I’ve never been a particularly jealous girlfriend but I am a very jealous writer. When I see someone promoting a piece on Facebook or Twitter, I feel something a little bitter and slithery churn in me: “Not fair,” I think in my whiniest adolescent voice. My better self might know that it has nothing to do with fair, but that better self doesn’t always get a say.
Now raise your hand if any of the following scenarios churn something ugly in you:
- Someone else’s kid makes Varsity and yours doesn’t.
- Your friend drives a BMW P series (or whatever) while you have a shitbox with a tape deck and half a bumper.
- Some perfect-looking skinny bitch is…well, a perfect-looking skinny bitch.
Don’t lie—your hand is up by now.
- A writer you know signs a book deal with a big-time publisher.
And now so is mine.
Jealousy is nasty and acidic. It makes me mean and small, and I wish I was better than that. I’m not. And there’s no point in pretending otherwise–that will only make it more toxic, more slippery. And it is slippery, because sometimes it goes in the other direction and shows up as superiority. Because when you’re sitting in all that fear of not being good enough (which is all jealousy is), who doesn’t like feeling smugly superior when you come to find out that the person you’re jealous of is actually nothing but a hack? If you answered in the negative to that, nobody likes you anyway.
Sometimes when I go into something—a book, a party, a friendship—I’m looking for the flaws. Usually. Ok most of the time. I know that there are nicer, better people who go into experiences looking for the good parts, but I don’t. I look for the shit parts. That way, either I get to be right (yay!) or I’m pleasantly surprised. In theory it’s supposed to prevent me from ever being disappointed. (It does not.)
But the problem with having a “presumption of shit” philosophy, is that sometimes you find things in life only because you’re looking for them. Which begs the question–what could I have seen if I wasn’t so busy looking for the awful? What if I could suspend judgement for a minute, and imagine that there’s no limit to the amount of success or happiness in the world, and that the quality of “That Beautiful Essay” in Talents R Us Magazine has no bearing on me or my writing whatsoever? Or to put it more simply—
What if I could believe that there is enough in the world for me too?
I don’t even know what that would look like. Which I guess, is the point.
I think there’s an important distinction to be made between envy and jealousy. To me, envy is about admiration while jealousy is more of a if-I-had-to-push-her-down-a-flight-of-stairs-to-get-that-byline-I’d-do-it kind of thing. Envy is about wanting good things for both parties involved. It’s bigger than jealousy, more inclusive. Envy typically shows up in my life with the people who matter most in my life—the people for whom I truly only want good things. I just happen to want those good things for myself as well, and when the people I love have said good things, and I don’t…I get envious. Which can morph into jealousy easily if I’m not careful. The line between the two is never clearly marked.
Those are the times that I find it hardest to like myself—when I’m jealous of someone I love It makes me feel ugly in a whole new way, as if now it’s not only jealousy but betrayal as well.
Except that it’s not. It’s not betrayal, it’s not evil, it isn’t even “wrong.” It’s a feeling–which is neither a fact nor an action–and I get to decide what to do with it. Whether I keep it close and store it like a squirrel’s nut in winter, or whether I simply lean into it, allow myself to feel it, and then let it move through me.
Which all sounds perfectly lovely but I find it really goddamn hard to practice. I’d love to evolve to the point where I have complete faith in both myself and the Universe, and maybe someday I will. But right now, when I click on the link to your article, odds are I’ll be looking for the flaws. Can’t help it. But you can bet your ass that if that article is good, I’m going to promote the hell out of it. Because I really do want other people to succeed.
Just not more than me. JK. Kinda.