Friday, December 28, 2012

Green-Eyed Monster

I suffer from jealousy. This isn't an attractive trait - unlike "perfectionism," which is often offered as one of those eye-rolling humblebrags at job interviews, jealousy is a seething, complicated, stomach-churning feeling. It creates distance, ruins burgeoning friendships, and makes me feel lousy.

My jealousy isn't centred around my boyfriend - I trust him, and despite occasional Weird Feelings about late-night drink-a-thons at fun bars when I'm out of town, I generally keep a lid on that kind of thing. The jealousy I feel is often directed at other women, and it's a dirty, soul-yuckifying emotion that serves nobody. (I'll sidebar to parse jealousy from mistrust: jealousy is wanting what another person has, while being suspicious of your partner's out-on-the-town behaviours is another, but equally gross-feeling, phenomenon. If my special roommate went out and rollicked around with a bunch of fun-sounding ladies, I would probably be jealous of his experience, but not necessarily of the women, since he, presumably, at some point, came home to tell me all about it. Jealousy, on the other hand, might arise when I hear all about their hot-looking leather dresses and their book deals with Random House.)

There's no real way for me to dump this on the table without feeling supremely weird about seeming to name names, so I'll speak in generalities. Forthwith, there are three specific areas that inspire my jealousy: bodies, romances, and professional success.

"Bodies" is simple - they're mostly hotter, skinnier, more interesting to look at, better dressed, have more manageable skin/hair/teeth, or lack those things but exude a confidence that renders them magnetically interesting no matter what their appearance. "Bodies" is also incredibly complicated - I didn't suffer from an eating disorder for a decade+ because fashion models inspired wistful longing. There is a hard, radioactive nugget of fear inside me, that one day I'll wake up and and find that I've become totally hideous; there's another part of me that is convinced that day has already come. So women who seem comfortable in their own skin remind me of how much more road I have to walk before I can even approach that feeling. The women who seem comfortable and can pull off a crop-top just made my spirit feel broken, because even if/when I get there, that's still a ballsy move.

"Romance" is a little more complicated, because it has nothing to do with the reality of my own (lovely, healthy, much-appreciated) love life, and more with feeling behind. I didn't marry my high school or college sweetheart, setting me apart from a lot of my social circle. My own parents met when my mom was 17 years old, and 35 years later, they're still together. I didn't date in high school - I was several people's "secret make-out companion," a role that, at the time, I had convinced myself was romantic (or at least proved that I was sexy enough to kiss); in retrospect, I can see that it served my dude friends with a way to get their rocks off without ever having to acknowledge, in public, that they might have been attracted to me, or that I was a romantic option.

I didn't have a boyfriend until my early 20s, and that went down in such spectacular flames that all my subsequent relationships have been coloured by the expectation that somewhere, there's another shoe waiting to drop (trust issues! So fun!). And as I watched my friends date, and meet their loves, and be successful long-term, I felt a sour-belly jealousy working through my system. To this day, I feel like I "should" be married, be planning a family, be committed. I can get a little crazy with my boyfriend, constantly asking for reassurance that those things will happen someday for us, which is tiresome and not really the point of being in love. But when I look the couple around me, I feel like I'm working on someone else's schedule, and brother, I am late.

The professional jealousy is pretty self-explanatory, and again stems from the idea that I "should" be at some career milestone at this point. I'm especially vexed by the talented squadron of younger writer-types that run in my social circle; young women who have been published in national magazines, who pay their rent with their words, and who could, if they bothered to go, be cool at their high-school reunions. And while I genuinely like my job, I feel the tug of writing almost daily. It's tough to balance your creative calling with your credit card statement, and the folks who can make me feel crazy.

The real problem with this sick little list is that I don't really know the women who make me feel jealous. When you get to know someone - really understand their foibles and their flaws, along with their strengths and successes - they become actual human beings. I perceive the girls who make me see green as cartoon characters - not that they are shallow, but that my relationships with them are shallow. I don't see the crippling weeks of paralyzed first drafts; I see the magazine by-line. I don't see the screaming late-night argument; I see the wedding ring. I don't see the careful mathematics of dieting; I see the flat stomach. And unless I can get to know these women better, that might be all I see.

The salvation are the women in my life who might have provoked jealousy, but who have instead turned it into inspiration. My friends - not all of them are besties, either - who have let me in. They are funny, mean, sarcastic, generous, self-deprecating, and honest. They talk about their life-work - how hard they work to achieve all that they do, which makes me realize, over and over, how much of a process everything really is. They feel their own jealousies, celebrate their successes and lament their failures. In doing so, they open a space for me to do the same.