34

The main character (which is a girl) of the first romance I'm writing would feel jealous sometimes of her love interest, but I want it to be a cute trait or even a setup for funny scenes, not a very obsessive or possessive trait, so they can have a healthy relationship.

For example: They are in a restaurant, and a waitress acts a little flirty and her love interest is kind to her, and that could trigger jealousy for a moment. Maybe, this jealousy could be in the form of feeling a bit annoyed, disinterested or pouting, but I would like to represent in a cute or funny way if possible.

In other words, sometimes she would feel jealous of characters that aren't very important, as jealousy isn't a main factor for this story, just a minor trait of the protagonist. The protagonist also has some self-esteem issues, which is another trait that could be related to jealousy. Eventually, she would overcome these feelings and issues.

I've imagined something like this: She gets pouty and annoyed, maybe lightly teases him, in a way that is entertaining or allows funny situations to develop. These situations could lessen her anxiety, with she reflecting something like this "I exaggerated in my thoughts, maybe I should be more open-minded?" I've seen this done in some anime.

How can I do it in writing, without making it look like I am mocking her for anxiety/insecurity, or that she is too dependent or clichéd? Is there a way to express this jealousy in a cute way when writing fiction? What are some examples of this?

  • 1
    Welcome to Writing.SE KLTKGK. Please check out our tour and help center. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jun 10 at 4:24
  • 8
    You said yourself that jealousy is a sign of insecurity. There is no way to hide it from someone who knows what it is. But there are people who are insecure themselves and enjoy it when their partners act possessive ( even when they know that it is wrong ). What you need to do is to pen her partner in such a way. – Spero Jun 10 at 15:59
  • 3
    For a good example of cute jealousy in a female protagonist, read Robert A Heinlein's short story, "The Menace From Earth." The "menace" is a platinum blonde. – MTA Jun 11 at 15:10
  • 2
    How old are these characters and what is the cultural setting? Every time I try to imagine "cute jealousy" all I can think of is anime. I'm getting the impression from other answers that western culture's view of jealousy seems to attribute a lot more malice to it. Japan's 'kawaii' culture certainly sees jealousy as cute. See also TVTropes: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ClingyJealousGirl. (I wanted to make that into an answer because I'm not happy with the existing "jealousy can only ever be bad" answers, but I couldn't think how to.) – Pharap Jun 12 at 11:21
  • 2
    @Pharap I've imagined the MC and her lover as being 22 to 24 years old, and the cultural setting is a modern day urban society (21st century). The MC had traumas during her childhood, and because of that she would develop social anxiety and self-esteem issues (that she would overcome with time), but she would still have some insecurities during adulthood. She is a kind and a gentle person, so the utterly obsessed/possessive type of jealousy don't fit her. I agree with you, I don't like very much the "jealousy can only ever be bad" answers too. And I'm new at writing, so any feedback is welcome – KLTKGK Jun 12 at 17:02

13 Answers 13

30

This is something you need to be careful with. In popular Western culture, going back decades or further, jealousy is often seen as a positive trait. "His jealousy proves he loves me so much." Especially when it's a man jealous of interactions his female partner has with other men.

In reality, there's a very thin line between "cute" jealousy and controlling behavior. "He gets all worked up when I talk to other men" turns very quickly into "I'm not allowed to be alone with other men at work" or "women in my company get left out because the men refuse to be alone with them."

Yeah, not so cute.

What you're looking for I think is not actual jealousy, but gentle teasing. As in bruglesco's example. People in a healthy relationship can crack jokes about these types of situations, without it turning into anxiety over someone's faithfulness (jealousy happens even in relationships where dating others is okay, because the underlying emotion is fear of being rejected or humiliated).

If you want things light, the couple needs to be secure in each other's affections. Outside people aren't a threat. Not to say that the couple believes cheating or breaking up is impossible (only fools believe that) but that it's not an everyday anxiety and, if it happens, it's not because some outsider was too tempting.

