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?