A few weeks ago, I sent an ill-advised email to a friend of mine who got married on the same day I did. We’re both Jewish, we met while living in Israel and participated in the same leadership program. We met our future husbands around the same time and both were engaged within a similar time frame. So I sent an email: “Hey! Been thinking about you; how are you?” I was in a cranky mood, feeling less than fantastic about myself. I woke up with a zit, I gained two pounds at the gym after working out and eating right for a week, I looked bloated and my stomach hurt. I thought a little correspondence would make me feel better. So I sent a few notes to friends I hadn’t heard from in a while.
In no time at all, she returned my message: Hey girl! Just got your post! Things are good. Settling in here – we still can’t believe this is where we ended up. It’s good to be so close to family! Also, it’s slowly coming out now- but we are just into our 2nd trimester; we will have a little baby in July. How are you? How’s life? How’s married life- is it any different for you guys? When are you guys coming to the states?”
Oh. Joy. You’re uber happy. I’m…fine.
Pregnant are you? That’s good. That’s pretty much all I’ve been dreaming of for the last few years, even before I was married. I’ve been “Auntie” to so many of my friends’ kids, my own nephew is confused about why I’m their aunt, but they aren’t his cousins. But, that’s really great. Let me see if I can find a way to write this response without it teeming with envy.
Me: “Mazal Tov!!!! So excited for you!!!! I can’t wait for updates!!!!”
That part is true. Even in my envy, I can congratulate someone on their good fortune and I do enjoy baby updates online even though some pictures of the mama’s belly without the shirt on creep me out. It’s just very unnatural looking to me and I can see the growth of your belly just as easily with a white tank top on over it. I think I’m just terrified that one day MY belly will look like that after I’ve worked so hard on this six pack (it’s a two pack).
I continued: “Right now, I’m in the US trying to get my husband a Green Card, and I’m starting a new project which will hopefully be up and running by the time he gets here(soon I hope!). Married life….well….it could be better seeing as how we’re living apart, but I’m really looking forward to living in Southern California and making our lives there.” That right there is the understatement of the year. Looking forward to it? Counting the days, they say? Hardly. I haven’t seen my possessions, had a backyard, or had a home respectable enough to host a dinner party in over two and a half years. I think I’ve even forgotten how to live in a nice place. Not to mention how much I miss my husband. But, I digress:
“We’re thinking North Hollywood and I’m not sure what we’ll do for work, but I’m *really* looking forward to being off the farm and with him. Southern California has so many opportunities and it’s so beautiful……” Those stars didn’t quite emphasize enough how forward I’m looking for being off the farm. It was a fun diversion for six months, a year, but I am not made for country life. It was fun collecting chicken eggs and helping the little chicks grow into Sunday night dinner, but I am tired of that life. So tired that I left. It’s really hard to explain to people in their comfort zone how I can live without my husband on a day to day basis, but that’s what I do. He’ll come one of these days, but the judgment I can see on their faces when I talk about our “situation” makes me go crazy. I refuse to justify it because even if I did, I know there’s that voice inside their head saying, “Man, they’re messed up. I’m so glad we’re not like that.” But guess what? In my head I’m thinking, “You’ve never done anything remotely extraordinary. So take your judgment and stick it.” That’s pretty much how I get through. But, I had to finish this letter.
“I miss my husband, but I’m making strides here and he is committed to finishing the year with the kids he counsels, so….hopefully next year at this time I’ll be able to say that WE’RE expecting in July. Congratulations again! So exciting!!!!” My words were genuine and heartfelt, but they didn’t come without a tear or two or seventeen.
Life is complicated and when you’re in a spot that feels too hard and you’ve been there for too long, it’s super easy to look around and see how everyone has it so much better. It’s really easy to feel the swift kicks of life’s unjust ways doled out to whomever, whenever and think that you’ve received one kick too many. Even if your friends aren’t flaunting their happiness or success in your face, it’s hard not feel wretched even though the right thing to do is to be happy for them.
What it comes down to is that each experience we have makes us who we are and while someone might be on the climb up while you’re still cascading down, that doesn’t mean that their fall has been or will be any easier than yours. I tend to think of it this way: I know my troubles, I know my flaws, I know my struggles and I know my weaknesses. I’m positively not comfortable trading them in for something else. The unknown could be any number of things and I’m content with the ways I’m screwed up. I also like how I succeed and nobody quite seems to do it like me (that’s true for everyone: we all succeed in our own fashion). Instead of dwelling on someone else’s happiness or success, I refocus myself into achieving what I want and dwelling on what I’ve got that makes me happy.
It’s simply not healthy to continually make Venn diagrams of happiness. She’s happy about this, but I’m happy about that. We both have this. Isn’t it exhausting? I know I cried for a good half an hour and felt selfishly pathetic the entire time. When that half hour was up, I realized I’d wasted an entire half hour of my life feeling sorry for myself when I could have used it to do any number of productive things: go for a walk, ride a bike, play with my nephew, read, write, clean, bake, love my cat, paint, geocache or any other number of activities. Instead I sat like a poor little sap and cried. It’s not without a little prick to my ego that I say I’m ashamed for crying over someone else’s happiness. That little baby made me sad because it wasn’t my little baby.
I know there are those who will read this and want to justify how I feel. As a friend, it’s easier to say: “It’s ok to feel this way! Anyone would feel like this! You’re fine!” This is easier to do than to empathize, but I need my friends to tell me (and your friends need YOU to tell THEM): “You need to stop right now. Your behaviors aren’t healthy and they need to change.” This can follow with all kinds of supportive words: “I’ve been there before”, “I understand how you feel”, “I’ll help you work this out”, etc.
There are also those out there who are reading it and agreeing with me: “You ARE pathetic and I’m so amazing and happy that I don’t have your life. Mine is so much better.” To them I say: Your time will come my friend and I’m curious how many of your friends who’ve been on the receiving end of that judgment will be around to help you through it. We all fall, we all experience moments/days/weeks/months/years of weakness, we are all sad, we all hurt and we all suffer. And if you’ve been riding that “I’m SUPER (judgmental) train”, I’ve got news for you: Your next stop is KARMAVILLE.
We need to stop comparing and contrasting. We are all unique individuals and regardless of who has the more filled in the Venn Diagram of Happiness, we’re doing an injustice to ourselves and our friends. “Better” is a subjective word and we have the tendency to apply it in a way to make ourselves feel “Worse” is counter-intuitive to feeling and being “Better”. So, while I struggled with feeling less than one of my contemporaries, I’ve come to realize and believe that my efforts are better spent focused on making myself happy and leading a life that is fulfilling. One joy of existence is that we are all created differently, which means that our struggles, while similar, are not the same. So the joys we experience are not the same either.
I know the next time I’m confronted with a friend’s success, even if I’m feeling particularly unsuccessful, I have committed myself to receiving their success with open arms and use it as an inspiration to be successful, not as a reason to feel like a flop.
I also know that it doesn’t take the iron will of a mastermind to do it; so I ask you to join me with a promise to yourself: I will not use my friend’s success as an excuse to feel bad; I will use it as an inspire to be a better me.
And you will.