  • 1
    Could you clarify how "women in my company get left out..." is derived from jealousy? – eques Jun 11 at 14:13
  • 2
    @eques I included the link. Because the men's wives are jealous and don't allow them to be alone with women they work with (and in this case, because the men preemptively refuse to be alone with women in order to avoid any "feelings"). While the example at the link is extreme, this sort of thing is a well-known and much practice way of keeping women from getting the networking and professional growth they need in their careers. It's not just based in jealousy, but my example was not to say it was, just that this is the sort of thing jealousy can lead to. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jun 11 at 14:58
  • 2
    @KLTKGK bruglesco's example in his answer was gentle teasing. Basically, you're saying "I'm aware you will find others attractive and others will find you attractive and I am okay with that...or I will make peace with that." – Cyn says make Monica whole Jun 11 at 15:02
  • 3
    @Cyn I see the link however, "jealous" only occurs in the comments on it, not the main body. There are plenty of motivations (good or bad) which might lead to such an environment, but to use that article as an example of "jealousy gone to the extreme" is stretching. – eques Jun 11 at 15:15
  • 1
    @eques My main point still holds. That jealousy is not a cute emotion and can lead to some very real world consequences, including for people not the slightest bit involved with the "threatened" relationship. If you feel this one example is not as strong as it could be, fine. It was the other link I was searching for (it's a column I read regularly) and when this one popped up in the search, I thought it was a good additional example. The examples aren't meant to be exhaustive, just representative. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jun 11 at 15:19
25

This is something that I've seen Japanese writers (in Manga/Anime) do especially well. From what I've seen there, I'd say...

The key to pulling this off is in how your MC reacts to her jealous feelings.

If she gets petty and takes it out on her love interest (as you describe with pouts and annoyance), it may be seen as obnoxious and non-productive by your readers. This trait is only holding back their romance and nothing but selfish/annoying. Would you want to date someone who gets mad at you for reasons outside your control (like with the waitress)?

However, if she uses this jealousy to push herself to try things outside of what she would normally do to "compete" with these other girls (who--to the reader--clearly aren't actually competition), it'll come off as endearing. She's trying hard to win her love interest, and "fight off" the competition. It would look like a small dog trying to defend its owner from a huge Boxer, when the Boxer is just walking past them.

You can also play this up with the self-esteem issues. "I'm clearly not beautiful/interesting/intelligent/etc. enough for my love interest, so to compete with these other girls I'll have to XYZ."

You can further give this a cute spin by making it clear to the reader (but maybe not the MC) that the love interest clearly finds this all endearing and is trying to play along to help her save face.

And the beauty of all of this is that she'll be trying so hard to step outside of her comfort zone for the love interest that she won't be able to keep it up forever. While this may start as cute and endearing, it's probably taking a toll on her. Combined with the self-esteem issues she'll probably be thinking along the lines of "I've been trying all of this and failing miserably. Does [love interest] even like me?" And when she finally breaks, it'll setup for a beautiful scene between them where the love interest can "give back" emotionally and express their feelings for her (which would also give you a great point to start chipping away at those self-esteem issues!)

  • 2
    +1 for the boxer image. Possible sequence: Minor character does something odd/unusual. Lover responds on the positive side of neutral just to be polite, quickly forgetting about it. MC notices, dwells on it, & later ridiculously one-ups the odd behavior, even more out of character for her/the setting. Lover's reaction is more confused than positive. MC's fear of inadequacy/failure rises quickly b/c she didn't get the reaction she anticipated. Lover asks why MC did that, MC explains, maybe sheds tears with it all coming out so quickly. Lover provides reassurance. MC grows & becomes more secure. – WBT Jun 12 at 14:28
18

One way that I have seen in real life is the combination of self-awareness and levity. It is important that self-awareness happens in the moment. Many people realize too late that they had done something stupid out of jealousy. An example might look like this:

How can you just go get coffee with him?

What do you mean, him? I get coffee with co-workers almost every day. Why does it matter today?

Because look at him. His big arms. Chiseled chest and abs. Look at his skin. It's perfect. Okay. I'm starting to think that you should be the one who's jealous here.

Me too!

I'm gonna go get some coffee. See ya later.

This isn't something that has a high re-usability rate though. This will go from cute to annoying with prolonged use, although that can be said about a lot of things that are cute. I would also think you are setting up a character to later cross a line if they have reoccurring jealousy issues.

