Saturday, July 24, 2010

Comparisons are odious

I often have a difficult time not comparing myself to others.  Surely I am not the only one who feels this way.

I don't think comparisons are always inappropriate.  After all, I attended graduate school in which nearly all our grades were on a curve.  Comparison to others in a similar position can be a good way to measure progress toward some goal, such as career progress or the like.

It can be hard for me to remember at times, but aside from being unable to have a child of our own, I am living pretty much the life I had hoped to be living. It has taken me quite a while longer than I thought it would to get to this point in my life, but I am finally here.  I have a career I enjoy.  I may currently be a bit disenchanted with my particular job, and it took going back to school  at age 30 for me to achieve this, but I like being a lawyer.  I have a loving husband who I didn't meet until I was 36, after going through a difficult broken engagement to another man and canceling a wedding which was less than two weeks away.  I have loving parents, sister, nephew, and in-laws.  I have many friends.  I have two wonderful dogs as pets and a house of my (our) own.

[I will admit that I have not achieved every one of the goals which teenage S had. . . . but then I must also admit that teenage S was not very realistic.  I thought I'd be living in a large, custom home and driving a BMW, while at the same time being married to my dream man, having my first child, and working on curing cancer, all by age 30 or so.]

Intellectually, I know my life is one that others might envy.  I am sure there are people who are out of work, even other lawyers, who would love to have my job.  Single women who would love to be married to a wonderful guy like my husband.  People whose parents are no longer living or who do not get along with their in-laws who would envy my relationships with my and MM's parents.

I know also that some of my friends DO envy at least some aspects of my life because they have told me so.  An old high school friend who didn't finish her degree because she got pregnant earlier than she'd planned  and didn't go back to school has told me she envies my education and the careers that have come with it.  A close friend who is divorced has told me she envies my marriage.  I have even had friends with young children tell me on occasion that they envy my childlessness and the freedom that comes with it.  (Ah, the irony!)

I am no stranger to envy myself.  Even before TTC and IF, I had two old friends who I envied for years.  The first I envied because it seemed that everything in her life always went according to her plan, with no drama or bumps in the road.  She came from a close, loving family with wonderful parents and a cool brother.  She met her now-husband when she was 15, so he was her second boyfriend.  He is now a very successful, prominent OB/GYN in the city in which they live.  They married shortly after she finished college, and once he was out of residency, she stopped working and stayed home with their two seemingly perfect children, a girl and a boy born a perfect 25 months apart, the first arriving not long after she turned 25.  Today they live in an affluent neighborhood and drive luxury cars.  They ski in the winter and take nice vacations somewhere warm every summer.  She is the consummate SAHM.

This friend and I have never lived in the same city, and over the years, what was once a pretty close friendship had evolved into a yearly exchange of Christmas cards, as such relationships sometimes do.  Several months ago, I had lunch with her for the first time since before she had kids. 

During our lunch, I learned that she has had some health problems over the years, including a mysterious eye ailment which baffled doctors for months and could have left her blind and having to undergo a hysterectomy at age 36.  She took Clomid to conceive both her children and was on bedrest for most of her third trimester with her daughter.  Some comments she made hinted at some past marital difficulties. . . perhaps not surprising, given her health issues and the fact that her husband regularly works 80+ hours a week and is on call nights and weekends.

The second friend I envied had not had such a smooth path as the first, but I envied her nonetheless.  This friend also comes from a wonderful family with loving parents.  She is beautiful, fit and thin, and extremely talented.  In addition to being able to sew well enough that she once made her husband a three-piece suit which he actually wore to work, she quilts and made many of her daughters' baby clothes.  (She even sold similar clothes on etsy for a while.)  She can cook and decorate and entertain, very Martha Stewart-eque.  In addition to all her domestic skills, she has also built her own furniture by hand on occasion and has run three marathons.  (Probably not difficult to see at this point why I envied her. . . . )

This friend married a "catch" at age 24 after a broken engagement with a prior fiance.  She and the catch waited until they had been married a few years before having children, her first daughter born shortly after she turned 30 and her second 21 months later.

But. . . . her (now ex-) husband suffered a psychotic break when her younger daughter was 6 weeks old.  And then had a series of extra-marital affairs.  And dragged her through a nasty, 2-year divorce, including a prolonged custody battle.

As my friend and I talked more openly during the time she and her ex-husband were separated, I learned that her father was an alcoholic who was still drinking while she was growing up.  (Though not by the time I knew her, in her late teens/early 20s.)  So though her parents were (are) loving, her childhood was not as idyllic as it had seemed to me.

It was an eye-opener for me to learn that perhaps my friends' lives weren't always as perfect as they had appeared to me.  It reminded me of something that, intellectually, I already knew: no one's life is perfect.  Everyone has her cross(es) to bear.

So comparisons are not only odious, they are also often unfair.  Often we do not know what burdens other people we know are bearing and the trials which they have had do endure in their lives.

I want to be the kind of positive, zen person who can not only understand intellectually that there is nothing to be gained by comparing myself to others in this way, but who can really internalize this message and put it into action.  I have so much to be grateful for, and I wish I could spend more time dwelling on that than dwelling on the things in my life that are not going my way.

Why do I have such a tendency to focus on what I don't have than on what I do?

5 comments:

  1. If you ever figure this one out, please let me know! I am working really hard on remembering that life is NOT a zero-sum game and that I don't have to measure myself by the same yardstick as those around me. It ain't easy, that's for sure. For instance, I'm very intimidated by you, the successful attorney.

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  2. Thanks for visiting my blog, I did POAS but it was negative. AF is due to arrive tomorrow so we'll see. I wish I had an answer to your question but I don't, all I can say is I feel the same exact way.

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  3. "I have so much to be grateful for, and I wish I could spend more time dwelling on that than dwelling on the things in my life that are not going my way."

    I feel the same way and I ask myself the same questions that you do...I wonder why I can't just focus on that instead of dwelling on what I don't have.

    This journey, if nothing else, has taught me that you never really know what's going on behind closed doors or in the lives of others. I try to remember that when everyone else around me seems perfect.

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  4. Ah, yes. The Human Condition. We always focus on what we don't have because we are human. We always strive for more. We are NEVER satisfied. For example, there are lots of things I want, but I will tell you right now that if I got every single one of those things, there would still always be an endless number of other things that would take their place. We, as human beings, will always want what we don't have, and that, I think, is unchangeable. What is changeable is WHAT we want. That we can at least work on.

    Except for the baby thing. That's one reason why it's so frustrating for me. I can't find anything to replace that desire. I can't say, how about striving for something else, maybe go back to school and finally get that masters degree? Nope, not the same thing at all. Homestead in Alaska? Sounds fun, but gimme the baby. Build schools in Africa? A worthy goal, but I'll take the baby, please.

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  5. Wow, how true this is! I came over from ICLW. I have to say, I do this all the time. I have no idea of the private struggles of other people, but it's so easy to look at people and see what looks like it was easy for them. I guess because most people try to deal with their problems privately. If you figure out how to focus on this envy less, please let me know!

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