When did it begin, this tilt towards jealousy, looking over my shoulder at the one who’s doing better?

My mother told the story of how when I was three, toddling alongside her my baby sister in the pram, people stopped to admire this most beautiful baby, her dark curls and blue eyes and my mother came to feel sorry for the way they overlooked me.

A beautiful baby gurgling in a pram is hard to resist. A toddler walking alongside less prepossessing.

Did I first feel the sting of not being good enough then?

Did I first feel a pressure towards needing to be beautiful in order to be admired or did it come later with my mother’s insistence on my best features, my pearl shaped ear lobes and perfect eyebrows?

‘You take after our father,’ my sisters and brothers said and our younger sister after our mother.

We all knew our mother was a beauty. Her movie star photos in pride of place from the days before she and my father married. Slick movie star type images from the 1930s even during the war wars when professional photographers who occupied the streets of Amsterdam and set up shop on the main street tried to emulate the glamour of Hollywood and even the plainest of women could be made to look like Ava Gardner.

My mother did not need much help in this direction. Her natural appeal was enough and along with her success at making children, my mother considered her skin, her blue eyes and glossy black curls to be her greatest assets.

Even as they turned to grey and her face grew more sallow with age, once she stopped sunbaking for fear of cancer, my mother knew how to pout for the camera while I clinched my lips tight to stop the image of my crooked teeth taking centre place.

Was this where it all began?

And did it shift from the external image to internal attributes such as intelligence when I learned early on that I lacked the brains of my brothers, most of my brothers that is, with one or two exceptions, the brains of the men in the house especially my father who could speak in six languages and could understand the vagaries of physics and name all the chemicals one after the other.

My brother above me, the family genius, my sister below me the family beauty and I in the middle grappling with my mediocrity in a way that dogs me even today, especially when I find myself competing in my head with those others who excel at things that matter to me, at the writing of books and words on the page.

It does help anyone to compare themselves favourably or unfavourably to others and yet I fall into this trap of comparison too often and once inside must find a way of ridding my mind of the green pus of self-loathing that infects my mood.

8 thoughts on “Jealousy”

  1. I don’t like to think of myself as a jealous person. I don’t think I am one. I’ve never wished I was someone else. I have wished I was better at being me—I haven’t quite got the hang of that—but that’s another thing. That doesn’t mean I’ve always been overjoyed when others have been successful and I haven’t—I’m not perfect—but since I’m naturally hypercritical I can usually see the reasons I’ve not achieved more than I have even if it’s true others don’t deserve the rewards and plaudits that’ve come their way. And the main reason for that is a lack of ambition. I struggle with that to this day. I like the idea of being successful because that’s a benchmark other people understand but success comes at a cost and I’m not convinced the price measures up to what it’s worth.

    The problem with most of the people I might feel inclined to compare myself to is they’re far away. It’s all fine and well when you’re standing side by side at the urinals casting a sly glance but to get the true measure of a man you need much more. I used to be ambitious—when it came to work and my drive was generally rewarded because I’d no problems hard and deserved any promotions that came my way—but then something happened (usually what we used to call a nervous breakdown and usually because of overwork) and that was me back at the bottom of the hill.

    My best friend Tom, whom I was always cleverer than, ended up running an airport. I mean, seriously, an airport. But I was never jealous of him. I think actually I felt sorry for him because his life was all about acquisition. I never wanted his BMW. I never wanted a garden let alone a garden with three might oaks in it. (They might not’ve been oaks but oaks sounds good.) I certainly never wanted a yacht. I wouldn’t have turned up my nose if I’d been left a baby grand piano by my grandparents but I’ve never had the space for one so what would be the point?

    I’ve never wanted to be anyone other than who I am. That’s the real reason I’m not prone to jealously or envy (never been quite sure what the difference is there) because no one has anything I really want. Yes, Stephen King can rattle out novels one after another but they’re his novels. I’m just pleased that I’ve written novels. I was pleased with having written one novel. Hell, I was pleased when all I’d written was a handful of poems.

    1. I understand Jim, that feeling of being glad to be me, and not someone else, but that doesn’t alter the fact that sometimes the me I am wishes she had more of the attributes of another, and especially so at the moment when life has taken this tricky turn with my husband so unwell. Thanks, Jim.

  2. I wish I didn’t know this jealousy thing of which you speak. I like to say I don’t begrudge anyone their success (even if I don’t like their stuff); I just want success too. And that rarely has anything to do with what they do or don’t do.

    1. It’s tough isn’t it Glenn, this jealousy thing. We don’t like it in ourselves nor in others, but there you have it, a feeling most humans suffer from time to time. To me the best you can do is acknowledge it and then move on.

  3. Yes, Lis, comparison is healthy and perhaps jealousy (rightly or wrongly) is a natural survival instinct to push us forward? What is the opposite of anthropomorphism? Zoomorphism? I think humans display far more animal behaviour than the other way around and I’m sure jealousy is one emotion that motivates us up the food chain.
    But of course, I like other humans, have evolved and must not admit to using jealousy as a tool, or more likely, a weapon. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t.
    But how self satisfying to think that maybe others are jealous of us.
    Better they be filled with the ‘green, pus-filled self loathing’ they deserve.
    Why would anyone who really knew me, like me?

  4. Funny that, Karen. I hardly ever spare a thought to the notion that someone might be jealous of me. Though they might. And I couldn’t agree more about the animal/primitive in us as humans. Scarcely evolved from our infancies, and that desperate bid for survival, attenuated by love and compassion. Thanks, Karen.

  5. Why are women so fucked up about their appearance and self-worth? I think we know the answer, but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel the things you’ve so perfectly described. I imagine our awareness of them is what matters in the end, and I hope that you have, at least, moments when you affirm your tremendous talent and beauty, both internal and exterior.

    1. Why indeed, Elizabeth, and as you say we already know. Blame it on the patriarchy and the objectification of women. Still such knowledge doesn’t do much to eradicate the struggle. Thanks, Elizabeth.

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