  • Thanks for answering. In my case, Jealousy isn't actually a main factor for this story, just a minor trait of the character. For example: They are in a restaurant, and a waitress acts a little flirty and her love interest is kind to her, and that could trigger jealousy for a moment, but I would like to represent in a cute or funny way if possible. I know that if this was a main factor of the story, it would unlikely lead to healthy relashionship, which is what I want for the story. – KLTKGK Jun 10 at 13:49
  • Also, i've updated the post to clarify more factors of the story. – KLTKGK Jun 10 at 13:52
15

Jealousy isn't, and shouldn't be seen as, a cute trait. Is it human? Understandable? Absolutely. But make no mistake, the possessiveness of your fellow man, no matter how understandable, isn't a 'cute point'. It's a flaw.

And that's fine; treat it as a character flaw. There's nothing wrong with this, in fact, generally it gives characters depth. I think it's better to include the jealousy and treat it as a flaw than include jealousy and give the character a 'free pass'.

  • 9
    Surely this is a bit excessive? Feeling jealous when your love interest is concerned is not only human, it's healthy in itself, especially when the relationship is young and you have little to base the trust on that's implicit in any relationship. It's fear of loss, as another answers says, and a relationship whose end wouldn't be a loss to you isn't very much of a relationship anyways, so I don't see how being afraid of that loss is a flaw, or possessive. There definitely are ways to act jealous that are flawed, but the question is specifically asking for ways to act jealous that aren't. – sgf Jun 10 at 12:31
  • 3
    @sgf Being concerned a new lover will leave you is different to treating a lover as a possession to be jealous over. Jealousy in its wording tends to imply possessiveness. And that ain't cute, chief. – Matthew Dave Jun 10 at 12:35
  • 4
    @sgf You can ONLY be jealous over your own possessions. Envy is the resentment of others that possess something you desire. Jealousy is the fear of losing what you already have. – Matthew Dave Jun 10 at 12:50
  • 2
    @Narasimham Well, not "cute", but definitely normal; in the sense of natural. People fear loss, and go to extremes to avoid it. Anger, vengeance and me-first selfishness (or my kids first selfishness) are all not cute and completely normal, they are survival strategies that work. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jun 10 at 17:26
  • 3
    @Amadeus Agreed. They're normal, understandable, but far from cute. They're flaws that need to be controlled or healthily harnessed. Depicting jealousy as cute rubs me the wrong way for so many reasons. – Matthew Dave Jun 10 at 17:53
14

Acknowledging that the top answer cautions controlling another person is abuse, and abuse is never cute, I'll try to suggest ways to minimize the issues.

  • Avoid Blame: The lover is not at fault and clearly not doing anything wrong. The protagonist can see this, and trusts the lover, but can't help having emotions about it. (Cue regular intervals with a therapist.)

  • Self-Deprecating: Woody Allen (yikes!) made a career out of self-deprecating comedy. It worked for his neurotic characters, especially since many of his jokes seem like inner-monolog/commentary. The problems with using Woody Allen as an example is that his co-stars were extremely attractive women, and there's an undercurrent of real abuse and gaslighting sprinkled in to show that Allen's neurotic characters are not the victims they portray themselves to be. A particular line in Manhattan sets up a joke where Allen's character had followed Meryl Streep (his ex) on dates with her new girlfriend in his car, but the joke turns dark when she corrects the story by saying he tried to kill them with his car.

  • The Lover is an extremely secure person: the protagonist is allowed to be unreasonably jealous because the lover is unreasonably self-secure. They are a Rock of Gibraltar. No amount of commentary or jealousy will change how the lover feels or behaves. For this to feel real there would probably be a power difference between the 2 characters, like Woody Allen being involved with supermodels, or typical of 1950s comedies the jealous person has essentially no power in the relationship so their antics are reduced to hiding in bushes to overhear, and attempts to become sexier or more interesting that come off as strange or funny rather than sad and desperate.

