I grew up in a conservative household. Due to the nature of his job, my dad was never around; he was always based in another country from us, if not another continent. And my mother never tried to outshine him. In fact she remained complacently fixed—if comfortably fixed—in her role as mother and housewife.
Nothing has ever come easily for me. I have never had my family close by and I learned very early on how to hold my own. When I came to New York City on my own four years ago, I found a job at a coffee shop and have been working there ever since. I have seen employees come and go as I’ve stayed here, gradually moving up in a company where I honestly don’t want to be. And I’ve fallen into a couple relationships, mostly out of comfort; not knowing anyone in NYC, it helps to have a girlfriend. Which would all be fine, if I didn’t secretly want my girlfriend to fail.
Like all of my girlfriends since moving to NYC, Campbell was my underling. She had her fair share of complaints—“Don’t speak to me that way,” she’d say when I asked her to do something at work. And looking back on it, I can understand her discomfort. But even so, things were going well. Blessed with affluent parents, she had the luxury of only needing to work at the shop three days a week, spending the other days sending out 30 submissions a day, trying to get a writing job.
Occasionally she’d ask me for writing advice—“Does this sentence make sense?” or “Can I read you my article?” I read and helped edit maybe four of her articles in total. And I loved seeing my efforts realized in print, in her byline. Without much professional direction myself, it felt good to know that my edits were worthwhile, and that my opinions were worthwhile too.
The anticipation of her finding a job final culminated one day, when she got her first job offer. Instead of congratulating her, celebrating, telling her she deserved this and everything a boyfriend should tell his significant other, I got angry. And the weird thing is, I couldn’t have foreseen that I would act this way. I told her not to take the job right away and, instead, to play “hard to get.” Which is, in retrospect, quite possibly the worst advice you could give someone who has been working tirelessly to find a job for over two years now. If she had listened to me, she could have risked losing her job. And yet, I was hell-bent.
When she couldn’t understand why I was mad at her, I got even more enraged. “You wouldn’t be anywhere without me,” I told her, and, “I’ve helped you so much. And you don’t even have the decency to take heed of my advice? How could you not see how this would offend me?”
The truth was, I wasn’t offended that she didn’t take my horrible advice. I was sad. Sad that she was moving on and, once again, I wasn’t. I was nervous that her finding a new job meant her finding a new boyfriend. And most of all, I was jealous. Jealous that her parents were willing to support her until she found a job (“If I had her bank account,” I’d always tell myself, “I could find a better job in a heartbeat.”) But most of all, jealous that she had the tools, the confidence, and the talent to move on and, if she so chose, leave me in the dust.
I watched with envy as she quit her job at the shop and moved on to pursue her passion, and all I could think about were my own shortcomings. Her being 24 and me being 28, it wasn’t that I wanted her to fail; it was that I needed her to fail.
So when she tried to explain that, yes, I may have helped, but she got to where she is because of her passion, her talent, and her pursuits, I fought back. I told her that if it wasn’t for all my time spent helping her, I might have grown too, but she was too self-obsessed. I blamed my unhappiness with my career and progress in life on her, the one person—ironically—who believed in me. I ended it with her and convinced her it was her fault.
Often times when I find myself hurtling embellished or over-exaggerated diatribes at her, I’ll float up outside of my body and look down on myself. During those times I can clearly see that what I’m doing is wrong, that she doesn’t deserve any of this, but I can neither stop myself nor admit the truth to anyone.
She’s started writing about me too. The website she works for consists of very personal posts that veer on diary entries. No one else would know that it’s me she’s writing about—no one but me. And yet, I can’t allow it. Despite her beautifully crafted sentences and poignant insights on destructive relationships, I told her that her writing reads like an immature essay one would write in their 8th grade English class. And so it was, when I put down her reading—possibly my most callous move yet—that I finally realized what I was doing, and why I was doing it.
Because offending her truly does nothing for me. All it does is make her feel like less of a person than she is. It’s fighting words and, most of all, indignant and bitter words.
It takes a certain type of man to be, not only okay with a girlfriend who’s more successful than him, but happy for her too. I wish I was that man, but I’m not. And I lost the best thing that’s ever happened to me because of it.