Jealousy. Envy. It eats at your soul and is an emotion that is difficult to temper. It may start off as an “I wish I had…” and become greed. Or “If only I was like…” and cause poor self-esteem. Everyone has bouts of jealousy, everyday. Facebookers and celebrity-philes know jealousy acutely. But whether it’s sighing over a dress we see online or looking at someone’s life and thinking it’s perfect, we all are bound to make comparisons and end up going crazy.
I’ve never dealt with jealousy well and try to weed it out. Starting with Jackie in 7th grade, then Merry, Bobbie and Chris from sophomore year of high school, up to my college friends that are now far away, all my close friendships have been long-distance. Because of these experiences and then the 4 years of long-distance with Michael, I was never able to grease relationships with ordinary small chit-chat or quick get-togethers. You can’t just go out for dinner and drinks and watch a movie and take years before the really dirty stuff comes out. For lack of face time, you talk and talk and talk. And the uglier sides come to the surface quickly. EVERYONE has ugly secrets, even people who seem perfectly happy and content. One of my friends told me something awesome that I never forgot “You don’t want anyone else’s pain,” which reminds me of that (African? Indian?) tale. It says if everyone put their life in a pot, and had their choice of which to take back, almost everyone would choose their same life. There is nothing to envy. We all have our own mix of struggles.
But a lot of people do get jealous. I have lost whole friendships because someone (even someone who knows my dirty secrets!) turns green. Keeping that emotion in your heart is ugly and destructive, mostly to the person who has it. This topic of jealousy and the times I’ve been jealous bubbled up for me this week because a couple people have been jealous of me. Or I will share a joyful thing and hear defensive competitiveness, the “I have an amazing life too” refrain. This refrain becomes impossible to sustain if we share BOTH the joys and difficulties. But jealousy is the enemy of sharing. Jealousy is the sister of stereotypes, assumptions, and pigeon-holing. An example: once I was jealous of someone to the point of not wanting to hang out with them, despite the fact that we had much in common. People thought we should be best friends, but I thought this person was perfect. They were always peaceful and kind, where sometimes I felt like a regular old sour-puss in a rocking chair, always being overly honest and critical of others. I pigeon-holed them as a simplistic person who had never had anything bad happen to them. I idolized them. My husband, friends, parents-in-law admired this person’s joy and didn’t see what was wrong with me. Then in a heart-to-heart talk, I found out something horrible they struggle with. The facade melted away and all I was left with was a deeply complex picture of a mostly-wonderful person.
That was probably the worst case of jealousy I’ve ever had and it felt like a sickness and prevented me from having a dear friend. The flip-side to rarely being jealous is that you can sometimes seem boastful. If you don’t get jealous very much, you aren’t aware of the kind of phrases that might make people turn green. When Michael first met me he thought I bragged a lot because I would just share exciting things with no provocation or awareness that other people might feel bad by comparison. Now he tells me he came to realize that it’s just joy. And it’s true…good things in life are precarious. So I post a lot of pictures on Facebook of things that make me all gooey with delight…places I’ve been to, fun things we get to do, interesting videos that make me think, funny stories, etc. These things are definite blessings that I do not take for granted. Yesterday I dog-sat and the dog was so excited to see me that he grabbed his favorite stuffed chicken and pranced for 15 minutes around the room. I didn’t sit in a corner and think, “Why is this freaking dog so happy and showing off?” Instead I clapped and cooed over him and said, “Wow, that’s an awesome chicken!” and he licked my arm and was happy. People we can prance with like dogs and also come to during the difficult times become life-long kindred spirits. We don’t get jealous of each other. But we also know that we are only mostly-wonderful.
Every time I feel “the green” creeping up…whenever I feel that little tug of “I wish” or “If only” or “Look at him/her,” I ask God for strength to not be jealous. I throw my life in the pot, take it back out again and dust it off. Even if I just see a very physically attractive person or someone who is extremely bubbly and cheerful, in which case “the green” might be a momentary flash. Sometimes it is much more sinister and deep-rooted like a weed. I choose my life again, which might not look perfect, but it is mine. It is unique and damaged and beautiful and okay.