The Devil Eats Purina
My girlfriend got a dog six weeks ago — a Chihuahua. I don’t hate the dog, but I’m not wild about him. I’ve almost stepped on him twice in the kitchen, and my snuggle time on the couch with my girlfriend has now become me watching him sit in her lap while they cootchie-coo it out. She hasn’t had the dog sleep in bed with us, but I know that’s next. Is this the end of our relationship?
It’s pretty depressing when doing risky stuff in bed means sleeping without a flea collar.
Though the interspecies bed-sharing you fear has yet to become a reality, chances are it’s next, especially if you stick with your current strategy: resenting that the dog’s getting all the attention but saying nothing to try to change that.
As humiliating as it is to have your top-dog status usurped by an actual dog, coming to understand the evolved function of jealousy could help you shift your focus — to see whether you can get your needs met or whether you need to blow this particular doghouse.
Jealousy often gets confused with envy, but evolutionary psychologist David Buss explains that they are “distinct emotions” that motivate “distinctly different” behaviors in line with the differing problems they were “designed” by evolution to solve. Buss’ research finds jealousy is activated “when there is a threat to a valued social relationship.” Envy, on the other hand, is triggered “when someone else has something that you desire or covet but currently lack.”
So, while envy mainly sparks longing (for the things, partner, or relationship someone else has), jealousy mainly arouses fear (of losing one’s own partner or friend to someone else). Accordingly, a woman — envious — of the promotion her co-worker got basically “plays offense”: perhaps working harder and sucking up more to the boss in hopes of getting a promotion of her own. A woman experiencing jealousy over her hubby’s coziness with his hot female co-worker “plays defense”: possibly dressing sexier to compete with her rival in hopes of protecting her relationship against infidelity or “mate-poaching” (the other woman stealing her man).
Though jealousy is seen as maladaptive and toxic, it actually protects our interests, both by flagging threats to a “valued social relationship” — romantic or platonic — and by motivating us to fend them off. Research by evolutionary social psychologist Jaimie Arona Krems and her colleagues suggests jealousy is an “overlooked tool” for “friendship maintenance.” The loss of a friendship if, say, our friend moves away makes us feel sad, but if we seem to be losing the friendship because our best friend is hanging out with some new person, we feel jealous. The threat of being replaced, not the mere loss of the friendship, triggers jealousy in us, motivating us to put effort into shoring up our friendship.
Researchers have yet to explore the dog-as-mate-poacher angle, but it likely triggers jealousy for the same reasons human mate-poaching does: to alert you to a threat to a valued relationship so you can take steps to get the affection and commitment nozzle turned back in your direction.
For your best chance at getting your girlfriend to scratch behind your ears (or whatever!) at the rate she used to, evoke her empathy while giving her the sense your unhappiness could send you out the door. For example, say, “It’s great how happy Cujo’s making you, but when we’re on the couch, I feel embarrassingly left out.” You two might then brainstorm how you each can get enough of what you want. (A possible solution might be to get a little furry “cup” bed so he can curl up by her shoulder on the corner of the couch.)
By making your feelings known, you’ll likely give her the sense the dog-in-bed thing is something to ask you about, not just surprise you with when a paw goes up your nose at 3 a.m. By the way, I have a possible solution with something for both of you: Have the dog next to the bed, in his own little bed, when you stay over. Dogs have an extremely powerful sense of smell, and I discovered while potty training mine that she would cry if she had to sleep in her little area in the living room but was calm and content when I put her bed next to mine in a giant Tupperware container. (She is a tiny Chinese crested, not a Great Dane.)
Whatever you two decide, it’ll come out of your using your jealousy productively: to see whether it’s possible to redirect enough of her attention and affection your way and to set some dog boundaries going forward. If something furry comes between you and your woman, you’d like it to be a mink bikini and not a small, growling four-legged thing that hates you and chews up your $200 sneakers.