  • Punch up, not down: This goes for comedy in general, so how to apply it here? The jealous one is wealthy beautiful and successful. The lover is plain, simple, and domestic. Again it uses an unrealistic power difference to take away the stakes. Another way to do it is to make the point of jealousy the one thing the perfect character doesn't do well, like cook. It's sort of a trope reversal on the Woody Allen character where the neurotic is such a perfectionist at all things that the jealousy is over something that should be trivial, like the husband complimenting another woman's rhubarb pie, so the perfectionist becomes obsessed with baking (and failing) to win back her lover's attention through deserts.

  • It's their job: the lover's job is that he plays a Casanova on television, or she's promoted as a "love goddess" like Marilyn Monroe. The truth is they are homebodies, lovingly faithful, and painfully shy, but of course as actors they can't disappoint their fans and must the play the role in public appearances and publicity "scandals". The jealous one's rival is abstract, it's the job and the fame that creates the tension, and again the lover is not at fault.

  • Don't dwell on it: A small outburst is like a yelp of pain – sometimes we cry out before we realize we're not actually hurt. Let the jealous one object, but then retract when they realize they are probably over-reacting. It can look cute because it's like showing their cards too early in the relationship. They are already signaling how they feel when the situation suggests they should be playing it more casually.

  • 1
    Unfortunately when the power difference is reversed, you end up with R. Kelly... – user3067860 Jun 11 at 14:59
9

Why this is difficult.

Jealousy is a natural trait, nearly everyone that falls in love is subject to it at some time. The reason is that the extremely high emotional value of the love interest creates all sorts of effects. Obsessive thinking about them, extreme focus on minor clues of behavior or particular words, cravings for constant contact (holding hands, sitting together touching, arms around each other, frequent kissing, and of course more intimate touching and intercourse).

The negative side of this extremely high emotional value is the fear of loss, and thus a fear of competition, and obsessing on every detail of interaction that might remotely suggest your love interest has any other interest, or any other person might have interest in them.

Jealousy is a form of personal insecurity combined with an active mistrust of the love partner. (Sometimes this is warranted, love can be one-sided and partners may stray.)

It is mistrust to believe they are weak-willed and so selfishly impulsive and superficial they will drop you or cheat on you for a quick lay with someone else, or might even drop you for that.

It is personal insecurity to think your love is not reciprocated, that you are not good enough to hold your partner's interest. This implies they have little commitment and only love you for superficial reasons they can readily find elsewhere; that your qualities are just commodities and your partner is always shopping for a better value -- Somebody funnier, or smarter, or sexier, or kinkier in bed.

This is why it is very difficult to make actual jealousy "cute", it is a manifestation of mistrust and insecurity. And although both may be warranted, when they are not the expressions of mistrust may itself ruin the relationship, no matter how cute you make them. Being mistrusted often results in reciprocation of that mistrust, and mutual distrust breaks the love spell.

Jealousy does occur in most love connections. IMO the best way to handle it is NOT to express it directly, but to have the character struggle with it and find a way to deal with it, to realize their mistrust will ruin them. Perhaps channel it into something else romantic, to reaffirm to themselves they trust their partner and their partner loves them.

How to Represent Jealousy in a Cute Way

In other words, have a self-aware character that understands the stakes and won't surrender to jealousy. It is a conflict they must overcome, which is great for fiction, conflict keeps the reader turning pages. And battling this internal enemy, without revealing their mistrust to their love interest, is something you can do in a cute way. Show their self-talk and self-affirmations, dealing with their insecurities, examination of their own motives and exaggerations of their "competition". People in love are very skewed by their obsession, thus illogical, and that can be funny and recognizable and relatable.

But in the end, I wouldn't express jealousy to the partner. You might get a laugh out of it. In real life relationships people in love get over it, all the time, because forgiveness for an overreaction is something given when in love. But there is a limit, constant jealousy (mistrust and insecurity) is a poison to a love relationship, and can make the mistrusted person feel like a property controlled by the jealous party. That stops feeling like mutual love, and is a recipe for falling out of love.

