Dear Jenny: How Do I Handle Being Jealous Of My Friends?
Our resident advice-giver-outer Jenny True provides shouty, full-hearted answers to your niggling questions about pregnancy and parenthood in her column Dear Jenny. Warning: This is not a baby-and-me singalong, this is about yelling into the cosmos and actually hearing something back, sometimes in the form of an all-caps swear. Jenny isn't an ~expert~, but she has a lot of experience being outraged on your behalf. To submit your questions to Jenny, email email@example.com.
I was on Facebook the other day and saw an announcement from a friend, a good thing that had happened for them, and my stomach did a terrible flop. It was like a chemical reaction to their good news. I wanted to be happy for them, and tried to tell myself that it's not a zero-sum game, their successes don't have any impact on mine, but I just could not get out of the negative cloud.
I generally think of myself as balanced and not a jealous person, but these feelings of negativity felt incredibly icky. I am not comfortable feeling so green about someone else's life, but as a mom who has no time for herself, and seems to have zero chance of realizing my dreams at least for the next five years, this made me worry. Am I actually a bitter, jealous person? People will continue experiencing success while I toil away in mom-land, and I'm not sure how to handle it, other than avoiding Facebook forever. Advice?
You're not a bitter, jealous person. You just don't like your life right now.
Take it from a former self-hater. I was a star student from a small town who went off to college, got slammed by how hard the real world is, and never recovered. Read: At age 20, after being given the opportunity to talk to Adam Yauch for Mother Jones, I stammered so badly during the interview it was unusable. FAIL. Read: I got kicked out of two apartment situations in a row IN MY THIRTIES. FAIL. Read: One day I woke up 39, single, and childless, none of which I wanted. FAIL.
I HATED other people's successes — personal or professional — because they only reminded me that I was not living up to my potential in any category whatsoever.
And somewhere in there, the interweb and Friendster and MySpace and Facebook came along and made it SO MUCH F*KING WORSE.
Oh, you published another book, writer friend, while I've collected so many rejection letters my file cabinet is exploding? GREAT WONDERFUL GOOD FOR YOU. You got the career opportunity I applied for but didn't get? AWESOME HAPPY TO HEAR IT.
Fortunately for jealousy, there's always something to be jealous about. Read: Now we're in our 40s and I'm still a copy editor but your job title has the word "director," "chief," or "executive" in it and you're making tens of thousands of dollars a year more than I am? PERFECT LET'S HAVE LUNCH WHICH I WILL INSIST ON PAYING FOR OUT OF SHEER HUMILIATION AND WHICH WILL SET ME BACK A WEEK BUT WHICH I WILL NEVER TELL YOU.
Jealousy is not an indicator of your status in the world — it's an indicator of what you think about yourself.
But here's the thing: Jealousy works both ways. I guarantee you that for every professional success you're jealous of, someone out there is looking at your pictures of your adorable baby and reading your posts about how exhausted and unfulfilled you are, and crying herself to sleep every night, dying to trade places with you.
YOU CANNOT LET JEALOUSY ROOST. RAISE THE BARRICADES AND LIGHT THE CANNONS THIS IS ABOUT SELF-LOVE AND SELF-CARE.
Jealousy is not an indicator of your status in the world — it's an indicator of what you think about yourself. It's also pretty normal, especially when you're feeling stuck, defeated, and out of control of even the most basic decisions in your daily life (my son is now 11 months old, and my euphemism for parenting remains "MOM EATS LAST"). Another way to understand jealousy as a manifestation of negative feelings about yourself is by recognizing how selective it is. You're only jealous of things you feel are lacking in your own life — other people's "success," as you call it — without knowing, or acknowledging, the context of that success. For example, your friend's professional success might have come at great personal sacrifice, including, possibly, a sacrifice you wouldn't want to make.
Or it was made possible by their parents, in which case you're free to imagine them walking off a cliff.
So what to do?
DON'T DO ANYTHING. JUST BE DIFFERENT. THAT'S ALL. SIMPLE RIGHT?
Jealousy is poison; gratitude is the antidote. And gratitude is a practice. It's committing to a positive mindset, looking around at what you already have and, perhaps through gritted teeth at first, exclaiming, I AM GRATEFUL FOR YOU. We are not out of shampoo/conditioner/laundry detergent/dishwasher liquid/washing-up liquid/toothpaste at present. THANK YOU. The electricity is on. THANK YOU. This shirt does not yet have a hole in it. THANK YOU.
Then, start the self-talk. MY LIFE IS WORTHY AND UNIQUE. I AM NOT A BITTER AND JEALOUS PERSON. IN FACT I AM KIND AND GENEROUS AND WOULD NEVER YELL AT AN 8-YEAR-OLD FOR TALKING DURING THE BLACK STALLION DIRECTLY AFTER I SHARED MY THOUGHTS ON THE RACISM OF THE EVIL HORSE HANDLERS BEING MIDDLE EASTERN AND LATER ASKED HOW DID THEY GET THAT HORSE UP THERE THAT TOTALLY WAS NOT ME.
Got it? Great. KEEP IT UP.
Practice letting go of bad feelings, too, including the painful spike of jealousy when it happens. I like this writer's take, something she calls the seven-second rule.
Also, avoiding Facebook, at least in the short term, is not a bad idea. Research shows that parents of tweens and teens spend on average more than NINE HOURS A DAY with screen media, with an hour of that on social networking. Pair that with checking your phone 80 times a day, and you're just torturing yourself, particularly since research also shows "problematic" media use might be related to lower "social well-being." Sound familiar? Take the app off your phone, or put it on the last screen. Turn off notifications. Or take the plunge and — gulp — deactivate.
Finally, be proactive in reaching out to people in person or over the phone. You'll tend to get the larger stories of their lives, not just the grand successes, reducing the need to hate them, and yourself.
LIFE HAS UPS AND DOWNS, AND RIGHT NOW YOU'RE DOWN. REMEMBER YOU'RE A ROCK STAR AND YOU MAY BE EXHAUSTED AND DISAPPOINTED BUT YOU'RE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK. YOU MADE IT THIS FAR RIGHT. PRACTICE GRATITUDE. NOW. OR EMAIL ME ABOUT YOUR FRIEND WITH THE PROFESSIONAL SUCCESS AND I'LL EMAIL BACK AND SAY I HATE THAT BITCH LET'S GO OUT FOR BEERS. YOU GOT THIS.
Have you got a niggling question for Jenny about a parenting sitch? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.