Doug just couldn't understand it.
The 30-year-old bar manager had been on-and-off with his girlfriend, Kerry (both names have been changed), since they'd been students at Florida State University. And sure, she'd been jealous before—there was that time he was working as an assistant on an independent movie and returned home with a signed glossy of the lead actress, only to have Kerry hurl it out the window. But what the hell? Kerry was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen, and three years ago they'd settled down in Asheville, North Carolina, to start building a life together. Then, last June, Kerry became convinced he'd cheated on her. One night, she forced him to delete every female Facebook friend she deemed good-looking—while she watched. "I had to choose between breaking ties with every attractive female friend of mine and giving her up," Doug says. "That's a really fucked-up thing to do. But I did it, because I'm committed to this girl."
But that didn't put an end to Kerry's trust issues. A month later, Doug let her use his cell phone to make a call, and she skimmed through his text messages, demanding to know the context of every one. Doug complied. But his explanations turned out to be moot—Kerry hurled his phone at a wall with enough force to shatter it completely.
At this point, it's fair to say, most of us would likely ask the same question of Doug: Are you fucking nuts, man? It's hard to imagine why any well-adjusted man with options would stick around for another fireworks display. But for Doug, the explanation is simple: He found Kerry's behavior erotic.
"I'm not a buff surfer from California," Doug says, looking back. (He finally broke free of Kerry this summer.) "So when you have the most beautiful girl on earth fighting for you? That's kind of—hot."
For most men, extreme jealousy is a deal-breaker—a sure sign that you're in for a lifetime of self-justification, surveillance, suspicion, and maybe even a torched Audi or two. Still, there's a certain Sid-and-Nancy appeal to knowing that your partner is crazy enough about you to check up on you. And lest you write off Doug's behavior as the isolated antics of a sucker, think back to the headlines last June, when Lindsay Lohan chased her ex-lover Samantha Ronson all the way to London—just two months after Ronson's family had reportedly inquired about a restraining order against LiLo. Ronson caved.
It's been a banner year for the jealous female. Back in February, one girlfriend was charged with attempted murder after allegedly luring a lap dancer out of a strip club in Los Angeles, dousing her in gasoline, and setting her on fire. Last July, former NFL quarterback Steve McNair was found dead next to the body of a woman who had shot him and herself. Police believe it was because she'd seen him with another girl. Then, in August, the mother of all jealous-girl horror stories broke: A Wisconsin philanderer was lured to a motel room after being promised sex, only to be confronted by four angry women (his wife and girlfriend among them) who glued his manhood to his abdomen—an act that makes Amy Fisher seem, in retrospect, uninspired. But these stories aren't just captivating because they're lurid; they're captivating because the phenomenon of the jealous female, ancient as it is, still confounds us.
"We're supposed to do everything to avoid it, so we have no tools to handle it," says Reid Mihalko, a sex and relationship expert. "But legally it's still a defense, which tells us our culture still views it as something you can't control." And, Mihalko says, virtually everyone, no matter how rational, has the potential to lose her shit.
Mike (not his real name), a 42-year-old owner of a media company in Atlanta, experienced that firsthand. While separated from his wife, he started seeing an ad executive in Manhattan. He thought of it as a casual arrangement, but when he visited her office, he says, "she had pictures of my kids on her wall." A few months later, she flew to Atlanta and drove by Mike's wife's house to make sure his car wasn't in the driveway. "We hired a detective and ran the plates," Mike says.
Todd (not his real name), a 35-year-old nightclub owner in Manhattan, suffered a more public display of that loss of control last year. He was dating a former model who'd brought her cousin to his club. After closing, they continued drinking, and his girlfriend wandered upstairs while her cousin goofed around near Todd as he sat at the bar with friends. Turns out Todd's girlfriend was watching on the security cameras. "She comes down saying, 'I've had enough of your shit!'" Todd says. Then she stormed out, threatening to "ruin" him. She called later, scared and crying, and Todd picked her up. She berated him the whole way home. But Todd went back for more.
"I wanted her so bad, and I didn't know why," Todd says. "She abused me, but it's almost like this dominance thing. So we had ridiculous sex the next day. I thought that was it, but I went back! It was a little embarrassing. My friends were like, 'You went back to her? You're crazy.'"
For Nashville songwriters Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins, however, the jealous girl is a muse. That Carrie Underwood song about the girl who thinks her boyfriend is cheating and takes a "Louisville Slugger to both headlights"? That's right—"Before He Cheats" was written by a couple of dudes. The fact that it went multiplatinum, won a Grammy in 2007, and is now a karaoke standard for many American women makes a pretty convincing case for the American male's enduring fascination with—and affection for—the jealous female.
"I used to have a joke," Kear says. "Whenever I find a woman jealous enough to fill a car with wet concrete if I cheat, that's the woman I'm going to end up with." Doug might have a solution: His crazy ex-girlfriend Kerry is still single.