  • I agree with your point, really: the inner conflict of trying to keep things reasonable is good for a story, but the term "jealous" would still apply to a character who simply wants to be a higher priority in another's life. – The Nate Jun 11 at 14:40
8

Let's back into what "cute" jealousy would look like. Inspecting the other answers, a common theme is that jealousy is a step towards potential abuse, or it is simply poison to a love-relationship. Jealousy carries undertones of distrust, perhaps even malice. Or, to offer a slight oversimplification, jealousy isn't cute because it's threatening.

The problem, therefore, with portraying jealousy which is cute would be to make it not threatening. Unthreatening jealousy is actually not strange or unusual, but it's main manifestation is not in romantic relations:

"But Daddy, why didn't you take ME out to get ice cream?"

"Timmy, you know it's Cindy's birthday. On your last birthday, we went and got you a banana split. Remember?"

Relatively "innocent" jealousy is not an unnatural state. A child (or childlike character) who is not inclined toward malice may still be disappointed to be left out, may still feel soft envy, without being overwhelmed by hostility or distrust.

The problem with putting that kind of character into a (plausible, mature) romance is that either your "cutely" jealous character is on unequal footing with the mature other character - or both of your characters are not really emotionally steady enough to be actually devoted to each other in a healthy way. I suppose this would give them room to grow.

4

"I'm sorry, doing things with friends having an attractiveness rating higher than 50% will incur floral penalties. With Kelly? I'm thinking calla lilies..." "Higher than 60% Oh dear, now we're taking backrub. And a loong one, my darling!"

While I don't find jealousy cute, the idea of two people coming to an understanding allowing one to "transgress" in this way by paying penalties of flowers or cooking or backrubs, or bubble baths together or whatever, makes sure that the couple has a fun interaction of their own. I can see that as helping to strengthen the relationship and add fun, so that they don't wind up with "fun is for friends, my beloved is just a participant in our daily routines" kinds of effects.

  • 6
    Transactional love is so creepy to someone like me, but some folks are into it. Each to their own, I suppose? – Matthew Dave Jun 10 at 7:58
  • 4
    I think this example works well as a portrayal of a stable relationship, but are these people really actually jealous? Reading this, my understanding would be that they simply like to quip. If I am supposed to read this with the one character being actually jealous, then it's certainly not as fun anymore. – PoorYorick Jun 10 at 10:44
  • 2
    It took me a few reads to understand this "arrangement". I could see this being "story cute" as in the agreement can yield plenty of humor as it escalates, starting with good intentions but failing under tit-for-tat and a rival who appears to be a real threat. This arrangement is for advanced players, like "swingers" and polyamorous/open relationships – a couple with plenty of experience and a lot of water under the bridge. The "cute" part is that they discover their rational approach doesn't work this time because (fall back on relationship tropes: misunderstandings, platonic crush, etc). – wetcircuit Jun 10 at 12:14
4

As some answers have said, jealously isn't actually "cute" at all. If you're thinking about "cute portrayals of jealousy", the odds are good that you are actually in reality thinking of some other emotion, not jealousy.

So I don't think this question can be answered as asked, without considering what exactly it is, you want to portray.

  • 1
    Thanks for answering. In my story, Jealousy isn't actually a main factor for this story, just a minor trait of the character. For example: They are in a restaurant, and a waitress acts a little flirty and her love interest is kind to her, and that could trigger jealousy for a moment, but I would like to represent in a cute or funny way if possible. – KLTKGK Jun 10 at 13:34
  • She has essentially a brief anxiety/insecurity attack, and that's got to be presented as cute or funny? You see the problem...? – Stilez Jun 10 at 16:35
  • 1
    Hm, I have imagined "getting jealous" in the form of feeling a bit annoyed, disinterested or pouting, for example. I've seen this in some animes, and with "funny", I don't mean that having insecurity is funny, but, I've imagined it leading to funny situations between MC and her lover, which could lessen her anxiety, with she thinking something like "I think I exaggerated in my thoughts". I mostly wanted to know if there were examples of this in fiction writing. – KLTKGK Jun 10 at 17:30
  • Then maybe update your original question. Click "edit" and add at the end, a section marked (in bold), "Update". Then explain or clarify what you want. Maybe something like this? "She gets pouty and annoyed, maybe lightly teases him, in a way that is entertaining or allows funny situations to develop. I've seen this done in some anime. How can I do it in writing, without making it look like I am mocking her for anxiety/insecurity, or that she is too dependent or clichéd?" – Stilez Jun 10 at 18:18
  • Alright, already updated. Thanks a lot for the feedback! – KLTKGK Jun 10 at 18:37
3

First thing first: I'm Italian, and my English will probably fail. I say this because this is "writing" stackexchange, and I know who's writing is pays a lot of attention to good sentences and grammar, I do exactly the same in my native language :)

Having said that, I remember once I've read Chaplin speaking about how he do funny scenes, I've tried searching on google for the exact sentence but I'm unable to find it again. Anyway, he said that a character doing a mess on screen is funny but what's even funnier the effort he put into trying to hide it and look like a perfect gentleman.

In the case you describe, I would put this jealousy into this girl who perfectly knows she can't show it, because she's a mature well educated girl or just because she don't want to show her weakness, anyway this repression could lead into any funny situation, she could stumble into anything, or confuse words speaking to him.. the main point is that, as you've seen from other answers, jealousy It's such a slippery slope, easy to turn it into something painful (because she thinks he's somewhat not in love or not as much as she is maybe), but one point is sure: we're all jealous despite what people try to think, and we all know jealousy can go wrong. I think a scene where she knows all that so she tries to hide it could result in a very funny situation!

  • 1
    That's an absolutely great idea you had! And also fits with type of girl that is the MC in the romance i'm writing. Thanks a lot for giving me an example. English is not my native language too, so I know how you feel in this, but I understood perfectly what you said. – KLTKGK Jun 11 at 12:21
3

Maybe something simple like a motion such as pushing up her glasses, buttoning the top button of a shirt, letting her hair drop to cover her face on the side nearest him. She does it to symbolize her distancing herself or trying to ignore what she sees. But he sees it as a habit that endears her to him. Perhaps he doesn't even put the two things together if she does something different every time, but these little quirky subtle actions are what draws him to her. The things he finds irresistible that no one else does and helps him realize she is the only one for him.

Care would need to be taken to tell the inner monologue of the flirter immediately afterword to catch their perspective of the quirky behavior.

  • I had to frame this with a gender to make the writing more fluid, but the concept is gender neutral. Men might look away, or check the time and "conveniently" rest the arm across his chest. – Jammin4CO Jun 11 at 21:03
1

There are so many good answers here. The scenario you are trying to figure out is really a key point to the readers and jealous here makes it even more difficult for author to explain this scene. Myself, I thought of a line which may help you. The main character says: "Seems like I have to take the responsibility of protecting you like a treasure from the rest of beauties" or something similar. It is like saying that he is her's treasure and she feels jealous and anxiety whenever someone tries to steal him. I don't think it is excessive as possessive. It also depends on how the other character takes that. I will be great if you explain his feelings too, for justification of the main character's worries. I find it as a cute way to express jealous, Thanks.

  • 1
    Hi and welcome! Could you maybe flesh out your answer some more? Currently, this is more of a comment than an answer. – Llewellyn Jun 10 at 16:16
0

Make the person in question a cute girl.

There have been scientific studies that have shown that people are generally more positively-inclined towards women (dubbed the "women are wonderful" effect), and that people generally perceive physically attractive people in more positive ways, even in areas like perceptions of morality where physical attractiveness shouldn't matter (which is called the "halo effect").

Combine the two of them together, and you've got a recipe to cause your readers to subconsciously overlook a lot of the negative traits of the character.

  • 2
    Yeah, I've updated the question, my protagonist is in fact a girl. I've just put it gender neutral first, because I though other writers could have the same problem centered around male characters in their writing. – KLTKGK Jun 10 at 14:19
  • Is there a rule that says that the jealous love interest of a female main character has to be male? ;) – nick012000 Jun 11 at 2:37
  • Oh I see what you're saiying, but what I mean with "centered around male character" is if someone would write about male MC who feel jealousy. That's why i've put it gender neutral first, but I soon realized that it wouldn't help much to solve my question without giving more details of the MC and context. – KLTKGK Jun 11 at 2:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.