem that “my friend” falls neatly in this category. And for most of the cases it does.

But when I say that I considered you mine, I don’t talk about a social relationship among others. I want to characterize myself as a possessive person. You were mine because I was jealous of our friendship and I kept it as something inestimable, a deep and complicated feeling locked inside my heart. But most probably I was also jealous of you as a person.

Jealousy can be the natural side effect of affection, but it has devastating outcomes if brought to its extreme consequences. It is because of jealousy that most “crimes of passion” are committed. Jealousy is a constitutive part of the patriarchal power of men over women and it is strictly linked to greed of specific intersubjective relationships. It’s not surprising that Christianity, taken as the religious phenomenon which has legitimated historically countless forms of hierarchies and conservativisms, forgot to put jealousy among the seven deadly sins, but not to fight the subversive (even if perverse) potential of envy.

What about being possessive? Is it necessarily a bad thing? It obviously is if the sort of possession is of the same kind of “my t-shirt”. But, as we have already seen, the adjective “my” can govern both directions of “belonging to”. So, when I say you were mine, I mean not only that you were belonging to me but also that I was belonging to you. This very peculiar kind of friendship is based at the same time on possessing and being possessed. What is possessed is not an external individual, but the reciprocity and the feelings it gives rise to. And among these feelings, jealousy is certainly one of the most recognizable.

Thus, when I say that you were mine, I say more about my status than about yours. I don’t say anything about you being “owned”, but rather about my being jealous, attached, needy and, on top of all, vulnerable. Was our friendship worth the costs?

I think that, sometimes, our lives are too a great responsibility to be lived on our own. Sometimes, it is just too hard to live as isles, communicating with each other only through naval expeditions. Sometimes we need to build bridges to enable a pacific invasion of ourselves, and to deploy part of the burden of living on other special people. This is the strongest remedy against loneliness, but it exposes ourselves to the threat of emotional dependence.

Yes, I think it was definitely worth it. And it is also now, as I begin to understand what it means to pay those costs for another friendship of mine. Still, I can’t wait for the time of being yours again.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

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Non-jealous

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

The alleged synonimity between the words “jealous” and “envious” is a linguistic phenomenon I’ve always found puzzling. There seems to be no apparent difference between the two terms in everyday conversations and also in dictionaries.
I’m not convinced by this understanding of the two words but, before you take me for a hopeless grammar-nazi, I’ll try to give reasons for my puzzlement and explain why I find this philosophical issue particularly challenging.

Let’s take a step back.

Some philosophers have argued that introspection is constitutive of our mental states. That means that the knowledge of what we feel modifies our feelings. For instance, we usually “make up our mind” to understand if we really love a person or she just interests us, or if we really desire a certain thing for ourselves or we are simply fascinated by it, and so on.

Knowing what we feel or think doesn’t only shape our emotions, it shapes also our actions. You don’t buy a box of pralines on Valentine’s day for someone you are just “interested in”, do you?

If this makes sense, the direct consequence is that the more we know about our mental states, the larger the spectrum of our emotions will be.

Now, going back to my puzzlement, it seems clear that jealousy and envy differ a lot from one another. Drizella and Anastasia were very envious of Cinderella for her being more beautiful. They desired her beauty and hated her because of it. But to say that they were jealous would imply some sort of possessive attachment to their step-sister they never had. On the other hand, I can be jealous of my own things, but it is impossible for me to envy my possessions. A lover is jealous of her fiancé and envies potential rivals, not the other way around…

What can happen if I take jealousy for envy or vice versa? If I am jealous of a friend of mine but I think I envy her, I might attempt to boycott her hairstyle, whereas I just truly wanted to be the only one dancing with her all night. If, in a beauty competition, I envy my rival’s make up skills but I take my emotion to be jealousy, I may kidnap him instead of mixing his foundation with sour cream!

I am joking – seriously. But the problem raised is, I think, interesting: if we impoverish our language through improper use, does that mean that our emotions also get impoverished? Do we feel “less” by talking (and thinking) improperly?

I leave these questions up to you, my friend.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha