I have had the BEST weekend. I got together with a group of my colleagues on Thursday to celebrate the upcoming wedding of one of our young teachers. I went to the beautiful, historic home of one teacher, in one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious neighborhoods. We had appetizers and wine and a lot of laughs. It was so much fun!
The next morning, I went to a local airport and picked up one of my oldest friends for a visit. I spent all day Friday with her, sharing stories, memories, philosophies and a couple of recipes. We walked my dogs, looked at the garden and had some nice cold white wine. Then we drove into Boston to gather with a whole group of friends from Junior High and High School. We ate, drank, laughed, caught up on each other’s news and talked a little bit about politics. It was absolutely wonderful. Life affirming, validating, joyful.
I have known these people for at least 40 years. One at least I have known for 48! These are the friends that I made before I knew what friendship was. These are the people who knew me when I was my youngest, most innocent self. We shared childhood, adolescence, early adulthood. We saw each other fall in love and marry. We drifted apart over the parenting years, but we have found each other again. How incredibly lucky are we to have reforged those bonds?
Last night I found myself lying awake in the hot, dark night. I was thinking about all of the conversations of the day and night, when we were talking about the past, the present, our lives, our children, our careers. I thought about the many accomplishments of my old friends, and of their children. I thought about their vacation homes, their travels, their prestigious addresses.
And, of course, I thought about my own life.
And I started to compare, and I found myself wanting.
For a moment, I let my sense of competition overcome my pleasure at seeing these people again. For a moment, I could only think about my run down little town, my very modest home, my children and their unformed lives.
And I started to wonder: Why do we all process our relationships through such a critical lense? Why do we all carry an internal “yardstick” so that we can measure ourselves against everyone else in our lives?
Last night I had a wonderful time chatting with my friends, but I ranked myself as 5 out of 6 in terms of weight and physical fitness. I laughed and smiled and was truly pleased to catch up with everyone, but I ranked my financial success as maybe 4 out of 6. What the hell is that about?
None of my friends gave a hint for even one minute that they found me or my husband lacking in any way. They were honestly happy to see us, they enjoyed our company, they had fun having dinner with us. Why did I feel the need to judge myself against them and their lives?
I don’t know.
But as I lay there in the darkness, tossing a bit and unable to relax, I remembered what some of my old friends had said while we were having dinner together. They were talking about how they worry about their kids, and the choices that those kids are making. They were sharing their worries about retirement and money. They were sharing their own awareness of how they measure up against other people that they have met over the years. College friends who have become hedge fund managers, siblings who have published books or made movies, neighborhood friends who are the parents of Rhodes Scholars.
And I realized that for some unknown reason, we all seem to walk around with an internal yardstick, and that we all constantly measure ourselves against the achievements and successes of those around us. We are competing even with those we love, even when we are just so happy to have a chance to spend a day or a weekend with them.
I don’t much like it, but I think its true.
Now, how do we fight against this self-destructive tendency?
11 thoughts on “A yardstick.”
These are excellent questions – I have no idea of the answers but the best place to start looking for answers is always the questions – thanks.
I hope that asking the questions is a good start, but I don’t know! My husband is seemingly immune to these issues…..
Thanks for coming by and for commenting!
You need to read The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser. I’m not trying to get you to come back to the Catholic Church, really!
My competitiveness is with myself. I don’t care that others have published novels, I just care that I haven’t. It’s not a zero-sum game, someone else’s novel doesn’t prevent mine from getting published or read.
My unhappiness comes entirely from within, not from comparisons, not from being around other people. I either want stuff or I don’t, and whether or not someone else has it or wants it has no effect on me. I don’t lie awake comparing myself to others, but I do lie awake berating myself for not being the person I want to be.
Everyone has disappointments and problems, some pretty horrific, some occurring at very prestigious addresses.
You ask how to fight this. In one word, Meg. Would you rather have a vacation home, but one of your children died of leukemia? I didn’t think so.
Its funny: when I am making those ridiculous comparisons, I really, truly have no desire to switch places with anyone. I love my life, and I am acutely aware of how lucky and how blessed I am. I just found it somehow interesting that all of us, even those whom I consider to be supremely successful, were using that internal “yardstick” to compare our lives……
Because it’s endless, there’s always someone with more or something you don’t have. It’s a losing game. No one has a perfect life, no one has everything, so we look to others for the missing pieces in our lives, but they have missing pieces too.
It’s not about fighting it, from my teachings. It’s about catching oneself doing the comparing and competing so it can be stopped. You’ve taken that observatory step, PPD, and the next time you do it, you’ll catch yourself sooner. Then you can get back to appreciating the moment with that person.
The worst thing we can do is beat ourselves up about it. That’s simply wallowing in the judgment.
Thank you; that’s very good advice! And I agree, because I know that when I am able to catch myself doing that comparison, I am able to laugh at myself and then shrug it off! I know myself well enough to know that this tendency is fleeting for me, and I know that I wouldn’t change any of my life choices (except possibly to have bought a house in a different town, maybe…..) It just struck me when I realized that the comparisons and self-questioning were universal. Humans are a funny species!
Have to go with Embattled Framer and souldipper.
I used to do that a lot. but then I realized,I do the best I can,and I have peace with my choices. All I can do from there is wish everyone else the same.
Except when I’m driving. Then I’m waaaaay too competeitive.
You’ve built a wonderful life for yourself,have friends that have stuck with you htroughout life, and reaised wonderful children (all your words),
by any yardstick, that’s pretty good.
Thanks! I think that you and my friend Embattled are very wise, and I know absolutely that you are right! I need to keep on working on following your advice!
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning
There’s something very special about friendships that mature across a whole lifetime – and you can’t measure them with a yardstick.