When you see a hot broad in a backless jumper, you can feel one of two things – envy or admiration. When you feel envy, you feel hot-necked, intimidated, you shout “WHO looks that good in a backless fucking leotard, GROW UP” as you skulk away. When you feel admiration, you feel breezy and smile approvingly as she passes, then you google “backless jumpers” on Topshop and order one for yourself promptly. Envy is slimy and something we all need to shed, like the useless backs and worthless straps on our rompers this summer. (Haha. I’m on a fashion kick here, guys. Roll with me.)
We can all learn avoid so much immature misery by growing to admire over envy, appreciate over resent, and just put down the glass of haterade and pick up a dark roasted iced coffee. (Haterade comes in that gross cucumber-lime flavor now anyway, naw thanks.)
Historically, I feel embarrassed to admit because it’s not a “cool girl” move at all, I have been an extremely jealous girl. Yeah yeah, I’m cute and smart, people are like, “why you like dis?” but I just am. Idk why.
Thankfully this was never to the detriment of my dear girlfriends, as I always considered other charming, lovely women to be an allied mutual support network, a circle that I rest my heart and belief system upon. But most certainly in my romantic relationships, I’ve been known to become obsessive in envying the women they knew or know or loved before, and it’s always been one of my most repulsive personality traits.
It is the categorical reason as to why I was dumped many, many times over. “I just can’t do this anymore, your irrational jealousy sucks” was always the gist, and the clear catalyst, of most reluctant breakups from men who just (couldn’t) anymore. Sure, many that I’ve dated, I’m happy to have moved past, but there are one or two gems in the pile that could’ve been great romances had I been able to be more secure.
I am a believer in all things unfurling, as they should in time, but still, it has been a fairly ugly and hard lesson to learn in the face of lost love. To those gems, I feel gratitude for the patience you did show and for the strength you had in saving yourselves. You released me into the kind of solitude I needed to learn and change some dark shit about myself.
In my twenties, I was ashamed and appalled by having this trait; it was not appealing. As a fun, freewheeling gal to be around, it would blindside many boyfriends. I remember one event when I was at a work cookout with a former beau. He had mentioned his co-workers to me before and noted one friendly receptionist; I hadn’t thought twice about her. And yet, upon arriving, I meet Shannon – she is young, blonde, slim, stunning. She also seems very warm to me, excited to “finally meet me” praising my white sundress and saying “you’re pretty!” with total sincerity, all of which horrified me because my instinct was to scream “stay away from him!” and twirl away like a Tasmanian Devil maniacally destroying the picnic tables and trees. My boyfriend seemed taken with her, if only in a way that was “this girl is a nice work colleague and possibly a friend”. I felt tears welling and abruptly walked away. The knot in my throat, the churn in my stomach, I wanted to shove it all away, but couldn’t.
My mind took off: this is who my boyfriend spends time with every day?!? Then why would he want to be with me? Am I just the default? She is petite, calm, pretty; I am tall, awkward, big nose, huge feet, weird phobias, too difficult. HE COULD BE WITH HER. I made him leave the party, and he was so confused and hurt, and later angry when I said it was because of her. He assured me until his face was blue, “so what if she’s pretty, I love you, this is ridiculous” and I know he meant it, but it didn’t matter. That chest burn took me over and I sank into myself like a rock. I look back on this event as a defining one about envy. My low self-esteem, my immaturity, it colored my internal logical ability to see a benign, and possibly very pleasant, situation for what it was, and I sabotaged it because I could not trust that I was truly loved – even though I was.
Smart people think compulsively, but creative smart people think that one, singular compulsive thought in thousands of ways through a day. Wondering and fearing the million possible women that a lover might prefer and the different ways in which he might meet them or think of them or long for them can be torturous. At the end of the day, we can control none of it and only have trust, the one thing I lacked the very most.
In my thirties, I have found a partner devoted to helping me foster my belief in my irreplaceable value. I’ve found that envy can be more a propellant to change than a path of destruction. As Ani Difranco once said, “every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.” The negative version of envy can darken your own light if you let it curl you up in bed and give up, but it can similarly push you out of your comfort spots to become a version of yourself that you like an awful lot better.
Envying traits someone else has can force you to look at the areas of yourself and your life that you could actually improve on.
For example, one of the greatest motivators to exercise in the mornings for me is seeing the fit women jog by my home. Rather than eating another donut and thinking, “I wish I could look/be like that,” gaining another pound and another week of envy passing me by, I can instead have a banana and, although I don’t run, make my way out to a yoga class and a long walk by the river. I cannot be the running woman; she matches her sports bra to her leggings and I can’t even find a clean pair, she actually makes protein shakes instead of buying ingredients for them and then ordering Thai instead, so I know all of this by now – I hate running.
But rather than throw my hands into the air and say, “oh well, donuts 4 life,” I can adapt this envy to my own way of doing things, which, while different, gets me out into the world, out of my head, and closer to the best version of myself, and she is a person who is so whole and so free that she sees no jealousy, but only admires and applauds the process, the progress and the total loveliness of others. Age is kind of magical in that it helps you, increasingly, if you push and let it, see who you are versus be annoyed by who you thought you would be but aren’t. You’re not supposed to be her! You’re you, and dude, you’re kinda great. Look how great your hair is, and those boobs! Zing.
We should all be propelled to find partners that don’t see us as dimming as we get closer in view or more flawed under the garish lighting of closeness, as years pass and laugh lines grow, we should get only brighter and more authentic as our connections begin to own their own kind of splendor and identity.
Only with experience have I grown to see that a woman’s beauty and charms do not dim my own, as I once fully believed, but I was especially challenged and changed by entering my present relationship and his ex situation – because he has children with two former partners, both of whom we see. Upon meeting them, I thought, ah fahk – one ex is both insanely beautiful and a brilliant artist (and half-Japanese, so cool), another is extremely upbeat and as funny as Amy Schumer (and has cool boob tattoos, ugh so cool!) – these traits greatly threatened me! But it did not take away from my own unique value, and I have grown to appreciate the charm of these women myself over time. We have even become friends – they’ve helped me in tough times, and I like to think I’ve helped them in myriad ways as well by encouraging, inspiring, and supporting. If women can find solace and companionship and compassion in even that situation, anything is possible.
We are not enemies of each other. We can be anchors and we can be buoys. We don’t have to drag others into the muck of the darkest corners and crannies of our abiding insecurities. We can keep everyone afloat at once, it’s life-giving. If there is anything I have learned by the age of thirty-three, it is this: there’s more than enough room for all of us to shine, the world is just waiting to feel us blow our vibrancy and growth all over it’s face in a happiness circle jerk. We were made to connect, so reach out and let people love you. Because we are all weak, we are all strong, and we are all parts of a bizarre, special, complicated whole. So the next time you see a beautiful girl with a sparkle behind her eyes, don’t resent her – become her friend! Who knows what will rub off on you.